Rethinking Teachers’ Learning in a Tate Summer School Whats going on here?

Patricia Thomson

This paper is work in progress. It is a ‘show and tell’. It represents some of the work that the Tate Schools and Teachers team London and I are jointly doing: we are collectively trying to not only understand but also develop ways to research ‘learning’ in the museum context. In the first instance this involves us working from both a critique of what we don’t want to do, as well as working ground up to develop our own approach. 

Image of Teacher in a costume

CPD participant modelling work during summer school event.
Lucy Dawkins ©Tate

The Tate Schools and Teachers team offers a range of learning activities and resources for teachers. The team routinely evaluates its programme but recently decided to think more about this process. They invited a researcher to engage with them in thinking about how they might learn more about teacher learning. This paper reports on the ways in which they jointly investigated one of these teacher learning events, the Tate Summer School, a five day intensive workshop which runs in the annual holidays. In 2012, the Summer School coincided with the opening of The Tanks and its topic was live art.

We begin with a brief discussion of teacher learning, and establish some broad principles which underpin ‘successful’ programmes; we describe the summer school programme and its goals in the light of these key research findings. We then discuss the difficulties of opting for conventional summative evaluation approaches to this event and topic, and we offer an alternative research approach. We conclude by sketching what this approach allowed us to see and say that customary evaluation approaches did not.

Teacher learning and the Tate approach

It’s universally recognised that if things are going to change in a school then there must be provision for teacher learning. This is generally known as CPD – Continuing Professional Development – and it happens through the provision of INSETINSErvice Training. However this is where agreements end. What counts as ‘training’ or ‘development’, its location (school or external, its beneficiaries) teacher, students, or school, and its effectiveness are all hotly debated and there are wide variations in practice. However, the current UK orthodoxy is that one school-based CPD is better than external provision and two CPD should be directly focused on improving instruction.1

The Summer School began from the premise that what was provided was not ‘training’ a concept generally connected with a set of predetermined skills to be acquired, as in dog-training, or training in resuscitation techniques.2 Training does have a place, but it wasn’t in the Summer School. Nor was it ‘development’, as in progress from one place to another. While ‘development’ was closer than ‘training’ to what might happen in Summer School, the team wanted to steer away from this Enlightenment model, which lends itself to linear assumptions about growth and maturation, from naivety to sophistication. Rather, the notion of learning/unlearning seemed more appropriate and connected to both the ‘pedagogic turn’ in contemporary art practice as well as to a rich reservoir of educational and cultural theory.3

CPD in English schools generally consists of a mix of school-based twilight training sessions, training courses and sometimes action inquiry projects, plus externally offered conferences and courses. These offerings are generally geared to specific policy initiatives,4 or are intended to support capacity building for school improvement5 and specifically, changes in teaching and learning.6 Not all of this provision is well received by teachers,7 and not all of it meets the kinds of criteria put forward by researchers in the field, namely that CPD:

  • Should focus on content knowledge and provide opportunities for active learning.8
  • must take the teacher’s beliefs about teaching and learning into account as these strongly mediate course leaders’ intentions.9
  • Must work as ‘narrative inquiry’, building on teachers’ ways of knowing and making meaning.10
  • Should build professional identity/ies as well as knowledge, that is a sense of who I am and what I stand for, as well as what I know and can do.11

The Tate Modern Summer School was under-pinned by these kinds of principles. There would be content knowledge about live art. Learning would be active and experiential, building on participants’ interests, knowledge, skills and meaning-making practices. There would be opportunity to think about what it means to teach art, and to be a teacher, and learner. The notion was that the Summer School would provide resources that teachers could then use in whatever way they wanted, including but not necessarily in their immediate teaching.

In order to develop the programme, London based gallery Five Years were commissioned to develop the Summer School programme.

The Summer School programme

The Tate London team were interested in how a small artist-run space might operate within the institutional framework of Tate. Governed by the potential offered by the Tanks and consisting of a number of related assignments across five days, the school endeavoured to use the site of the Tanks to establish a space for practical enquiry and critical intervention, opening up dialogue and exploring live art and performance as modes for learning.

