fredag 16. desember 2016

GPS is a terrible teacher!

Those of us who assume that learning is a linear process, disconnected from senses, emotions and social interactions, tend to see knowledge as something that can be produced. “Industrial production of knowledge” (Robinson, 2016) is supposed to be effective and result in perfect products in shortest possible time. However, learners are usually humans, not machines.

To make it clear, I am not against machines. I use them all the time and I know that they can be helpful, but I deny being one. I am critical to the industrial production of knowledge and the illusion that learning can be “effective” with precise recipes for teaching. Neither students nor teachers should be compared to machines! Teachers have to be sensitive, attentive and flexible in order to meet each individual in specific contexts, care for them and appreciate their unique talents; Mutual trust has to be established between teachers and students, among other things because learning depends of emotions.

Thinking of analogies between learning and assembly line, and teachers as machines, makes me think about an incident where I trusted a digital device (a GPS with female voice), and when she betrayed me I learned something that makes is possible to empathize with students with bad experience from learning situations. I was on my way to Madrid airport and I followed the GPS’s instruction. The crowded, parallel and curvy lanes on the motorway kept my hands busy and my eyes focused on the road. I did not have time to look around, and I had to trust the GPS-voice. I thought I saw a sign for the airport. I was driving and driving and getting more confused with every minute. Why wasn’t I getting there? When the GPS sent me to circle around a roundabout, I knew something was wrong, but at that point, I had already lost my sense of direction and had no clue where I was. Like in step-by-step instructions (I remember a software course I once attended) I got lost if I misunderstood a tiny detail; There was no way back or possibility to find out where it went wrong. Blind following of instructions - turning off own thinking - can get one to quite unpleasant places. That is what I learned both from the from the GPS-incident, and from the software course. I learned to distrust and to get scared.
After circling around Madrid for one hour and 50 km in radius (I later found out that it was what the GPS was doing – sending me around Madrid because she did not like the address I had given her) I was desperately trying to get off the highway, but the moment I left one highway, I entered another one. There was no place to stop, no one to ask, no time to think. Caught in the traffic felt like being in a never-stopping carousel. The fear of being too late for the plane, mixed with all kinds of stress, discomfort and luck of confidence. I could not think clearly. I probably seemed quite foolish when I simply run of my car and stopped a taxi, hoping that the driver spoke English! The look on the taxi-driver’s face was unmistakably saying: “This woman is crazy”. Intelligence and madness can be quite contextual – we should be aware of that when we, teachers, stress, confuse or comfort our students.
In my view, trust and flexibility are necessary components of teaching and learning.

The GPS-incident has been haunting me for years. You might find my associations with teaching strange, but the emotional side of the experience has been so strong that it has really had impact on my understanding. Meaningfulness of what I learn comes to me when my understanding is connected to my our personal endeavors, choices and struggles – not when I am blindly following someone else’s instructions. Learning is a process of personal engagement!

We humans (teachers and learners alike) are sometimes slow, confused, scared and we sometimes act unreasonably, even stupid. We might not always be accountable, as we expect machines to be, but we are capable of contextual choices, improvisation and construction of meaning in the contexts where we are fully alive.

Robinson, K. (2016). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That is Transforming Education. New York: Penguin Books.

lørdag 6. august 2016

In Widerberg’s and Munch’s Footsteps

Each of us has a unique view on the reality. Each individual’s view is connected to real events, thus how the reality affects us depends on many personal factors… on our senses, attention, imagination, interests, emotions, experiences... Education usually pays more attention to facts from the “real world” than to students’ perceptions of it (Robinson, 2016); fortunately, this is not the case in arts education.

My research builds on the claim that each person makes/constructs/negotiates personal understandings on the behalf of embodied experiences from past and present. Motivation for learning, creating or exploring, can come from experiencing some kind of similarity between a past and a present experience. Here are examples where famous paintings matched students’ personal experiences; in the first example the students were young pre-school children age 3-5; the second example is from early childhood teacher education.

In a research project, few years ago, I accompanied a group of children to a beach. The children played in the fine sand and shallow water.  Some of the teachers took pictures and I later selected photos to show to the children later in order to help them recall their experiences. The plan was to motivate the children to paint. For that purpose examples from a Norwegian painter Frans Widerberg were to be used as inspiration, however, while I was looking through an museum catalogue for Widerberg’s exhibition the children had recently visited, I saw extraordinary resemblance between the photos and the paintings. The motives as well as compositions were identical! I was amazed! When the paintings and the photos were shown to the children one after another on a big screen, it seemed like Widerberg painted the children that day – as if he was on the beach with us (see some of the paintings here: ). The children’s experiences of the real world merged with their art experiences. This was magic! The children could instantly sense that art can mean something to them. They experienced that art can talk directly to them and were motivated to explore their own ways of expressing through this this wordless language. Additionally, their own experiences suddenly seemed more important to themselves … since thy seemed to be important to a painter who put them on canvas in powerful colors.

