Unexpected Lessons from Bossypants

Earlier this week, I read Bossypants, Tina Fey’s memoir-style humor book.  Knowing that Fey has a young daughter, I wanted to see if she’d say anything relevant to the parent-tutor mindset.

She did, but not where I expected.

Fey wrote about mothering, but of greater value were her thoughts on improvisational comedy:

[The rule] of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND.  You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.  If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill.  But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” … and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere….

Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.  Your initiations are worthwhile.

What’s true for the improv’er (need the apostrophe or it’d be improver, as in “one who improves things,” which, interestingly enough, could be a synonym for tutor) rings true for the parent communicating with her or her child.  When your child expresses interest in a subject, don’t let the conversation end there.

There’s the simple “yes” route:

YOUR CHILD: Today I learned about biodegradation of organic matter.

YOU: Uh huh.

Or the “yes, and” option:

YOUR CHILD: Today I learned about biodegradation of organic matter.

YOU: Uh huh.  And what did you learn?

YOUR CHILD: I shouldn’t have left that peanut butter sandwich in my locker for two months.

Hmmm.  You get the point, though.  Ideally, your active participation in the conversation will help you connect with your child, both personally and academically.

Fey also says,

….THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.  If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what?  Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel.  I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike.

This advice really is improv-specific.  Let’s adapt it for education: There ARE mistakes, but they can double as opportunities.  A student fails a test due to a series of mistakes, but each error can provide a valuable trial-and-error lesson that can increase overall comprehension and avoid another such result–so that next time your child looks more like a hamster.  Which is, of course, every parent’s dream.


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