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Issue No.2 - Hearing the Birds Sing

Read carefully, then don’t read; work hard, then forget about it;
know your tradition, then liberate yourself from it; learn language, then free yourself from it.
Finally, know at least one form of magic.
 - Gary Snyder


Hearing the Birds Sing
An idiosyncratic look at engagement.

Life and Nothing More: And Life Continues
Empathy in learning.

A Picture Speaks
Bringing pictures alive.

Phoenix Rising
The Ability in disability.

Close Your Eyes and Listen
Remembering our ears and internal images.

Classroom Bloopers
Oops I shouldn't have said that.

How dare you not plan?

Another Question to Ask
Using questions in learning.

Looking from Above
Seeing the world anew.

Wall of Memories
A shrine of photocopies.

Going Backwards
Looking at it all from this angle.

Sections and the larger picture.

How dare he be discursive in the area of Staff Development? Why the poetry? Why the allusions to other areas? Why all these pointers? He’s not taking responsibility to any answer! Surely, creativity is very linear. And the imagination can be defined! Look at all those films on famous artists. What is this fellow on about? Give us an academic approach please! This must fit onto a PowerPoint presentation!

Hearing the Birds Sing: Engagement

We are trying to find bridges, build bridges and connect with others. We are trying to create experiences that open curiosity. We are trying to open the possibilities for journeys that echo our own. We are watching the growing journeys of a new generation. Paths that lead to doors we cannot even see.

In all this we look for answers or solutions. We hear success stories. We attend conferences. We are offered taxonomies and acronyms. Rarely do we hear a reality.

The fact: the answer to engaging learners is individual, idiosyncratic and contextual. How can it be formalised? There are pointers – respect, positive attitude, creativity and flexibility – yet; any answer lies very much within. It is an active and experimental process suited to the reality of your experiences. Beware of those who peddle solutions.

Like anyone I struggle with engaging students. Just because I work in staff development doesn’t make me an expert teacher. I am just glad to have a large bag of tricks to play with. I worked with a group of ten year olds recently. It was hard. It threw me back into experimenting. It drained me. It raised the many questions that we so often as teachers carry around: am I losing control? Am I being too controlling? What is happening here? What other strategies can I use? That one worked! Something is opening here and maybe we can go with it. Something is happening here and we don’t know what it is. Do you Mr Jones?

Engagement is an overused word in education. This morning I heard it used in a military context. Spare us! What other words are going to be reappropriated by the military – how many words can be used to soften the reality of killing?

There are many articles I can point to in ‘engaging students’ yet I want to get away from any academic leaning. Go to academic sites if you wish. I prefer to talk more creatively, more poetically and more practically. Somehow I have never found my interests compatible with what academia has offered me.

So, I try to engage learners. Currently (2003) I am working with a Disabilities Theatre Group – Hawaii Frog O – here in Hobart and we will be putting on a play mid year. Over the last few weeks I have been trying to engage the members into an understanding of the play. It is based on the life cycle of frogs and we have been learning about the cycle from egg, to tadpole, to froglet, to frog and so on.

The main issue is that a number of the members don’t speak and it is hard to locate their intellectual level. So, the process has been a slow one of combining movement and dance games with the learning. We have drawn frogs and tadpoles. We have created symbols. We dance and warm up. When the music stops, members are asked to stand next to the image that represents a concept – "now find the picture of the eggs and stand next to it". We have learned to put these symbols in order. We have explored the sounds of these symbols – soundscapes. We have moved like them. Overall we have approached intellectual understandings by moving through the senses – and as a group. As a result we have crept up on an understanding. We have let it sink in. We have relished the moments of understanding. Now we are moving into performance with a deeper understanding of what we are doing and why.

For me engagement comes as a physical reality – it is a change in the mood of the room, an excitement in the eyes or the face of a student. It is the willingness to follow through with the learning, to enjoy the process and the journey taken. It is also the process of finding out – what is it that makes this individual or this group spark?

I recently worked with an overly active student. Everything was moving – pencils being sharpened, objects being made – a very tactile lad. The starting point I found was his attentiveness when listening to a story. I praised his listening skills. Maybe, just maybe, he was free to just be, liberated from the process of doing and being judged. The question being – okay he seems to listen really well at times: how can I make this an important part of the process so that I can build his confidence?

