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Lincoln Centre Institute: Capacities for Imaginative Learning

I respond quite well to lists … and working with BFI Education has meant coming across the below significant list. The Lincoln Center Institute in New York has created 10 Capacities for Imaginative Learning as a framework for student learning. They operate as both strategies for, and outcomes of, study according to LCI’s practice.

It struck me that many of these capacities were exhibited in my case studies. It’s an interesting and comprehensive framework which will work well in forthcoming learning evaluations.

Telferscot Primary children at The Cultural Campus, Southbank Centre, London

Telferscot Primary children at The Cultural Campus, Southbank Centre, London

Noticing Deeply: To identify and articulate layers of detail in a work of art through continuous interaction with it over time

Embodying: To experience a work of art through your senses, as well as emotionally, and also to physically represent that experience

Questioning: To ask questions throughout your explorations that further your own learning; to ask the question, “What if?”

Making Connections: To connect what you notice and the patterns you see to your prior knowledge and experiences, as well as to others’ knowledge and experiences, and to text and multimedia resources

Identifying Patterns: To find relationships among the details you notice, group them, and recognize patterns

Exhibiting Empathy: To respect the diverse perspectives of others in the community; to understand the experiences of others emotionally as well as intellectually

Living with ambiguity: To understand that issues have more than one interpretation, that not all problems have immediate or clear-cut solutions, and to be patient while a resolution becomes clear

Creating Meaning: To create your own interpretations based on the previous capacities, see these in the light of others in the community, create a synthesis, and express it in your own voice

Taking Action: To try out new ideas, behaviors or situations in ways that are neither too easy, nor too dangerous or difficult, based on the synthesis of what you have learned in your explorations

Reflecting/Assessing: To look back on your learning, continually assess what you have learned, assess/identify what challenges remain, and assess/identify what further learning needs to happen. This occurs not only at the end of a learning experience, but is part of what happens throughout that experience. It is also not the end of your learning; it is part of beginning to learn something else


Flat flow no more

I thought it was only going to take me a few days to turn the 20,000 word Word doc into a much richer and more meaningful multimodal experience. In fact it took a good couple of weeks. I suppose the analogue equivalent is to have finally put your photos in an album, but with a few more benefits. I hope it’s of value to those in the field.

The mind is a plastic snow dome

The mind is a plastic snow dome

"The mind is a plastic snow dome" - Geary, 2010

I believe I have shown through my case studies that the manipulation of non-verbal modalities is an effective pedagogic method of engaging the mind, of sharpening our meaning-making faculties and of structuring the blizzard of everyday experience. Borrowing once more from Williams, our media texts are mini material “structures of feeling” projected into the world to be engaged with anew by willing agents. Like uniquely patterned snowflakes, they combine, recombine and accumulate into compacted layers. The “snow dome” (Geary 2011:16) reference above is lifted from Geary’s ode to metaphor “I is An Other” in which he expounds the often hidden and influential workings of metaphor in creative thought across disciplines.

He argues that the mind is at its most beautiful and productive when “it’s all shook up” (ibid), when seemingly disparate thoughts collide and make new connections. These abstract concepts are made more concrete in the work of a research group called “Adventures in Multimodality” in the Dept. of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Charles Forceville is developing a course where students understand how metaphor structures language, audiovisual discourse, and cognition on the basis that:

“…metaphor is nowadays considered a phenomenon of thought rather than language. But even today only few scholars examine non verbal metaphors.”

Earlier I referenced Sennett’s reflections on the conditions under which intuition can thrive in the world of the craftsman and the ease with which these can be transposed into the environment of media production. Similarly Geary liberates metaphor from its traditional moorings as a literary device, identifying its enduring and subtle influence in a variety of discourses. He theorizes that:

“Our brains are always prospecting for patterns” (ibid:32), hard-wired as a matter of survival to look for things that are like other things. To ensure that this is the case, when a pattern is detected “the neurotransmitters responsible for sensations of pleasure squirt through our brains” (ibid:35).

