Interview with the Author

MarkWhittershs

What got you into “performative” studies in the first place?

Eight years ago, a colleague invited me to explore a new way of teaching the humanities. So I attended a conference at Barnard College and quickly discovered that this new pedagogy (called Reacting) put the burden of learning more on the student than on the teacher.  I had a full gamut of courses that I would teach every semesters, from ancient history to comparative religion to modern European history; and I was getting worn out by the daily lecturing routine. This new approach turned over the reins of the classroom to the ones who are learning. They have far more energy than I, and with a little guidance can channel it into learning enthusiasm.

How does it work?

The main way this pedagogy works is through engagement.  If you put the student or participant in the role of someone or something in the story, you can now make that person “perform” or “react.” This in itself forces responsibility on the learner instead of on the teacher.  When you factor in team members and “opposing” teams, you only compound the urgency of the learner to improve the performance by study and preparation.

What does the teacher or group leader do?

For sure, the one in charge needs to choose what the lesson of any given session is. Then the ground rules need to be laid out for all the participants.  A teacher or group leader needs to be knowledgeable enough to navigate the way ahead for the learners.  The one in charge crafts the questions to be raised and helps the various teams or performers get ready. Then, when the performance session begins, he or she needs to monitor and occasionally intervene to make sure that the interchange among participants stays on track.  At the end, the teacher or group leader calls everyone together and “debriefs” to make sure that everyone gets a chance to give their impressions of the exercise, even while summing up the main points learned.

Why is it sometimes called a “game?”

Gaming is huge among my students.  A game allows someone to escape their current “reality” and put themselves in a different and perhaps more exciting world.  Isn’t that what learning ought to be?  In a performance Bible study, a participant can leave behind the 21st century and throw themselves into another context and thereby gain exciting new insights and perspectives on the passage and on his or her life. Combine that with the prompting of teams, and you have a game.