Now I will digress to a very memorable experience of working with a dis-engaged student in Britain. He was illiterate, a truant, etc. Labelled – but human, all too human. He had after all – his senses. He was blindfolded and the class watched him guess a range of objects. He was fantastic. Again I remember a fellow with Down Syndrome who was blindfolded and could not be fooled by the changed voices within the room. He guessed every person who approached him. He was able to distil the person behind each masked voice. Maybe, just maybe, we should start with what we all know and what we are good at. A positive and reinforcing experience is always a good place to start.

Last Lesson

The room is silent, desks initialled and empty,
The autumn sun cooled by summer’s farewell.
I sit on my throne like a cheap Canute
Waiting for the human waves to sweep
Through the door. They will soon be here,
Scurrying with rude courage to the culture desks.
There will be the miracle between us and success –
A bridge I will try to cross to them.
But they won’t let me cross it..they won’t!

I wait and listen. A private wood framed
In my window, makes music of winter birds.
To hell with the miracle! I think of the dark
Wood and the web of sky above birds
Free to move anywhere in England.

The bell rings and I stand facing the door.
They come with their television plots, with scorn
For authority, with primitive anger, with dark
Minds conditioned to failure from birth.
They fill the desks and wait awkwardly.
I want to ask them to listen to the birds
But I think they will laugh. With all my strength
I search for words which can plunge light
Into the dark corners of their broken minds.
But the miracle won’t come…it won’t!
I set them work and stand over them, commanding
Quietly and watching, always watching for primitive
Anger to simmer and cry out against me
And my culture. But there is not one wry face.

Silence slowly and gently settles.
Heads bend over English exercises.
The silence deepens and I move out of the sun
And relax, watching the sun’s fingers on long hair.
I feel my breathing and I hear the birds again.
I tell them. They do not laugh…
We listen together and they still do not laugh.
Words come out of my slack mouth, crossing
The bridge to them as the home bell rings.

Robert Morgan

So we are trying to find bridges. We are trying to connect with the real person. We are trying to get beyond the cynicism that often forces us back onto traditional methods.

The challenge is to ride this cynicism and to take up approaches that are challenging for oneself and others. It is the courage in encouraging students to ‘hear birds sing’. It is the commitment to carry on with an idea even in our moment of vulnerability, even when students may take a pin and pop the balloon. It is the challenge in throwing the experience back onto the group and saying that sabotage leads nowhere. It is the need to make students even more aware that what they cop in the classroom is as much involved with them, as it is the decision of the teacher. Why do you want to cut this down? Why don’t you want to go with this? If you know so much about what you don’t want then at least help me, help us discover what it is that we want.

And so one battles like I did with a group of senior students in Britain once in a Drama course. It is as if they were reacting to the previous teacher’s exit. A relationship had been built. It had all been cut very short when she took a specialist job. It took months to break through, to build a trust. Eventually we did. Even so I had to put myself on the line a number of times, when e.g. during role-plays, students sabotaged the material. We saw what happened. We saw it break. Slowly, very slowly, we created enough magical moments that students began to see the value in getting beyond the classroom – into the space of imagining. And so, perhaps, we need to find such magic across the curricula. How can we move the learning into a different space so that the feel changes? How can we no longer be confined by walls, by our own expectations, by a cynicism that labels and makes everything we experience quite predictable?

Try to the best of your ability to create the moments where "We listen together and they still do not laugh." It is not for me to tell. It is for us to search and find.

Life and Nothing More: And Life Continues

And Life Goes On

The image. A child within a ruin. Memories of a home destroyed by quake. A still, from an Abbas Kiarostami film "And Life Goes On" – one of the great living filmmakers.

And where is this child from?

Iran. Yes films about the people of Iran – these people who could easily be the people of Iraq. Deeply moving films that show humanity. The truth that these people, despite different religions and language, have the same dreams and hopes as us.

And still, their country is on the possible hit list of the next U.S. mission. And Abbas Kiarostami is refused an entry visa to the United States for the New York Film Festival.

These desert people who wake with the same anxieties as us, who love their families and smile at the small gestures that life has to offer – the laugh of a child or the spirit in a quick jibe – stand within their own houses amongst similar ruins or potential ruins.

And for these people, trapped between regimes and suited decisions, we must at its minimum offer compassion.

Education: building compassion to deepen our understanding of the realities of people.

Walking in their footsteps. Wearing shoes. Imagining sandals. Imagining hot deserts but also lands like ours. Shopping malls, markets, dinners and prayers before bedtime. Summoning these to ward off the menace of ideologies that flatten.

Education that adds new dimensions. Education that refuses to reduce people to caricatures or statistics. This is our weapon. Education that plants the seed and enables the tree to grow and provides a shelter for the child in the photo above.

