No.1 - Journeys Around the Past
Use the Radio
Tool of Observation
and New Views of Teaching
from the Everyday
Welcome to the first edition of The Creative Teaching Space ©, an online magazine supporting innovative and creative teaching.
This magazine is designed to showcase creative teaching strategies while also broadening the perspective of what creative teachers do.
This site celebrates the many creative, idiosyncratic and personal attempts of teachers to create engaging and stimulating learning for themselves and their students.
This is not a place for reduction – theories or models that can so easily take over teaching and reduce the complexity of what teachers do. Rather, we will explore the ever varied and deeply human potential in learning. As Guy Claxton says:
So let’s start. Let’s start gathering ideas. Let’s start to support teachers who are doing really creative things within education and training. Let’s move away from the trendy theories. Let’s open the gates on even newer ways of talking about learning. Let’s begin!
And remember, feel free to contribute. I have teachers coming on board and welcome any contributions discussing creative and innovative teaching.
Following a workshop with Hospitality and Tourism Staff at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne here are some suggestions on Icebreakers you can conduct in teaching and training. If you would like to explore other ways of starting have a look at my article entitled Starter Suggestions:
Breaking the Ice is a way of bringing the social to the fore. It recognises the communal nature of learning and says straight off – "I know you have something worthy to contribute." Icebreakers move through the darkened fjords of Scandinavia allowing easier move for passage. Icebreakers must always keep moving. Ice re-forms and ice can slowly block forward momentum.
A man sits in a train. It is in a subway traversing the subterranean world of New York. Familiar stations pass. He knows his stop. On this occasion the train bypasses a large station. This is like descending into Hades, crossing the river Styx. Metaphors struggle to capture the enormity of what has happened above.
So sings the American singer songwriter Loudon Wainwright III in an unreleased song called "No Sure Way."
This beautiful song can be heard (and seen) at -
Loudon’s website explores his back catalogue. He has recorded many beautiful topical songs as well very moving insights into his relationship with his sister, ex-wife, girlfriends, mother, father, son and daughter. This is a fantastic way of exploring and introducing students to a discussion of relationships.
The Picture (see YouTube)
brother needs a sister
"No Sure Way" is a creative response to the September 11 tragedy. How have artists responded? Was the literal so severe that new angles and new poetry had to be found?
Richard Thompson on an excellent Fresh Air interview (go to Section 3 of interview) explores how a Taliban fanatic might see the world. An artist takes that leap and explores the unknown – a perspective so easily dismissed and very rarely explored. In such artistic leaps we may get closer to the core.
Richard Thomspon – many writers and celebrities are interviewed at this site.
of the Inside (from The Old Kit Bag album) (also see YouTube)
never listened to Charlie Parker
We must aim to find many creative entry points into a subject. We do not always have to approach a subject directly. We can come to it through a side door. We can creep up on it gently. The more we use side doors, approaching as if from left field, the greater the opportunity of discovering a deeper truth – impressions unveiled, clichés removed.
A fantastic travel book that I read over Christmas, worthy of being made into a film, was Tahir Shah’s "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice". It is a wonderful exploration of the hidden side to India as it follows an Englishman becoming skilled in the craft of illusions and magic practiced by the God men.
I like to use the ABC Radio site to read transcripts of interviews. These are often sharp and to the point. They give one a quick introduction to an issue, its sides as well as recommended links. Radio National is a great place to start. You and your students can brush up on many contemporary issues.
Should a teacher remain open, creating learning pathways, waiting for the moment when a learner can be gently engaged and sent upon his or her own learning path?
Who is this violinist? Is he blind? Where is he going? How does he live? Who is the child with him? Recreate this scene. One student can be the violinist, two others the children. Ask them questions. Explore the moments up to the point when the photograph was taken. What happens after the photo has been taken? Consider interviews, scripts or diary entries. Who is the photographer? He introduces his name as Andre. It may be Mr Kertesz. Explore his life. What does he say to the violinist?
A ghostly image of a girl. A double exposure. One face could be the truth, the other her dreams of another life. What is she thinking? What is she feeling? What does her inner voice say? A little match girl without any matches, destined to return tomorrow, more newspapers to sell. Alarm. Cold. The figure at her side turns towards her and says…?
These still images of children betray a truth. They worked before these photos were taken and long after. Long hours. Lives probably shortened. What lives do these children live? What are these photographs saying? Explore the lives of the children and the photographer. Check out the Lewis Hine website.
The sad faces of displaced farming families. Dustbowls. Tiredness. Deep lines. Hands revealing more than masked faces. Deeply compassionate images of Japanese internees. Proud. American. Forced into internment camps. Racism and hate. Dorothea Lange speaks through a lens.
We need to train ourselves to be even more observant. Not just the abstract but also the room around us. Its objects. Its potential for being built into the learning. A creative teacher does not need expensive resources. Even the simplest item can become a metaphor, a stimulus, and a vehicle for enabling students’ minds to shoot in all directions.
