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 – learning ” steliz_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 my..my 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.
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 max_mashup.mov.
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 stelizabeth_film_project_editing.mov 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.
Daniel: 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?
Int: 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 stelizabeth_film_project_editing.mov @ 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.
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.
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 telferscot_culturalcampus_interview.mov @ 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”.
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.
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.
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: telferscot_culturalcampus_interview.mov @ 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: telferscot_culturalcampus_interview.mov @ 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.
Near the end of the project I interviewed a group of three higher achieving girls, interested to know what and how they were learning. They were in the playground assessing my photographs taken during four days of observation and I videoed the first part of it and for practical reasons audio-recorded the rest. I had asked them to annotate the photos with any memories, comments or observations. See examples photos and their comments: Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3. This transcript picks up the latter half of the conversation and makes reference to various sections of the video:
Interviewer: Did you feel as though you were doing a lot of playing?
… this is how it looked to me because the input seemed like a seamless stream of linked fun activities, however as is often the case in qualitative research …
Sarah: No, I felt as though I was doing lots of working.
… one’s assumptions are challenged from the outset, thankfully. Sarah emphatically sets up a dialectic between working and playing and by repeating my sentence structure it is clear she has strong feelings about the project. From this and later comments, it strikes me that this is a girl who likes known parameters and for whom the fluidity of this project may not have worked so well.
Milly: Yeah, so did I!
Milly’s agreement stems from an intensity of engagement in particular aspects of the project rather than from any negative feeling.
Jemima: It feels like work, but fun.
Jemima has nothing but praise for the Cultural Campus and is eager to redress the balance in favour of fun. At the same time, however, the dialectic is maintained with the word but. This same distinction is drawn by another child in the video, who looks at a photograph of their Maths lesson and comments: “That was when we were working” See telferscot_culturalcampus_interview.mov @ 00:10 secs
Sarah: I think it feels like work, work, work, hard, hard, hard
Sarah maintains her position in the most rhetorical manner. Could it be that she is challenged by group work? dealing with change? making an extra effort or using her imagination?
Int: Yeah, but did you enjoy it?
Sarah: um… er….average…
Int: Average type…
Sarah’s disinterest is a refreshingly honest response and a testament to how young people’s responses are by no means homogenous. No matter how much adult time and effort invested, or opportunities or resources made available, Sarah reminds us that arts programmes of this nature are not necessarily the universal golden ticket and there will always be room for diversification and widening of appeal.
Jemima: It was fun work though, it was fun work though
Jemima is once again keen to make her voice heard and restore the positive. She was particularly enthusiastic most of the time. Indeed after a session recalling all the various creative and media-related activities that the children had undertaken over the previous weeks, she got up and exclaimed “Thank you world! This has been the best day ever!” See embedded video above telferscot_culturalcampus_interview.mov @ 04:48 mins. She also wrote “I love life!” on one of the photos a couple of weeks later.
Sarah: But I prefer being at school sometimes because I’m tired
Sarah will not be swayed by Jemima’s optimism and perhaps the daily commute to the Southbank ‘to be put to work’ was just too much for her, preferring the predictable daily school routine closer to home.
Int: Do you think anything’s erm.. changed since you started the…?
The vagueness of the question is intended to generate as varied a response as possible, hopefully one that is personalised and heartfelt.
Jemima: Yeah a lot!
Milly: A lot
Int: What’s changed?
Milly: I’ve learnt so much about England
Jemima: and Indonesia
Both Milly and Jemima respond with a characteristic willingness to learn. What has changed for them is the extent to which they have become more knowledgeable individuals and their critical awareness is primed to make the most of opportunities as they arise. They even suggest the next one should take place in Paris because they know so much about England now.
Sarah: What do you mean what’s changed?
With a natural sense of pragmatism, Sarah asks for clarification, she does not accept the vagueness of the question and needs specifics.
Int: I mean is there anything different now to … the way you think about things?
Sarah: Do you mean like if I have learnt anything?