And so a student moves to the front of the class. What is your name? You are a woman? That is a burka that you are wearing? Tell us, how do you feel at the moment? Is that a crack we hear in your voice? We know we shouldn’t be asking these questions – imagine that we are not here. (Our questions are those of your inner voice). What quiet words do you hear? What will you answer? Why do you draw your burka closer and cover your eyes? What do you see? What do you feel? Let us all speak what we think that you are feeling. We all listen to each other. Phrases state our feelings. Words. Fears. Memories. Let us speak to create your voice and your world.

And you have said that the body was your child’s. He has grown but is no more? What was he like as a child? What memories do you have? Let us hear your voice. We have heard those of other mothers no doubt equally suffering. Let us put a voice to your silence, a face to that nameless unseen corpse, we dread so much to show you. Let us try to understand. Let us move beyond that which limits and that which so increasingly surrounds us.

She is twelve and is sitting at the back of the class. The group is quiet, listening to the words of the desert dweller. We are listening to the phrases of the Iraqi woman. The twelve year old quietly speaks – "Why can we never find our peace?"

Education: stepping beyond the four walls. Collective imagining. Building with imagination. Opening insight. Refusing to walk the same talk.

A Picture Speaks

How can use paintings within learning? Let this picture speak! There are many websites or texts that will show you clear representations of paintings. Why not visit an art gallery?

Let your students look at the picture in depth. Who is in it? What is being said? Who was the painter? Students could recreate the scene physically. I once did this with the Norman Rockwell picture Going and Coming.

Students were assigned positions. Detail was accurate postures and looks. I asked the scene to come to life – what would you be thinking? Let’s hear the conversation. We compared the scenes. Students were then able to write a story of what happened before the journey, during the journey, at the destination and coming home. (By the way, have a look in calendar shops any January for cheaper calendars – many of these have interesting art prints that can be laminated for use with students.)

Explore the scene from multiple perspectives – before, after and what people may be feeling beneath the painting itself. "We have a picture of a renaissance man here. We have learned about his life. What may he really be thinking at the time of this picture being captured?" As paintings take considerable time to be created, explore the relationship that may develop between the painter and those painted. Script it.

Look at the colours. What do they make you feel? What might the objects say if they could speak? Trace the angles and shapes within the painting. Look at the mathematical ratios and formulas – many renaissance paintings conformed to very strict mathematical formulas. Merge art and maths.

Explore small details. What is this girl thinking? Where is she going? This can work very well with many portrait paintings. See the Tate Collections for other portraits.

Explore the lively works of Bruegel. Here is a text that takes the painting of the blind men by Bruegel and turns it into words.

Because we’ve got to practice the walking that will be painted, the knocker says. Especially the stumbling and falling, the different kinds of fall.
But aren’t we going to be painted sitting?
No, not sitting, the painter says.
So we’re going to paint walking?
Stumbling and falling and screaming?
Do we have to practice screaming?
He doesn’t know. Probably we’ll have to.
Wait, we call, we’re coming.
Slowly, clawing at one another, we get out of the straw, struggle to our feet. Then we grope at ourselves and one another. For there are several of us, even if one speaks the others listen.

The Parable of the Blind, Gert Hoffman, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd 1988.

Explore how poetry can be developed from paintings.

Phoenix Rising: the Ability in disability

Barb Olsen is a Drama/Disabilities specialist living and working out of Hobart, Tasmania. I first came across Barb in her outstanding work with Brrrr Theatre Group and ‘Acting Up’ in Ballarat, Victoria. Barb has a unique and deeply human way of working with people with a disability. Her approaches work directly with the spirit and the strength of individuals. Her ideas easily translate into other teaching areas.

You can push and shove all you like, but you’ll get nowhere!

Try ‘leading’ and the results are dramatic.

Structured work is imperative. Give meaning to an action, either by way of movement, vocals or bodily expression, and the actor will comprehend. Be patient! It may take some time for a sense to develop and solidify. Persistence will reward you – and the actor.

Remember – it takes twice the amount of brain power to process a negative command (e.g.) ‘don’t move in that direction’. Train yourself to speak in positive commands, (e.g.) ‘move in this direction’. Do not layer your commands with explanations such as ‘move in this direction because…….’. By the time your actor with an intellectual disability has processed the ‘because….’ They have forgotten the ‘move in this…’! Repetition and rehearsal will allow all possible comprehension of actions to occur. Be totally aware of any physical limitations an actor/dancer may have. These physical limitations should be your only consideration in extending their activities. If you pre-judge a person’s cognitive or conceptual capabilities, you may well be placing a big dampener on their creativity.