This may go some way to explaining the pleasures of flow and absorption in the processes of multimodal manipulation. Recombining the already familiar into audiovisual synaesthetic patterns connects our senses in “a meaningful cluster of purposeful activity” (Loveless). According to Geary, we humans are primordially urged not only to anticipate and perceive these patterns but to communicate and disseminate them. How can we encourage more even participation in the unconscious “blending” (Brooks 2011:248) of audiovisual data and conscious pattern-seeking/making of social relations?

To this end I have attested to the sensitive and structured deployment of media production processes as an essential component of mandatory curricula.  Currently these activities, indeed cultural education activity as a whole, according to Mark Reid at BFI Education, is subject to disaggregated “project-ism” (Reid, 2011) fuelled by “extrinsic motivations” (Pink, 2011). In the context of business performance, Pink distinguishes between 20th century “extrinsic motivators” in the form of enticement/reward and threat/punishment versus 21st century “intrinsic motivators” namely: mastery, autonomy and purpose. See his TED talk @ 12:20 mins. and the RSA Animate version of his talk on the same subject:

Pink’s research findings echo Csikszentmihalyi’s in terms of the synergy between the mastery of a skill and the appropriateness of the challenge. Pink claims that appeals to subjectivity have a more profound effect on motivation than explicit rewards and his findings mirror my own in the field of media education. Surely the ideology inherent in the mechanistic ‘carrot and stick’ model, or learning by rote, has run its course and a commitment to sustained, long term transformation, galvanized by “intrinsic motivation” must be researched and developed. Policy changes in favour of progressive media education will see all young people up to 14 years old gaining sustained access not only to the pleasures of creative digital manipulation but also to the rigours of critical interdisciplinary looking and thinking, to levels of awareness that will take them beyond themselves to ultimately perform as agents in the public realm.

This is ambitious thinking, some might say idealistic when faced with seemingly implacable obstacles in relation to socio-economic constraints, inequalities and social deprivation. However, continual pressure must be brought to bear on education policy-makers to find imaginative routes to raising teacher and child aspiration. In this way “some impact of the world” (Merleau Ponty, referenced by Furstenau and Mackenzie 2009:19) may not be met with a damn of apathy or disinterest but with the permeable flow of perception. I contend that creative media practices kick-start an alert eye and mind, fostering a disposition for more social participation in the form of judicious pattern detection, tension release and feelings of pleasure. In microcosm and on a more mundane level, it is like the feeling some get when solving a Sudoku puzzle. Brooks calls this:

“being propelled by the desire for limerence .. the moment when the inner and the outer patterns mesh” (2011:208)

Pursuing the cross disciplinary thinking in my account, I conclude with two additional observations – one by Albert Einstein, referenced by Geary in his TED talk (@ 7:00 mins) and a further one by Sennett. According to the following source,, and also referenced by Brooks (2011:168), Einstein has this to say in answer to Jacques Hadamard’s question about mental images and mathematicians:

“The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined …There is, of course, a certain connection between those elements and relevant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play with the above mentioned elements. But taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought – before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of sign, which can be communicated to others … The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will.” (Einstein, my italics)

If Einstein sanctions “rather vague play” with non-linguistic modes as an essential prerequisite to “productive thought”, perhaps there is something in this as a basis for future educational strategies, as well being a vindication of Bassey’s “fuzzy generalisations” in the field of educational research.

Inspired by Sennett’s formulation in relation to craftsmanship:

“Reformatting and close comparison decant a familiar practice or tool from an established container; the stress in the first three stages of an intuitive leap is on the if, on what if? Instead of then. That final conscious reckoning carries a burden – in technology transfer as in the arts, the burdened carryover of problems – rather than the clarifying finality of a syllogistic conclusion” (2008:213)

I argue in favour of embracing the rhetorical, open-ended and self-renewing “what if” of intuitive thought as a premise for creative media education, rather than the concluding “then” of an “if” clause – which I speculate, is the emphasis underpinning much National Curriculum decision-making. Perhaps the faltering progress of media education and the fact that it is the last profession to “reinvent itself”, as referenced earlier by Jenkins, is because it shoulders the “burden” or “gravity” of media change on behalf of the rest of society and at the expense of widespread creative practices which are crucially relevant during the switch from page to screen.


