Using Cameos to Mediate Educational Emotional Awareness
I was sure the paper I had prepared for a validation meeting would be OK: I had worked hard (the first time I had been able to work after the death of my brother). I had checked my paper against the criteria given - though if I'm honest, when I reread the paper the day before the meeting I began to have some doubts but I just didn't have the energy to address them. My turn came and, although the research group tried not to be too negative, it was clear that the paper was not up to the standard required. As I listened to the comments I was transported back to my early years at school (although it was unrecognised at the time, I have a learning difficulty related to poor auditory and visual memory and reading comprehension), to the feelings of vulnerability and shame. Back to standing by the teacher, nearly the only one in the class who couldn't read, desperately trying to fathom what the code was that would allow me to do what the others did apparently so easily .. back to standing in the dining hall before lunch, mouthing the times tables while the rest of the school chanted the answers so confidently, praying that nobody would find me out .... The feelings threatened to overwhelm but I hung on, smiling and nodding - I still didn't want to be found out - until after the meeting when I could escape to my car....panic ... anger... hurt... a confusion of strong feelings all crowding in. Then something made me think .. 'wait a minute, what's going on here?' I'd been working on emotion in teaching and learning situations and here I was being 'hijacked' by emotions that were inappropriate and out of proportion. So I took a step back from the feelings: I tried to recognise them, I questioned where they were coming from and in so doing immediately felt calmer with more sense of control, but also freer to think, to reason, to learn from the experience.
A major aspect of this research phase has been my attempts to reflect on my practice so that I might mediate more effectively my understanding of the value of metacognitive mediation as a teaching strategy, so it might be transferred to the practice of the trainee specialist teachers and improve their practice. I become interested in developing the educational metaphor of a cameo as a result of reflecting upon a cameo of my own learning which occurred during a feedback session. My intention had been to help the teachers in my tutor group become aware of any shifts or changes that might have occurred in themselves or their pupils during the teaching practice. I had suggested that they take some time to reflect, to see if any thoughts came to them. Some teachers began to recall moments from the previous weeks that were clearly significant to them. It seemed that the very act of recalling and putting into words became part of the metacognitive process I wanted to mediate.
One teacher described how she felt she had made a breakthrough with her lesson planning because, when planning that week's lesson, she had become aware of ideas 'popping' into her head. Before she had struggled with the whole process, now she was aware of 'other possibilities'. She expressed pleasure at this experience and told how it had improved her confidence.
‘.....I worked through each section of the lesson, weighing up the pros. and cons. and as I did so I noticed that ideas kept popping into my head. These ideas were for how I could improve upon the lesson and for things I could try out in the next. This was a new experience for me ........ I have given some thought as to how this may have come about and wonder if it could be that a good many of the D.I.L.P principles and concepts have actually filtered through to my subconscious, and so now I am not having to consider everything on a conscious level. There is also a logical aspect to it, which seems to be that having thought one aspect of a lesson .....ping! an extension to it will (if I'm lucky) just slot into place.’ Teacher L.
Another teacher, described her delight when her pupil told her that she had asked her gran to help her learn the sequence and spelling of the months of the year using the same ways by which the teacher had taught her the days of the week.
‘We broke the first two months into syllables (orally - auditory and oral kinaesthetic); cut up the words (written on card - visual and kinaesthetic); put them back together then wrote them (auditory, visual, kinaesthetic and oral kinaesthetic). Her success with January and February was a wonderful feeling for her. She had found a way to help her to learn! She went home that week and used her new found method to continue learning alone - March, April and May. This continued until she could write all the months. This realisation that she could succeed led her to ask her grandmother to use the same method to learn the days of the week!’ Teacher N.
The teachers expressed their pleasure about their separate realisations, which could represent moments of insight into both their own learning and their practice as teachers. In turn, as I listened, it came to me that the teachers seemed to be capturing the moments in relief, like cameos, with different layers of understanding ready to be analysed. This led me to the realisation that there are at least two aspects to cameos: one is of a cameo whereby a moment of realisation is presented in relief against a background of past/ present understandings that lend themselves to analysis in order to enhance future understanding. This has elements of similarity with the idea of ‘critical incidents’, where making an incident critical involves the interpreter drawing on theory and past experience in order to explain better the nature of the incident. The other aspect of a cameo is whereby it represents a brief, affective sketch of a moment that captures a small but momentarily perfect image of realisation for the one whose cameo it is. This is a cameo of a different sort, in that it includes experiences that are dramatic in the sense of having a 'suddenness of emotional impact'. As the teachers talked, I became aware of the emotional element in their narratives: the teachers were expressing how they felt as much as what they thought and I realised that those expressions could be a powerful tool in my attempts to facilitate metacognitive awareness and transfer and that the element of emotion was powerful in its own right.
