Note: The switch here is from story-telling into story-making. Using the bowl as a bridging device to create a human story of an historical event. The language is preparing the ground for the next activity, ‘folding’ the facilitator language, as it were, into the language of story-telling.
Step 3: A Story involving the bowl
Note: This next step involves moving the inquiry from a discussion (Bruner’s ’symbolic’ representation) around the drawing of an artefact (the ‘iconic’ representation of the bowl) into dramatic action (the ‘enactive’ representation of people’s ideas). The aim is to widen and broaden the inquiry, to involve the children’s imagination and to create opportunities for them to develop and synthesise their knowledge and growing understanding.
“I wonder if we could see an image, like a picture in a book, of something happening involving this bowl. It might be from the very beginning of the story, before the people left their homes in Germany, or it might be the journey over on the ships, or the first night in the new settlement. I guess, we’d only know from the context.”
Note: This is an invitation. Some classes will grab this opportunity and make something happen instantly, others will need help and support. Every class is different, be prepared to work for them, developing an idea or a group of ideas, looking for dramatic action (using the convention of a drawing) and the invested action in the use of the bowl. Remember the difference is between the action - for example offering someone a drink from the bowl - and the investment behind the action - as a peace offering to a local tribe. The investment deepens the work, creating meaning and understanding, be prepared to draw this out through careful and sympathetic questioning.
Step 4: Other artefacts - playing with ideas
Note: Once you’ve explored one or more stories concerning the bowl, as an example of the activity you want the children to engage in, then its time to widen the scope of the inquiry and involve the children’s imagination in a larger project. The aim of this step is to create, with the children, a large amount of different everyday objects which could be found by the archaeology team from the early years of the Anglo-Saxon occupation. And use these as bridging devices to create new lines of inquiry and understanding.
Make sure you have close by these resources:
1. A stack of A5 plain paper
2. A list of ordinary, every day, objects that might be found by archaeologists on an Anglo-Saxon dig (See artefacts list)
3. Several sheets of A3 paper
“You know the bowl wasn’t the only everyday object the archaeology team found from the earliest days of the Anglo-Saxon settlement? I’ve got here a list, and this isn’t everything - Broaches, Pendants, Necklace beads, Rings, Bracelets, Horns used for hunting and drinking, Shoe leather and buckles, Belt buckles, Wooden Caskets, tons of Pottery, Metal bowls for cooking and worship, Coins both from England and abroad, Combs, Spoons and Knives, Sewing needles, Horse buckles. As well as Swords, Shields, Helmets, Arrow heads and Spears - By the time they had finished there were boxes full of stuff. All really important to the archaeologists and all, like the bowl, with stories locked inside them.
“I was thinking about the archaeologists’ boxes, for the artefacts, [grab a piece of A3 paper and a pen] do you think they would put everything they found in its own compartment? Perhaps wrapped up in…”
As you talking draw out a grid of compartments on the A3 paper, big enough for the A5 paper the children will be drawing the artefacts on. Involve their ideas… “Bubble wrap? OK. And should they be numbered?” etc…
“So, we’re going to need some artefacts to go in these boxes. We’ve got plenty so don’t worry if you want to draw more than one. I’ll put the bowl in this first compartment. First though, I’ll make a note on the front of what it is - ‘Shard of pottery from drinking bowl, early Anglo-Saxon, possibly made in Germany.’ - And a note on the back of how it might have been used - ‘Could have been used as an ceremonial drinking bowl on important occasions, such as the sharing of wine with another tribe.’ - OK, are you ready? Grab a piece of A5, you can always use this list if you’re short of ideas. Remember you can work together if it helps.”
Note: As the children work walk round and support them, read out some of their ideas to generate interest and encourage them to make notes. The four elements of the activity are:
1. Draw an everyday object as found by the archaeology team - i.e. old, broken etc.
2. On the other side draw the same object as it was in the past
3. Make a note on the front about the object - what it is, which period, where it was made etc
4. On the back make a note about how it was used in the past
By the time this step is finished the class are likely to have drawn a number of different objects and placed them in the archaeologists’ ‘boxes’. These can now be used, like the bowl, to create ‘stories’ from the past.
Note: These steps are a good example of how an inquiry can be built using a sequence following the model of the Teacher Compass. The Teacher Compass was developed by Lesley Webb, in collaboration with Dorothy Heathcote, and first appeared in “Drama for Learning”. In the abstract it can seem enigmatic, even obscure, but behind the arcane language is a extremely useful and practical model for planning sequenced steps that can be used to develop deeper learning and understanding. As we work through the following sequence I’ll make reference to the Teacher Compass and use the steps to illustrate how the four quadrants work. You can choose to read these notes or ignore them as best fits your own purpose, the sequence will work either way.
