Learning & Creativity

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Southbank/BFI Cultural Campus Projects 2012

Lambeth Schools, The Ring Residency, Music Group, BFI, June 2012

Lambeth Schools, The Ring Residency, Music Group, BFI, June 2012

Over 2012 I have been observing and capturing the activities of local schools in this year’s Cultural Campus Projects at London’s Southbank Centre, mainly in association with the BFI Education. I have posted photos and some research findings on the blog below. The 10 Capacities refer to a framework for a deeper understanding of arts education projects developed by the Lincoln Centre Institute, New York.


The participating schools this year were: The London Nautical School, Rosendale Primary School, Telferscot Primary School, Charles Edward Brooke Secondary School and Dunraven Secondary School.

Comments here and on the above blog are welcome as ever. You may also be interested in reading about last year’s week-long Lambeth Schools residency in June 2011 (pdf 1MB) whose stimulus was Vertov’s ‘Man with a Camera’.

The Road Safety Rap and Language Learning

Spring 2009: these Year 6 boys were considered trouble-makers and lost causes in terms of academic ability in the East London primary school where I worked. I suggested to senior management that I work with the less able kids, rather than the ‘gifted and talented’, and this would be the test case. It was agreed that we’d work on a small film project based on a current topic – Road Safety in this instance. The boys, who were nothing but respectful to me, couldn’t believe their luck that form and content relevant to their lives, involving self-penned rap, film, phones, music videos and mp3 players, were suddenly acceptable in the school context.

The project generated what now seem to me to be familiar claims associated with media projects: measures of an enhanced sense of trust, independence, respect, confidence; co-ordination of hand, eye and mind; creative collaboration; sustained energy and focus on an activity; the feeling of competence and pride in producing something they could show to others. However the same claims can be made of drama, art, music, dance and numerous other arts activities. The most rewarding aspect of using moving image in education is the opportunity to actively manipulate a medium to which students are already accustomed and to which they have had sustained, largely passive exposure. In most cases tacit knowledge lathers up like undiluted bubble bath under a stream of water; the trick is to rouse an aspiration to quality.

I’m put in mind of years of – again, largely passive – foreign language learning at school and the shock of actually visiting the country. Immersed in a new and strange environment you start to recognise certain language formulae and with practice actively start to build a new form of communication with new meanings. The formerly abstract and decontextualised phenomenon by default comes to deliver nuance, depth and character. So it is with the film making process: with sustained and purposeful access you become a skilled communicator with a new persona.

Direct experience in foreign lands can be publicly messy and tainted with moments of paralysing self-consciousness. Whilst all the locals seem comfortable, competent and as one with their environment, you can feel sidelined and misunderstood like some under-confident but congenial gate-crasher. I contend that this characterises some students’ experience of traditional school curricula.

The beauty of working with digitally mediated resources is the amount of control you enjoy over your material along with the opportunity for self-expression in a different language and context without any of the cultural inconveniences and feelings of estrangement outlined above. On the contrary, it’s safe, satisfying and a perfect vehicle for the articulation of identity.

Picasso, digital glue & animation

Rich Mix, a charity and social enterprise arts venue in Bethnal Green, East London is expanding its educational programme for schools, colleges and teachers. They offered a free animation workshop for Tower Hamlets teachers with animators, Tom Hillenbrand and Shelley Wain. I knew the principles of animation from working with Flash in the early noughties, but the hands on experience was entirely other and much more enjoyable.

Over a period of about 3 hours, we went through the processes of development, pre-production, production (I Can Animate) and post-production (iMovie) and produced a 30 second cut-out animation. From a stimulus involving a pile of subjects (ours was History) and a pile of film genres (ours was Horror), some hand-crafted flat elements, a latent appreciation of film grammar and a collective knowledge of Anne Boleyn’s sad demise, our group of 3 created a multi-layered text with narrative meaning – in a medium that was new to us. See here at 33 seconds in.

Persistence of Vision was an MEA animation project from 2009 – 2010 whose central hypothesis was “that recurrent opportunities for children to engage in critical and creative activity with animated film would lead to substantial gains in children’s attainment, not only in relation to film but also in relation to other curricular areas and behaviour, compared to what they might achieve through “one-off” projects” (taken from the summary report, accessed April 2012).

