Showing posts with label pedagogy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pedagogy. Show all posts

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Association, causation and the purely random: ideology and astrology in the classroom



Since the replacement of the octagonal mahogany dining tables with pine benches you can never be quite sure who you'll end up sitting down beside during the lunch break in the Senior Common Room.

Yesterday, Dr Ptolemy Macrobius, Reader in Paranormal Psychology, was expounding some of the key advances that had taken place in reaction to the limitations exposed in Theodor Adorno's dialectical materialist debunking of the topic in The Stars Down to Earth and other Essays (1952-3 / 1994).

Yet this work deserves a little respect! I responded:

“It pretends to a higher level of scientificness than the supposedly more primitive forms of esoteric wisdom without, however, entering into the argument itself: the lack of a transparent interconnection between astronomical observations and inferences pertaining to the fate of individuals or nations… Astrology attempts to get away from crude and unpopular fatalism by establishing outward forces operating on the individual’s decision, including the individual’s own character, but leaves the ultimate choice to him… Astrology undertakes the constant encouragement of people to take decisions, no matter how inconsequential they may be. It is practically directed towards action in spite of all the lofty talk about cosmic secrets and profound meditation. Thus, the very gesture of astrology, its basic presumption that everyone has to make up his mind at every moment falls in line with what will later come out with respect to the specific content of astrological counseling: its leaning towards extroversion.”

--- I said --- reading from the Amazon site on my iphone, 'Still relevant?'

In fact, looking at this topic from another angle, I've always considered the curious micro-narratives of astrology as an artful shorthand that repay close critical scrutiny, especially during those yawning intervals in cultural studies seminars, when the grand narrative theories have come crashing down, and one needs to begin the creative task of rebuilding - scaffolding - from more experiential and pragmatic foundations.

And the role of the aleatory in creative foreplay has long been accepted in postmodernist circles, has it not?

Although there's not much on astrology and pedagogy in the research literature, I was curious to discover that the scientists are still conducting their own research in this field:

 Treating astrology’s claims with all due gravity.
Steven K. Lower

“I teach an introductory science class at my university, which typically enrols many non-science majors. During a lecture on the gravitational force, I imply that if planets such as Mars exert a force on any object, including humans, then perhaps there is something to astrology’s idea that celestial bodies exert a force of influence on our lives. I encourage my students to undertake a test I have designed for this notion.
I present the students with 12 randomly numbered horoscopes from the previous day, with the corresponding signs of the zodiac removed. I ask each student to record the horoscope that best describes the day she or he had, and the astrological sign (for example, Aries) corresponding to her/his birthday. My scientific hypothesis is that planets may exert a force on our bodies, but it is purely random — 1 out of 12 (8.3%) — whether a horoscope foretells the events of one’s life.
I am pleased to report that, as Shawn Carlson has noted, “astrology failed to perform at a level better than chance” (Nature 318, 419–425; 1985). The results from my classes are: 8.0% (n = 163 students), 8.4% (n = 155), 7.0% (n = 143), 8.0% (n = 138) and 8.0% (n = 100). In other words, as John Maddox has commented “astrology is a pack of lies … There is no evidence that the positions of the planets can affect human behaviour” (Nature 368, 185; 1994)./”

Nature 447, 528 (31 May 2007).

Further information, prior to reaching a tentative conclusion and provisional predictions

"... Multivariate analyses of results based on a random sample of individuals support the medical
encounter and postmodern hypotheses and show that the set of postmodern values, in
comparison to dissatisfaction with the medical encounter, is by far a better predictor of attitudes ..."
See: Siahpush, Mohammad. "Postmodern values, dissatisfaction with conventional medicine and popularity of alternative therapies." Journal of Sociology 34.1 (1998): 58-70. 
'This condition implies a new form of cybernetic control, governed by the aleatory play of the code.'
 See : Clarke, David B. "Consumption and the city, modern and postmodern." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 21.2 (1997): 218-237.
'He embraced multiple serialism, aleatory technique and electronics, but he is best known for his pioneering explorations in music theatre, radio play, film and mixed media.' See:
Heile, Bjorn. The Music of Mauricio Kagel. Ashgate, 2006.

Conclusion?