Note - Teacher Compass (Quadrant 1) [See Teacher compass in appendix]: In Step 4 - Other Artefacts - the children are working in quadrant 1 of the compass (starting in the top left). They are ‘playing’ with ideas, and the teacher’s role is to enable and energise, create an environment where the children are prepared to take risks, try out new ideas, be open and exploratory. She needs to support, observe and provide a scaffold for the children’s thinking. Sometimes in ‘open’ activities like this the children will create unlikely or impossible ideas - Anglo-Saxon guns for example - which only reveal their lack of knowledge or understanding. The teacher’s role is to acknowledge this and sympathetically work with the student to make the idea coherent. For example, “Hi Jack, what’s this? A gun? OK. Was it found by the archaeologists? I see, and it was among the other Anglo-Saxon artefacts? That’s interesting. It looks like a modern weapon, from what I understand guns weren’t invented until 500 years after the Anglo-Saxons, so the question is - how did it get there? That’s a mystery for the archaeologists. I think we’ll need to put the gun in its own box. Is it a modern gun? Second World War or older? I see, could you make a note of that? Right, well once the gun is finished did you want to do an Anglo-Saxon weapon for the archaeologists to find? Or were you thinking of working on different idea?” And so on. As a teacher I don’t worry any more about anachronisms or apparently incoherent ideas, they are nearly always based on a misunderstanding and can be easily worked around. In my experience children (and adults) appreciate having their ideas acknowledged and are happy to negotiate a compromise. They only get upset and annoyed (understandably) when their ideas are dismissed or ridiculed.
By the end of a quadrant 1 activity you’ll find yourself and the class at the top of the Teacher Compass with a ‘prodigality’ of choices. In this example boxes full of everyday artefacts created by the children. In the next Step (a quadrant 2 activity) you’ll help the children ‘focus in’ on a particular idea, working with them to create more significance and quality.
Step 5: Other stories to tell - creating dramatic action
The aim of this next step is to enhance and develop the ideas of the children, to build a number of coherent stories - or moments from stories - which fit together into the longer narrative of the Anglo-Saxon settlement. Activities like this take a bit of time and patience, few groups of children are able to organise and structure ‘open’ tasks without the need of adult support. As a rule of thumb I like to give children the opportunity to try things first, without being too prescriptive or overbearing, and then intervene if they begin to struggle. The important thing is not to let things fall apart and not to worry about stopping and ‘reshaping’ the activity (by example) if that is what needs to be done.
Gather the children around the archaeologists’ boxes. “As I said, the team found boxes of stuff. All kinds of different objects, look at some of these things… [take out one or two artefacts to show the class] This for example, a beautiful metal broach, it says here: “A woman’s broach in the shape of a bird head, worn on a headdress or cloak. Early Anglo-Saxon, made in Germany… [etc]
“I would imagine every object here, like the bowl, has its own stories to tell. Imagine if they were in a book, like a chronicle, telling the whole story of the Anglo-Saxon occupation and settlement, from the time when the people left their homes in Germany up until they found a place to settle and make home in England? It would make a wonderful tale. I wonder if we could put the stories in order, starting with the earliest and finishing with the building of the settlement? Of course we couldn’t include everything here, there wouldn’t be time, but we could do some. What do you think? Five, or six of the stories? May be more. Why don’t we make a start and see how far we get. Either work together in groups or alone if you like. Take an object and see if you can show what a moment in its story might be like, just a snippet, perhaps 30 seconds. Have a practice and we’ll get together in a little while and see what we’ve got.”
As I mentioned above different classes need different levels of support with activities like this, don’t leave them floundering but give them the space and time to work together and develop ideas. As they work make a note of the action each group is working to represent and where it appears in the timeline of the Anglo-Saxon settlement. You will need this information for the next step (see below).
Note - Teacher Compass (Quadrant 2): In this quadrant although the class are still working with a ‘prodigality’ of ideas the ideas themselves are being worked on and refined. There is more collaboration and compromise and more of a commitment to making their ideas coherent and intelligible to others. On the compass the children are moving from activities were’ they are playing’ with ideas (what Webb calls ‘no penalty’) into activities where they are ‘working’ on ideas which will be judged and evaluated by others (‘penalty’).
