The Space around the Child

‘I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage’ Peter Brooks, The Empty Space.

At Betts this year Sir Ken Robinson gave a short talk at the evening TeachMeet.  He mentioned Brooks’ The Empty Space, which as a Drama graduate, was my bible. 

Sir Ken used it to talk about the conceit of teaching, the belief that if left to their own devices students cannot learn effectively – the problem he said was that the current education system had side lined that crucial teacher/student relationship and substituted it for standards, national curricula, output and inspections.  He went on to say that learning was a natural thing and education a more formal one but that a healthy education system has to begin with teaching and learning; “you can’t improve education without supporting, encouraging and developing teachers – teaching is an art form”.

@eddiekayshun’s spaced learning blog ( got me thinking further about the idea of empty moments – I knew intuitively this technique seemed effective and in particular for students with SEN.   I saw Rory this week and talked about how SEN friendly it was but I came away thinking ‘why?’  Back in the office on Friday, a colleague remarked on how a particular teacher was excellent at creating a space around the child with SEN.  

Reading a favourite extract of mine from @ded6ajd about student privacy rights in the classroom I wondered whether for the child with SEN, space and privacy is even more restricted than for the typical student.  @raywilcockson tweeted ‘this (Andrew’s piece) is an eloquent description of what student and teacher implicitly understand underlies (or not) their interaction’, adding later ‘far too many curators and too few creators’. 

Is part of the teaching art form to recognise the space around the child?

Andrew Davis @ded6ajd (a while ago he says!)

The messy and disruptive space was also raised by @ruthboyask – was low level disruption always a negative thing? Many behaviour strategies coming from the US currently ask for windows to be blacked out to prevent distractions, the child is asked to constantly track the teacher and they must be ‘on’ the whole time never knowing when a question will come to them.  Does this erode the privacy and space further?

@ruthboyask asked ‘is the child micro-managed through ‘what works’ pedagogies?’ Or as @rapclassroom tweeted ‘there’s a strong temptation to over-scaffold in order to demonstrate progress.’

If a student who is not meeting targets in decreasing time limits as a result of an increasing number of assessments is then withdrawn to receive more interventions does the student lose even more privacy and space? Can I go one step further and ask if this is perpetuating learned helplessness?

I’m not sure but I do think we should be minded not to lose those empty (and messy) spaces and instead respect the space around the child.  For children with SEN especially – their need for space might be more precious (or at least equal) than our requirement to show progress.

Thanks to @RuthBoyask, @rapclassroom, @raywilcockson and @ded6ajd for the conversation and @eddiekayshun for triggering this post.