I confidently predict that we have not yet witnessed the terminus of astrological pedagogies and aleatory methodologies, nor the sublime of big data, nor the sinister predictability of the commercial algorithm that perpetually haunts each keystroke of social media participation.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

What's that myth about boys not wanting to read anything?



Boys are underperforming by 10% or more, compared to girls' literacy.

My experience working with boys and adolescents (9-15) in the last year has taught me that they do not have an insurmountable problem with reading or writing. But far too often they are being forced to answer tedious comprehension questions. Or they are pushed into commenting critically on subjects that do not relate at all to their interests. Research shows that often boys visualize reading as a female activity. So some of the problems are part of the current culture and construction of reading as an activity.

At first, the key to success, in my view, is to work with their existing interests. That means that you need to find out what fires their imagination. In an overcrowded classroom that is sometimes difficult, and there is a tendency for the whole class to work on the same topics such as "Africa," or "Environment," or "Superheroes."

The young people I've worked with thrive on football and other sports, gadgets, fashion clothes and brands, fast cars, &c.

As a result of looking at and comparing media texts, such as advertisements, technical data, brochures, films, and leaflets,  the persuasive reading and writing activities emerge as a critical and creative focus for the young people's work.

This process of working with the most appropriate subject matter, or allowing young people to make their own choices, results in deeper engagement and closer reading. There is an awakened and heightened critical faculty, and the discovery of hitherto latent creativity. Often they are still reading when the one hour lesson has finished. And there has been no loss of concentration. They are asking me to let them 'do' this topic as their homework!
With a little guidance, it's not difficult to cover complex sentences and witty epigrams; rhymes and rhythm; alliteration; layout and design; multimedia and interactivity. Quickly they will pick up a wide descriptive and technical vocabulary that was a closed book when they were 'studying' traditional literary topics. They identify literary devices and the impact they have as a tool for advertising and promotion. They begin to deconstruct those sinister forces - the secret and hidden persuaders. By unlocking the promotional tricks of the trade they learn to imitate or resist them. This in turn has a potential for growth and empowerment.

Having picked up key skills, confidence, and competence, the young learners are far less resistant to exploring texts and images critically and creatively.

It's far easier to slip in some classic writing after a solid foundation and strong motivation has been acquired.


Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

52 Creative Writing Activities


Beyond the apostrophe!

In this blog I appear to have sketched out fifty-two creative writing methods, strategies, and some pedagogic principles. Please add your suggestions and ideas to the comments section at the end of this blog.

52 Creative Writing Activities

1. The Forked Paths

This was a group exercise which was created on a large whiteboard. This game involved writing a story. At the end of each short sentence there are multiple pathways to carry on the story in different directions.

2. Adaptation

Work with the children to adapt the activities described in this list. When a child says, But Can I Do It This Way, that’s music to my ears. But remember that this approach only works if teachers and learners are constantly thriving on new inspiration, outgrowing their comfort zones, and moving beyond dull repetition.

3. Bite Size Steps

We create a three word poem. We can write the words anywhere on the page. The words can be small, medium or large. They can be hidden in a diagram. We are thinking about how they look on the page and how they relate to each other. This activity is very good for younger children; but also expect some surprises with the older ones.

4. Word Monster

We stick words together and deform our writing so that the result depicts a text-monster. Serpents are good for joining words, but we can also use long words for arms and legs and shorter ones for eyes, ears, noses, mouths, fingers and toes.

5. Rap, Rap, Rap

This activity involves writing songs, using music, creating funny tunes and rhythms based on real life situations. But don’t become too technique-obsessed: let this evolve. Re-writing serious songs in a comic vein ... lowering the tone. Humour is a great tool in teaching. Why not let the students choose the tunes?

6. If person A were an X, what would they be?

Starting with a list of characters, or real people, make a list of their equivalent ‘quality’ in terms of weather, plants, fruit, vegetables, animals, flowers, colours. This approach helps to build skills in metaphor, symbolism and personification.

7. Subject Ransack and Pillage

Each school subject/field/special topic has its own jargon, terminologies and discourses. Specialised or technical words can really stand out if you create a poem drawn from the language of a car repair manual, a biology casebook, a theory of physics article, an engineering study guide.

8. Surgical Cut and Entitlement

Take a story and cut out everything except the best phrase/sentence. The result becomes the new title for the story, which could then be retold in fewer words than the original, modified, or improved according to your taste preferences.