The course deliberately set out to explore a context for live works encountered within the museum. Participants considered the de-materialisation of artworks within a historical context and investigated how they may in turn be re-materialised through documentation, re-staging interpretation. Working with historical records and contemporary precedents, participants worked individually and as a collective to devise, enact, and repeat actions in order to understand how they might shape learning. We wanted to work with the group to explore where the material of art lies, in the event, the relic, the experience or the document. 

Exercises With Five Years consisted of a series of interrelated components, a five-day course, two public evening events, and the open submission (Im)possible School – a free and open invitation to a wide audience to propose an activity for the school’s participants.

The course (see below) was framed by artist practice; through discussion, assignments, practical exercises, re-enactment, texts and resources the artists were able to share and make manifest their particular ideas, thinking and approach alongside that of other live art practitioners. In addition an extensive collection of related texts was compiled and made available throughout the week, several of which were used as the basis for extended practical activities as part of the course. Participants were invited to contribute to this resource, which was then shared in its entirety at the end of the week.

Day 1: De-materialisation / Live

‘To discuss what one is doing rather than the artwork which results’ 12

Following an introduction to the team, the Five Years artists and an exploration of the Tanks spaces including a talk by a Tate Curator, Day 1 focused on practical and discussion-based activities designed to address the relationship of live art and performance to documentation. We asked, where does the material lie? Is it in the event, the relic, the remainder or the document?

Day 2: Documentation / Materialisation

  1. The artist may construct the piece
  2. The piece may be fabricated
  3. The piece need not be built. 13

Day 2 was concerned with unpicking the nature of the object as the record of ‘an event’. The group worked with visiting performance artist Edwina Ashton to explore the body as the site of experience/learning through considering objects for the body as props, traces and/or as relational.

Day 3: (Im)possible School

‘All proposals will be accepted. All proposals will be published. Submission of Proposals is Free.’ 14

Framed as the ‘(Im)Possible School’, day 3 introduced Edward Dorrian’s (Im)Possible School: Resource Book, ‘As Found’, a collection of activity proposals designed for the school and collected through an open submission invitation. Serving as both archive and working text the collated activities formed a resource designed to provoke discussion and action around the idea of school as ‘event’. Participants activated, re-enacted and subverted the activities gifted to them in order to create their own instructions.

 Day 4: Education / Process

‘Practical and quixotic in equal parts, the art assignment can resemble a riddle as much as a recipe, and often sounds more like a haiku, or even a joke, than a clear directive.’15

Day 4 focused on the relationship between education, learning, process and live art, looking at the art assignment and referencing work by Vito AcconciJohn Baldessari and Hans Haacke. Visiting artist Dr Patrica Lyons presented a performative lecture and the group re-performed a seminal performance from the 70’s by Lygia Clark.

 Day 5: Symposium

‘I need somebody. I just need a body next to me. Come in here, I’ll wrap around you. You need it as much as I do, we both need it…’16

Day 5 brought together the thinking and doing from the five days, culminating in a series of events and activities that provided the opportunity to both witness and produce film, action, installation, participatory and speech-based events and performance in the Tanks spaces.

Taking myself out of my comfort zone

The twenty-four teachers at the Summer School had a variety of experience with contemporary art practice. Two were members of the Tate Teachers Consult group, eight had been to previous Tate professional development activities, one was studying a Masters in contemporary art practice and a few said that they had specialised in contemporary art in their initial training. However some positioned themselves as knowing little. And because this Summer School was about live art, all of the teachers saw themselves as learners, with some saying early on that they wanted to challenge themselves – ‘take myself out of my comfort zone’ .The teachers were at various career stages, ranging from two newly qualified teachers to teachers with over fifteen years as art specialists. Eight worked in primary and sixteen in secondary settings. All of the secondary teachers were art specialists and all of the primary teachers were classroom teachers who offered ‘more art’ than is usual.