In another educational setting, where I was responsible for a group of teacher students (with minimal art experience), another famous Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was to inspire the students. Actually it was another way around: the students’ own activity of drawing was to be experienced first, and Munch’s paintings were to recall their personal experiences.

We are fortunate that our campus (University College of Southeast Norway, campus Vestfold) is situated close by Åsgårdstrand, a small city where Munch used to spend his summers. His summerhouse is still there, as well is the beach visible on many of his paintings (see ). The students spent a day of drawing on the beach – just like that, without any introduction to Munch, however I had first told them about the project with children and Widerberg’s painting. I wanted them to experience the place with their own senses first. The drawing assignment was a form of slowing time, allowing focused attention, dwelling and engagement of senses. Their interest for Munch paintings evolved from the fact that they literally walked in Munch’s footsteps. Their feet touched the same sandy ground… though 100 years later. The new experience – the one from art – could resonate their own multisensory embodied experiences. The past and present experiences could meet in personal, emotionally loaded insights, meaningful because they concerned them, and were not only a piece of art history to be memorized.

Munch's summer house in Åsgårdstrand

Robinson, K. (2016). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education. New York: Penguin Books.

fredag 10. juni 2016

Learning to Learn

I recently wrote an article about learning through first-hand-experience. The paper is to be presented at Design + Research + Society DRS2016 conference in Brighton in the end of June. It is available for reading here:
Here is the abstract: A child cannot be taught how to walk – it has to sense the balance of its body, the smoothness of the floor, the strength of its muscles, and respond appropriately. The author argues that the process of learning depends on embodied functions and subjective experiences of the one who is learning. This paper discusses the first-hand perspective in the process of material transformation. During such a process, the acting person has to be attentive and make innumerable adaptive choices. Examples from a doctoral study focusing on young children (3 year olds), illustrate how the children’s first-person experiences related to their learning. The author proposes that similar processes take place at all ages and that experience of learning through material transformation is an arena for learning how to learn. The paper initiates discussion about interactive relationships between the senses, attention, emotional engagement, responsibility, mastery, self-confidence and learning during material transformations.

torsdag 19. mai 2016

Teaching and Trust

Can teaching ever be neutral and objective? I don't thinks so. The way you look at your students, the way you make them feel - everything matters for their personal growth and emerging understanding. My colleagues Anne Lise Nordbø and Fatima Cruz and I studied our own teaching in a project where we asked our students (early childhood teacher education) to improvise in performative events with 0-2 year old children. We learned that trust was essential for our students' abilities to develope their improvisational skills. We tecahers first had to earn the students' trust, before they were able to embrase the challenges we exposed them to.

Our article "Trust me, you will learn something! - Challenge and confidence in teaching improvisation" is now published in the book "Education as Jazz: Interdisciplinary Sketches on a New Metaphor", edited by Marina Santi and Eleonora Zorzi.

lørdag 20. februar 2016

What could a Serbian donkey teach Norwegian students?

Students of teacher education at University College of Southeast Norway were exposed to an extraordinary challenge when they were asked to help a donkey with her health troubles. Maza-donkey had traveled far away from home in Serbia, over seven mountains and seven seas, to a place in Norway where grass was greener… dangerously greener. The change of climate and food did not do her well, she got laminitis (horse disease caused by too much sugar and proteins in food) and she desperately needed help to keep her dissolving hooves dry during the long Norwegian winter.

The fall after Maza got sick I was responsible for visual art teaching in a wonderful group of 17 students of teacher education. Their excitement inspired me to come up with an idea that they could design a shelter for Maza. That would be a realistic problem for them to solve – with pedagogical capacity to engage them, make them learn though experience and get inspired how they could plan their future teaching of school children.

A large cage-like construction was occasionally standing just outside the art department. It was a rest from reconstruction of the building. It needed to be removed anyway, and we saw possibilities how to transform it into a castle for Maza - who we imagined was a donkey princess. The students designed square applications in water-proof textile to fill the windows in the metal frame. Maza herself inspired the designs: some of the motives were her hairy ears, happy tail and mystical cross on her back. The students that were inspired by a story about “princess Maza” gave her diamonds and other things a princess should have in her castle. Some students made landscapes to remind her of her beloved home county. One student even made an applique of Serbian national fruit plum, unaware of the fact that Maza once upon the time actually lived in a plum garden…

Maza taught the students about empathy and designing for specific purpose and needs. She taught them about the importance of imagination in learning and teaching, and how meaningfulness comes from feeling of being of value for someone else… event if (or exactly because?) that someone else is a little helpless donkey. There is so much mastery and joy in the experience that out efforts matter to someone. 

Thanks to Henning, Terje and Thomas who helped with transporting of the “cage-construction” from University College of Southeast Norway to the stables at Holt, Stokke, and to Marianne and Roger that allowed us to place it on their property.