Click through to access pdfs.

London Nautical School Interview Transcript

London Nautical School Interview Schedule

Lambeth Academy extracts from Interview Transcript


Banaji, S, Burn, A, & Buckingham, D (2006) The Rhetorics of creativity: a review of the literature (Institute of Education, University of London)

Bassey, M (1998) Paper presented at the BERA Annual Conference, Queen’s University Belfast

Bassey M (1999) Case Study Research In Educational Settings

Bearne, E & Bazalgette, C (2010) Beyond Words: Developing Children’s Response to Multimodal Texts

Benedict, R (1934) Patterns of Culture

boyd, d (2008) Why Youth ¤ Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life in D. Buckingham (ed) Youth, Identity and Digital Media, MacArthur Foundation Series

Brooks, D (2011) The Social Animal

Buckingham, D (2003) Media Education

Buckingham, D (2007a) Beyond Technology

Buckingham, D (2007b) Digital Media Literacies: rethinking media education in the age of the Internet (Research in Comparative and International Education, Vol. 2:1 2007)

Burn, A (2009) Making New Media (Chapter 1)

Burn, A & Durran, J (2007) Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression

Burn, A & Parker, D (2003a) Tiger’s Big Plan: Multimodality and the Moving Image in C Jewitt & G Kress (eds) Multimodal Literacy (56–72)

Burn, A & Parker, D (2003b) Analysing Media Texts

Bryman, A (2008) Social Research Methods

Cannon, M (2010a) Media and Cultural Theory assignment on the MA in Media, Culture & Communication at The Institute of Education (Tutor: Dr. J. Potter) What are the implications for media education of debates about popular culture in the field of Cultural Studies?

Cannon, M (2010b) Social Research Methods assignment on the MA in Media, Culture & Communication at The Institute of Education (Tutor: Dr. Liesbeth de Bloc): What role do social networking sites play in the intergenerational and parent/child relationships in everyday life?

Cannon, M (2011) Digital Video Production assignment on the MA in Media, Culture & Communication at The Institute of Education (Tutor: Dr. J. Potter): Reflective Commentary on the DVP practical assignment with reference to current theoretical debates about digital production, creativity and media education & Youtube link to the final cut of the short film exercise.

Cannon, M (2011) Internet Cultures assignment* on the MA in Media, Culture & Communication at The Institute of Education (Tutor: Dr. J. Potter): Being Social Online: extracting and critiquing the arguments around identity and its impact on social relations, based on experiences of blogging
The Media Mélange blog was built (and rather haphazardly maintained since) for that particular MA module.
*Just FYI: I don’t actually reference this assignment in my dissertation, but without this piece on blogging I wouldn’t have thought to publish the ‘Fashioning and Flow’ piece online. I include it here for completeness sake and thank John Potter for all his input.

Csikszentmihalyi, M (1999) October 1999 American Psychologist: American Psychological Association (Vol. 54, No. 10, 821-827)

Finnish Society on Media Education (2010) Booklets distributed at the Media Literacy Conference 2010 edited by Lundvall: Finnish Media Education Policies & Finnish Media Education Best Practices

Fisher, T, Higgins, C, & Loveless, A (2006) Teachers Learning with Digital Technologies: A Review of Research and Projects (Futurelab)

Furstenau, M & Mackenzie, A (2009) The promise of `makeability’: digital editing software and the structuring of everyday cinematic life (Visual Communication Vol. 8: 5)

Geary, J (2011) I is An Other

Gray, A (2003) Research Practice for Cultural Studies

Green, B (1995) Post-Curriculum Possibilities: English Teaching, Cultural Politics and the Postmodern Turn (Journal of Curriculum Studies Vol. 27: 4, 391-409)

Jenkins, H (2007) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

Jewitt, C (2008) The visual in learning and creativity: a review of the literature (Creative Partnership Series)

Kress & van Leeuwen (2000) Multimodal Discourse: The Modes and Media of Contemporary Communication