Sarah: Erm, yeah, about Indonesian instruments, the Southbank and the Festival of Britain and stuff
There’s a sense of reeling off a list here, of going through the motions. The CLC noted that some of the children were unclear about their ultimate aim i.e. to produce an art installation in Royal Festival Hall exhibition space, and that this objective needed to be explained on a number of occasions. Perhaps Sarah is a child who needs context in order to fully engage and perhaps more input as to why an art installation is considered a good thing in the first place.
It is a further reminder that children need to be regarded as individuals where possible and although for most people collaborative, immersive arts projects might be fun in and of themselves, other more critically engaged children may need contextualisation and a rationale. Indeed, just as History has us questioning the reliability of sources, we could all benefit from a focus on context in the Arts, the better to start making connections between cultural institutions and the education sector.
Int: … and what about the performing and all that, the poems, and the sketching, the photoshopping?
Milly: I know right now that I want to be a poet when I’m older
Recalling Simon at LA, here’s another unprompted, heartfelt and gratifying reference to future aspiration. This comment exemplifies Milly’s having reached Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” (Vygotsky 1978:90). She has enjoyed being stretched beyond her comfort zone and has a thirst for more.
Sarah: Really? You want to be a poet?
This was the only time in the interview that Sarah responded with anything other than indifference. Her zone lies elsewhere. From her surprised tone, perhaps she’s more of a scientist and her needs might have been met with more of an end view in sight.
The Cultural Campus is an initiative involving national institution partnerships and local schools, the purpose being to promote learning and socio-cultural understanding beyond the classroom and between institutions. The education departments of the BFI and Southbank Centre (SBC) teamed up with Lambeth City Learning Centre (LCLC) and a few local schools to deliver the school curriculum over a few specified weeks. The project is ongoing and my analysis centers on Telferscot Primary School (TPS), in Balham South London, from January 2011.
Beverley Keyte and her Year 4 class, under the guidance of Fran Welch the Assistant Head, spent two days a week in and around the Southbank complex for the first 6 weeks of the Spring term 2011. The idea was for the children to experience the entire Southbank environment as their ‘classroom’ for this period and display their creative output as part of the ‘Festival of Britain’ exhibition. Fran drew up an integrated programme of arts and media activities – highly original and multimodal in nature – under the theme ‘Feel the Beat of London Life’ which was to underpin its creative content as well as reflect the diverse footfall of visitors to the Southbank.
In most cases, Fran’s thematic approach was a stimulating source of inspiration for the children and of ‘possibility thinking’ for the teachers. Activities included: writing narratives illustrated with surreal photoshopped collages of their own photos; performing their poetry in front a time-lapsed film using green screen technology; being filmed busking their poems outside the RFH; visiting the BFI Mediathèque and watching films; creating wordle compositions; producing podcasts and blog postings; sound collection & recording for later editing.
The boys describe their film as an exploration of ‘small man syndrome’ and it was part of the Cinémathèque brief to cut out a significant scene of the film at the end, so as to create an enigma and play with constraints. Interestingly, the boys had chosen to lose the fight scene even before this part of the brief had been revealed. This is significant because when the LNS boys started their filming activities two years ago, whilst elaborating the theme of camera movement they enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to film explicit fight sequences in the BFI corridors. Their decision to cut such a scene and leave it to the imagination of the audience could signal progress in terms of a more sophisticated and subtle approach to film making. See Tim’s edit, which was screened in Paris (4 minutes).
It could be that through critical viewing of film clips throughout the project (for example, the Cohen brothers, “No Country for Old Men”, see blog post and the direction of film maker, Emma Sullivan, their output was influenced by the stylistic qualities of independent film-making as distinct from the conventions of mainstream Hollywood movies or TV drama, styles of output which, according to Alain Bergala, overtly show everything. The electronic sampling that makes up the soundtrack, however, was Tim’s own personal choice – an indication that he enjoys the bass driven beats of contemporary dub-step. The coupling of external cultural influences and internalised popular culture is constitutive of Williams’ “lived culture”.