This story has also been edited and published at the web-page of Norwegian embassy in Serbia:

søndag 10. januar 2016

A hen without head and a dragon

While I am filming my three years old niece play with playdough, she is explaining what she is doing. She presses small pieces of the material together and says that it is important to make them stick. Then she cuts playdough with a knife in many small pieces. I ask her what she is going to do with so many pieces. She says that this is the right way to do it – and her voice is very convincing.

At one point, she starts laughing and pointing at the lump in front of her: "Look!"
I do not understand what she is trying to show me.

She tries again: "See? The hen does not have a head!", she laughs. She is right, I can not see any head. I can not see a hen, either! - but I laugh together with her. Along with our playful laughter, I sense how she is becoming even more confident in his actions. She now turns the invisible hen around and announces with surprise in her voice: "Oh! Now it became a dragon!" The tail of the chicken without a head, became a head for a dragon. She starts taking pieces of playdough, pressing them between her thumbs and forefingers and making flat chips to shape a kind of armor for the dragon. I wonder what thas is, and she says that the dragon needs protection from rain.

I am curious about her ideas and I ask her where she had seen such a dragon: “Have you may be seen it in books, on TV, or somewhere else?”

She responds: “No! I have not seen it anywhere. I made it!”

I try again to identify the source of her inspiration: "Perhaps such dragons exist in fairy tales?"
But she is determined: "No, no! It does not exist anywhere else, but here!!!”
She is the proud creator of the unique dragon that was born from a hen with no tail – and she knows it! I could almost hear and smell her increasing self-confidence.

lørdag 10. oktober 2015

Practical Explorations of Research Methods

The new early childhood teacher education program in Norway is in its third year for the first time. New graduates, with a brand new profession name “barnehagelærer”, are expected in Spring 2016, after they pass a number of exams; Among the obligatory exams there is an bachelor-degree-assignment to be carried out for the first time as a part of the new national program. The novelty may, in fact, be more exciting for the university teachers who are teaching at the program for the first rime, than for the students (who preferably attend the program only once and have nothing to compare it with). As one of the teachers, I am curious and a bit anxious about the outcomes of the program: would the changes we have been working so hard on pay off in form of more self-confident, attentive, caring, responsible early childhood teachers in close future?

In their bachelor-degree-assignment students are supposed to conduct a small research project and experience a role of a researcher. They can use a wide range of methods that are applicable to problem questions of their choice, possibly including collecting data in early childhood settings. I believe that a researcher is responsible not only for the way one conducts the research and how one treats subjects in her/his research, but also responsible for the choices of problems one wishes to address. Would the young unexperienced students be modest and reflected enough to pose appropriate questions that can fit the scope of their assignments? Will they be respectful and careful enough when they meet early childhood teachers, children or parents? Will they be able to recognize the influence of their values and attitudes on their conclusions and on people they meet? If not, I dread that their projects can do more harm than positive contribution to the practice field. 

I recently had a chance to introduce research methods to a group of third year students, and since I believe that theory is often difficult to understand prior to experience, my lecture stated with a small exploratory assignment. In order to illustrate how many choices have to be taken in an research process I gave the student groups of 4-5 students different objects and questions to discuss: One group, for instance, got a pile of Lego blocks of different sizes, shapes and colors and were told to find “the average block”; another group was given three different kinds of grapes and were to decide which type tasted best; yet another group was given a shoe to analyze in order to make a story what had happened with the shoe. (The specific shoe had, in fact, received an extraordinary treatment last summer when the shoe soles fell off under the feet of an unexperienced young friend I inited to a dangerous mountain trip.) 

It was interesting and surprising to see how the students went on in solving their assignments. None of them did it the way I expected, which made it even more interesting. The group which was given a bag of strange dried fruits (something I bought on an exotic marked and had no idea what it was) was supposed to find the fruit piece that had “the best quality”. I hoped the question would intrigue them to, among other things, discuss the notion of quality and how it can be uncovered. They did do so, but the definition they came up with was quite a surprise: Their definition of fruit quality did not concern the shape, size, smell, color, dryness or something that could be of importance for something eatable; they instead tested which of the fruits had the best bouncing quality. Just like that, my students’ creativity disclosed my delimiting expectations! But, of course, I though: if the fruits were considered as objects for play, one could assign new meanings to them disregarding of their original function. The student’s playful attitude made them apprize the qualities invisible for those who would focus on the objects’ original functions. Not knowing is a gift to open-mindedness.

lørdag 27. juni 2015

Waiting for a Yellow Dress

“Why didn’t you come earlier?! I have been waiting for you so long! I have been waiting for a million time!” Ana was three and a half years old and had learned that “million” was really much. “Hundred of  million time!!!” she added while she was tramping with her foot and stretching her arms and fingers toward me. She was acting angry. When she saw me at the door, she first gave me a big hug and a broad smile, and then she remember that she was supposed to be angry. Yes, I was guilty: my flight company was on strike and I was 7 hours delayed. She had been waiting for me the whole day, and now she had to go to sleep. We had not seen each other for eight months and that is really long time for an aunt and a niece.
I was so late and did not even bring her what she wished for: a yellow dress. When I asked her on the phonea few days earlier: “What shall I bring you from Norway?”, she had a specific idea about a yellow dress, how long it was supposed to be, how it was supposed to swing and move. I could not imagine the color and the details she had on her mind, and was sure that shopping for such a dress would take much longer than making it. So, I thought that she and I could make this dress together – this would be the best way to give life to the special dress from her imagination.

