Removing Instruction

June 24, 2021
Jodie Davidson
Alison Benwood


School: Glencoe Primary School

Year Group: Kindergarten

Teacher: Alison Benwood and Debbie Hume

Creative Practitioner: Jodie Davidson

Creative Practice: Visual Art

In two Kindy classes of 25, filled with three and four-year old children with an almost even mix of boys and girls, both groups undertook the same creative experience fortnightly with fascinating results. Initially, Group One was quiet, hesitant and often reluctant yet Group Two were boisterous, loud and almost had to be held back from jumping in feet first. How can they be so different? Would they remain at opposite ends of the spectrum or would their behaviour balance as time and familiarity progressed?

During term 4, throwing caution, expectation and outcome to the wind, we allowed space by removing any direct instruction and taking a risk with completely unknown consequences. What was observed was the disparity in the way that each group interacted. Each week a silver suitcase provided the initial provocation. What could be in it? What was in it? What could be done with the objects within? How? Children would ‘snake’ their way in a long meandering line to an outdoor space bordered by climbing frames or pathways, forming a loose circle around the suitcase which invited so many questions. What is it? Can we open it? Can we touch it? What does it do? The only answer received being, ‘I don’t know’.

During one session, silver tape, string and ropes in assorted colours invoked curiosity in different forms for each group. Group one didn’t touch any of the rope for more than 15 minutes, instead climbing on familiar play equipment and role playing while the ropes remained still. Tentatively one or two students looked inside the boxes but then walked away. Eventually, inquisitiveness built enough for them to begin to explore, slowly, gently and cautiously as the materials became props in their interactions. Group Two ran and pulled the ropes from their boxes, dragging them out to determine their full lengths. They were wrapped around climbing frames, education assistants, the teacher and each other. Three of the youngest students who often have difficulty engaging, laughed and tangled each other up in the tape. Children formed groups which surprisingly, weren’t necessarily with students they would normally work with. They tied knots, played tug of war, problem-solved and negotiated. They discovered that it was easier working together and being persistent in trying to tie things up.

Mesh screens, shredded paper, water, bowls cups, trays and coloured tempera powder placed on the grass outside in another session. Again, Group One were hesitant as if waiting for permission to proceed. They wanted answers before they permitted themselves to physically activate their curiosity. They were methodical in their approach, copying each other and demonstrating less resilience when confronted with sharing, changes to the materials and not getting their own way. Group Two were fast paced, racing to add water, mix colours, get messy and begin a paper fight. However, similarities in both groups became more apparent. Without instruction, they all poured, wrapped, scrunched, mixed, strained, tore, wet, coloured, mixed, discovered, communicated, wondered and suggested. They added water, turning the paper to pulp observing physical changes. By mixing primary colours they experimented with how they became secondary colours and eventually resembled mud. They drained the pulp through the mesh and determined that if it was left in the sun, it would eventually become solid again.

Finally, a suitcase of clay, sticks, seeds and large folded up cloths sat inside the silver case. The difference in approach by each group was still there, although Group One were faster and more eager to engage than previously. They mimicked ideas, sat in groups and discussed who’s was heavier, bigger and smoother. They responded to each other, building stories around their creations and were quick to decide they had finished. Group Two responded similarly, but after finishing with the clay, they turned the cloths into giant capes and ran in groups with the capes billowing behind them.

As educators, our only role was to provide a provocation and observe, taking a risk as to whether the children would engage or not. Group responses varied as personal growth developed. Skylar, usually tentative, was the first to explore the rope in Group One. The five academic students in the same class were those less likely to engage with the materials, instead they focused on role playing. Alexander, who would usually move on his own, often running away or into the playground, concentrated on his clay and formed an alliance with the three eldest and strongest boys in the class playing with the ropes. Brandon, never wanting to get his hands dirty or messy observed that ‘the water was wet and the paper was soggy’ and covered his hands with the wet clay. In taking a risk, allowing time and moving away from an innate adult feeling of ‘helping’ we were able to observe that providing space without offering answers and solutions thereby lessening control, resulted in time to observe the naturally occurring positive group dynamics and increase in personal and social capability.