Case Study C: St Elizabeth Primary School

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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 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.

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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 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.
Int: Brilliant!
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?
Daniel: Yeah
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.

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

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