The next morning we went to a close by textile shop, not exactly a dress-textile shop, but they had some nice curtain fabrics. Ana found something she liked, not exactly yellow textile, but light violet, just thick enough for a spring dress that would swing well. We also found some nice ribbons, buttons and other accessories in matching colors and we were ready for action. First we made a drawing, measured length and width. Ana helped with measuring and cutting, as well as with feeding the sewing machine. She was patiently participating in the whole process of the creative dressmaking. Her patience was challenged additionally when the sawing machine went on strike (too) and we could not finish the dress the same day. The morning after, I took the dress and went to visit Ana at her pre-school. “I knew you would come!” she shouted when I arrived, and she wanted to try the dress on immediately. It fitted perfectly! The following days Ana carried the dress - sometimes on, sometimes in her backpack, but always with her.

torsdag 30. april 2015

Observations in Spain

When my students and I took a five-day trip to Spain this April, we experiences quite a lot. It was a cultural journey as well as an educational journey… educational in so many ways. We learned much about each other and learned how to attune to the group full of individual differences. We also had a chance to learn a bit about Spanish primary school education through observations of teaching. The school in Palencia that we visited focused on visual arts and integration of pupils with different disabilities, and was bi-lingual (which meant that two of the subjects were thought in English). Each of the students attended three school lessons, switching between the 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 grades, switching classrooms, teachers, languages (English/Spanish) and subjects. Some of classes were thought by Spanish teacher students in training.

One could wonder what one can learn from observation of a lesson in a foreign language. Oh, there was so much to be seen and understood; and if not understood, at least there is so much to wonder about; We observed the physical space, how the pupils were sitting, how the teachers interacted with them, how they got their attention, the way the lesson was organized as well as the level of pupils’ engagement. The most interesting issue that we later discussed was classroom leadership and how it appeared different from class to class, from teacher to teacher, from subject to subject. Even though the school’s overall guidelines were the same, each lesson was dependent on the specific teacher’s teaching style I relation to the specific group of pupils. The teaching seemed to be contextual and relational, and also influenced by our presence: In one of the classes the teacher decided to teach Norwegian geography and our presence was a motivating the lively third-graders.  

Another issues my students found interesting was the question of how much informal chatting and noise a teacher can accept. Some of the students experienced the classes as chaotic and fell sorry for the teachers, while other students assumed that the noise was a part of the pupils’ engagement and an expression for meaningful learning. It is, of course, impossible to say who “was right” and who “was wrong” but wondering about it facilitated a basis for reflections about own teacher role and motivated the students to imagine which kinds of teachers they aim to become.

The images show some of the ceiling in Burgos cathedral. 

fredag 6. februar 2015

Exploring Eggs and Avocadoes

I challenged two of my students to observe their own children’s encounters “new materials”. For those 10 and 9 months old babies most of materials were new; the trick was to choose materials that would not harm them during their multi-sensory explorations. The assignment requested that each child got chance to explore two similar but not identical materials/objects. This would provide opportunities for babies to acquire new experiences, recognize similarities and to be surprized. Here is a reconstruction of what the students wrote in their assignments.
One of the students gave her 10 months old girl a cooked, pealed egg first. The girl brought it directly to her mouth. The egg was smooth, slipped from her hands and rolled over the floor. She quickly followed by crawling, supporting her weight with one hand on the floor and catching the egg with the other. When she finally grabbed the egg, she grabbed it so hard that the egg went to pieces. She picked some of the pieces and started to put them in her mouth. Then she suddenly realized that the taste was unfamiliar and looked skeptically at her parents to check if it was safe. They were smiling, she sensed their encouragement and continued to eat, cluck out loud and enjoy.

The second experiment took place few days later. This time the girl was given a raw egg with shell. Her mouth opened the same moment she grabbed the egg with both hands and she went on rubbing the eggshell to her gums (a new tooth was on its way out). After some time she started to swing her arm. If she slipped the egg it would fly away: Her mother was watching nervously. To her surprise, the egg did not crack when it fell on the wooden floor for the first time; But it surprised the girl when it finally did: With her eyes wide open, she gave her mother a questioning look. She started to pick the eggshell, but the mother decided to remove it to prevent the girl from putting it is her mouth. This upset the girl, but she soon calmed down and started to play with egg content. She crawled around and with her hands extended the egg area on the floor. She was excited when a bubble suddenly appeared in the egg white, and tried to pick it up. She tried several times but each bubble busted. After about five minutes of bubble catching, she lay down on her stomach and started to lick the floor. The experiment ended when the mother evaluated that the floor was dangerously slippery for the girl.