9. Choices and Combinations

We could try out different tasks, rather than having them chosen for us. Sometimes we combined three or more short  activities in one lesson. This approach allows learners to experiment with learning styles and to express their own preferences.

10. Morph the Limerick

Starting with a traditional limerick we replaced words one at a time in order to create a new poem. Students progress to explore ideas of the absurd, the bizarre, and the grotesque. You might end up with something more weirdly funny than the original. They key is to have fun with words and to relish their transformative power.

11. Acting Out

Acting out short stories (NOT learning lines) helps with confidence, spontaneity and improvisation. A sense of humour helps. Try picking random roles and characters rather than predictable ones. Why not add sound effects using your home-made instruments?

12. Ball of Wool

Working in a circle, we passed the ball of wool to the person who must supply the next sentence of the story. Stories are tangled webs! This activity is a brilliant way to demonstrate the intricacy of narrative in a kinaesthetic interpersonal fashion.

13. Superhero Job Advert

Write an advert designed to recruit a superhero. The task is to outline the most appropriate skills, qualifications and experience needed for the role. This activity leads naturally into storytelling.

14. Role Transformations

In this activity we invented a basic story but then made some major changes in the characters, e.g. male to female, young to old, human to animal, hero to victim etc. This approach encourages children to think outside their comfort zone.

15. Secret Instructions

These poems can be discovered or created. Secret instructions are hidden in a metaphor or a simile, on in highlighted words. This activity helps to build skills in skimming and scanning for key information.

16. In the Middle Game is the Opening Gambit

We start by writing a 3 or 5 part story as a ‘real time’ sequence. Then we re-write it, starting in the middle. This activity helps children to understand complex sequences and also flashback or foreshadowing techniques.

17. How Did I Get here?

As above. This means that your opening is rather weird, so you want to find out how you got there. ‘Here I am, writing this, covered in green paint, on the church bell-tower ...’ Dodie Smith’s novel, I Capture the Castle, began with the words: ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it, the rest of me is on the draining board.’

18. New Locations

An old tired story can be renewed. Produce a new story by  giving it a more exotic location. Pictures from Google maps and images also helped to make this transformation from the local to something more exotic and strange. The new environment  presents innovative challenges for the actors in the story.

19. Animation

Use animation software, sound effects and text, in order to create our own animated short stories. This activity helps children to understand storyline or plotting techniques.

20. Superhero Job Application

We wrote a letter, and filled in an application form, explaining our relevant superhero skills. (See also activity 13.)

21. Word Magnet

These are the plastic words that you stick on your fridge, or on a metal surface. You re-arrange the words to make a poem, or to tell a story. Playing with words in this way functions as an effective warm-up exercise that promotes children’s creativity. It also prompts learners to work within the resources available.

22. The Land of Infinite Possibility

We used a sample of text by a published writer and started to deform/reform it using search and replace on a word processor. Persist in this process until the original has almost disappeared. Curiously, the bizarre results sometimes stimulate a new creative departure.

23. Comic Strip

Images and text are combined in order to create your own storybook. There are several companies online who will publish your book as print-on-demand publication that can be sent to your friends and family.

24. Riddle Poems

Read some riddles and then create your own, by working backwards ... from the answer .... to the questions and the clues.

25. Picture Captions

This could be a picture related to football, or some other sport, or cars, or games. Make a caption for the picture to give it maximum impact. Then writing the title for the newspaper story associated with it.

26. Sharing questions and answers as we write

What if? How? Why? When? What next?

27. Between Two Images

Choose two photographs and then wrote a story about the missing image that makes sense of the other two.

28. Recommendations / What next

Older boys/girls showed their work to younger children. They explained which activities they had enjoyed most, and why. There was a Q&A and a critical discussion afterwards.

29. Ekphrastic Writing

This involves writing a poem or a story based on, and inspired by another art work, such as a painting or a sculpture, or a piece of music

30. Detective Writer as Character

This activity involved reading a short story. But then the child  turns up in the story as a detective ...

31. Upright Creativity

Writing standing up or composing while you are walking around. Writing does not have to be sedentary. Some of our most prodigious and creative writers such as Charles Dickens were great walkers. And didn’t Virginia Woolf write standing up?