The Summer School approach to teacher learning

Because contemporary live art is so much about the ‘being’ of the artist or artist collective, the artists and curators who developed Summer School took the view that the best way to learn about contemporary art was through a process that was not only cognitive but also highly experiential. Participants were invited to ‘try on’ and ‘try out’ what it means to engage in contemporary art practices. The Summer School offered a programme in which participants could learn, via engaging theoretically and practically, with the history and present of performance art. They could, for a time, ‘play’ with the position and identity of the contemporary artist as well as the practice. This is not the same as making contemporary art, but rather, a boundaried ‘experiment’ in thinking, feeling and making contemporary performance art.

We think of the Summer School as operating as a space and time of ‘encounter’. Various learning experiences were on offer, all of which amounted to the possibility of being and becoming a little different, thinking and acting a little differently about performance, thinking and acting a little differently about teaching art, thinking and acting a little differently about making art. Summer School was of course a temporary space/time situated within an art institution, rather than a school. We might think about this as teachers leaving their various school worlds and entering an art world in which norms, expectations and opportunities were different to those they encountered in everyday life. From this new vantage point, teachers were also invited to consider their taken-for-granted occupational situation as ‘unfamiliar’.

The Summer School deliberately attempted to disrupt taken-for-granted notions such as ‘teacher’, ‘learner’ and ‘knowledge’, as well as that of ‘art’, ‘object’ material’ and ‘audience’. The course leaders explicitly saw themselves as ‘not experts’. They wanted to create a situation in which, as Atkinson puts it, ‘knowledge and practice are oriented towards users and empowerment’ and in which the disposition of ‘not knowing’ was made visible and used productively to encourage non shameful and nonjudgmental ‘not knowing’ in participants.17

Given this, how might the investigation of teacher learning be conducted?

Image of Teacher creating a costume

Image of Teacher during CPD Summer school creating costume 
Lucy Dawkins ©Tate

‘Capturing’ learning through evaluation

There were a number of possible summative evaluative approaches available to the team, that is, approaches to making an assessment at the and of the Summer School about what had happened. In this section we offer a simplified heuristic of ‘types’ of evaluation that were open to us.18

The training approach

This type of evaluation focuses on assessing whether participants have acquired the skills and knowledge on offer. In order to accomplish this, it is necessary to have a very clear set of outcomes amenable to measurement. First Aid training for example requires participants to demonstrate both knowledge, which can be exhibited in a verbal or written test and competences which can be demonstrated. The participants in Summer School were not being trained in any sense.

The development approach 

This seeks to assess how far participants have traveled in attitude, knowledge and/or skills. A development model often uses a pre-and post-test of some kind. Literacy tests at school often work in this way. They focus on a small set of functions and test them at repeated intervals against a normative set of benchmarks. Results below the norm show ‘poor progress’s with the reverse for above expectation results. Another way to assess development is to simply ask people what they have learnt. We were reluctant to use this approach since it was not clear to us at what point we might ‘see’ any travel or in what areas.

An effectiveness approach 

This seeks to ascertain whether the mode of learning on offer does what it sets out to do. This may use a pre-and post-test approach. The introduction of a new exercise regime for an athlete for example may very well consist of pre-and post-testing so that the effects of the intervention can be measured against other interventions or a control group where there has been nothing done. An alternative approach might be to measure how many of the predetermined outcomes have been achieved and put this against a predetermined line (perhaps called best practice) which represents a poor, good and highly effective ‘result’.

It is not uncommon for the effectiveness of any CPD for teachers to be judged on how it changes the behavior, attitudes, skills and/or knowledge of students. In this instance student test results are used to gauge the effects of a teacher learning programme. This approach is widely critiqued for its simplistic assumptions of causality and there is ongoing attention among effectiveness researchers to develop statistical ways to control for all of the variables that exist within CPD and after in its application. Because the goals of the Summer School were to open up possibilities, it is possible to see if this happens in more sophisticated ways than simply asking “Does it, or not?”