Lundvall, (2010) Finnish Media Education Policies booklet. See above reference under Finnish…

Lanham, R (1993) The Electronic Word

Leander, K & Frank, A (2006) The Aesthetic Production and Distribution of Image/Subjects among Online Youth (E-Learning Vol. 3:2)

Loveless, A (2002) Literature Review in Creativity, New Technologies and Learning
(NESTA Futurelab report)

Loveless, A (2007) Creativity, Technology and Learning – a review of recent literature
(NESTA Futurelab report)

Marsh, J & Bearne, E (2008) Moving Literacy on (UKLA)

Mitchel, W, T, J (2005) What do Pictures Want?

New London Group (1996) A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures in Harvard Educational Review (Vol 66:1)

New London Group (2000) Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Designing of Social Futures (ed. Cope, B & Kalantzis, M)

Pink, D (2011) The surprising truth about what motivates us

Potter, J (2009) Curating the Self: Media literacy and identity in digital video production by young learners (PhD thesis)

Reid, M et al (2002) BFI Evaluation Report of the Becta DV Pilot Project

Reid, M (2011) BFI Education’s Response to the Henley Review of Cultural Education for the DCMS

Robinson, K (1999) All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (NACCCE – National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education – report)

Sefton-Green, J (2005) Timelines, Timeframes and Special Effects: software and creative media production (Education, Communication & Information Vol. 5)

Sennett, R (2008) The Craftsman

Simons, H (1996) The Paradox of Case Study

Storey, J (2009) Cultural Theory and Popular culture: A Reader

Vygotsky, L (1978) Mind in Society

Williams, R (1976) Key Words: a vocabulary of culture and society

The Sociocultural – the 3D social media experience

As a social experiment I tasked the film group to introduce editing to some of the more able children in their class. This was an attempt to dislodge existing literacy hierarchies and have them explicitly exercising their new knowledge in a peer-to-peer social environment. The experiment had mixed results. One group of girls seemed not to have the confidence to peer teach possibly because they felt sidelined by the more able children who simply got on with the task independently having been shown the basics.

One pairing worked well giving Taylor a boost of confidence as heard in the audio; when the group was asked if anything had surprised them about themselves, Taylor replied:

“that I was getting good at like doing the… like… on computer. Like, technology, yeah, computer technology. And it was surprising that.. doing it in class wasn’t… I didn’t pick up that much but when we done a movie, it was like, I picked up more things –  learningsteliz_interview.mp3 @ 04:35 mins.

When asked whether their confidence had been affected after peer teaching:

“Yes! my confidence in showing people different things …  on computers … and…and… like talking to them about evacuation things” steliz_interview.mp3 @ 08:05 mins.

Her hesitations were the result of real reflection on her experience. She struggled to express herself verbally but this is a child who revealed a great deal of confidence and sensitivity with the camera, playing with high and low angles and moving camera work when I had not yet even mentioned these techniques. She entirely directed the filming of her brother Tyler’s poem. She felt that she was learning and says as much. This counters negative perceptions of children falling behind in the current system who a) need to be listened to and b) need to be given alternative ways to participate; indeed Taylor indicated that she was happy to have the opportunity to show and talk about her work to her peers.

Taylor’s vocalising of her willingness to reflect reminds me of what Buckingham has observed in relation to Vygotsky’s theories. Both stress the importance of:

“a dynamic (or ‘dialogic’) approach to teaching and learning, in which the students move back and forth between action and reflection … (moving) progressively towards greater control over their own thought processes” (2003:143)

I would argue that the interview itself has formed part of the pedagogic process and that “moving between one language mode and another” (ibid) in a social process involving their teacher and peers has helped them relate chunks of knowledge, generalise about their experience, internalise it and move beyond it. Perhaps writing ought not to be so dominant a means of expression in terms of showing critical aptitude and engagement. As Ken Robinson pointed out in his TED talk @ 4:10 mins referenced earlier, “education in a way dislocates very many people from their natural talents.”