Your biggest challenge is in your powers of observation. Be constantly aware of all actors and grasp at any response from an individual as being an ‘offer of creativity’. When the group/individual realises that their contributions will be recognised, their output will increase and develop. Sometimes the smallest of offers can grow into a performance idea.

A good tool in playwriting is to have your group sitting facing you and you starting off the first couple of lines, or even the first chapter, of a story. You then ask for offers of where the story might go from there. Take brief ideas from all actors and write them all down as you go. Develop the storyline from the offers. Ask leading questions only when the story offers do not make sense. Read back the storyline frequently to assist the actors in continuity. One instance of this method that was very rewarding for me as leader and for the actors started with, "One day, the Old Man In The Moon tripped over a crater and fell out into space. He landed with a big bump on………"? The offers flew thick and fast and we developed a half hour play out of them.

As the original ideas have come from the actors, they are able to easily comprehend the overall concept of the story and your battle is half won. Of course, you must make sense of the offers. Some can be very obscure but that is when the fun starts for you! The actors will be delighted when their ideas reappear a week or so later in the form of a story. You can then workshop the story. If there are glaring holes, don’t worry – ask the actors to fill in the holes. They will love the creative process. Don’t dismiss offers. Try to incorporate them. Sometimes the strangest offers become the most exciting. One story I started with was about a Phoenix bird. I asked where the bird might be (expecting somewhere in Australia) but what I got offered was Bangladesh! A Geography lesson to boot.

Explore the minds of your actors and you may experience many Phoenix(es) arising from the depths.

Close Your Eyes and Listen

Hear the birds sing. What is that, you can hear a set of traffic lights, a train in the distance and even the sound of a small plane.

Imagine when I once taught in a North Yorkshire school. Rumour had it that RAF jets would shoot in from the moors and centre their sights on the heat of the school chimney. Jets would do figure eights over the school. We just had to wait until it was over. There was no way that one could be heard.

Visualisation is a great tool that can be used in learning. I have played classical pieces to students and then discussed what was visualised. This varied greatly. The students were then able to turn their ideas into creative writing. You can also note ideas on the board and students can construct stories from the many ideas raised.

The Ship of Fools

Let the group close their eyes and visualise a room, the laboratory, walking through the market in Old Hobart. Students relax as you talk them through a location. Mention the objects, the smells, the sounds, and the ambience of the environment. Create a strong picture that you can build off. Take sections or phrases in the novel and build a picture. Simply read a part of the novel while students close their eyes and listen. Talk the students through a house or a building. Take them to another time or place.

I can also recall reading passages to students who had closed their eyes. I asked them to picture the landscape and events. These were compared. This leads to an understanding of varied impressions and the difficulty in bringing novels to the screen. Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of a novel that has spawned a great range of creative design. The design of the covers for Science Fiction novels has similarly been influential.

Another fun way of using visualisation is to get your students to close their eyes and for you to talk the students through a range of experiences – you are lying in your bedroom, imagining yourself slowly awakening, what sounds can you hear? Build this visualisation right up until the students are in the classroom itself. Discuss how they felt. What images were the strongest for them? You can even read visual descriptions of e.g. artworks. What do the students imagine? Then you can reveal the true painting. How does it vary to what was imagined? Visualisation works well because one is dignifying the imagination. Everyone dreams and imagines. No one can be wrong!

Classroom Bloopers

Okay, we can’t start talking about Classroom or training room stories without referring to our own mistakes. A teacher recently referred me to a newspaper article she was reading to a Primary school class. The class kept giggling. Why? On the back of the article from the newspaper was a clearly displayed advert – "How to improve your sex life".

I can remember once launching into a lesson with a replacement class. We were about fifteen minutes into the activity when a student hesitantly told me that I was meant to be teaching the class next door.

I once sent a letter to Bungaree Primary School in Victoria and missed putting the ‘n’ in the name.

Spare a thought for a cousin who sent a letter to a German company with the missed ‘t’ – "Furher to our previous letter."

What are the funniest bloopers that you have come across in the classroom or training room? What lovely moments have caused great laughter and a sharing of joy?

Is the text called Classroom Clangers still published in the U.K? Selected and compiled by John G. Muir it documents student mistakes in tests as well as comments such as excuses.

Here are some examples from the above text:

‘Name the five continents.
A, E, I, O, U.’

‘Hamlet was a town where the rats invaded.’