The other child, nine months old boy, was given a peeled avocado to play with. It was slipping away as the boy was trying to catch it. He was crawling and chasing the avocado across the floor, but it repeatedly slipped between his fingers. After some time he seemed to realize that there was more resistance in avocado than he had expected. He sat up a kind of trap for the avocado and caught it between his legs. Now he could squeeze it much harder and longer without losing it. The squeezed substance colored his socks and trousers green and he could not any longer see where the avocado was hiding, so he began squeezing his own foot. The avocado had disappeared, only the big brown seed remained – however, the boy did not see any connection between the two such different shapes and material qualities. He continued playing with avocado remaining, smeared them on the floor and found it amusing to crawl over the slippery surface.

For the second experiment, the boy was given an unpeeled avocado. He did not seem to recognize the object; The difference between the two avocados was probably too large: both the color and the consistency were different. This avocado was explored by rolling. At some point, the boy tried to squeeze it, but soon realized that it did not lead anywhere. He tried biting and tasting, but lost interest when he did not find much he could do with the object.

During their active interactions with the objects / materials the children discovered materials’ specific qualities. The materials offered different affordances and different types of resistance, and challenged different forms of physical and mental activities. What is this - and what can I do with it? Some properties were more interesting than others were. The boy’s mother comments that soft materials might be more fun to explore - her son played much longer with the soft avocado.

Both of the mothers noted how important intersubjective communication with their children was for making the material exploration possible at all. The boy’s mother wrote: “He was so aware of my reactions to his activities; He stopped his activities, looked at me and waited for an encouraging smile before he continued. He knew that he was usually not allowed to spill and smear things on the floor and he needed a "confirmation" that it was OK to do that this time.”

mandag 27. oktober 2014

Look at me!

Few years ago I took part in a multidisciplinary, multicultural project in an early childhood and care institution (ECEC) close to a refugee centre. Half of the children group did not speak Norwegian. The project aimed to collaboration and integration of children and their parents in the new community. We wanted to do something that did not rely on verbal language, some kind of activities both children and their parents could participate in and exchange cultural knowledge and experiences. As teacher of visual arts I suggested that some kind of material, common in all parts of the world, could be good foundation to build content and curricula (since materials can structure curricula (Fredriksen 2010)). With some inspiration from the children and corn field landscapes in the ECEC’s surroundings, the choice fell on material: flour. This was no usual art material, but can you imagine how many different tasty things could be made of it? We invited parents to show their baking / cooking skills from different cultures ... but that's another story. The story to be told here is about little Adi, who turned three on the first project day. Wearing his special birthday suit, together with his mother he stood speechless in the doorway and watched the kids playing on the floor with toy tractors full of flour, and flour-dusty clothes.
Adi was a quiet boy, so quiet we thought he could not speak a word. He did not even make any sounds. Ones he hit his forehead on the edge of a table, he held his hand on the painful spot, but did not cry or make ​​any sound.

When we, a week later, visited a farm with old-fashioned mill and stone own, Adi made a loaf of bread and marked it with special sign. When the bread came out of the own, he recognized it and pointed with smile, but still no sound. On our way back home, he fell asleep sitting in the back seat in heart-warming embrace with his bread.

I will never forget what happened the morning after. When Adi arrived to the ECEC with his mother, she hugged and kissed everyone she came over. With joyful tears and broken English she managed to convey that Adi had told her everything! He explained the whole process that started with crushing of grains between the millstones and ended with golden bread on his chest. Her joy was overwhelming, but our surprize that Adi could speak was even larger! We realized that Adi understood so much more than we had imagined: He had even understood that there was no point in communicating in the only language he knew! He had to be creative in exploring other ways of communication. 

Images from the project were printed and exhibited on the ECEC wall. When Adi few days later saw a picture of himself with his bread, his alternately pointed on the image and on his chest. He was tapping on the picture and looking around to get attention. He hoped that everyone could hear his silent shouting: LOOK AT ME!

Children need to be seen, heard and acknowledged, however silent they are! This requires attentive and caring adults -  kind of adults that are so engaged that they can see the invisible and hear the soundless. 

Fredriksen, B. C. (2010). Meaning making, democratic participation and art in early childhood education: Can inspiring objects structure dynamic curricula? International Journal of Education through Art, 6(3), 383-397.

søndag 21. september 2014

Largest in the World

My niece Ana is now a big girl: almost three years old! She grows with every small task she does the way adults do. She feels important when someone needs her help. And she gladly shows what she can do: “Look at me I can stand on one foot!” She can also ride a donkey!

The donkey is not so tall, but sitting in the saddle was still risky enough and Ana had to grasp the horn of the saddle. She gradually learned to be attentive to the rhythm of the donkey’s movements from side to side. The balance had to be negotiated through her upper body, especially since her feet could not reach the stirrups. She could feel the challenges of riding up- and downhill, and it was only on the flat ground that she let go of the saddle horn in order to fix the helmet (with a serious expression on her face).