Picasso’s ‘Bulls Head’ 1942. Source: Wall Street Journal, April 16 2011

Activities and projects such as these reinforce my conviction that the synthesis of elements – concepts, ideas, tangible objects, media, music, sound, genres, photos, illustrations, disciplines, familiar narratives, plasticine, lego – is the most potent creative act and when applied in new contexts, this synthesis deepens our capacity to make meaning.

As Tim Brook puts it, film-making can be the “digital glue” that meshes our own personal network of skills, knowledge and understanding. In “Teaching Media in Primary Schools” (ed. Bazalgette, 2010:128), Brook alludes to Picasso’s ‘Bulls Head’ or rather his alternative take on a bicycle saddle and some handlebars arranged in a bovine way: “Picasso offered us a new way of seeing both bicycle and bull, and also a deeper understanding of our own perceptions. The film-making process likewise pulls together a wide range of competences from the curriculum and beyond.”

This range of competencies is beautifully illustrated in a local ongoing animation project, one of whose episodes was produced and filmed at Hackney Pirates last summer. Animator, Saskia Schmidt, has conceived of a story in which a sheep is on a journey to discover all the colours in the world. Hackney’s was Silver World. The film recalls all the surreal qualities of my childhood interactions with animation, where nothing was more normal than for soft knitted aliens with long noses to engage with Soup Dragons and speak in high pitch, whooping cadences. Young children are now given the opportunity to fully indulge, record and distribute the fruit of their creative urges, a privilege that was once the preserve of BBC programme commissioners and professional creatives of the day.

Andrew Stanton at TED on storytelling

WALL-E (2008) Directed by Andrew Stanton

Toy Stories and Wall-E – quality storytelling. Below is the writer, Andrew Stanton, at TED explaining his craft. I particularly like what he has to say about the need to seduce the audience into caring, the purity of stories without dialogue and also the importance of leaving gaps and withholding information. We create and listen to narratives all day long in business contexts, in academia, in education, in politics and more overtly in anecdotal chitchat and daily media interactions. Aspects of film education explicitly cater to our need to carve some cognitive sense out of everyday chaos and make it affective, so why not orchestrate more of that in the curriculum?

Here are a couple of transcriptions from his talk. (See full transcription here)

“The children’s television host Mr. Rogers always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that said, “Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you know their story.” And the way I like to interpret that is probably the greatest story commandment, “Make me care.”

Please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically… make me care.

We all know what it’s like to not care. You’ve gone through hundreds of TV channels, just switching, channel after channel. And suddenly you actually stop on one, it’s already halfway over, but something’s caught you and you’re drawn in. That’s not by chance, that’s by design.

“Storytelling without dialogue. It’s the purest form of cinematic storytelling. It’s the most inclusive approach you can take. It confirmed something I really had a hunch on, is that the audience actually wants to work for their meal. They just don’t want to know that they’re doing that. That’s your job as a storyteller, is to hide the fact that you’re making them work for their meal. We’re born problem solvers. We’re compelled to deduce and to deduct, because that’s what we do in real life. It’s this well-organized absence of information that draws us in. There’s a reason that we’re all attracted to an infant or a puppy. It’s not just that they’re damn cute; it’s because they can’t completely express what they’re thinking and what their intentions are. And it’s like a magnet. We can’t stop ourselves from wanting to complete the sentence and fill it in.”

Film, Student Teachers & the London Nauticals

English student teachers and some Year 7s jointly embraced the challenge of making a ‘Film in a Day’. An ever-fruitful collaboration between The Institute of Education (IoE) and London Nautical School (LNS) produced some truly imaginative, filmed responses to ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. Theo Bryer and Rebecca Wilson from the IoE and LNS English teachers Chris Waugh & Morlette Lindsay (also IoE), worked in partnership to create an intertextual learning extravaganza.

The Year 7s were well prepared for the day in terms of familiarity with the poem and with thoughts on a filmed and edited response. The teachers had been trained in the use of software and Flip cameras the day before, having made their own ‘film in a day’, and were thus primed to execute new knowledge. Many pages and posts could be written on why this project was the success it was, but in my role as observer, capturer and enthusiast, I’d like to highlight a couple of points…

Cary Bazalgette, indefatigable advocate of moving image literacy (MIE), has long been voicing the benefits of its more widespread use in school curricula. In her 2009 report “Impacts of Moving Image Education: A Summary of Research for Scottish Screen“, she concludes from various studies that:

… by gaining confidence and control in one medium, it becomes easier for children to envisage themselves as authors in other media too: thus, gains in the more conventional ‘textual production’ modes of writing, speaking and listening are reported across most of the studies (2009:21)

Not only does use of one medium nourish the use of others, Chris claims that the nuanced meaning-making and sophisticated understanding evidenced by the boys’ films in some cases far exceeds that which could have been achieved with a written response.