‘Columbus circumcised the world with a forty foot clipper. The church was against such things but the king of his country was all for it as it brought them fame and money.’

‘The Pope lives in the Vacuum.’

And here are some examples from my experience:

Put "assist" into a sentence: ‘I went to the hospital to have assist removed.’

Space assignment: (I presume a big octopus creature)
‘We were about a metre away and these big pinky fleshy thing with big testicles and big black eyes like baked beans.’
The worst part was that after the student read it aloud a girl turned to me and asked ‘What are testicles? Aren’t they the big floppy things you wave around?’

A fellow is sitting at the front of the classroom. We are taking nursery rhymes and adultifying – listen to Bob Dylan singing "A Froggy Went a Courtin’" on Good as I Been to You. The student at the front of the class is Humpty Dumpty. So you couldn’t be put back together again. How do you feel? Who helped you? Why were you on the wall? It was all very good stuff. One question threw it all: What is the best thing about being an egg? (Oh, Oh) Answer: Getting laid.

The great thing was that this was said in innocence. How humour can arrive. Surely one reason why we teach and train.

Interested in hearing your stories!

Intuition - how dare you not plan?

Here is a fascinating quote from The Intuitive Practitioner by Terry Atkinson/Guy Claxton (Open University Press, 2000). It explores the role of visualisation and how it can be under-recognised within modern education:

"I have found that lesson planning is not really as important to us as in our university sessions". I was astounded to be greeted by this remark while on a visit to observe a student teacher who was assessed by the school-based mentors as outstanding. I then proceeded to observe a lesson, which amply vindicated their judgment. A very challenging class was fully engaged in meaningful and purposeful creativity, which lead to real and appropriate learning and very positive attitudes. The student teacher in question had rejected the paraphernalia of planning conventions: lesson templates, course books, schemes of work, teaching file. In fact, she struggled to produce a lesson plan. She had used a process instead which she called visualisation. She had in her mind’s eye what the students had been doing in the last lesson, what they might do in the next and what their needs might be. With this minimalist framework she was able to improvise a lesson around the various resources she had gathered. Of course, there is some very sophisticated planning her, but it is creative and imaginative rather than analytical. By contrast, this student came close to failing the course because of the difficulty she found in articulating her intuitive understanding of teaching and learning, which is assessed in the form of written assignments. Similarly, she had difficulty in convincing potential employers of her expertise because she was not able to produce well-formed rhetoric to describe her practice and provided instead an enthusiastic torrent of jumbled ideas and experiences. (p. 79)

Another Question to Ask

I roamed the countryside searching for the answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plant and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engaged my thought throughout my life.

Leonardo da Vinci

Curiosity: Children are by nature curious. Teachers and parents are quite often faced by children who ask tricky continuous questions. You only have to look at the reader’s comments sections of magazines to read about the curiosity of children. I can recall a story in which a father took his child to work. The child became quite upset and said, infront of others – "Dad says there are lots of clowns at work and I can’t see any."

  • What funny questions can you remember from children?
  • Do childrens’ questioning and curiosity dry up as they get older? Why?

Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks, Picador 2001:

I would sometimes beg my mother to take out her engagement ring and show me the diamond in it. It flashed like nothing I had ever seen, almost as if it gave out more light than it took in. She would show me how easily it would scratch glass, and then tell me to put it to her lips. It was strangely, startlingly cold; metals felt cool to touch, but the diamond was icy. That was because it conducted heat so well, she said – better than any metal – so it drew the heat away from ones lips when they touched it. This was a feeling I was never to forget….

I badgered my parents constantly with questions. Where did color come from? Why did my mother use the platinum loop that hung from the stove to cause the gas burner to catch fire? What happened to the sugar when one stirred it in the tea? Where did it go? Why did water bubble when it boiled?

A factor in developing my fantasy life was that none of my aunts and uncles, and certainly never my mother, ever refused to answer a question. I well remember this. My mother would answer and answer and answer, and just occasionally: "Now just shut up, you have gone all round." But she would let me enjoy to ask, however busy she was. I am talking now about when I was very young, up to about 9 years old.

