Saturday, 31 July 2021


As an EY team we look back at 'Moments in the Day' together - times when something in the children's play and learning strikes us. We share documentation and discuss. In our last time doing this in the school year, Estelle shared this photo with us:

She wrote:
I’m still puzzled about this activity that S., G. and M. engage in regularly.

It is often initiated by M. but not always (I think). I’m not sure I’ve watched closely enough at the right moment. I wonder what skills they are using here and that makes me think that I almost need to try it myself to find out. Perhaps they will allow me to quietly join in…. Otherwise I could have a conversation with them.

There is definitely a quality to this play that is ‘safe’, mindful and we can assume that it is good for their well-being based on the repetition. Maybe for the artist no. 1 there is a feeling of being the leader, being ‘seen’ and valued. For artist no. 2 perhaps the feeling of making a connection in this way has meaning.

Perhaps I can join in and see what is happening; it all happens so fast.
I've noticed children doing things in unison a lot too, and I'm interested. What do we derive from this? 

As teachers, we think of our jobs as being about building individual creativity, individual agency, so where does this leading and following, this doing (almost) the same thing fit in?

Questions like this are quite hard to get a handle on. We have hunches, but they don't feel like the complete story.

Perhaps we should take up Estelle's suggestion and just draw the same thing together, and see what it feels like 'from the inside'. There's no guarantee that we'll feel the same as the students do of course, but it might help.

What else does copying look like in our classes?

Here's some more examples.

At a certain count, friends are jumping off chairs in unison:

Pairs of students making the same as - or here, the reflection of - each other's designs with the square tiles in trays:
We're at the pattern block table and a student says. 'Simon, let's play I make something and you copy it.
Using large foam pattern blocks to make rockets together:
Painting together:
So what's going on?

I can't say, but there are certain things I sense might be going on. This passage from Sloman and Fernback's The Knowledge Illusion might help orient us:

Sharing attention is a crucial step on the road to being a full collaborator in a group sharing cognitive labor, in a community of knowledge. Once we can share attention, we can do something even more impressive—we can share common ground. We know some things that we know others know, and we know that they know that we know (and of course we know that they know that we know that they know, etc.). The knowledge is not just distributed; it is shared. Once knowledge is shared in this way, we can share intentionality; we can jointly pursue a common goal. A basic human talent is to share intentions with others so that we accomplish things collaboratively.

Let's make a list of some of the things happening: 
  • Feeling comfortable with each other,
  • Feeling comfortable with an activity,
  • Being in the same space with each other,
  • Somehow having an idea of doing things in unison,
  • Understanding the proposal,
  • Accepting the idea together, sharing the intention, having a joint project,
  • One  leading, other(s) following (how flexible is this?),
  • Monitoring each other's actions,
  • Recreating each other's creation,
  • Comparing the results,
  • Completing the project.
That's part of what happens, and it's a lot. But there's also the significance. What does it mean to do the same thing together? 

That time the children synchronised themselves jumping off the chairs, was such a moment of joy. It seemed like a celebration of friendship and of feeling great in their bodies, in the classroom and together! Not all the examples are so exuberant, but there's a pleasure and significance in not just being in the same place and time, but in the same self-chosen project.

As an adult, I can appreciate this too. In fact, teaching together with the PK team, we plan our activities together. We then, mostly, work in our separate places. But there's a tremendous affirmation in having the same understandings and objectives, in approving of the same resources, environment, activities. And, of course, bringing our stories of what happened back to each other. Our work together is so intertwined that what we do with our students isn't usually the idea of any one of us, it's a kind of team thing.
Then there's singing Beatles songs with friends. We're not exactly doing the same thing: one of us plays piano, another guitar, another ukulele, but mostly we sing the same melody and words. What is it that's so satisfying about it? There's something in there about the whole being more than the sum of the parts.

In our 'Moments' meeting, Nick mentioned that humans succeeded where Neanderthals didn’t because they shared ideas; they didn’t have bigger brains, it was just that they shared their ideas.This is part of what it is to be human, and what has given us our success.
I first came across this idea in Rutger Bregman's great book Humankind. Bregman has this chart:
Following anthropologist Joseph Henrich's modeling, Bregman invites us to think of a planet with two tribes. One tribe, the Geniuses, are great at inventing things, but not so good at sharing their ideas; the other, the Copycats are not such great inventors, but do share. The Geniuses are a hundred times better at inventing. The Copycats on the other hand are ten times better at sharing. Which tribe do inventions spread through most?

The Copycats. 

So, I'm coming round to valuing these times when children get into total synch with each other.

And next year, I'm going to copy Estelle's idea, and try to catch more of what is happening as children copy each other.