From the teachers’ perspective, although a 3:1 pupil/teacher ratio isn’t realistic in the real world, experience shows that with adequate logistical and pupil preparation in media-related projects, teachers could aspire to a facilitator’s role, choreographing groups rather than directing them. In this way, students feel the benefit of autonomous and sticky learning.

As Chris pointed out on a subsequent screening day to all 130 student teachers and as Theo materially demonstrated throughout the 2-day stint, it takes a pioneering spirit to promote film making as an alternative means of showing understanding in traditional school settings.Both students and teachers were very much ‘in the moment’ during editing (see my posts on flow), making deeper and remixed reference back to the text. What more can an English teacher ask?

Increasingly I think that digital editing not only provides a meaningful context for learning but also makes explicit a key 21st century competence: being discerning when it comes to making selections from masses of data. The boys’ films can be seen on Chris’s Year 7 blog.

Here’s a short film of various moments in the day, showing salubrious levels of interaction between students and teachers.

Film-making, Schools & the MEA

London Nautical School child & teachers – MEA Conference, Feb 2012. Photo: Chris Waugh

February 2012 – I gave a workshop at the Media Education Association conference held at The British Film Institute and the aim was to claim film-making as an art in its own right and to inspire teachers to inspire children to think like film-makers (although in this instance, and gratifyingly so, the children were inspiring the teachers). We looked at the various sociocultural benefits this might bring as regards living in a digital environment – both embracing it and in some ways mitigating against it by looking closely at the physical world as well as the affordances of the visual medium.

I gave a detailed account of how the Cinémathèque project works (see Cent Ans de Jeunesse 2012) with its ‘pure’ approach to the cinematic. The delegates were tasked with a film exercise, prior to which there was a Q & A with 3 impressive Year 8 film makers from a state school local to the BFI – London Nautical School (LNS) – who are currently participating in the Cinémathèque project. They are mentored by Chris Waugh, the intuitive and pioneering English teacher from LNS. Here’s the exercise brief, which is to be viewed within the framework of this year’s Cent Ans de Jeunesse theme – the role of the real in fiction:

From a fixed camera position: film a person waiting for someone who eventually joins him/her. Choose a location that enables an interaction between fiction and elements of reality. (1 ½ – 2 mins duration). Time allocation: 15 mins.

I’m of the opinion that students could and should have a voice in arenas such as the MEA conference and that a good dose of practice as well as theory never goes amiss! The clips below might make more sense with a quick read of this script of the session. They can also be seen here on the BFI project blog with comments on each clip and more photos:

Mark Levermore, a practitioner who attended the workshop, had this to say in a follow-up email:

Just a quick note to say thanks again for a great workshop on Saturday – if that was really your first one then well done indeed – a lovely mix of theory and practical and inspirational thoughts …

Yours was refreshingly not about students and teachers doing media studies but rather about how film is used as a confidence booster, complimentary discipline and scope-widening tool for pupils all across the curriculum. The kids were a living shining example of how the arts can transform the level of engagement and learning potential of pupils – and if Aadi is the future of political thought about the arts then we are in safe hands!

Thanks for these thoughts Mark!

Ken Robinson’s video address to ‘A New Direction’ Dec 5 2011

I’m delighted to see that a great deal of what Ken has to say turns up in very specific and explicit ways on the pages of this blog. He talks – in his accessible and easy-going manner – of the need to re-engineer education’s “core purposes” (as opposed to promoting a “back to basics” agenda) and those purposes involve developing a curriculum based on relations between the economic, the cultural and the personal. He proposes that the link between creativity and multi-intelligence is core to the survival of our civilisation, which is quite a claim.

Like Williams, Robinson describes culture as a process; he talks of misconceptions about the notion of creativity, the questionable primacy of the literary canon, youth unemployment and school drop out rates as a consequence of our failure to engage young people, the sharing of meaning-making processes as a culture generator, policies that ham-string teacher innovation, creativity as practical applied imagination and the need for children to move towards a critical understanding of their own and others’ socio-cultural embeddedness. He even mentions enlightened elements of the Finnish education system.

If you have 40 mins to spare, it’s well worth a view:

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

Benjamin Franklin:

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn."

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