11 February 2013

Kimbra, Ken (Robinson) and Creativity

I've just had a first read of your second post on ICOT. There's so much there to investigate and I'm looking forward to following through all the links tonight. I'm not sure how I should be preparing myself in a practical sense for my return to the classroom at the beginning of March, as I wouldn't presume to come in with a neatly planned programme for groups of students I've never met, but I'll certainly be going back with a sound set of values and principles to underpin my pedagogy. I'm hoping that I'll have the courage of my convictions and won't buckle under pressure to conform.
This brings me to the subject of my post. By a felicitous coincidence today, I was watching a 2011 presentation by Ken Robinson which had somehow slipped under my radar, which I'll come back to in a moment, when I received the news that Kimbra (from little old Hamilton) had just been awarded a couple of Grammys for this rather ingenious performance with Gotya. (Paradoxically and parenthetically, the award isn't for her own compositions for which she's really been making a name for herself. Now, you'll be asking yourself, 'where's this going?'
Kimbra (second from left at this Roman banquet in Nîmes in 2006) was a French student of mine for 5 years at Hillcrest High School. Whereas I'd like to be able to say that I contributed in some measure to her spectacular success I'm not sure that I can claim any credit. I can say, though, that it was Kimbra in particular who lead me to question the narrowness of the assessment criteria in place at the time. She was a talented French scholar but had difficulty limiting herself to the parameters of the assessment tasks. She did all the things I admire in a student, she took risks, she had a go and wasn't deterred by errors. She was a communicator. She was curious. She was experimental. She was reflective. She was very imaginative and creative, going far beyond the requirements - sometimes too far to earn the excellence that she deserved. In short she was what Guy Claxton would recognise as a powerful learner. If I find other Kimbras among my new students I'll be encouraging them to write French poetry and put it to music.
Now, I think I can claim to have always been a creative teacher, devising nifty activities, all scrupulously laminated, and ways of making classes more engaging, but with hindsight I feel that it was me who was being creative rather than the students.  I've hitherto missed the boat in helping students to develop their creativity. Was I afraid of the chaos that might ensue, the learning objectives that might be strayed from? It takes courage to relinquish control and trust that learning will take place, and all the more effectively for being self-generated. Now that I have a solid weight of expert opinion and evidence behind me in favour of adopting new educational paradigms, I intend to tap into the talents and passions of the students wherever possible (all 200 of them), rather than putting them through the same, tired old, neutral funnel. As a self-confessed hedonist, I find the only way I can engage with any learning is if I'm passionate about it. Let me digress for a moment to talk about my brush with Mandarin. About 5 years ago, as part of a Graduate Diploma of TESOL, I was required to reflect on my experience of learning a new language. The 'choice' was between Korean and Mandarin (neither of which I had any particular wish to learn at the time). I opted for Mandarin. The teacher was personable and amusing and delivered well-prepared lessons where we all learned the same words and expressions and were tested regularly on our progress. Having learned other languages I had no difficulty gaining very good marks in these tests by employing the old last-minute cramming strategies. On paper I was pretty good at Mandarin but the object of the exercise was to reflect on our learning and that part at least was salutary. I knew what was required to get the results but it was an academic rather than a heart-felt engagement with the subject. The lack of choice made me feel coerced into learning, with the result that I now remember nothing of what I learned in that course and have no real curiosity about Mandarin. How many of my students ended up feeling like this about French? But I'm rambling and will leave intrinsic motivation for a future post...... Revenons a nos moutons! (this particular 'mouton' being Ken Robinson).
If you didn't have a spare 50 minutes to watch his presentation (above), then I've made some notes (uncharacteristically disciplined of me, isn't it?) outlining the salient points. My apologies if they seem rather truncated. I'll bullet point them so it's easier on the eye. He embellishes his talk with lots of narrative and laughter.
  • He describes education as 'the other climate crisis', citing drop-out rates, disaffection, disengagement, high unemployment and suicide.
  • The problem lies in the standardisation of education. He uses a neat analogy of fast food (uniformity), and high-end Michelin restaurants (diversity) saying that the tendency has been to increasing uniformity. 'Every school should be different and great. Every classroom should be different and great. It should be built on diversity not on conformity'.
  • There is a division between intellect and feeling, with reason and objectivity prevailing.
  • He illustrated the value of movement as a creative catalyst with a story about his children playing on a swing.
  • He contrasted Descartes' 'I think therefore I am' with Wittgenstein's 'I feel therefore I am'
  • There are two worlds, the outer (independent of us) and the inner (private consciousness). He claims that education systems are remorselessly turned outwards, getting children focussed on the external world of data and information, a world that is rapidly becoming more distracting and kaleidoscopic.
  • We all need time to dwell on that inner space where we find the things that make sense to us.
  • He sees the role of the Arts as being to manage the relationship between the inner and outer worlds.
  • 'I think we pay a high price for the exile of feeling in education.....'
  • What identifies us as human beings.....are the powers that flow from our deep resource of the imagination. From this comes creativity and empathy, the power to put oneself in someone else's shoes.
  • Education needs to recognise that our feelings are forms of perception. Part of the task of education is to connect ourselves with ourselves.
Practical Strategies
  1. Education has to be personal. Remedial education is based on personalised, negotiated programmes, collaboration, group work and mutual support. The mainstream has rocketed away on these rails of conformity. It's time to make the alternative into the main stream.
  2. Put the arts into the centre of education. Through music, dance, theatre and art we express our own unique individual humanity. We can also learn about other cultures through the Arts.
  3. Practice techniques of mindfulness.
Education tends to be data-driven, mechanistic and impersonal. But humans are organisms not mechanisms. Schools are also like organisms. In some cultures we flourish and in others we feel demeaned. It's about looking at the nature of the school-wide culture.
He ends by quoting Anais Nin "The pain of remaining tight in a bud was greater than the pain it took to blossom", and concludes that in schools the pain of containing people who are being disengaged is more than the effort it would take to reconnect with them if we changed our metaphors.

I hope that's coherent, Madame Hibou-Chouette. And now to go back to your links.......

1 comment:

  1. Loving the new found discipline, secretly wishing it was going to be a constant as it is really a huge bonus for our conversation here! It is all very coherent Ruth and highlights the need indeed for a "method to our madness". How about you look at what I have added here http://back2board.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/responding-to-your-kimbra-ken.html ?


Let's go Back to the Drawing Board!