A satisfaction/consumer approach

This has participants declare their expectations at the outset, and then asks at the conclusion how closely their expectations have been met. It also usually offers the opportunity for suggestions for improvement.

 It is not uncommon for institutional evaluations to combine aspects of these approaches, to ask participants what they learnt (development) and what they would like to see done in future (satisfaction). It is also not uncommon in the arts sector for funders to ask for evaluation of social outcomes rather than artistic ones but more importantly, a satisfaction approach hardly takes account of the Summer School intention to disrupt and to make unfamiliar. Would someone be ‘satisfied’ if they left Summer School feeling somewhat ‘at sea’?19

The kind of learning that was on offer in the Summer School did not:

  1. Easily lend itself to a set of measurable/observable predetermined learning outcomes. While there were goals for the Summer School these were as much about offering the opportunity to explore and experiment, as they were about learning about some key events and artists. They were as much about being as becoming, as they were about knowing. Indeed, the possibility that participants might reject live art altogether was held open.
  2. Assume a cause and effect relationship between participation in the Summer School and learning outcomes, even if these could be delineated.
  3. Assume that all participants would learn the same things and in the same way and at the same pace.
  4. Assume that participants knew nothing when they arrived, uncritically absorbed everything on offer, that their learning stopped at the end of the week, and that they would be able to express in words what they had learnt when prompted.
  5. Assume that all teachers were equally in a position to introduce live art into their classrooms.

In other words, Summer School was not envisaged as a kind of ‘injection’ of live art learning which would have a uniform and quantifiable effect. As explained in the previous section, it was diametrically opposed to this position. With this rejection of a positivist and linear approach to evaluation, what was an alternative that would fit more comfortably with the Summer School goals and processes?

Our approach emerged via the notion of affordances

The notion of an affordance is one initially developed as a means of understanding visual perception.20 It has come to generally mean that an object, text or an event offers latent possibilities for action, but the precise use that occurs depends on the capabilities and cultural positioning of the person using them.

When applied to learning, the notion of an affordance recognises the ways in which learners create their own meanings from experiences and texts, but also holds that these meanings are framed by socio-cultural positioning, as well as being directed by the experience/text in question. The affordance can be thought of as an ‘offer’.

The notion of an affordance sits together with other theories that recognise delimited human agency. Reception theory for example holds that the interaction between a text (widely defined), and a reader/viewer, is variable.21 The resources that the reader/viewer brings to this reading/viewing are socially framed and can be directed, but not controlled, by artistic forms, genres and medium. This is of course precisely the position taken by contemporary art galleries towards their visitors; no one is expected to respond to all art works but to a selection that they make, and a diversity of responses is not only anticipated, but also desirable. The latent possibilities of the art works are perhaps best summarized in Bill Mitchell’s words, ‘what do pictures want?’22

Approaching learning through the notion of the affordance, or offer, thus makes connections between the practices of teaching/learning and curating/viewing. Both are concerned with the potential meaning-making of learners/viewers and how this can be organised, resourced and steered.23 Questions such as the selection of texts/activities, their sequencing, their literal and semiotic positioning and framing are, in educational parlance, about the provision of affordances for learners/viewers.

The notion of affordance also positions discussions of the effects of learning. Learning is not understood as a simple cause and effect occurrence. Because learning of the kind with which Summer School was concerned was a question of meaning-making, the point at which this process might be ‘captured’ as an ‘effect’ will be highly variable. What it is and how it can be ‘seen’ and ‘documented’ are neither homogeneous nor simple.

Research into learning in galleries and museums suggests that some learning can be immediate and recognised as such by the learner. However, it also may not be articulated as anything but a ‘feeling’ for a long period of time. Aesthetic experiences are often understood as producing an emotional/embodied response. Elizabeth Ellsworth describes the visceral response to architecture, such as Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin, as a momentary process of movement from who-I-am-now through who-I-am-becoming to who-I-am-now.24 Something has been learnt, and this may be recognised, but articulated as ‘affect’. But despite being in-articulate, affect can propel and justify action in the world in the same way as conscious thought.25 Thus, in education, an affective experience might well lead to a decision to take particular action without it (ever) being fully explicated. It is therefore important in any research into learning to try to combine a focus on what people say about knowledge, what people say about feelings, and what they actually can be seen doing.