The first few minutes of riding were a bit scary and her father had to support her back; Ten minutes later she told her dad to stay away; After half an hour Ana was ready to ride "the largest horse in the world” – as she expressed with enormous confidence. Mastering the donkey riding gave her courage to face greater challenges.

Small portions of mastery give courage and self-confidence to cope with larger challenges. Motivation comes from the mastery, but also from the struggle with the challenge – as Eisner (2002) wrote: “No challenge no growth; No mastery no growth.” It is my opinion that humans embody urge to explore and pursue the unknown, mystical and puzzling issues. If this urge is, in early age, support by significant adults, it will become powerful motivation to solve any kind of challenges – it becomes the driving force behind creativity. Charles Darwin wrote about his own desire to explore anomalies and strange issues none else found worth exploring (Smith, 2005). It was exactly the fact that he had enough motivation and self-confidence to pursue the odd that contributed to the great discoveries. Louis Smith (2005) reminds us of the relations between desire for anomalies and exceptions, and creativity.

Some of us strive to let our children face challenges. We are afraid they would hurt themselves. The challenges we expose the children to must, of course, be appropriate, but since it is the adults who have the power to decide what is appropriate, we should be aware of that lack of our own courage can actually prevent the children from experiencing mastery, becoming more self-confident and creative.   

Eisner, E. W. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Smith, L. M. (2005). Anomalies, Exceptions and Creativity: A Perspective from Darwin's Natural History. Perspectives in Education, 21(2), 69-86.

søndag 31. august 2014

Viking Inspired Clothes Design

I spent much of this summer on sawing. I do not complain: I am indeed happy that I accepted the invitation from Ethonopeia to take a part on an international fashion show on Zlatibor in Serbia. I’ve been designing clothes and sawing them much of my life, but seldom took time to create something which is truly my own design, without considering a costumer’s wishes. This was a wonderful experience.  
Me in the middle 
The garments are inspired by simple Viking clothes in natural materials and details from Oseberg boat … not necessarily noticeable, but transformed through my personal experiences with construction of replica of this famous Viking boat from Vestfold area. See the article at pages of Norwegian embassy in Belgrade.
Next show is in Belgrade September 25th.  I still have some more to create  and am planning to write more about the design process.   

torsdag 5. juni 2014

Engagement in Teaching and Learning

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve been presenting my research on conferences in USA, France, Canada, England, Spain, Lithuania etc. but never in my birth country, Serbia. In Fall 2012 I got an e-mail from an teacher educator who occasionally found my articles on internet and realized that we had common research interests. At that point she only knew my second name (which is Norwegian) but when she found this blog she saw my first name and got excited – the name uncovered that I was Serbian. Her e-mail reached me while I was visiting my parents in Belgrade and we had a chance to connect. Nevena Hadzi Jovancic is an art professor at Teacher Education Faculty at Belgrade University. She invited me to give a talk at her faculty, which I finally did in spring 2014, more exactly April 15th.

I have to admit that I was curious how many people would show up the afternoon before Easter holiday, especially because the lecture was not required for the students, but I was positively surprised. The auditorium was fool of people, mostly students but also faculty members: teachers in mathematics, music, pedagogy and visual art. Next astonishment: No phones, no computers, nor hiding behind the screens - the student showed full attention. I could feel how this act of respect and trust that I was given strengthened my self-confidence. The expectations reflected in the faces of the audience made me even more engaged.

I told them how important eye contact end body language is for children and students of all ages - in the same time as my body verified my words. The communication was immediate and the positive energy was flowing back and forward: the audience was motivating me, so that I could motivate them back. So, when the applause broke loose, I must say that it was the audience that deserved at the least the half of the cheering. The applause sounded suspiciously similar to what you hear on rock concerts - a kind of applause a teacher only can dream of. Nevena later commented that she was afraid the students were about to light their lighters and phones to glow in the dark. And I felt like I was supposed to go back on stage and repeat one of my songs – though I did not sing that afternoon at all…

No wonder, after this experience meeting my students back in Norway was a bit disappointing. I don’t like to say this in public (though I am quite sure that these specific students will never bother to read my blog, even though I did ask them to do so). I have to make explicit that I am not saying that students in Belgrade are more engaged than students in Vestfold, but I am saying that some groups are more engaged than others; Some student groups develop to be more engaged and positive than others, and some groups unfortunately bring the worst in each other.
Something obviously happened during the hour “on the stage” on Belgrade university. On the other hand, some of my own students never gave me a chance to share with them my research, but with anger and disrespect stopped me before I started. After a few attempts I actually gave up. When their virtually asked “Why do we have to be here, when we would rather do something more fun? Why are you bothering us – listening and reflecting is so hard!”, I felt like drawing under a heavy wave of discouragement and disengagement. Why should I bother when they don’t? I know, I know… because I am responsible for the teaching. But I don’t believe that anyone can be thought if she/he does not want to be thought! What do you think?
One thing I am sure of is that teaching and learning are much more meaningful, fun and long-lasting if each student and teacher invests own share of positivity and respect, and responsibly contribute with whatever they can bring to the context. A friendly smile is a big contribution.

