The Critical Creators

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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.

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