Formative and ethnographic – a first go

After much discussion, the Schools and Teachers Tate London team, artists and Pat came to the view that it would be good to try an approach with a strong focus on trying to ‘capture’ learning as it happened, assuming that learning would happen and we could ‘see’ it in some form. There was general agreement that an open-ended study would help not only to see what happened at Summer School, but assist our thinking about how teacher learning at Tate might be investigated more generally.

The research question that was agreed as most suitable for a preliminary study was, what is going on here? This deliberately open-ended question provided a lens through which to look at, document and think about:

  • The participants.
  • The programme and what it offered.
  • What appeared to be the immediate benefits for participants.

The study used ethnographic methods.26 The core of this approach is participant observation, recorded in field notes. In this instance Pat participated in the Summer School and her field notes were supplemented by:

  • Recorded pre-Summer School conversations between Leanne Turvey, Patricia Thomson and Alice Walton and Between Pat Thomson and Five Years artists Jo, Alex and Eddie.
  • Ongoing documentation resulting from the Summer School activities.
  • Photographic records produced by participants and by Tate staff.
  • Staff responses to early analytic work undertaken by the researcher.
  • A post it activity which asked participants to think about what they had enjoyed, learnt, were puzzled by and would take away.
  • Post Summer School reflections by staff in writing and as a recorded conversation.
  • Standard Tate London Schools and Teachers evaluation.

There is thus a considerable quantum of visual and written data.The project was explained to all Summer School participants on the first morning, and they were invited to participate. All chose to sign a consent form to signify their agreement. 

Analysis has, as is customary with this kind of ethnographic data, been focused on drawing out themes from the data, through the ‘instrument’ of the researcher. This has taken several passes through the primary data set and several iterations of ‘analytic memos’, texts in which various themes and meanings are ‘tried out’. This analysis has been undertaken by the researcher Pat, in consultation with Alice, Amy and Leanne. The text of this article and a preceding research report was also cooperatively constructed through Pat writing drafts for discussion.

What did this approach allow us to see and say?

There were four key ‘chunks’ of learning that we were able to draw out using this process oriented approach. We outline these, using some examples from the data and data analysis, to give a flavor of what our approach produced. 

Firstly detailed records of what actually happened allowed a multi-layered analysis of what was on offer to participants. We had rich information about how the programme and its goals were actually manifest. One of the weaknesses of evaluation approaches, as argued above, that work to test results against detailed aims or anticipated outcomes is they assume that what is on offer matches the stated aims. Our approach began with what was materially provided – the affordances, the offer.

In the Summer School opportunities were provided to:

  • Observe and listen to practising contemporary artists. This allowed participants those access to a diverse approach to practice, a range of interests and concerns, different approaches to what constitutes ‘art’ and an ‘art work’. However, common to all of the artists was a shared orientation to ‘not knowing’, to systematic investigation of a concern or idea, and to questioning. The political economy, as well as the various stages and stakeholders in contemporary art practice were made visible and debatable.
  • Engage with historical records of performance art, with art works and with significant artists. Participants were offered the opportunity to understand the development of performance art, to see some of its key concerns and debates and its presentation.
  • Experience Tate as both an exhibition and performance space. Participants not only ‘saw’ live art, but also experimented with what it might be like to perform in this space.
  • Participate in contemporary art practice. An invitation to become part of the work of two contemporary artists – one via the structure of a ’school’, and the other through costume - allowed participants to experience being part of actual contemporary art practice and an art work.
  • Experiment with contemporary performing art practice by ‘doing’ what contemporary artists have done and do.