I started this Cultural section with an examination of the style and content of the boys’ film in order to introduce how Williams’ “lived culture” evolves into “recorded culture” and media education’s vital role in ensuring young people’s participation in that process. Drawing on Hodge and Kress, Burn & Durran also re-assess the “selective tradition” – the third dimension of Williams’ tripartite structure of culture – concluding that:
“culturally valued texts become so through a historical accretion of competing commentary.” (2007:10)
Far from being separate phenomena, the lived, the recorded and the selective are intertwined, even more so in the digital age, feeding off each other in a hybrid, undisciplined, barrier-busting manner. As mentioned earlier, popular music seems to have found a legitimate, celebratory route to genre-bending, most recently seen and heard in the collaboration between the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Dubstep/Drum n Bass outfit ‘Nero’ but when it comes to the educational sphere, it seems there are too many diverging agendas, value structures and competing forces for progressive media education to gain smooth passage.
At certain stages of the Paris project various tensions manifested themselves: disparate discourses scraped up against each other likes tectonic plates. Emma, the teacher/film maker, was concerned about how much input to give the boys and how much latitude? How much re-editing of imperfect work versus letting it be? How much to consider professional reputation – given the context of its distribution – set against autonomous student-empowerment? How much teacherly order as opposed to relaxed spontaneity in lessons? How much technical teaching and how much independent experimentation? For the CLC evaluation submitted to Paris, Emma commented on some of these tensions:
“It is always tempting to improve their work – but I think this would be a mistake. They have to learn that it is hard work and you have to be very organised and precise with film making. If I tidied up their edit and added better music/sound I don’t think they would have understood necessarily why it was better. This film was entirely of their own making, and I think therefore their next film will be better for it.”
Bob, the self-elected student spokesperson, at first expressed dissatisfaction with the highly constrained parameters of the Cinémathèque film exercises – for example: ‘A passes through a space and gives something to B, all in close-up’ – interpreting the French pedagogical approach as mistrust in his and his peers’ versatility as young film-makers:
Bob: … they’re trying to direct us in the right way but in that I think they’ve got a low opinion of what we can, us as teenagers, can view in film and what we can create in film and by having that structure it kind of breaks down our imagination a bit … I think it would also be more personal to us cos it would be made through our minds.
Later however he contradicts himself by saying that perhaps they needed to fulfill the stringent briefs in order to nurture the creative empowerment that would fuel their future endeavours:
Bob: But if I hadn’t done this first then maybe I wouldn’t have had the perception to do something aside from action; but now that I have done it, I’d like a little bit more space … I’m glad we had those boundaries cos now we know we can do something more.
During the mid-project screening and the final screening, both in Paris, the audience asked questions concerning the students’ choice of sound. Over a couple of the UK films, students from LNS and St. Catherine’s – a Catholic Girls Secondary in Bexleyheath, one of the three UK schools involved – had lain a heavy electronic soundtrack. It was suggested by some that this sound choice might be less appropriate for the project as a whole which demanded more subtlety, artistry and editorial guidance. Jack Hayter, the teacher/film-maker at St. Catherine’s, was animated in his defence of the girls’ work, asserting their right to interpret the theme as they saw fit.
Similarly, Tim was defensive when asked to comment on his choice of electronic samples from the Garageband library, stating that “there wasn’t much time or much choice”. There seemed to be a clash between the French preference for a nuanced, more impressionistic style of film making and the British contingent’s inclination towards ‘freedom’ of expression – albeit drawn from the rigid parameters set by global software developers and informed by popular culture. Such are the more granular observations in relation to shifts in “lived” cultural trends, however, what may endure in “recorded culture” is the Cent Ans de Jeunesse project itself.
The Cinémathèque requires strict adherence to the “règles du jeu” – the stipulated filming exercises and an in-depth exploration of the year’s theme – as well as contributions to the French blog indicating progress. This traditional structured approach seems at odds with current media practices but is extraordinarily productive. Hundreds of young international film makers congregate, watch one anothers films to the same brief and discuss their work in a multilingual context: this is an arresting cultural achievement. An achievement which continues to make full use of the Cinémathèque’s institutional gravitas and bring Alain Bergala’s annual vision to fruition. Perhaps only an institution with a sense of something to preserve would conceive of such a unique and ambitious educational project.
At the risk of extolling the redemptive powers of media production processes, it has been a privilege to trace a discernible path between the international teachers/film makers’ thematic input session in November 2010 (see Parisian lecture notes) and several months later, relate that to the social development and scholarly ambitions of a formerly excluded child. See simon_lambeth_interview.mp3 @ 27:40 mins. Email me for access to this full audio interview.
