Let’s play some games…
Using string, each participant would pass on a ball of string having answered a question as to form a physical link and visual network of conversation between the group members.
Using some playing cards where each turn of a card one would answer a question posed by the peer in the group. If more than one person thought the same then it would result in more cards being thrown in.
Both games are based around Gadamer’s play and game which can monitor the frequency of one’s participation in a discussion. These help trigger a brainstorming across the group.
These kinds of games can help our students to consider their participation. As well as providing a visual representation, they tend to bind the group together (quite literally in the case of the string game) and create a collaborative rather than a competitive vibe and begins an understanding of the dynamic of discussion and unpredictable participation of ‘players’ especially on how ideas can crop up through being inspired by others’ thoughts. Does the string generate a collective desire to equalise the participation due, in part, to the geometry and the equal stretching of the string and a natural competitiveness? Interesting conversations arose from this active learning through game playing exercise. This was an engaging task which I must consider using within my teaching/learning practice either as a lesson starter or introductory to a new project brief. It’s a way of students learning from each other as well as the Teacher learning from the students; like the web of string or cats’ cradle it is a perfect metaphor for the interconnectivity of information and the to and fro of learning. I might push for this conversation, debate and discussion in my classes and though I’m not responsible for the briefing I can stretch the lesson plan as far as I am able. It means I could take on a ‘phenomenological observation’ when students are working in groups to answer a question I set out to them.
Remain alert, as Lindsay advises; as one person’s lack of enthusiasm for the game can kill the atmosphere. “Seriousness in playing is necessary to make the play wholly play. Someone who doesn’t take the game seriously (as in “it’s just a game’”) is a spoilsport.” (TM 102), (Vilhauer P35). People are mirrors – we are strongly affected by those around us. Vary the starter/practice question as appropriate. Using ‘what I dislike about group work’ might work for less enthusiastic groups as it indicates that you appreciate the challenges and are inviting them to air their grumbles. This is best kept in reserve, otherwise it can depress an initially positive mood. I’ve also used the question ‘is equal participation important in group work?’ as a basis for discussion, which can generate some very deep questions (e.g. What do we mean by equal? Is equality always a good thing?), but bear in mind that not everyone will enjoy or find value in plumbing these depths.
Monica Vilhauer ‘treaty’ on Gadamer’s text is academic in prose, and, when able to cut through the dryness, convoluted philosophy and heavy laden language, I can get the gist. The act of playing requires a to-and-fro: with Art this might be a constant questioning by the viewer and revelation by the artwork, once revealed more questions then more revelation etc… “The movement to-and-fro obviously belongs so essentially to the game that there is an ultimate sense in which you cannot have a game by yourself. In order for there to be a game, there always has to be, not necessarily literally another player, but something else with which automatically responds to his move with a countermove. Thus the cat at play chooses the ball of wool because it responds to play, and ball games will be with us forever because the ball is freely mobile in every direction, appearing to do surprising of its own accord. (Gadder, H.G. 2004 Truth and Method, 3rd edition, London Continuum. p106)” (Vilhauer, M. 2010, Gadamer’s Ethics of Play: Hermeneutics and the Other, Plymouth, Lexington Books p33).
Chapter 3, the one to read, talks explicitly about how we engage with, understand and play with various art works/forms, but it also leads us to consider Gadamer’s ‘hermeneutics’ more broadly, and relate it to other educational relationships (between learners, teachers, colleagues, texts, etc). Play is a movement that one cannot create by oneself, it is participatory and can be used as an experience or process to show and see. I only now see this process in my language and interaction with my students, where there is a constant to and fro /dialogue / Q/A between the student and myself, we both try to work out their ideas and put them into words or images or research material. It’s a game of pinball. “Gadamer argues that the same is the case with the “picture,” whose mode of being is also presentation and which should also not be conceived as a “copy.” The picture too is an ontological event in which being appears.” Vilhauer p43). Quite heavy stuff for someone studying a non-philosophical practice.
Ian Munday’s 2012 conference paper ‘The Classroom Space: A Problem or a Mystery?’ (Chap. 11) pays attention to another educational practice context. Researchers from different backgrounds see the educational space as a site for solving problems- teachers and children will be emancipated and students will become more effective learners. What does it mean to think of the classroom as a space of mystery rather than a site for problem-solving? Munday draws on the work of existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel: ‘A problem is something met with which bars my passage. It is therefore before me in its entirety. A mystery, on the other hand, is something in which I find myself caught up, and whose essence is therefore not before me in its entirety. It is as though in this province the distinction between in me and before me loses its meaning’ (Marcel, G. 1949 The Mystery of Being: Mystery of Being Reflection and Mystery Pt. 1. Gifford Lectures p109). What might the loss of a distinction between in me and before me mean for teaching and classroom research? This is discussed in relation to his own experience of both school teaching and working on a practitioner research course that employed the pedagogical model of blended learning (where most of the teaching took place online). He argues that the virtual spaces (forums and chat rooms) are suited to a pedagogy that favours problem-solving at the expense of mystery. He considers the notion that cyber pedagogies fit in (too) neatly with both current conceptions of practitioner research and school teaching more generally. “All three are bound up in a libidinal drive to solve problems and delimit the classroom space”. It’s the theory of knowledge, everything’s up for debate. A comparison to Samuel Beckett’s seminal work Endgame clarifies the text in an incongruous manner (just like the play) but the play has been over analysed and dissected so much that there is almost no mystery in the play once it’s been studied.
It filled me with joy to read that when Maundy reflected on his own “development” as a teacher he realised that the technical elements of his teaching were obstacles that made his job a misery; lesson plans, seating plans, present clear leaning outcomes and objectives, differentiate materials to accommodate particular needs, nice students rewards (if they were any) and produce classroom contracts which the students could sign in the first lesson… (well; these are mostly new practices to me). When he had stopped doing things in terms of classroom management and started to relax, he stopped treating students as obstacles to be overcome, the classroom became a living-breathing organism. A no-brainer to think that if students aren’t treated as problems then their situations and classroom atmosphere might become more relaxed and exciting and spaces of inspiration; mysteries rather than problems…
He adds that most teachers are given very little time or opportunity to engage with a deeper unstinting of educational issues. PgCert helps if it’s not full of arid, philosophical hypotheses, in my humble opinion; including practical, Art and Design specialist, information and tips, tricks, current A+ practices, advice, and workshops – all these would be great… rather than seeing teaching as a problem that can tie me up in knots…