Cameos and critical incidents
Although critical incidents have much in common with the first aspect of a cameo described above, there are distinctions. My understanding of critical incidents is that they are critical in several senses: they are significant in the development of understanding of the issues involved; they mark a movement forward in insight; they are subject to identification, description/ articulation and analysis; the act of subjecting incidents to critical appraisal is instrumental in bringing about that development of understanding and movement in insight. ‘Incidents happen, but critical incidents are produced by the way we look at a situation: a critical incident is an interpretation of the significance of an event’ (Tripp, 1993). ‘You need to identify criteria and standards for you and others to judge if you are being effective......critical incidents show these criteria and standards in action’ (McNiff, Lomax and Whitehead, 1996:39). ‘......... reflection on these experiences (reported critical incidents ) had raised awareness about intentions’ (Denicolo and Pope, 1990:l64). ‘situations selected as critical incidents... remarkable ... unexpected ... important..’ (Hanke, 1990:l92). ‘One of the best ways of justifying and explaining practice . . . is through anecdote: carefully observed and analysed critical incidents can communicate aims and achievements’ (Tripp,1993:l42).
A difference between critical incidents and cameos is that a cameo is a description of a flash of insight recognition/ realisation that has an affective impact. It is then subject to analysis whereas a critical incident is first identified and analysed, the insight/ realisation occurring as a result of the analysis. The criteria which might be applied to help decide whether or not there is a significant difference is that suggested by the definition of a cameo as a sketch that is dramatic in the sense of having an impact on the emotions of the one who is describing the significant moment.
Having begun to develop the notion of cameos as qualitative data, I decided I wanted a means of representing the way I felt a cameo could be used to mediate metacognitive awareness of the affective element of a learning situation. I liked the idea of the cyclical nature of problem solving, whereby a dilemma in practice is identified and reflected upon, possible 'solutions' considered and acted upon, leading to further reflection, followed by further cycles of action (Schon,1983; McNiff, 1988; Griffiths,l990). I used an action research cycle as a basis on which to superimpose a cycle of what I will call Educational Emotional Awareness.
The way forward
By eliciting the recall and articulation, and later analysis, of such moments from the teachers on the course I hope to both help the teachers gain further insights into the processes of their learning and teaching and engage the teachers as my co-researchers. Tripp writes.. it is in the data and analysis moments that collaboration is most clearly realised..teachers make their own choices and are active, self-reflective researchers into their own practice and situation (Tripp, 1993:150). I would argue that such collaboration is a way of dispersing the tension that can arise when teachers find themselves in a learning situation: it empowers teachers to explore the process and prospect of their own learning whilst acknowledging the skills and experiences they already possess. The next stage in this aspect of my research will involve taking the cameos that are offered to me by the teachers and, with them, analysing the layers of meaning that might be drawn from the cameos, with the aim of making explicit how such analysis might help teachers improve their teaching by coming to a better understanding of their learning.
I am now developing my ideas on educational emotional awareness and the cameo metaphor and at this stage I am trying to clarify for myself questions about te authorship of cameos: Who recognises the moment of emotional impact? Is it valid if recognition is made on behalf of another? Is that where mediation has a place ie. In facilitating educational emotional awareness (which could be described as metacognition about emotions in that it is concerned with an individual becoming aware both of the emotions that are aroused and of what they think about the emotions)? Can such skills be transferred to others? There are questions also about the possibilities in there being cameos representative of different qualities of understanding. Just as a cameo itself is made up of several layers that are thrown into relief, so an educational cameo can be symbolic of different levels of emotional awareness, from the ‘ping’ moment described by teacher L, to the depth of response recorded in the cameo at the beginning of the paper.
These questions are just part of the problematic but I have begun to clarify my thinking about other aspects so that I am clear that an educational cameo can emerge from a variety of educative relationships and contexts: from a teacher responding to a pupil, or a teacher responding to their own teaching, or a learner responding to their own learning. It is within such educative relationships that I see a place for the mediation of educational emotional awareness, with the improvement in practice that such awareness can facilitate.