How Tom Sawyer Helped Me Out – No Longer Living Next Door to Alice- Week 6

In Chapter Two of Mark Twain’s glorious, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ – believe me, if you are an adult and haven’t read this in years, drop everything,  stop reading this daft Blog and go and read it; I promise you’ll thank me – Tom is punished for his bad behaviour by having to whitewash his Aunt’s picket fence.  Initially mocked by friends, Tom’s genius and razor sharp mind manages to turn the tables and convince everyone that painting the fence is the best party in town. The task itself becomes the prize.

Daniel Pink, in his book ‘Drive’, calls this ‘The Sawyer Effect’. He cites Twain’s key principle of motivation; ‘that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.’ ‘Rewards’, Pink goes on to say,
‘…can transform an interesting task into a drudge. They can turn play into work. And by diminishing intrinsic motivation, they can send performance, creativity, and even upstanding behaviour toppling like dominoes.’
                                 (Kindle edition, Canongate Books, 2011)
When I read this I couldn’t stop thinking about our work on Inanimate Alice. Almost everything we’ve done so far- analysing and reading the episodes, creating timelines and storyboards, working together to ‘infer’ and constructing our own episodes – has been fun, even play. I’ve had to do little motivating; the task is motivating itself. However, I have a Parents Evening on Wednesday. I’m told that Parents want to see things their children have done. Yes , I’ve been teaching for years and have had about sixty Parents Evenings in that time, but I still need to be told that.
Therefore I’m faced with a dilemma. If I suddenly begin to talk more about outcomes and targets do I impose the ‘Sawyer Effect’ and deflect from the ‘Play’ aspect of Inanimate Alice which so clearly exists? Or do I allow the students to speak for themselves, to discuss the experiences and the fun they’ve had with their parents?
This seems like an age old problem teachers are faced with. How much does evidence of learning need to be something you can read?
Earlier successes – and, I’ll be honest, some nice comments from educators around the world – can’t blind me from the fact that we need to produce something. Yes, the journey is often more enjoyable than the destination but I truly feel that with time and effort we could all produce episodes of which we can be really proud.
What I’ll take away from this series of classes is a huge lesson in motivation. Given the correct challenge, motivation takes care of itself. I’m already transferring this idea to other lessons. Give students the time, space and opportunity to be creative and they’ll knock your socks off. Pressures of coverage have already meant that we have only two fifty minute sessions a week but I’m already looking forward to Alice in America, Scotland, France, trapped in a fairground in Florida, locked in a store cupboard in an ‘Apple’ store in Edinburgh. As for Wednesday’s Parent’s Evening, I’ll have laptops out  so that mums and dads can read their child’s Glow Blog. They will read comments like this:
Beth’s Blog
The best bit about the episodes were the storylines, I think they were really good, and the way that episodes three and four aren’t like the first two. They are longer and more interesting, and definitely scarier. The scream in episode three and the face on the wall in episode four? I’ll be honest, I was a wee bit scared.
My own ideas for the episode we’ll be making in groups will be the same sort of changes the episodes have. Alice will be a few years older, Brad will help her out of her problem, her player will be different and she’s in another country, just things like that. I’d like to make it scary though, I think that would be fun to do. Obviously it will have games and maybe a few animations in it as well. The difficult thing will be making it not look like a power point though, but I’m always up for a good challenge!

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