The processes used to enact these opportunities were:

  • Focusing activities which invited participants to record their sensations in the moment.
  • Re-enactments of performances from notations and archival instructions.
  • Enactments of assignments written by others specifically for the Summer School.
  • Writing assignments for each other.
  • A lecture which demonstrated a narrative approach to making meaning from text.
  • ‘Crit’ sessions after practical exercises.
  • Experiential exercises in which participants rehearsed, performed for each other, and/or the wider public in the Tate.
  • The use of key concepts and terminology which participants were able to take up as they felt comfortable with them.
  • Specific time for interpretation and for reflection.
  • Ongoing discussion around the question ‘Where is the material in performance art?’ as well as continued deconstruction of the artist/audience binary.

These affordances can be seen in more detail below , Pat’s second order field notes, Days 1 to 2.

Day 1

Learning occurs via

  1. Modeling speaking – how to do dialogue, what to focus on, some ways to disagree and offer an opinion.
  2. Getting immersed/saturated in Contemporary Art Practice (CAP) as discourse, important words/ideas (spaces, practices, white cube space v raw industrial space, participation, audience, object, live, instructions, trace, materiality, realisation, agency, translation, rebuilding, remaking, test, extended areas, relic, memory, rules, structures, fragmentary, narrative).
  3.  References to the resources on the table – this has a history, is it a canon? Is it still valid? Away from the museum. How does this sit within/beyond the canon?
  4. Acknowledging and use of affect - OK to feel fear, embarrassment, but difficulties of forcing people to feel.
  5. Experience – reinterpretation of historical piece via reading and experiential learning, doing and watching. ‘Quotation’ shift/slippage between then and now. What is learning with the body? – Some focus on what this felt like to perform and experience.
  6. Insider knowledge – status of participants in the gallery – back stage in the Tanks.
  7. Mechanics and some politics of live art.

Day 2

Learning – concepts:

  1.  All responses are OK, all responses are interesting, and some can obviously lead elsewhere -ontological dispositions.
  2. About CA practice as opposed to a CA event/exhibition. There are a series of projects which work around similar propositions.
  3. The importance of acknowledging where things come from, who else has been involved(authorship, citations in reenactments) history/context.
  4. The acceptability of just following your intuition, whim, curiosity, something amusing.
  5. Artist-participant ethics are an issue, insider story of negotiating with participants, running project.
  6. The importance of ambiguity, uncertainty, ‘unpacking’, humour, confronting, provoking.
  7. Dialogue – reflecting on experience to share learning.

Secondary Records also allowed an analysis of the pedagogical approach taken by the Summer School leaders. This is something which is often left out of ‘training’ and ‘development’ models of evaluation, but it does appear in ‘satisfaction’ approaches. Effectiveness’ evaluation must try to statistically reduce the influence of pedagogical mediation between goals and outcomes, unless it is the process which is being tested.

The Summer School offered a pedagogy of encouragement, not coercion. This was based in:

  • A recognition of the agency of the ‘learner’ to take up those things that are most relevant, exciting and interesting to them, not just those that are easily able to be accommodated.
  • An acknowledgement of the expertise within the group. Programme leaders began from the position that while they were responsible for providing a coherent sequence and scope of experiences, the group also came with expertise, and the pedagogy of encouragement was also designed to use the knowledges and resources in the group, as well as those provided by the course leaders.
  • An understanding that in order to encourage group sharing and dialogue, course leaders must deliberately create a trusting and safe environment, in which there was acceptance of all contributions and levels of participation. This required modeling the kinds of interactions expected, explicitly discussing the importance and value of emotional as well as cognitive responses, allowing the group time and space to work through activities and offering choice as well as set exercises.
  • A commitment to dialogue and reflection. Throughout the programme there were a variety of resources for reflection and events through which critical conversations were expected.
  • A strong commitment to the arousal of curiosity, generation of enthusiasm and support for risk taking. Course leaders used open questioning rather than statements of propositional knowledge, and looked for ways in which they could draw out diverse responses to show the value of the heterogeneity of interpretations.

A pedagogy of encouragement cannot be simply imposed from above. It depends on the willingness of participants to not only contribute but also to be respectful of each other’s interpretations, presentations and representations. The production of dispositions-know-how and know-that-can be understood as a pedagogy which is both negotiated, and accepted and acceptable, to course leaders and participants.