32. Chaos Notebooks

Many artists don’t have tidy notebooks. In fact, you can scrawl any crazy ideas in any way. Tidy writing and full sentences are banned. You can start writing in the middle of your book, or work backwards. We can stick in any pictures that we find. We make weird diagrams of machines and inventions. Creative notebooks are a space to be messy.

33. Secret productions

We use codes to keep an idea secret. This can involve pictures and symbols. This makes our writing feel precious. Its revelation is a gift to the world.

34. Creating our own Newspaper

Taking on different newspaper roles each day, we created a daily newspaper covering the celebrity gossip and gang warfare between the Montagues and the Capulets. The ‘Mantle of the Expert’ approach usually involves the taking on of a professional role that is acted out in an evolving ‘process’  drama.

35. Funny Character Names

We invented ridiculous, absurd, and memorable names for our characters. This approach also helps children to understand that characters are sometimes symbolic or allegorical, rather than attempt to create real-life people.

36. Character Catchphrases

We invented a catch-phrase for a person in a story. This activity helps children to explore and challenge clich├ęs, or to think about the main quality/ruling emotion of a character.

37. The Living and the Dead

This was an opportunity to think about crazy ways of killing off characters and then bringing them back to life. These became our new stories. Gruesome and miraculous. Children love this rather brutal activity.

38. Word theft and remix

We cut up all the words in a poem and then remixed them to make shorter new poems.

39. Finding You way out of the Maze

This is a found poem. In this activity  we highlighted the words contained in someone else’s writing in order to create our own poem. Sometimes writers don’t know that they have a little  poem lurking in their prose.

40. The Espionage (Spy) Poem

This poem is written with invisible ink, so you can choose who you want to read it. It was also fun to hide poems somewhere in the classroom, in the school, or in the playground. Some have still not been discovered.

41. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

We make words and sentences disappear, and put new ones in their place. We experimented with turning sentences and ideas into their opposites. Reversal of expectations can have amusing and unexpected outcomes.

42. Parallel Universes

These verbal universes are like our known world but with very slightly different structural or theoretical principles, or arcane and odd rules. The game involves guessing or inventing the rules for the parallel universe. For instance, all words with double letter are banned in the World of Og; ‘in the World of Og ... they have forks but no spoons, windows but no glass.’

43. The Obstacle Challenge

Working in pairs, one of us maps out a character’s journey. The other person has to invent obstacles at each stage of the journey. These challenges test the strength and intelligence of the character. A map and pictures help to visualise/structure this adventure story.

44. Conflict role play

In pairs we tried out our skills in creative arguments. E.g. dialogues or conversation battles between father/son, mother/daughter, hero/villain, human/animal, hero/monster ...

45. Poems and Pen knives

We enjoyed carving words in wood and cardboard. Wordcraft.

46. The Flyting Match

This activity involve the use of insults and counter-insults in the form of a contest. This is a cruel and wicked creative game, but rude/offensive words are banned. ‘Flyting’ started in Scotland, but exists in many oral cultures. Basically it’s the art of creative quarrelling.

47. Sculpture poems

In this activity we learned that poems are shapes like sculptures, and that these can be made from any objects, and stuck together; they just have to be eye-catching. Think of this activity as three-dimensional writing.

48. Spray cans / Paint spray

This was a bit messy, but it was fun to create gigantic poems using lots of shape and colour and images. Creative vandalism at work? Don’t try this activity in your living room or kitchen unless you want a permanent record of children’s creativity.

49. Voting with our friends on our best creative work so far

We were a bit nervous about this at first, but everyone has one thing that’s their best work, and as it’s your friends deciding on what they liked best it’s not the same as the teacher stepping in and marking your work. Usually you know what your best work is, but sometimes there are surprises and something that did not start very well turns out to have a life of its own.

51. The Essential Gadget Show

We invented and described the gadgets that our characters can use on their adventures. Words come with a diagram and/or a picture, or a user manual.

52. Sharing and Valuing Our Work

We showed the younger children our work, and explained some of our tricks-of-the-trade. We took pictures of our works or scanned them to make an online resource and record of our achievements.


Further Information

Thanks for reading: I look forward to hearing about your experiences and to reading your views.

© Dr Ian McCormick 2013

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)
This recent Guardian Education article is also worth reading.