Marion Hampton, Head of the SEN unit at Lambeth Academy (LA), enthusiastically advocates media production specifically for those children struggling within the mainstream curriculum. She preferred not to be recorded whilst being interviewed and so I made notes on her comments and observations. It is important to point out at this stage that there were three main LA SEN participants on the film project – Simon, Paul and Stephen. Paul and Stephen had low-functioning autism and whilst it would have been a fascinating study to have exclusively focused on their particular engagement with media production, it is beyond the scope of this account to do diligent service to such a much-needed area of research.
I have however included in my film clip a short exchange with Paul whilst the others were editing, which offers a glimpse of their different levels of sophistication and engagement. See lns_shoot_editing.mov @ 5:12 mins > 7:19 mins. One thing I would highlight is Paul’s obsession with Hitchcock; he would routinely bring his paperback of Hitchcock synopses to the Wednesday sessions and allude to them over the weeks, never missing an opportunity for lengthy plot discussions with any new adult. This was sometimes tricky to negotiate because of Paul’s speech impediment, but it represented an enjoyable social moment for Paul, who found the universality of Hitchcock a useful communicative point of access. In fact he would much rather talk about Hitchcock or the TV drama ‘Waterloo Road’ than concentrate on any of the stages in the film-making process, which is an interesting comment on the scope for social learning inherent in all aspects of moving image literacy.
My discussion with Marion centered on Simon and his progress from when he first arrived in her unit to the present. In his primary years he had behavioural problems with fits of temper and anti-social tendencies which ultimately resulted in permanent exclusion. Interestingly, from an audio recorded interview I conducted with him within the unit, he is happy to talk about ‘the then and the now’ and looks back at himself as a different person who used to lose his temper but can now control it. Marion is convinced that sustained involvement with creative media projects has given him both a sense of belonging and a voice – an alternative means of self-expression that may otherwise have remained dormant.
I have chosen to concentrate on Simon in this social section of the data analysis for if ever there was an ambassador for the social aspects of learning, it is he. Although perhaps less articulate and less vocal than the LNS boys, his contribution to the group dynamic was always upbeat and fun. We see this in his decision to interpret one of the film exercises as a comedy routine with appropriately comic sound effects and music. See the last of the four Youtube clips listed here – whereas the LNS boys chose to work with the tropes of more serious thriller/mystery genres. He can also be seen playfully mucking around with the other boys ‘on set’ in between shoots, but would remain on task and focused when required. See photo with Simon on the right, checking out Bob setting up a football trick shot. See lns_shoot_editing.mov @ 00:15 secs. His enhanced sense of sociability is also witnessed on his course evaluation sheet for Lambeth City Learning Centre.
Simon’s answers often reflect the social benefits of his involvement with the project and with the LNS boys. I asked him about his initial expectations:
Int: So what did you feel was going to happen?
I avoid the use of the word think in favour of feel as I think it is less challenging phraseology and more likely to produce rich commentary, especially at the beginning of an interview when he may have been feeling ill at ease.
Simon: I didn’t think there was gonna be another school there. So when I saw another school, I thought like…ooh, who are these people? So I got kind of shy when I saw them…
Simon: I don’t like … like …. talking to people I don’t know.
… which is gratifying to hear in the context of a one-to-one interview with a Year 9 boy in an ethnographic study – I appear to have gained his trust. This apparent lack of confidence does however remain ambiguous as later in the interview, simon_lambeth_interview.mp3 @ 26 mins, (Email me for access to this full audio interview) he claims he would have the confidence to approach an outdoor film crew and ask what was going on. An indication that by the end of the film making process his confidence may have “grown” substantially. Indeed he finished my sentence for me when I asked him about it here: simon_lambeth_interview.mp3 @ 26:35 mins. (Email me for access to this full audio interview).
Int: But would you say things have changed now on that score?
Simon: Yeah, I think we’re mates now.
Simon appreciates being part of a group and it could be that he felt quite isolated within the Lambeth contingent because some of the others peeled off and lost interest. However, Simon successfully positioned himself in the group and maintained good relations with LNS and the boys from Lambeth with ASD.