Finally field notes allowed recording of some of what was taken up and taken on board by participants, over time, and in response to specific exercises. These records also showed some of the discursive framing of teacher’s meaning making practices.

The extract below shows some of the comments recorded on Day Two during a debrief after participants stood in The Tanks foyer dressed in costumes they had manufactured from scrap materials. The comments address both the affective nature of performing live art as well as the sociality inherent in becoming a resource for meaning making for viewers, all within the power relations of a high profile contemporary art museum.

I felt exposed and self conscious.
There is a discipline to standing still.
It wasn’t the same as performing in a play or being a live model.
Light affects what you do.
People behaved differently if they couldn’t see us (behind masks).
We were in a position of power. We were playing with the audience.
People assumed that because we were in a gallery we were serious and there must be some kind of deep meaning.
We had a license to do something.
It was like one inanimate object exploring another.
We were a kind of flash mob and these can be sanctioned or unsanctioned in the Tate context.
We will appear in someone’s holiday album.

 Below show excerpts from analytic memos written that night by the researcher which counted these interactions recorded in field notes, and also the use of vocabulary. 

Day 3: participation

  • All groups have engaged with the book of instructions. Most have focused on audience participation, e.g. glow sticks, stickers, conversations, image free zone, compliments. The soundscape, abandoned sculpture and automatic writing exercises teams are working with additional ideas.
  • The term instruction is now being routinely used by participants. They are experimenting with participation, audience and context and using those terms. The remainder of the lexicon on offer is not yet used in the big group.
  • Most people speak – three participants vocal only in groups.

Day 4: participation

  • Everyone has now spoken out loud in the big group on more than one occasion.
  • Everyone participated in the activities.
  • Terms now in common use – curation, instructions, license, audience, performance, documentation, (the material?).

I have noticed that some participants (day three) preferred to DO rather than discuss. I was in one group on Tuesday where one person wanted to discuss but all the others wanted to DO. I had observed these people through the rest of the week staying silent when they were in a group where most people wanted to discuss. I also noticed that some people (day four) did the same kind of exercise more than once – they were at the edge of their comfort zone or they had an idea they wanted to explore?

Field notes also recorded comments which were specific to school and teaching. Participants began to discuss how they might use what they were learning in their own teaching as early as Day Two, even though it was not formally on the agenda until the last day. Discussions about an experiential exercise often made such connections. 

 These commentaries were not simply about how teachers might apply what they had learnt. They also hinted at how teachers’ normative beliefs might frame their post Summer School actions.  On Day Five for instance Pat’s notes record comments such as  ‘A teacher should draw people out, not know the answers ’ (they should) ’be comfortable enough to say they don’t understand. ’ ‘Adults don’t know everything, they should be seen not to know,’ ‘Teachers have to provide some knowledge but not all’. These comments seem compatible with the exploratory experiential activities and pedagogy of encouragement that was used by course leaders. However, there was little that reflected the transgressive thinking that was on offer via ‘the impossible school’, nor the radical ‘parrhesia’ such as that espoused by Rogoff and exhibited in many of the readings on offer.27 And there was ongoing use of the notion of ‘ability’.28

 Day 4 field notes record:

Today the return of the discourse of ability but disruption via notions of mixed ability groups in secondary, pair low ability students with high. One teacher noted that the younger the age group the more framing and scaffolding must be provided because of their varied ability. But this conversation was also linked to the fact that the Summer School group has built up experiences and have not done exercises cold, so students will need this too. Learning partners and dialogue are good in primary another offered. Primary teachers appear to be less concerned with ability than secondary schools – is this the sector or the nature of the schools they work at?

The concept of ‘ability’ is antithetical to the democratic and inclusive practices that were displayed in the texts and practices offered by Summer School course leaders. The programme implicitly said that all responses and interpretations are acceptable and equally valid. This more universalist approach to inclusion was not however explicitly discussed and remained a silence in the discussion, even in the final day’s dialogue about the application of Summer School practices to school settings. Of course the Summer School cannot achieve everything, particularly against the very deeply entrenched notion of ‘ability’, but recording and observing this means that this can be considered in planning future events.