He picks up a pencil. It becomes an aeroplane. He will explore take off, landing and the principles of flight. A ballet in the room to a piece of classical music.
But what really does this pencil say? In the words of Vladimir Nabokov in his novel Transparent Things:
"Now let us not lose our precious bit of lead while we prepare the wood. Here’s the tree! This particular pine! It is cut down. Only the trunk is used, striped of its bark. We hear the whine of a newly invented power saw, we see logs being dried and planed. Here’s the board that will yield the integument of the pencil in the shallow drawer (still not closed). We recognized the log is the tree in the forest and the forest in the world that Jack built."
She sits at a bench. Notebook in had. Recording the events around her. Sounds. Who is he talking to? What do they seem to be talking about? Two others move to the bench and start a conversation. She notes it. A ball is kicked and rolls against one of the bench’s legs. (Thanks to an idea raised in a PD session at Bridgewater PS in Hobart).
She takes her notebook home and revises it. All this has happened around the bench at lunchtime. This is an area she chose. Others have chosen other places. The images will be brought together. Maybe they will turn into poetry. The images and sounds of one day. She instead has chosen to write a story as if from the perspective of the bench. What happened to it in the space of this hour? What did it observe? What did it feel?
He has made careful notes of the machine and its parts. He has noted how it works, how it is started and stopped. He has looked closely at its surface, at its texture, listened to the sounds and how they change. Now he is re-ordering the notes. He thought he might write a manual on how to operate the machine exploring safety. Instead he imagines that it is a person. When did it first arrive? How is it used? Is it abused? What role does it have amongst all these other machines?
They wrote on buses. They listened to conversations in bus shelters, or in damp subways serving as air raid shelters. Bombs falling, the roar of planes, the palpable disquiet in mother’s faces, children cradled nervously on laps.
Bring this scene to life! Let us hear the secret fears of the brother, sister or father.
The Mass Observation Movement started in 1937 in Britain. It was an opportunity for volunteers from all over the country to anonymously record impressions of daily life. Snippets of overheard conversations were recorded. A massive archive records the feel of Britain at a time – an anthropological feel quite different to that recorded in more depersonalised and historical perspectives.
Students record life in a school. Many anonymous impressions are recorded. An apprentice explores the many occurrences within a workplace. Teachers record many images of school, learning extending beyond the classroom, capturing a feel of the social fabric, broadening the perspective of what really takes place within the school.
We are walking through streets noting all that we see. These recordings are collated and we get a new perspective of our time and place!
The bobby strolls the street. There is grime upon the houses and thick smog hanging in the air. Horses can be heard. Children run through the city streets. Stray dogs emerge from darkened alleys. Here the occasional cough of a person can be heard.
There as little or no life in any of these streets: no gossiping housewives or groups of children to help to interpret the streets to the passer-by. The most instructive feature was the glimpses into back gardens: these generally revealed clothes hanging out to dry: and in three storey Dunollie place a clothesline close by showed sorry linen and a waistcoat the told clearly of working class occupants.
Turned North into Peckwater Street: vastly improved: used to be dangerous to Police going down alone: used to have ticket of leave men here: none now. A great many railway men living here. Mainly two St. houses, and all from purple to pink, except 6 3 St. houses east end, north side, these light blue. In Bartholomew Road on West side, between Peckwater Street and Islet Street. Are two houses not marked on map, that are the worst in the district. One, a general shop, was the scene of a murder, by a woman some years ago.
The Charles Booth Online archive gives an overview of life in London in the 19th century. Recorders accompanied Policeman throughout a range of districts to record details of life for a survey called "Maps Descriptive of London Poverty 1898-1899."
Perhaps your students could write notebooks from an imaginary perspective, or a real perspective of what they can observe over a couple of hours. Another great source that can be used is Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor, volume 1. This text aimed to capture the life of London in the mid-nineteenth century. Mayhew:
"Of a Neglected Child, A Street Seller"
Students from a range of subject areas can explore this site. Any sociological or historical study provides a perspective that can be informative and relevant. A Hospitality student reads the tricks of the trade of "The Tricks of Costermongers.":
Learning is more than the acquisition of the ability to think; it is the acquisition of many specialised abilities for thinking about a variety of things. - Lev Vygotsky
We need to look at our subject area through a variety of lenses. History and sociology show broad human experience. It is up to us as teachers to connect the students and the subject area to the past. We must find many connections that link the past with the present, informing our knowledge and showing – often through creative methods – a shared humanity and a relevance far beyond simple facts and figures.
The very reality of teaching is one of being creative and adapting teaching material to the day, the needs of one’s students, as well as one’s feelings and intuitions. Teaching is a fluid activity, deeply personal and well beyond a prescriptive list of competencies. The best teachers are fully aware of how professional and academic discussions of teaching fall short of reality. They rarely operate in a linear fashion. Changes are constantly occurring. Intuitions come into play. They direct a class into new areas of engagement. What was planned yesterday is passed over today. Engagement and creativity become central. Bureaucratic requirements are creatively tagged onto the learning experience.
