Teaching Commons > Events > Teaching & Learning Conference > Teaching as an Act of Body and Brain (2011)

Teaching as an Act of Body and Brain (2011)

Nancy Houfek
Nancy Houfek giving the keynote presentation during 2011's conference.
We celebrated the 16th anniversary of the conference in 2011, which has become a spring quarter staple for faculty across the university. Notable presentations included a workshop from Natalie Turner-Jones of the Theatre School and a keynote by Nancy Houfek, a nationally recognized theatre educator and Head of Voice & Speech for the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University.

The theme of this conference focused on teaching as an act of body and brain. We encouraged presenters and attendees to consider the ways in which an awareness of the body and the physical space of the classroom can influence teaching and learning. To what extent can the relationship between body and brain help us engage students in person or online?

Keynote Presentation: The Act of Teaching

As teachers, we often focus solely on the content of our subject matter and leave the quality of our presentations to chance. After a class we may wonder, "Did they get it? Am I doing everything I can to get this point across?" Nancy Houfek's keynote presentation, The Act of Teaching, gave us some specific skills used in the theatre to become more effective, whether in a large lecture hall or a small seminar. Our students will receive us better if we consider gesture, body language and vocal use as important and often neglected aspects of communication, skills that actors are trained in. We examined how a playwright might approach creating a lecture. We learned how to use our lecture notes in the way an actor uses a script. We explored physical metaphors as a way to illuminate complex and important concepts as a director might stage a text. If the various learning modes of our students can be opened to our passion for our material when we bring a variety of theatre techniques to classrooms, ultimately our students will learn better.

About the Keynote Speaker

Nancy Houfek is Head of Voice & Speech for the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University, where she teaches vocal production, coaches the professional acting company, and administers the M.F.A. in voice training pedagogy. A stage director, award-winning actor, and nationally recognized theatre educator, she brings over 30 years of working with performers, educators, and public speakers to her teaching. Nancy has presented workshops for the Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning, the Harvard Medical School, the Kennedy School of Government, the Radcliffe Fellows program, and the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as for universities, academic organizations and private sector clients throughout the country. The Derek Bok Center has filmed her work with Harvard Faculty; "The Act of Teaching" has been distributed to faculty development centers nationwide.

Conference Workshop

Following Nancy's keynote speech, Theatre School Professor Natalie Turner-Jones led a practical workshop exploring theatre-based techniques that can be applied to the classroom environment—many of them immediately. We know that our non-verbal forms of communication speak volumes about who we are, what we mean, whether we are comfortable, and whether or not we are hiding something.  Most teachers are excellent at reading, interpreting, and responding to the body language of others, but few of us make a conscious choice about the non-verbal messages we convey—especially in the classroom. The way we use the classroom space, gesticulate to make a point, move, breathe or pause all convey a clear message to our students. Making conscious choices in these areas empowers us to create the learning environment that we want for our students. Using basic concepts found in the areas of movement, acting, voice, mask, Le Jeu and spatial awareness, teachers can drastically improve teacher-student interactions, focus group attention where you want it, maximize engagement in the subject area, and create a more playful learning environment.


  • Conference Program (591 KB)
  • "Embracing the iPod" [slides (1439 KB); handout (392 KB)].  Margaret Workman, College of Science and Health. 
  • "'Coloring within the Lines' of Learning Management Systems and Constructed Meaning in Online Teaching" [slides (1502 KB)].  Ruth Gannon Cook, School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
  • "Communicating (un)fairness in the classroom: Research examples & recommendations" [slides (109 KB)].  Sean Horan, College of Communication.
  • "Neuroscience Perspective Regarding Teaching, Learning and Patterns of Thinking" [handout (504 KB)].  Owais Succari, Driehaus College of Business.
  • "Learning Differences: What's It All About?" [slides (2,492 KB)].  Judith Kolar, Lavonne Kopca, & Elisabeth Sullivan, Student Affairs.
  • "COLT Teaching Excellence Luncheon Panel".  Euan Hague [handout (22 KB)], LAS; Dorothy Kozolowski [slides (1,216 KB)], LAS; Eric Schwabe [slides (465 KB), Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media.
  • "Awareness: A Way to Freedom and Wisdom" [slides (1,524 KB)].  Guillermo Campuzano, School of Public Service.
  • "Using the Science of Learning (Neuroplasticity) to Inform our Teaching" [slides (1.8 MB)].  Dorothy Kozlowski (College of Science and Health), Jane Brody (The Theatre School), Christine Skolnik (LAS), and Sandra Virtue (College of Science and Health).
  • "The Facebook Generation: Creating Virtual Spaces of Engagement, Critical Thinking, and Learning for DePaul Students" [slides (675 KB)].  Richard Morales and Kristen Reid Salomon, Student Affairs.
  • "Strategies for Engaging International Students" [slides (523 KB)].  Christina Gamino (Driehaus College of Business), Kathy Larson (ELA), and students Khalid Alsameti, Tamaki Ohno, Jia Wang, Yanyan Zhang, Chawit Wongwattanakit, Tiffany Ma, Liu Chi, and Zhan Wang
  • "Portraits of Teachers: Five Perspectives on Teaching Adult Learners" [slides (873 KB); handout (234 KB)].  Pamela Meyer and Catherine Marienau, School of Continuing and Professional Studies​.