The “Apatow Model”: 21C Learning as Improv?

I was just listening to an interview with veteran actor Jon Lithgow talking about making a new movie with Judd Apatow. Apatow is the director of most of the funniest movies made in the last 10 years. Lithgow talked about how different Apatow’s movie making technique is from other directors he’s worked with.

In Apatow’s method, he starts with a basic idea in the script. He brings the actors together and has them start performing. Apatow then sits behind a black screen and encourages the actors to improvise with the basic premise. He prompts, offers suggestions and encourages them to experiment with different approches. The cameras are rolling constantly as they do this.

Lithgow reports they may record 20 minutes of film to produce just 50 seconds of actual on-screen work. They can do this, of course, because the filming is digital and the technology facilitates the exploration. No need to worry about wasted film.

It was interesting to hear Lithgow, a classically trained actor, contrast this with traditional theatre, where the emphasis is on learning the lines and trying to reproduce them perfectly, according to the writer and the directors will.

This is a lot like the contrast between traditional education and 21C learning. In traditional learning the teacher (director) tells the students what they need to know and the students try to learn it perfectly and reproduce someone else’s vision.

In the “Apatow Model” students are co-creators. The teacher (director?) starts with a question, a problem or premise and then supports and guides students as they solve the ‘problem’ through trial and error. After lots of error and experimentation the best ideas are selected and it is shared and ready for evaluation. Our use of technology allows for and facilitates experimentation and trail and error because the resources we use (information, knowledge, etc.) are no longer scarce.

Interesting to see these changes being applied  in other activities. I may have to get myself a black screen for the classroom 🙂

4 thoughts on “The “Apatow Model”: 21C Learning as Improv?

  1. When I read that it made me think of how the 3 part math lesson is suppose to go (frOm what I’ve read and watched on edugains) with the middle part being students exploring and coming to solutions without much teacher interference and then the final part with sharing solutions and coming up with a couple of the best solutions. Anyway, just the connection it made me think of.

  2. Great connection Sue!! I agree. The difficult part with math, of course, is that we’re so programmed to look for the product and a single right answer rather than with other areas where there are shades of grey and different perspectives. But yes, that process for math is exactly what I hope we’re moving towards.

  3. I think there has to be some pre-teaching done. Can’t just say, hey guys create a hexagon with these angles & measurements w/o the students at least having a basic knowledge of how the tools to accomplish that task work. I know when I was in grade school I’d be the kind of kid who if I didn’t have at least some idea of what I was doing I wouldn’t try. Maybe if I’d had more inquiry based learning opportunities when I was younger I wouldn’t have such a fear of being wrong, or nervousness about speaking up in case what I say is off-base. You know, basic risk taking.

  4. I agree, or at least some opportunity for the kids to say “I don’t know how to do ‘this’ and I need to, to complete the task”, then you can fill in the gaps. Right now I spend some time reviewing and establishing the basic skills before letting them work on a problem. I think the more you do it, the more willing the kids are to take risks.

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