Tyler, the boy twin, was particularly vocal in the interview, keen to express his knowledge and aspirations. It seems he has experienced similar empowerment and is primed to learn more:

“I think I can teach people when I’m older, like kids in school, like you teached us and show them how to work the computers properly … and go round the world. I might be a TV producer and can do advertisements, it would be easy to show people cos I know, I know what to do properly now.”  steliz_interview.mp3 @ 02:10 mins.

I interpret working the computers properly as exposing him to a multimodal medium with relevance to his life beyond school, over which he has control and with which he can express sensitivities beyond those he can convey in words.

Daniel on the other hand, who was so willing to commentate and express himself on video weeks earlier clammed up and declined any invitation to talk on the audio. The flow so evident on film had deserted him in this context. I believe he felt exposed in the company of more assertive class members which only goes to show the rhetorical “zones” he did reach whilst in the process of editing and the impact of context. As seen in the video, the children moved around helping each other, spontaneously appreciating and sharing knowledge and interacting in what appeared to be a co-operative and reassuring environment – quite literally a level playing field of their own making, a 3D embodied social media experience.

Some support staff showed disapproval that these children should be allowed to attend the editing sessions, seeing them as a treat to be earned or denied. There was a feeling that the film group were being rewarded with media fun for bad behaviour and on one occasion Taylor was absent from a session for this reason. It is understandable but unfortunate that media-related learning is at times perceived in this way. It is an attitude that undermines creative media practices, perpetuating the spurious idea that they are bonus privileged activities, or “dispensable embellishment(s)” (Jewitt, 2008:15, drawing on Millard & Marsh) to be delivered by transient experts. All too often they constitute a break from ‘what really matters’ – the delivery of largely passive institutional learning.

It is officially acknowledged that mandatory curriculum content is bloated with bolted-on directives:

“(it) was originally envisaged as a guide to study in key subjects  … As it has developed, the National Curriculum has come to cover more subjects, prescribe more outcomes and take up more school time than originally intended.” (April 2011)

Thankfully there are school leadership teams, even in the most deprived areas as evidenced in my case studies, with the expertise to meet and exceed the standards set by the National Curriculum as well as the vision to exploit the playing fields beyond.

Critical Creators – “…they made it go like a shadow away”

As regards the teacher, any planning time involved in this type of ‘lesson’ takes the form of eliminating any barriers to flow. That is, the project is as set up as possible, making sure that photos, footage and clips are already sourced and loaded into recognisable categories and folders and that their “multimodal mixing desks” (Burn 2003b:23) are ready for action. Most importantly, the task must be simple and achievable with clear parameters; parameters which can and indeed should be stretched, preferably at their own pace and with some kind of accompanying rationale. If left to their own devices what results is a form of anarchic, playful mash-up as exemplified in

This is great fun and it could be argued that children should be given the latitude to experiment, play and map the possible in this way, as one might brainstorm a topic and then follow up with a more focused exercise.

In an opportunistic moment when all the children were ‘on task’, I film them whilst editing and believe that the film demonstrates Csikszentmihalyi’s autonomous “flow” and Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” in action.

From the beginning of to approx. 2:37 mins, a study of each pairs’ gestures, dialogue, voice-over performance and eye movements (from written poem to moving image representation, from viewer to timeline, from image bank to film project) reveals the children making a series of small collaborative judgements: these routinely disengaged children are absorbed in sustained critical evaluation. The fore-grounded girl and boy are twins who rarely interact in the school context but are seen here working as a unit. At 2:16 mins Tyler is even semantically engaged: “… so we can use a still one for this”. Tyler is particularly taken with the editing process and relishes the opportunity to explore other features autonomously.  At 3:00 mins I ask him a rather abstruse question: “Does it work?” and his triumphant “Yep!” is testament not only to his level of confidence but also to his understanding of what “work” actually means. I do not have to say: “Have you designed an aesthetically pleasing, meaningful, flowing combination of image, voice and sound for maximum audience engagement?”