Int: …. Er, what would you say are any other things that have changed, do you think, in that time?
Simon: Erm, I dunno …. Just the way I feel about that…
Simon: Like, it’s like, cos some people, like, Nathan and them people, Victor, they came for a couple of weeks and they stopped cos they thought it was boring.
Simon distinguishes himself from them people and is proud of his staying power. He mentions at various points the amount of sustained effort that is required to produce something of value. This suggests that his work with Marion in previous film projects has lain firm foundations as regards what can be gained from high levels of commitment and engagement.
Int: Right, yeah
Simon: But I’m interested in like all the stuff about it, like the practical stuff
A recurrent theme in media production is indeed the allure of the practical stuff, the pleasing latitude for hands-on craftwork. Sennett’s breakdown of the forces at work whilst crafting an artifact belies the utilitarian associations of ‘manual labour’ and ‘working with your hands’. Moreover, Merleau Ponty in his 1964 observations on painting, poetically exalts hand-eye co-ordination; formulations which can equally be transposed to the art of editing, as referenced by Furstenau and Mackenzie (2009):
“‘ The eye is an instrument that moves itself, a means which invents its own ends; it is that which has been moved by some impact of the world, which it then restores to the visible through the offices of an agile hand.’ “ (2009:18)
Int: Would you say that you bring in any of your own experience, from your own life into it?
Furstenau and MacKenzie discuss the impact of the video editor through which “eye plus hand restores something to the visible and audible world.” (2009:19), so how empowering would it be if that something to restore could be sourced from your own experience. A chance to re-work and re-present raw, personal, unfiltered and unmediated experience.
Simon: … I liked to fight, liked to fight
Int: You like to fight or you liked to fight?
Simon: I liked
Int: You liked, past tense. Well you mentioned that actually… it was brought up on the football pitch, when we were doing the fight scene and you mentioned that you used to like fighting. Erm, so… you don’t … you’re not interested in that any more or..
I hesitate because I’m not sure how much he’s prepared to talk about this.
Simon: I haven’t had a fight in ages.
Simon: Cos I’ve learned how to control my temper now.
Simon’s phraseology suggests that the potential for fighting will always be there, it’s a question of control. Indeed control and focus are fundamental to producing successful media texts – a dimension of film-making to which Simon surrenders himself willingly. Many of the LNS boys took more coaxing in this respect when it came to editing.
Int: Ah, interesting… and do you think there might have been periods over the past few months where you might have, I don’t know, somehow brought that experience into this process?
Simon: Kind of like.. er.. giving the… information like how someone gets angry, angry about what someone else is saying .. or what their actions are.
The boys made a film exploring ‘small man syndrome’: the sad, loner who seeks to join and be accepted by a group of footballing friends and gets frustrated and aggressive in the process. During filming, Emma tried to elicit how exactly the fight scene might commence. Knowing his background I glanced at Simon and gestured with my head that he might have something to contribute; he then physically stepped forward, disclosed to everyone how his fighting experience had led to exclusion and offered advice on how this scene might be choreographed.
Simon was able to de-centre and assertively direct both dialogue and action in the capacity of an expert adviser; his identity and his past behaviour had been positively recast in an instant. The scene re-enacted what previously, in real life, would have been fraught and chaotic.
Int: Yeah, you offered some suggestions, didn’t you, about how that might work, yeah, so er, it’s quite good, I think, isn’t it to bring your own stuff to the table, as it were.
Simon: ..like everyone in the group has different views .. and like, they bring different stuff, so like, it’s a place to put all our feelings into one little film.
With democratic awareness, Simon again makes reference to the group and the value of everyone’s individual contributions. He is explicitly sensitive to film as a unique place to collaboratively articulate their feelings. This motif recalls Bourdieu’s notion of “habitus”, the territory where objective structures and subjective agency tussle to make meaning and also where pedagogy, as Burn argues (drawing on Buckingham and Sefton-Green), can be positioned as “a mediating force” (2009:11).
Int: Yeah. You’re absolutely right, and that makes it… what does that make it?