The term ‘penalty’ might seem odd in this context, but I think it means ‘a commitment to quality’. In the first quadrant the students are ‘playing’ with ideas, not being silly or frivolous, but open and playful. In terms of the language of Thinking Skills they are thinking divergently and creatively without the ‘worry’ of being wrong or inconsistent. There is ’no penalty’ in the sense of their ideas being judged or evaluated by others. In quadrant 2, however, the emphasis switches from ‘play’ to ‘work’ and the commitment now is on developing and evaluating the original ideas against a more exacting set of criteria. In quadrant 3 the student’s ideas will be judged and evaluated by others in the context of the inquiry, so in quadrant 2 inconsistent or incoherent ideas will need to be refined and adjusted or they will be discarded as not important to the ‘work’. This is the ‘penalty’ termed by Webb. If the students stay in quadrant 1 then their work will not develop beyond a ‘draft’ - sketchy and undeveloped - and can be a genuine criticism of teachers who use imaginative inquiry and don’t manage to move the children into making a commitment to quality.
In quadrant 2 the teacher’s role is to help orientate the activity, guiding and supporting the students as they work, creating choices, helping structure and shape their ideas and helping them to focus clearly on what they are trying to convey. Often the teacher will move around the class, from one group to another, listening in, asking questions, gently making suggestions. Sometimes she will need to intervene and be more assertive - “That’s not we need right now. We’re after something more controlled. Remember you don’t have long, 30 seconds max. So every move, every word, every action needs to be considered. Lets start again, what are your starting positions?” etc.
Step 6: Sharing the stories - invested action
In this next step the children will share their stories in short, 30 seconds, moments of action. The convention is number two on the list - “The role actually present framed as a film. That is, people have permission to stare, but not intrude. Film can be stopped and started or re-run.”
The aim of this step is to use the short ‘films’ as a sequence of events from the history of the Anglo-Saxon people, documenting their journey from the homeland to their new settlement in England. The convention creates an opportunity for the children to synthesise their new knowledge and to be creative in the way they represent their understanding.
The teachers role is to ‘draw out’ the meaning from the episodes the children have created. By this I mean each event will have significance beyond the dramatic action and the students will need help discovering and reading these deeper interpretations. The teacher’s careful questioning will be critical to this process. To do this we’ll be using a questioning framework model invented by Dorothy Heathcote (see below).
Note: This is a complex step, in fact a complex series of mini-steps, and I’ve included a number of different notes explaining the process. For this reason I’ve added a summary at the end of this section, listing the various teacher moves.
Mini-step 1: Gather the children together. “I’ve been making some notes, can I just check with everyone I’ve got the right information.” Go through your list (see above) and check with each group you have the sequence right. Something like… “So, Jamie your group involves a sword and is from a time when the people where still in Germany preparing the ships, is that right? OK. Molly your group are next I think, there’s a broach and its actually during the voyage?” Etc.
Mini-step 2: “Right, Jamie you want to get your group together? Are you happy with us watching from here or do you want us a bit closer to the action?”
Note: Facilitation of an activity of this kind should allow the group the opportunity to represent their ideas without interference or interruption from outside. Sometimes classes who are unfamiliar with this kind of work can find it difficult to watch and listen and it is the teacher’s responsibility to ‘protect’ those in role and their work from being wrecked by the outsiders. Insist on the highest standards from the audience, respecting those who are doing the work. If you have to you might find yourself saying something like - “Now look this group are working really hard here to make something work and each and everyone of us is going to give them the respect they deserve. Its hard enough standing up in front of your classmates and doing this kind of thing without people giggling and talking. Now lets get back to work. Is everyone ready?” Etc.
Note: The teacher’s other role during this activity is to involve the rest of the class in interpreting the action being represented by the group. This is done through a series of questions that can help the class ‘unpack’ the meaning behind the actions.
Mini-step 3: Lets imagine Jamie’s group consists of five children. The action they choose to represent depicts an Anglo-Saxon warrior and his fellow soldiers loading weapons, including the sword found later by the archaeologists, onto a ship which will be soon setting sail for England. We see the five children line up and then the weapons being passed, hand-to-hand, along the line and onto the ship, as the sword is passed it cuts the hand of one of the soldiers and falls into the sea. The soldier gasps and puts his hand into the water, retrieving the blade. He passes the sword on, ignoring his cut. The action ends.
To begin with don’t allow any of Jamie’s group to explain the action. Let it stand for itself. If they try, gently cut them short. “Hold on Jamie, don’t make it too easy for us. If you and the others could just hold that last moment, it will give us the chance to talk and think.”
Mini-step 4: Start by asking the watchers only what they saw. “What did you see?” or “What did you notice?”
“It looked like they were passing things from hand to hand.”
“And one of them dropped something.”
“I think it was sharp, like a sword, because he made a noise.”
“Yes, then he picked it up.”
“I think they were putting the weapons in the boat, because Ryan is up high and they’re passing them up to him.”
Teacher: “So when the sword was dropped do you think it was dropped into the sea?”