Speak Dorothythe Dorothy Heathcote Archivean excellent site by Dr Sandra Hesten as part of her Ph.D research:

Once the focal point of the lesson has been determined, the process of seeding begins. Heathcote thought that the ability to ask appropriate questions was an essential tool for the teacher: "I try to know the impact of every verbal statement I make as I make it. I select all signals with extreme care and sensitivity, even when working with my back to the wall with what I call "dragon's teeth" classes [this has its origins in Greek mythology]. I spend much time examining the uses of questions and the types of questions asked. I recognise a dud question and set about recovering from it immediately. One dud may take ten or more other healing questions to make a recovery." She used questions to change the traditional role of the teacher from the one who knows to someone who wants to know. Her questions often provided information, for example, "Does anyone know if we still have the canary we used to test for gas in the mine?" This seeding of questions builds in levels of implication for the child. The teacher, therefore, needs to cultivate the habit of thinking laterally, at speed and under pressure.

Asking Better Questions: Models, techniques and classroom activities for engaging students in learning. Morgan/Saxton, Pembroke, 1994:

Your position in the classroom will change as your students come to see you not only as someone who, like them, is seeking answers: someone who would rather have a classroom full of unanswered questions rather than unquestioned answers.

The student hears the song. How can he or she construct a poem or a song built from questions? You must have twenty question marks at least in your song or poem.

Bob Dylan: Who Killed Davey Moore

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

"Not I," says the referee,
"Don’t point your finger at me.
I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
An’ maybe kept him from his fate,
But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure,
At not I’ their money’s worth.
It’s too bad he had to go,
But there was a pressure on me too, you know.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

"Not us," says the angry crowd,
Whose screams filled the arena loud.
"It’s too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight.
We didn’t mean for him t’ meet his death,
We just meant to see some sweat,
There ain’t nothing wrong in that.
It wasn’t us that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame us at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

"Not me," says his manager,
Puffing on a big cigar.
"It’s hard to say, it’s hard to tell,
I always thought that he was well.
It’s too bad for his wife an’ kids he’s dead,
But if he was sick, he should’ve said.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

"Not me," says the gambling man,
With his ticket stub still in his hand.
"It wasn’t me that knocked him down,
My hands never touched him none.
I didn’t commit no ugly sin,
Anyway, I put money on him to win.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

"Not me," says the boxing writer,
Pounding print on his old typewriter,
Sayin’, "Boxing ain’t to blame,
There’s just as much danger in a football game."
Sayin’, "Fist fighting is here to stay,
It’s just the old American way.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

"Not me," says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist,
Who came here from Cuba’s door
Where boxing ain’t allowed no more.
"I hit him, yes, it’s true,
But that’s what I am paid to do.
Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill.’
It was destiny, it was God’s will."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

Copyright © 1964; renewed 1992 Special Rider Music

Keep asking What and Why and When
and How and Where and Who.

List these on the board. Teams must adopt a word and pose that question. Teams must look for the answer. Explore the area of study. Look deeply into the motivations of people or characters. Have people in roles as ‘whys and ‘whens’, etc. Interview them. Encourage and reward the use of these questions on a daily basis.

"I Keep Six Honest..." Rudyard Kipling

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small-
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends'em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes-
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

From The Elephant's Child

Elliot Goblet

Posing Riddles or Unanswered Questions

Work from proverbs, sayings, words or even what is seen in the movies. Encourage students to create their own funny questions. This can be a very funny activity. Much of the great comedy comes from such word games. The Australian comedian Elliot Goblet has built an entire comedy routine by asking absurd questions in a dry fashion. Perform your questions. Have a question and the absurd answer – the comedy duo.

Why is it considered necessary to nail down the lid of a coffin?
Why does the sun lighten our hair, but darken our skin?
Why don't you ever see the headline "Psychic Wins Lottery"?
Why is "abbreviated" such a long word?
Why is a boxing ring square?
Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?
After they make styrofoam, what do they ship in it?
How do you know when it's time to tune your bagpipes?
Why don’t you ever see baby pigeons?
If superglue is so good why doesn’t it stick to the inside of the tube?
If 7-11 stores are open 24 hours why do they have locks on the doors?
Why do they have Braille on drive through ATM Machines?
If "con" is the opposite of "pro", then what is the opposite of progress?
If a train station is where the train stops, what is a work station?
Practice makes perfect, but if nobody's perfect, why practice?
What is a "free" gift? Aren't all gifts free?
Why do you press harder on a remote-control when you know the battery is dead?
If the only thing to survive a plane crash is the black box, why don't they make the whole plane out of the black box?
What happens if you get scared half to death twice?
If one synchronised swimmer drowns, do the rest have to drown too?
How do you tell when you run out of invisible ink?
Why is there an expiration date on sour cream?
What was the best thing before sliced bread?
When it rains, why don't sheep shrink?
Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?
What year did Jesus think it was?
After eating, do amphibians have to wait one hour before getting out of the water?
Do vegetarians eat animal crackers?
How do ‘Do not walk on the grass’ signs get there?
Before they invented drawing boards, what did they go back to?
If all the world is a stage, where is the audience sitting?
If the #2 pencil is the most popular, why is it still #2?
If you ate pasta and anti pasta, would you still be hungry?
How come wrong numbers are never busy?
What if you're in hell, and you're mad at someone, where do you tell them to go?
Why is it that night falls but day breaks?
Why isn't there mouse-flavoured cat food?
If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes?
How can there be self-help "groups"?
How does a thermos know whether a drink should be hot or cold?
If you're in a vehicle going the speed of light, what happens when you turn on the headlights?
What do sheep count when they can't get to sleep?
When dog food is new and improved tasting, who tests it?
Why is the word dictionary in the dictionary?
Why do bullets bounce off Superman’s chest yet when someone throws a gun at him he ducks?
What's the speed of dark?
If nothing ever sticks to TEFLON, how do they make TEFLON stick to the pan?
If the pen is mightier than the sword, and a picture is worth a thousand words, how dangerous is a fax?
What hair colour do they put on the driver's licenses of bald men?