There was an expanded opportunity for participants to respond to questions in a way that was congruent with Summer School pedagogy. Rather than use a formal questionnaire, structured interview or feedback sheet, participants were asked to write three post it notes about what they enjoyed, what still puzzled them and what they would take back to their day job. These were posted on a wall adjacent to other records of activities; in fact the room that the Summer School used became an archive of the week’s activities, a repository of various kinds of objects, annotations and traces of events. The post it notes were analysed, and became an interesting source of information, as Feedback below suggests.

I have learnt that costumes can be made more easily than I thought.
Transform a chair\ice and clay drawings.
Warm up and cool down ideas. I will use as starters in lessons.
Introducing yourself using questions and post it notes.
I want putty for my class to play with.
Many of the warm-up activities (clay, ice stickers) will be great to try out with my year1/2 art class.
Drawing the texture of clay and ice cubes.
“Warm-up” activities for the classroom.
Re-reading instructions and adapting/using them.
I want to use the ‘instructions’ technique.
Use some of the instructions for KS3 to develop different and interesting approaches to a topic.
The instruction activities to make students feel and to realise we all see things differently.
Fun with language/poetry and performance.
A desire to do more performance/drama work with my class.
A commitment to using film more.
A range of stimuli for performance and confidence to try more performance behavior based work with pupils at GCSE.
Will attempt all practical activities.

The post its also suggested that many of the participants left the Summer School without having all of their pedagogical questions answered. In some instances this was because there was still work to be done to get from the Summer School to a classroom pedagogy – ‘ How to translate some of what we experienced into classroom activities’, ‘How I will use what has happened at summer school within the classroom’. This was particularly the case for primary teachers –‘ How to make ideas about performance art accessible to small children’, ‘How to take more from the course and apply it/use it with primary practice’, ‘How to use ideas around live art and performance with early years children’,  ‘Different age groups accessing live art and understanding it’.

In other cases there were practical things to consider. One teacher struggled to think about how to fit everything she wanted to do into her programme -  How am I going to introduce ALL the exciting ideas I have to my students,’ while another worried about how to situate performance art in ways that would be meaningful – ‘How to explain/contextualise for students accurately’. One was concerned that what she wanted to do may not be acceptable to her school and line manager –  ‘How I would incorporate the learning and a scheme of learning to satisfy my role as art teacher’.

There also appeared to be some questioning of current educational practice with discussions of the restrictions imposed by the current curriculum and dominant modes of teaching/learning/assessing. One participant was concerned about the very  basis of formal education ‘Why I am a teacher and if I am really necessary’  while another worried –‘How to engage people who consider themselves ‘non artists’ in performance’ 29

Where to now?

All research has limitations and ours was no exception to the rule. We were unable for example to find out what participants thought was on offer, compared to the lists that we made. We were not prepared to disrupt the beginning of the Summer School to find out. We did not probe participants’ prior knowledges, nor their views of the course in a formal interview. To do this would have taken them away from the programme they had enrolled for. They had agreed to participate in the research on the express promise that it would not interfere with the Summer School programme. We also clearly haven’t followed the teachers back to school to see what they have done with the experience, or followed them up in any way – although we might.

Another limitation was that arising from the method itself - ethnography. The field notes on which we have relied were the work of one person, who couldn’t be everywhere, and who has her own set of blank and blind spots.30 Perhaps if more people had been taking detailed notes, or we had filmed the entire programme – intrusive, costly and requiring a very time consuming analysis – we would have more comprehensive records, some of which might have been to document the elusive traces of affect.

This was however a first step towards building an alternative inquiry based approach to the more usual evaluation ‘types’. We were convinced by this trial that a focus on ‘what’s going on here’ via the notion of affordances – what was on offer, what was taken up, by whom, how and when and in what context – was worth pursuing further.  Stay tuned for the next episode!