onsdag 2. april 2014

Limited Experiences Delimit Imagination

There is a saying in Norwegian: “Possibilities are delimited only by your imagination”(«Det er bare fantasien som setter grenser») which keeps puzzling me; How can imagination be delimiting? I thought it was deliberating!? But on my second thought, our imagination is of course delimited to what we are able and willing to imagine… The more diverse experiences we’ve had, the more we can imagine. And opposite: some things are impossible to imagine if we possess a narrow spectre of experiences.

From: Valli, M., & Dessany, M. (2011).
Microworlds. London: Laurence King.
While waiting for a bus one of the really cold but sunny days in Illinois this winter (about 20 C degrees below zero), I met a girl who told me about her experience. She told me how she, back at home in Kenya, watched American movies and could not understand why people in the movies wore warm clothes when it was sunny. In her experience, if it was sunny, it had to be hot – she had never experience anything else and could not imagine that it could be both cold and sunny in the same time.

Another example that comes to my mind is when my son and I travelled from Norway to Serbia the summer he was seven. He wanted to play football in the middle of a sunny day. I told him to stay indoors and wait a few hours because it was too hot. He replied: “How can you suggest I should stay indoors – you are always saying: The sun is shining, go out and play. Why can’t I go out and play now?” I realized he was right, but what he did not understand was that temperature on a sunny day in Norway is about 20 C degrees lower than a sunny day in Serbia.
From: Valli, M., & Dessany, M. (2011). Microworlds. London: Laurence King.
What we are able to imagine, depends on out past experiences. When we are playful or deal with arts, our imagination “has license to fly”, said Elliot Eisner (Eisner, 2002). Still, our imagination has to be fed by diverse experiences in order fly; Imagination is a force that connects our experiences, finds relations, makes is possible to imagine something different than it is. Imagine a puzzle with 100 parts; If a few parts are missing, your imagination would be able put the puzzle together and complement the puzzle with imaginary pieces. But if only have a few puzzle pieces, the imagination will probably not be able to fill the empty spaces. Though, young children are, and have to be, skilful “pilots” of imagination particularly because they own only a few puzzle pieces (few experiences than adults) and in order to make their world hang together they have to have elastic imagination that stretches far; Young children’s imagination connects things that adults would seldom think as related.
From: Valli, M., & Dessany, M. (2011). Microworlds. London: Laurence King.
Here comes the question that has been bothering me: Can true mutual understanding ever be accomplished between people who lack similar experiences, and don’t trust their imagination? I’ve been struggling with this issue when I am trying to explain why and how arts are important for personal development. In the ears of people who have never dealt with arts, or have no positive experience with the arts, my words probably resonate something else than what I am trying to express. I frequently meet students whose experiences and imagination haven’t been acknowledged earlier in their lives. Being a teacher-educator for 15 years, I’ve figured out that my students first need to get some experiences with materials, with play and their own imagination before I can talk about these things in the way that they would understand. And when I ask them to play, some of them seem suspicious: Can they trust me? Do I really want them to be playful and not punish them for that later (if their products are not good enough)? We need to establish a trusting relationship in order to play and be imaginative, but we also need to acquire as many diverse experiences as possible.

The images are from: Valli, M., & Dessany, M. (2011). Microworlds. London: Laurence King. Eisner, E. W. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.


torsdag 9. januar 2014

Hiding Just Enough

We sometimes hide, but want to be found. My niece Ana demonstrates how one can hide just enough. She does not want to vanish – so she does not cover all of her body with the duvet. She does not want to risk not being found. The two year old is begging to understand the game of hiding and the privilege of deciding where and how much one wants (and needs) to hide.

My game is different - actually it is not a game but serious business of research – but my imagination finds some similarities between Ana’s and my activities. While preparing for conducting qualitative interviews, I have been thinking about how to present myself. I fully respect my interviewees, I do not plan to be dishonest and would never do anything to harm them, but they do not have to know everything about me and my research. A trusting relationship is important. Interviewees needs to feel comfortable in order to uncover their believes, feeling, thoughts and ideas, but if the relationship become friend-like wouldn’t that make my interviewees tell me what they assume I want to hear? I think that there is nothing wrong with being friendly, curious, attentive and caring, but I should not tell them about my hopes and expectations.

I am not worried about my misinterpretations during the data analysis - I am more worried about that I can come to say and do during our “momentary meetings”(Aspelin, 2010). A facial expression that only takes a millisecond can decide further development of our conversations. I know myself: if I experience that someone is uncomfortable I can start bubbling in a supportive way in order to restore their confidence. My most important homework is to prepare to constrain my talking and I find this difficult particularly because I care about my interviewees and I feel responsible for their wellbeing, especially because I had invited them. (The one who invites is responsible for paying the bill, I suppose.)