Daniel invites Taylor to look at some functionality he uncovers and I ask him to expand. From 3:09 – 5:50 mins, he provides a commentary on the beauty of this medium for him as he edits a piece on his day at the BFI. Although he doesn’t have the vocabulary in places, he has a good conceptual grasp of the affordances of the software:

Daniel: You can … if you press these buttons, look, you can like, do the back, or pass it. If you want to change anything, you just like, you just gotta do that … cos look … if you make a  mistake you can just take it out from the video.
Int: Brilliant!
So, if you, if you make a mistake you can just go back, and just delete it and when you’ve deleted it, you can just watch your film over and then you’ve got a film with no more mistakes.

He talks to me with all the unselfconscious candour and enthusiasm of new discovery and in ways which perfectly rehearse Loveless’s “clusters of purposeful activity” referenced earlier. His preoccupation with correcting mistakes is an indication that they are a regular feature in his school world.

Int: Brilliant! Can I see it from the top? … Have you put your “Good Night Mr. Tom pictures in?
Daniel: Yeah
Fantastic! How did you do that?
Daniel: Well we’ve got a picture library with all our pictures and… well … Miss got pictures from the um .. internet.. from Goodnight Mr Tom and…
Int: Yeah, how did you put them in?
Daniel: Um, well we…
Int: Let’s have a look… you show me…

Daniel consistently uses the first person plural indicating his appreciation of the group effort even though this is his own film. With more fluency in his delivery now that he can physically demonstrate it – he shows me how to drag photos into the project, select the appropriate music and record a voice-over. He has rediscovered the pleasures of matching, sifting and sorting that should ideally characterise infant play. Even Taylor next to him, has stopped to listen and watch. See above @ 5:05 mins.

At 5:56 mins,Chloe signals her intentions. She has considered how best to proceed and revises her written poem on the basis of how her digital composition is progressing. In the normal course of a lesson I am told that Chloe is mouse-like and hardly speaks and when she does, you can barely hear her. In this context she finds a clear, decisive and commanding voice, sending her ordinarily more assertive “assistant” off to get her a pen. She also has plans for the sound: “It’s gonna be all over that bit, but the rest that don’t fit in, I’m just gonna cut if off” with a confident waft of the hand.

The class teacher, Carolyn Linsday, also the Assistant Head, reports how empowered these children have become in comparison with when they started; the way they interact in this video is witness to the fact. Tyler knows that there were two ways of dragging sound into I-Movie – one where the sound underlies the whole piece and one that introduces finer editing control on top of the clip. From 7:12 mins onwards we see him peer teaching his sister on these issues in a mentor-like capacity as they explore a Rhythm and Blues take on the Evacuation…

Lara, in an impromptu fashion, picks up my Flip-camera and starts filming and interviewing. Meanwhile Daniel has found a quiet place on his own to continue his work; indeed this is the case with many of the children, they splinter and wander off to different parts of the available space and make their own creative, communicative bubble. At 7:57 mins Daniel resumes his commentator-style delivery and again, unprompted, explains to Lara that he has been reviewing Tyler’s film and looking for inspiration:

“Hi, I’m just watching Tyler, well he’s doing his poem for …um.. his video which he’s just finished … and am watching these parts so I can get more ideas about my poem, so… yeah.. it’s all good you know and, yeah it’s really good and I’ve got some pictures of Good Night Mr. Tom.”

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory that the state of ‘flow’ makes the activity worth doing for its own sake without any explicit end-purpose is particularly resonant here and further reinforces the ways in which media production can enhance engagement. See the relation between flow and “instrinsic motivation”.

Brooks, drawing on Robert Burton, claims that thoughts are more like sensations whilst one is ‘in the moment’:

“Feelings of knowing, correctness, conviction and certainty aren’t deliberate conclusions and conscious choices. They are mental sensations that happen to us.” (2011:95)

Lara then records Chloe’s finished film on the screen, introducing it in the manner of a TV presenter. The amount of self-directed learning, as opposed to compliant, is striking and I am left wondering how much more these ‘under-performing’ primary school children could independently achieve with recursive access to mobile, digital technologies. From the audio we hear Tyler is already conceiving of his next project in relation to genre and audience; he feels the need to redress the emotional balance from sad non-fiction to “comedy fiction”: see below steliz_interview.mp3 @ 06:25 mins.