Note: Sometimes, as in this case, it is quite obvious what the action is representing and the class need very little help describing what’s happening. At other times the action is more opaque and the children will need more support. Don’t be afraid to turn to the group if you get stuck - “Can we ask, when you dropped the sword did it fall into the sea?” Etc. But, again, don’t let them tell the whole story, unless the class really have reached a dead end.
At this point the class are focusing only on the action being represented - soldiers loading weapons onto a ship - it is the teacher’s responsibility to move the inquiry now onto the ’significance’ of the action - that is the soldier’s investment behind loading the weapons.
Mini-step 5: Teacher: “I thought it was interesting when the soldier dropped the sword. It looked like he was cut by the blade, but ignoring the pain he put his hand straight into the salty water. That must have hurt, but he didn’t stop work.”
Note: This is a ‘provocative’ statement rather than a question. A favourite technique of Dorothy Heathcote’s, a provocative statement of this kind, left ‘hanging’ in the air, can often be a very effective stimulus to new thinking and conversation.
Note: Another very useful thinking model for inquiries of this kind is the Levels of Commitment in Social/Cultural Development framework introduced in “Drama for Learning” (p.20) [Fig.3]. Not, one would have to admit, a very catchy or easy to remember title. But, nonetheless, incredibly useful once you understand how it works. For many years I kept a copy pinned on the wall of my classroom ready to use at times like these. The framework can give structure to your questioning during an inquiry and, by degrees, unveil deeper levels of meaning behind the character’s actions:
Level 1 - ACTION - I do this:
Level 2 - MOTIVATION - My motive is:
Level 3 - INVESTMENT - I invest in:
Level 4 - MODELS - My models are:
Level 5 - VALUES - This is how life should be:
If we look at the framework in the context of this inquiry the different levels could generate the following questions:
ACTION - A soldier, ignoring the pain, rescues a sword from the salty water
MOTIVATION - “Why would he do that?”
INVESTMENT - “But the salty water must have made his cut hurt and he didn’t stop?”
MODEL - “Where would he have learnt to put pain aside?”
VALUES - “What do you think it is so important to him?”
By working in this way deeper levels of understanding and appreciation are unveiled beyond the simple action of dropping and retrieving a sword - invented by Jamie and his friends - revealing new information about the qualities and values of the soldier and his people. As you can imagine very often these meanings are not apparent from the beginning, even to those who created the actions, and only become evident through careful questioning and the children’s application of their knowledge and imagination.
ACTION - A soldier, ignoring the pain, rescues a sword from the salty water.
MOTIVATION - “Why would he do that?” - “Because the sword is really important” - “Because he’s a soldier and he needs a sword.” - “Because the sword is expensive.” - “Because it was a gift from his father.”
INVESTMENT - “But the salty water must have made his cut hurt and he didn’t stop?” - “Because the pain is not as important as the sword.” - “Because they’re in a hurry and he can’t stop for a small cut.” - “Because he’s a tough warrior and doesn’t feel pain.”
MODEL - “Where would he have learnt to put pain aside?” - “From his training as a soldier.” - “From his father.” - “From his tribe and his friends.”
VALUES - “What do you think is important to him?” - “His family, his people and the other soldiers.”
- Convention 2: “The role actually present framed as a film. That is, people have permission to stare, but not intrude. Film can be stopped and started or re-run.”
- Aim: To use the short ‘films’ as a sequence of events from the history of the Anglo-Saxon people, documenting their journey from the homeland to their new settlement in England.
- Mini-step 1: Gather the children together. “I’ve been making some notes, can I just check with everyone I’ve got the right information.” Go through your list…
- Mini-step 2: “Right, Jamie you want to get your group together? Are you happy with us watching from here or do you want us a bit closer to the action?” The first group prepare to demonstrate their ‘episode’, gather the rest of the children to watch. Ensure everyone is ready before the group begin.
- Mini-step 3: The group demonstrate their 30 seconds of ‘film’ action. Repeat if necessary.
- Mini-step 4: Ask those watching only what they saw: “What did you see?” or “What did you notice?” Give the children the chance to answer, support them with ideas of your own if necessary. Ask the group for help if they get really stuck.
- Mini-step 5: The teacher draws attention to a particular action: “I thought it was interesting when the soldier dropped the sword. It looked like he was cut by the blade, but ignoring the pain he put his hand straight into the salty water. That must have hurt, but he didn’t stop work.”
- Mini-step 6: The teacher asks a series of questions (using the Levels of Commitment framework) to deepen the inquiry and structure the children’s thinking: ACTION - MOTIVATION - INVESTMENT - MODEL - VALUES. After each question give the children time to think and answer, help them with your own ideas if they need it.