Looking from Above

Boston from a captive balloon, October 13, 1860, James Wallace Black. This is the oldest conserved aerial photograph.

The beauty of the land from above. Seeing it all below. People as ants. A new understanding. The horror that this could be a missile sight. The beauty – this could be the sound of the shortened breath of a person new to balloons – the first person at such a height. What did he feel? What did she see?

Kite aerial photography

You may also like to describe the painting the Fall of Icarus by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder. Your students could write poems, you could refer to the legend as well as to famous poems e.g. those in a series by William Carlos Williams.

And so we move across the sky. Where are we going? What are we seeing? We are riding a bucket like Kafka’s imagination. We are Dylan Thomas speaking about his schooling. How is your establishment or your home seen from above? Map it. How do things change from this perspective?

Speak Mr Kafka: Bucket Rider: short story

My mode of arrival must decide the matter: so I ride off on the bucket. Seated on the bucket, my hands on the handle, the simplest kind of bridle, I propel myself with difficulty down the stairs; but once down below my bucket ascends, superbly, superbly; camels humbly squatting on the ground do not rise with more dignity, shaking themselves under the sticks of their drivers. Through the hard regular streets we go at regular canter; often I am upraised as high as the first storey of a house; never do I sink as low as\ the house doors. And at last I float at an extraordinary height above the vaulted door of the dealer, whom I see far below crouching over his table, where he is writing; he has opened the door to let out the excessive heat.

‘Coal Dealer!’ I cry in a voice burned hollow by the frost and muffled in the cloud by my breath, ‘please, coal dealer, give me a little coal. My bucket is so light that I can ride on it. Be kind. When I can I will pay you.’

Speak Mr Thomas

Now Emmet Speaks: the man who so delicately recorded the intimacy of his family life. Recently releasing a book of the earth from above: "Emmet Gowin: Changing the Earth."

Emmet Gowin George Eastman House

The following site allows you to look at current views of the earth from a choice of satellites: View from Satellite.

So this is what Satellites see?

Wall of Memories

Wall of Prayers

The tragedy of September 11th has brought to many people the memorial of a memory wall. For the want of a better name this phenomenon arose immediately after the tragedy in which families posted photocopies and notes of loved ones on walls of bus stops, train termini, etc, calling for information on those who had gone missing. These walls became very poignant. They moved from cries of help into memorials as it slowly became apparent that many people had in fact died. The walls remained in the streets of New York as improvised shrines. People visited them, lit candles, placed wreaths, prayed and simply tried to fathom the depth of the disaster by reading the personal stories. In a world dominated by media information the walls were deeply personal – photocopies of family members, descriptions written in marker pens, the stories of lives once lived in the area. Slowly these walls have come down, many too fragile to sustain winter blasts.

Nowadays they have been taken by museums who are consulting curators as to the best means of preserving such a deeply felt yet rushed archive. The walls will increasingly be seen as extraordinary and improvised events that grew out of the tragedy. They will become sociological phenomena not only for their emotion and immediacy but also because their style incorporates many of the relatively recent tools of personal computing – scanned photos and word-processed documents.