With more time I would have developed the issues they introduce around the plausibility of fiction and the veracity of non-fiction, the imagination and written narratives compared with the imagination and moving image. See above steliz_interview.mp3 @ 03.30 mins & @ 06:00 mins; arguments and debates on which they appear to have strong views.

Case Study C – St Elizabeth Primary School (SEPS)

When I started working at SEPS it was with ‘gifted and talented’ children; my ICT-related skills were earmarked to cater for the higher order thinking of more able children. This may well be a legitimate expenditure of school funds, however, my personal interest lies with the less able children and my conviction that digital processes can to some extent stimulate their heretofore dormant gifts and talents.

After two years of film-making experience, 14 year old Bob from LNS, has this to say on simplicity in film making:

“If I simplify the story then if I make it sort of  simple enough then I can make it look more advanced in the way I shoot it, if you have a simple enough story then like you can make really good and fantastic shots around it, and make the film sort of… elevated in a way”

Bob understands that cinematic representation is not all about overt showing and literal telling. Recalling Bergala’s hiding/revealing theme, it’s about the thoughtful and tightly wrought crafting of a scene. With ‘film-maker as manipulator’ in mind, I attended the 2010 LATE (London Association for Teachers of English)/BFI Conference on ‘Re-framing Poetry’, where Michael Rosen presented the case for the learning that can come from Performing a Poem and filming it with simple gestures.

I took this a step further and had a small group of SEPS Year 6 children with low literacy skills editing their own performed poems with I-Movie. The children had been studying the World War 2 Evacuation and had written a short poem from the evacuee’s point of view. We had sourced photographs, found web movie footage and most groups had produced a shot list from which they created a moving image representation of their poem. We discussed camera distance and the use of visual metaphors to express certain concepts and emotions. For example, Taylor came up with a close-up of hands fumbling a tissue for sadness and receding footsteps for saying good-bye.

Chloe, Elijah and Tyler’s filmed poems, accessible here, are good examples of what can be achieved with traditional literacy input and some technical guidance, but mainly with these children’s existing understanding of the medium of film and their capacity to be social and supportive.

St Elizabeth poetry/film shot list 1

St Elizabeth poetry/film shot list 1

St Elizabeth poetry/film shot list 2

St Elizabeth poetry/film shot list 2

The Sociocultural – “It felt like I’m at home”

It was difficult to separate the social and cultural benefits of this case study as they overlapped in so many respects, not least because the setting was a major European purveyor of culture. Both Beverley and Fran reported significant sociocultural benefits for them, for the children and for the school. The school has a history of Arts projects involving the local school community and innovative animation projects and as such it was primed for taking risks. Indeed Fran had herself been educated in an unorthodox manner where integrated, non-subject driven content was central. During my interview with her, she was impressed with being given so much freedom, so much in the way of resources and so much expert back-up: “At no point did they say ‘No!’”.  For Bev also, the Year 4 teacher at the coal-face of delivery and logistics, it was a dream team fuelled by flow.

At the outset Bev said she would have walked away from the project given the chance because of her perceived lack of control over it, however, she gradually began to see how all the different activities were coming together and the concomitant effect on the children:

“ I really do think their self confidence and their belief in what they can do has really improved … and they’re proud of what they’ve done. I think they’ve come together as a whole class. Really great. Supporting each other on the interviews, you know, really helping, helping Harvey come up with a poem, they’ve gelled together, really worked well together as a class… It’s been an amazing thing.”

When asked if she could have changed anything, Bev merely said that she would like recognition, almost absolution in fact, that she would perhaps not have time to cover the ICT topic for that term… which shows the pressure that most teachers are under to ‘sign off’ chunks of content in a timely fashion. The overall irony being that there had been an overwhelming accumulation of learning for all concerned in the areas of information, communication and technology. Media education is as much about the teacher’s ongoing willingness to learn and grow and Bev was a great example of this.