Simon: Group work
Int: Yeah, group work. I think that’s the other thing about film-making isn’t it? It involves lots of people doing different things, erm… students and adults. What do you think about our group… as a group?
Simon: Erm, which group? It’s like we only met a couple of months ago but it’s like we’ve known each other for a couple of years now. It feels weird.
Group work has a ring of ‘school-speak’ about it and it may well be that he has picked this up in his regular Wednesday afternoon sessions off-timetable in Marion’s unit. Learning collaboratively without recourse to hierarchical grouping allows Simon’s sociability to emerge and despite its weirdness he seems to appreciate a sense of abnormal intensity. I watched Simon interacting with younger children in the LA SEN unit one morning and it is clear he enjoys his mentor status. He remains a shining example of what can be achieved with access to sustained media production practices, always bearing in mind that his anger has not necessarily been ‘cured’ but is being managed in an ongoing fashion.
Int: It’s that every week thing, isn’t it? I know it’s great that you’ve come every week, cos you don’t have to do you?
Simon: I don’t have to, but I just enjoy it.
Of the Paris trip:
Simon: My mum said can we come and I went ‘No!’, (laughs) I went “No!” this is my time!
Int: This is your what?
Simon: This is my time!
Int: Your time, well exactly, this is your special thing.
Going to Paris was always a significant draw for Simon. It was the first thing he mentioned at the beginning of the interview and we resumed the topic at the end. The above snippet indicates how empowered Simon feels over his film time. He exhibits a heightened sense of ownership in terms of time and place; the fact that Paris is one of those places raises aspirations and introduces an exciting cultural dimension for all the boys… and adults.
Bob: um and I think when you’re editing, the decision you make, if you look back it has to like flow with the rest of the film, it has to flow with how the characters are, what their personalities are like, how do they act …
It is pleasing to hear Bob use the same conceit selected for my account in his description of flowing material. The boys are copying the conventions of continuity editing, which for some is an all-absorbing process, and for which the conditions for Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” are perfectly pitched. Bob implies that through a process of revision, the organic whole will coalesce, not just visually but also conceptually. This is despite his initial reluctance to get on with the technical task of editing his cut. See: lns_shoot_editing.mov @ 2:00 mins
… You gotta have it like mixed up with lots, you gotta vary it up, cos if you don’t in editing then it’s just going to be boring to watch with nothing to catch your eye… I think the most difficult thing in editing are the tiny decisions you make, not the decision to put this shot in, it’s like where to cut it, how long do you have the scene for, I mean those little ones that we don’t think about as much are really difficult for me to decide cos I don’t know what’s perceived to be right, it’s like unknown.
Interviewer: So what have you got to rely on?
Bob: I think your gut helps a lot …
Here Bob seems to perfectly encapsulate Sennett’s notion of the “intuitive leap” (2008:209) outlined earlier in this account. It is the creative process of sequencing “twined presence(s)” (ibid) of at least two elements and making a series of tiny decisions based on gut feeling. His sticking point seems to be his capacity for risk-taking – to allow himself to feel the “surprise” (ibid) of a unique juxtaposition and the “gravity” (ibid), in the sense of ‘fall’, of a constraint. His potential for spontaneity possibly suffers from his desire to be thorough, as evidenced in the transcript and in the clip of him editing, see lns_shoot_editing.mov @ 2:30 mins. This is the facilitator’s cue to steer him through that unknown territory and encourage faith in improvisation.
Lyall’s clip was the most revealing in terms of learning progression and Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow”. An apathetic, seemingly under-confident, resigned attitude changed over the course of a few minutes to one of engagement and pride in his work, to the extent that he offered his edit as the one to be viewed by the class at the end of the session. See Csikszentmihalyi’s model of suggested levels of progression towards a ‘flowing’ state of productivity.
Coaxing Lyall into action could also demonstrate the Vygotskian principle of the externalisation of higher abstract thinking through guided experimental play. It may also be the case that talking and performing to camera facilitated Lyall’s passage from half-hearted, defensive group member (at this particular stage in the film making process at any rate, as elsewhere he made positive contributions and enjoyed the role of spokesperson) to assertive, creative and participative editor. See lns_shoot_editing.mov @ 22:10 mins.