In line with this phenomena you may like to get your students to think about how they can utilise such a form in exploring disasters and tragedies that you are studying. This is an opportunity to explore the deeply personal effects of tragedy as with that of September 11th. How could your students represent the eruption of Vesuvius, a famine or an earthquake? Let your students take themselves back in history. Get them to create some sort of memorial to the victims by using modern day computers or textual forms that look old. Research real people or use imagination to create composites of the type of people who may have been affected. Who are the victims? What voices do the survivors have? You may even like to create a shrine. Have people visiting it. Interview them as a television news crew to find out their story. Check the personal accounts of the 1902 Martinique volcanic disaster. See also my Creatively Teaching Science Handbook.

Going Backwards

Explore the area of study by looking at it from the back to the front. So the food leaves the body, what happens previously in digestion? Read a poem backwards. How do the meanings compare to its being read forwards?

Watch a part of a film backwards with a VCR. I can remember a group of girls who did a fantastic drama piece on ‘acceptance’. They e.g. showed a girl eating her lunch and not sharing it. The narrator stepped in. "lets watch that again." They ran the scene backwards like that of a VCR – this was very funny. Then they commenced the scene with an alternative scene of sharing.

Take any process and explore it by starting from the other end. How did the puddle get there? The missile leaves the ground to return to the plane. You may know of this classic piece of writing from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five:

He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took up backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody look as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangers contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

You can get your students to write or perform a topic from a backwards perspective. Martin Amis has written a whole book Times Arrow in which the narrative follows events from a backwards perspective.

Its all strange to me. I know I live on a fierce and magical planet, which sheds or surrenders rain or even flings it off in whipstroke after whipstroke, which fires out bolts of electric gold into the firmament at 186,000 miles per second, which with a single shrug of its tectonic plates can erect a city in half an hour. (p. 23)


Pick a segment out of a discussion. Pick a segment from a book or film and see how it connects to the larger body. What subtle connections exist? What motifs or metaphors are there?

Give the student only a small segment of information. Let them discover what comes before and after. This is where you are in a computer program. How do you get out of here? How did you get in here?

What lead the character to this particular place? At what point of the text is this segment? Remove a segment from the text. Get the students to fill in what they think happened in between.

A section is missing from an experiment or a recipe. Find out what it is.

Put two segments together. Do they fit? Are they in the right order? Reveal a segment of time and ask the students to work out where it fits with the rest of that person’s life or how it fits to the larger scheme.

A segment can have a pattern all of its own. A small period in history can reveal a lot. So too can the thoughts of a person on one day within a week.

The segment has been created for some reason: the torn pages from a book, film on a cutting room floor, the torn pages of a manual. Perhaps the material has been burnt. By taking a small segment you have to recreate the whole. There is a small segment of a skeleton or other items found in a tomb. The line will merge between art and science. The archaeologist has to use his or her imagination to put things together and form a sense of the larger picture.

Segments carry their own meaning and this can change when placed within a broader context. Suddenly we can see the segment within a new light. Take for instance the example of Neil Armstrong’s touchdown on the moon: "That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." I have only heard this in isolation. I have always had a picture of the pregnant pause before its saying, the silence and profundity after it. This changes nevertheless when one reads the original transcript. It appears far more technical, and methodical – a media line within the overarching technical difficulty of the task.

30th anniversary of Apollo 11     Lunar Image


Okay, I just checked - getting back to that first step, Buzz. It’s not even collapsed too far but it’s adequate to get back up. It takes a pretty good little jump. I’m at the foot of the ladder. The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface only one or two inches. Although the surface appears to be very finely grained as you get close to it, it’s almost like a powder. Now and then it’s very fine. I’m going to step off the LM now. That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. As the surface is fine and powdery, I can pick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers like powdered charcoal to the sole and sides of my boots. I can only go in a small fraction of an inch. Maybe an eight of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine sandy particles. There seems to be no difficulty in moving around as we suspected. It’s perhaps even easier than the simulations that we performed in the simulations on the ground. It’s actually no trouble to walk around. The descent engine did not leave a crater of any size. There’s about a foot clearance on the ground. We’re essentially on a level place here - very level place here. I can see some evidence of rays emanating from the descent engine, but very insignificant amount. Okay, Buzz, we’re ready to bring down the camera.

You may also like to take excerpts from this speech and ask your students to identify what it is referring to – remove the famous sentence. See what responses students come up with.

Whether it is an excerpt from a famous speech or an excerpt from a text, segments will provide you with many teaching/learning possibilities. Why do we highlight segments? What segments would you highlight in a text or film – compare this to the trailer or reviews. How can a segment change perceptions? Are you, or your students, aware of situations in which the reality of an event or film/text is very different to its promotion? Discuss.

Darron Davies

© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009


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