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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Performative Inquiry: Arresting the Villains in Jack & the Beanstalk


From flower arranging to negotiating with a willful cow, an educator stumbles across the threshold into a performative space of learning that invites her to pay attention to what matters when a teacher encounters her students. Performative inquiry in the classroom brings to the curriculum a spirit and practice of inquiry, critical and creative thinking and reflection, and embodied engagement. The ambition is not to simply “put on a play” or expose children to the arts, but to use the arts as an active means of critical and creative inquiry in pedagogical engagements across the curriculum.

Performative inquiry provides a theoretical underpinning that supports the use of the arts as a viable vehicle for learning across the curriculum. Performative inquiry in the classroom calls for cross-curricular explorations that are embodied, relational, and intimate. Bringing performative inquiry into science, language arts, social sciences, or other disciplines opens new ways of working with students that encourage student agency and empowerment. Integrating the arts through performative inquiry engages students in meaningful curricular explorations, thus enlarging the space of the possible.

Drawing on David Appelbaum’s conceptualization of the stop, a moment of risk, a moment of opportunity, the author calls us to attention, to listen to the embodied texts that we create through our engagement in the arts. It is in the listening, the critical and creative thinking, and the reflection that is our inquiry, that performative inquiry in the classroom offers a powerful means of engaging students in meaningful ways of learning through the arts.

Creating an imaginary world through role drama—working with visualizations, tableaux, soundscapes, and improvisation—invite metaphor, symbolism, imagery, relational engagement and communal awareness and reflection. These are the possible embodied literary engagements that performative inquiry brings to the pedagogical spaces of the Secondary English classroom. Performative inquiry encourages a rewriting of curricular texts that perform us—texts that have as yet to be imagined. Performative inquiry encourages a critical reading and re/interpretation of how we come to understand our worlds of relationship and engagement.

We come, each of us, with our own questions, biases, motivations, experiences, cultural and social perspectives; but we come also to engage critically, reflectively, responsively, playfully, creatively. We write together an emergent new curricular text of engagement; a performative text that lends itself to interpretation, reflection, revision—a gift of presence and curiosity permitted by an embodied communal inquiry that engages us intimately.

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