A further consideration in terms of enhanced engagement in media-related educational practice is spatial arrangement and the physical environment in which children are immersed. Whilst the children were annotating the photos I videoed the group of girls in the audio transcript above and asked them how the photos (featuring locations rather than events) made them feel. Milly was unhesitant in her appraisal: “It felt like I’m at home”. There is an interesting mix of tenses here, as if the feeling, as prompted by the photo, was still fresh weeks later. See @ 03:06 mins.

As opposed to a one-off, this was a sustained project. Bev noted how much the children grew into the Southbank Centre: “Their confidence at using the Southbank is amazing, they believe it to be theirs”. A fact corroborated by Fran who received an email from parents whose child, on the strength of this project, had taken them to the Centre and given them “a guided tour”.

Telferscot children at the BFI & The Royal Festival Hall

Telferscot children at the BFI & The Royal Festival Hall

There was an overwhelming sense that the children had claimed this public space as their own: this was seen in the way they would settle into a particular ‘lunch space’ and interact with the area (photo1 below); the way they went from space to space and up and down stairs in an orderly, confident, chatty fashion (photo 2); also in the way they would settle down to work in groups (sometimes lying on the floor) in whatever space was allocated to them within the building (photos 3 & 4) without recourse to asking for permission, which had notably been the case at the start of the project.

Photo 3 shows the children planning how their artwork and media creations could be publicly displayed: they are making co-design choices in the vicinity of toddlers, grandparents and chatting adults in a bar. This is mobile, relevant and engaged learning in a real-life context. Although most boroughs are not blessed with the resources of an international arts centre, this project is testament to the impact of committed institutional partnerships and restoring executive status to the teacher. It is the teacher leading the process, not the expert and this is the premise on which such a project could be more broadly replicated.

The Creative – “I never knew elevators could sing!”

Throughout the project media production was seamlessly integrated into the literacy and arts curriculum; it was not bolted on with a sense of privilege or reward, nor taught discreetly as an IT lesson, but woven sensitively into other activities without fanfare. Photoshop montage was used as a means through which a surreal narrative – inspired by their own photographs and other found resources – could be written and recorded in their sketchbooks.

Telferscot Poetry Busking outside Royal Festival Hall

Telferscot Poetry Busking outside Royal Festival Hall

Having completed research at the Poetry Library, their London poems were lifted off the page and embodied through filmed performances outside the RFH. See the movie on the school website, along with various podcasts and meticulously kept blogs of the whole project. The children were each given the chance to have a go at filming and made decisions about camera distance based on the content of each poem.

A further opportunity for public display was afforded by the use of time-lapsed Southbank scenes as a backdrop whilst they performed their poems in the foreground with accompanying dramatic gestures. See below: @ 05:02 mins onwards.

This video then ran like a commentary to the rest of their “Festival of Britain” installation. Children watched the video of themselves performing repeatedly, indicating that this is a medium of compelling interest to them, one which generates a sense of familiarity, strangeness and delight. As already stated, such an ambiguous terrain is well-suited for pedagogic intervention in multi-disciplinary educational contexts.

It is clear from the videoed poems that the normal hierarchical structures inherent in traditional literacy teaching have been unsettled: the emphasis is not on how well you can inscribe but on how well you can communicate your thoughts and ideas rhetorically, through gesture and voice. What surfaces is not the individual aptitude of the children but their collective, uninhibited willingness to experience wonder, to indulge their imagination and produce an entertaining group performance, even from the most challenged and ordinarily challenging children. As earlier, see above embedded video: @ 05:02 mins and the ensuing 4 mins.

The link between motivated creative engagement and opportunities for public performance is explicitly revealed in this exercise. Arguably much of its success was down to the opportunities for recursive rehearsal afforded by creative media processes: you do not make and correct mistakes in a traceable way, you experiment and overlay design revisions, the route is invisible and immaterial – an empowering experience, especially for struggling children. Integrated immersion in an environment combining established literacy and craft practices, digital media processes, and oral and gestural performance has proved fertile territory for the creation and sharing of quality texts and for the inspiring of confidence.

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