Here is an interesting quote on education from English Film Director/Producer Lord David Puttnam:
A good example of how classrooms once operated is provided by Charles Dickens at the start of Hard Times. It may be worth exploring this to show how teaching and training settings have changed over the years.
A New View of Learning
From "The Axemaker’s Gift": A double Edged History of Human Culture: James Burke & Robert Ornstein 1995, C Putnam’s Sons, N.Y.:
How about letting your students explore the many web-like links on the Internet. Take the subject area and explore its many links and connections. Where does a topic take you? What does it connect with? What new areas of knowledge open up to you? How is it mainly covered in this web? Your students could present any topic as a chart of connections.
I remember a very simple and meaningful activity that I came across in my work at Glen Waverley Primary School. The teacher had asked students to write sentences about the area of study – the colonial era – and these sentences were transformed into a form of poetry. Sentences, taken from textbooks, had conjunctions and punctuation removed. The phrases were set out in a style like poetry and the students displayed their work on large paper at the back of the room. Is this poetry? At least it is an opportunity to work actively with words and phrases. Encourage students to explore their senses – sounds, sight, smell, touch, and taste. This allows the space for reflection and seeing the meaning of a text in a new light. Imagine doing this with any report, text, or manual. To remove oneself from the format, into another style, can allow students to see, for example, the shape of words. They can explore meanings, word origin, and even grasp in whatever degree, a poetic nature to the area of study.
You may even like to send me examples of short poems, or even photos of your desks!
The End of School
rings, boys run, doors slam,
Colin Chapman Age 12
The Desk Lid
looked at the desk lid in wonder;
Fay Lawrenson Age 11
(Family and School Penguin English Project Book)
Ruins tell us what has been lost, what has decayed, what has been weathered, what has been sacked by angry hordes.
Tourists flock to Europe to see ruins. All over the world ruins hold incredible appeal to people. Even in 18th century England the gardens of estates included mock ruins. Poets have eulogized the power of ruins. They carry an emotional and aesthetic appeal – a sense of a time long gone. We expect to see collapsed columns, hedge-grown walls, statues lacking in arms or heads.
They tell us of the past and what could have been. They stand as a testament to a time as well as the reality of mankind. Bodies have returned to the earth yet buildings still stand. Chemical residue lingers. Metals rust. Metal is transformed. Nature slowly reclaims all that is deemed not important as history.
So is the case of ruins. We see them in historical books. We may visit them. Ruins enable the imagination to reconstruct, to breathe new life into the past.
Let your students visit ruins, or pictures of ruins, to try and find a sense of the past. Draw the location, fill in the missing places, imagine that characters emerge from the rubble and interview them. Imagine the sounds of that location. Imagine that you are the people, or the buildings or the rubble. What have you seen? What has been your journey over the years?
Let your students adopt the role of archaeologists. Let them piece together the ruins of what now stands. They are several hundred years in the future. A science lab is found. What is discovered? Sports equipment is discovered. How was it once used? A record player lies beneath rubble. What was this ancient device used for? An archaeological perspective, and a sense of ruins, can lead to many new perspectives on what surrounds us.
I came across an interesting adult picture book recently that explored the present from a future archaeological perspective. A bathroom had been discovered. The archaeologists were puzzled. They thought that the body in the tomb – a bath in fact – was an ancient burial. The toilet, that made a sound when flushed, was thought to be a mysterious foghorn signalling death. Motel of The Mysteries David Macaulay.
single little turret that remains
From "Love Among the Ruins" by Robert Browning
lay in front of me
Ruins are not always old. Even in this present day many ruins are being created. Archaeologists are horrified by disasters that are currently happening in the Middle East and other poor or war torn nations.
In this book of photographs – "Afghanistan" by Simon Norfolk – we see the makings of a current disaster. Here the ruins are not caused by natural disasters such as an earthquake. Bombs have left their mark. Land is decimated, unable to be farmed due to the chemical and radiation residues. Land has been ransacked or vandalised by locals. All that is left is a constant reminder of the internal scars waiting to be healed.
A former teahouse takes on a ghostly present. It is like Stonehenge. Next to the ruins a man sells balloons. The fragile meets the hard.
A tank tread looks like a menacing caterpillar about to move across the desert floor.
Tanks rust. Camels wander past. An outdoor cinema screen remains pockmarked by bullets. Damaged, twisted and immobilised planes look as though they are about to climb out of the desert. Unexploded or discarded shells look like blossoming flowers. An arch reveals the ruins left by the vandalised stone Buddhas. Distant vapour trails in the beautiful landscape are trails left by active bombers. They are at work killing people.
Here is a perfect example of art finding beauty, truth and irony within events. Finding a new language to express the inexpressible. Enabling new perspective. Allowing space for reflection – "is this what really happened?"
Explore the photos within Simon Norfolk’s book at this site.
What other sites, books, poems, etc are you aware of that bring ruins to life?
© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009