Redrawing from talking is not a question of honesty, is it? What if I just hide a toe or my left shoulder as long as the rest of my body (including the heart) is fully present? Ana’s examples function as helpful instructions. Thanks Ana! - Your playful ways of approaching the world trigger my reflections about things you probably never thought about.

Aspelin, J. (2010). What really matters is 'between'. Understanding the focal point of education from an inter-human perpective. Education Inquiry, 1(2), 127-136.

lørdag 7. desember 2013

Masters of Inclusion

My Norwegian friends ask me what I am doing in Urbana, Illinois, so far away from home? I have to admit that I’ve had a moment or two when I also wondered: What is the point of being a visiting scholar?
Prof. Stake's double office is always “open for business”.

Here comes a quick answer: I learn and experience so much, and do it in different ways than I can do at my home institution (Vestfold University College). The concentration of competence and knowledge gathered around the University of Illinois is overwhelming, and it is even more overwhelming when holders of such knowledge, prominent professors, want to share their wisdom with me. In a sophisticated way I learn about myself through their eyes. I feel included and it might be exactly this feeling that is the most important experience I will be bringing with me; Inclusion and curiosity about my research provide me with motivation, confidence and endurance needed to peruse research challenges I am dealing with.

Hug of inclusion: Comfortable between Prof. Liora Bresler and Prof. Michael Parsons on Liora's party December 7th.

Among the wise professor with long-life-research-carriers I feel like someone who has just learned how to walk and with stumbling steps tries to catch up. Still they invite me to accompany them for meetings with their old friends, for lunches, trips, and Halloween- and Thanksgiving dinners with their families; They trust me to present on their courses, to write research proposals with them, to borrow their books and offices, and give advice to their PhD-students. They share theatre and other experiences with me, and even organize parties for me, as Prof. Liora Bresler has been doing; Liora is a true master of inclusion! As well are Prof. Robert Stake and Prof. Walter Feinberg. I suppose their inclusive attitude, curiosity and care for others are subtle components of their wisdom.

 Prof. Robert Stake, Robert Louisell, Charles Secolsky, Klaus Witz and I drove to St. Louis to visit Prof. Louis Smith and his friend David Goodwin on December 3rd. 

mandag 18. november 2013

Bodies Communicate Attitudes

I am in Urbana again, a guest of University of Illionis and a Fulbright scholar. In 2010 I spent seven weeks here and really enjoyed the possibility to be a part of the large community of researchers where is always possible to find someone who shares my ideas about the arts, teaching and qualitative research. However, on my way to Urbana I found someone with similar interests even before I had sat my foot on the American ground. On the plane from Stockholm to Chicago I found myself sitting beside one of such people I had so much in common with! Strange coincidence, isn’t it?  We did not know about each other and before we could start our five-hours-long conversation a few other coincidences had to take place: that I placed a book I hoped to read in the pocket in from of me, that this was a book Walter Gershon (that’s my new friend’s name) recognized the book (Nachmanovitch, 1990: “Free play. Improvisation in Life and Art”), and that he did not hesitate to ask: Why are you reading that book? That is how the most interesting conversation started.

We spoke about learning in arts, we found out that we knew some of the same people and that we used much of the same literature. Somehow we begun to discuss body-language – possibly I started to talk about my horse, or Walter started to talk about his classroom interactions with teacher students. It really does not matter what we started to talk about first, in my body-mind all of my experiences, professional and private, suddenly merged; I suddenly realized how my recent interest in communication between humans and horses was relevant in understanding of communication between human.

Pay attention to how the horse trainer’s leg movement is copied by the horse. (The photography is owned by Heidi Lysdahl - the horse trainer).

Walter was talking about his experience how the inner attitude, respect and determination to lead a group of students easily gets perceived by the students; I was thinking about the course in horse-human communication that my horse and I recently attended, and how the teacher at the course (slightly intimidated by my horse’s inner strength and teenager attitude) stood still before she entered the space where the horse was running freely - She said she was working on her inner strength; Horses are extremely capable of detecting such inner strength and would adjust their attitudes accordingly. When we relate this to teacher training, a teacher student might think that it would be easy just to learn how to stand and by that control a class of young students – however this is not simple at all, particularly because it is not possible to fake. You really have to mean, end fell and know who you are and what you stand for. If you want to influence your student’s attitudes, you will first have to get to know yourself and work on your own attitudes.

Today (November 18th) I am giving a lecture that touches upon a similar issue: To be good teachers we have to know our attitudes about teaching and learning. To be good teachers of young children we need to know how they learn - And this is something we can learn from them. The title for my talk is “What Can Young Children Teach Us About Learning?”

The image of me and the horse is from Meg's Riding Academy in Homer, where I've been learning western riding style.