exploring shared authorship

Attendance: 25 from Grade 8 only (13 girls, 12 boys). There were more children in school today because of the procession, so combining both grades would have been unthinkable. The principal suggested I work only with Grade 8, so I acquiesced, and having ten fewer (as well as a shorter workshop) is infinitely more manageable. That being said, I’m sad that half of the kids I met yesterday weren’t here today, and am trying to rapidly get familiar with new faces.

Learning goals: Reflect on the tensions between individual and collective authorship, and on understanding something from multiple points of view.

Activity/ies: Empathy sculpt (I did two versions – one that corresponds to the version I did in the Exponential Ideation workshop at Stanford, and one that was similar to the one Irfadha, Firi, and Amalini did in Mattakkuliya earlier this year.

Interesting projects: Given that these were collective projects, nothings stands out individually, but I was struck by the camaraderie in one of the boys’ groups. While everyone else was a little reluctant to entrust their carefully sculpted creation to someone else’s destructive paws (and many did interpret “improve this” as “ball up the clay and start again”) they were fairly happy to work on each others’ work, and even shared out the multi-coloured clay so that each object was detailed quite interestingly. When I asked them if they didn’t mind moving around, they cheerily told me that they trusted each other. Not so Ashane, who wailed that his original piece had been ruined, or “eaten” in colloquial Sinhala. (“Miss, eygollo eka kaewa!”)

Ashane starts working on his bottle (right bottom corner)
Completed set (Ashane claims his bottle is ruined)

Insights/surprises: I didn’t have enough clay to give! I am quite sorry about this fact. I might do this exercise again, but with maybe twice or even thrice as much material to work with.

Most were reluctant to switch seats, but when I asked what they didn’t like about it, hoping to create a conversation around how it can be difficult to work in a team, the girl who complained yesterday hurriedly said she didn’t mind switching – she was afraid, I think, that I would end the workshop! I did tell her that today’s workshop was shorter because she’d found it hard, and she grinned and admitted that today’s length was a lot better. While working with this group can be quite challenging, I’m struck by the fact that they like having me there, even though they ask if we can do easier things than the rather mind-bending activities I set, and are disappointed when I say no. They’re begging me to do holiday workshops, which is very exciting!

When questioned about their experiences with trying to understand what it was like to sculpt as someone else,  or to come back to their original piece and find it changed, the children gave fairly perceptive answers (although one continuing challenge is that no one seems able to sit and listen to each other – partly because the rest of the school is so noisy). These answers did not really make their way into the feedback sheets, though. Many copied each others’ answers (a reflex action, I think, because today’s photocopied feedback sheets may have resembled exam papers), with the exception of one or two. I was a bit dumbfounded by how many said the hardest thing was to come up with their own sculptures because it was hard to think, while only the couple I just mentioned said the hardest thing was trying to think like someone else.

Workshop feedback: A bit of a wash-out! Apart from the couple of shreds I just mentioned, the feedback was a mass of copying each others’ responses. The one overwhelmingly clear thing, though, is that kids are readily admitting that thinking creatively or imaginatively is hard. I will keep experimenting with the format of the feedback form – I would simply interview them but they are pretty awful at sitting still and listening to what others have to say, so it all kind of gets lost in a sea of rising conversation. I’m going to wait tomorrow out though, and see how things feel when I’m doing workshops in the quiet of the holidays, and can do a bit of outside activity as well. I’m trying to think of these three scrambly days as tests, and I’m sincerely hoping that workshops during the holidays will be more conducive to introducing Order and Method (a la Hercule Poirot) into each day’s workshop.

Challenges: I’ve hinted at quite a few above – my feedback forms blunders show that the kids are often too lazy to think creatively, and will resort to copying over thinking. Future activities need to make creativity a more appealing option, and make copying harder. I have a few ideas; I’ll float them and see which ones work best. The other issue is that they are pretty disruptive, and not very internally motivated. If they think I’m not watching, they’ll stare off into space even when playing pretty simple games. I’m hoping that going outside for a bit will change that, as well as introducing more visuals.

Also, I wrote yesterday that some children accused others of filching pens. I’m sorry to say that I’ve lost a 12-pack of Sharpies, and about three packs of unopened clay. On the one hand, this is nothing compared to one PKG Fellow who had a laptop stolen. On the other, I am exhausted after having spent three full days planning the initial workshop, and slept fitfully last night because my legs ached in a way similar to what we called “growing pains” as kids. Today I felt particularly zombie-like, so the loss felt bigger than it is. I informed the principal, who gave the children a talk about how hard I’d worked and how sad it is to see this happen. The kids I worked with today were pretty diligent about returning their stuff, though, and I said that if they knew who took the stuff, that I didn’t want names, just to have the stuff returned quietly. I’m not sure what will happen, but I’m hopeful that there won’t be any more filching. I do feel sorry for these kids, though, and they are generally pretty endearing.

Despite all this, I managed to keep my promise to Sureshika, the girl who asked me to come watch them dance in today’s perahera (procession) to commemorate a new statue of Lord Buddha constructed in the schoolyard. I ran out when I heard them coming down the road, and waved to all of them. (Later, they showed me their matching dancer ear-rings.) It was really lovely to know, for once, the details of the doings at the village school, and I felt like I belonged here in Lunawa in a way that I haven’t really felt before.

03 August 2017
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