Brain Games

This post has been in draft form for a while. This month a number of research reports have been sharpening discussion about the role the brain plays in learning compared to the mind.

Two items caught my attention and encouraged my own reflection on the brain and mind possibilities.

The Australian Stage reviewed Seven Boards of Skill performed at the Perth International Arts Festival. The performance is based upon the Chinese Tangram and in this stage version seven giant geometric shapes, five triangles, a square and a parallelogram are used as the set for fourteen performers. Paul Rand has suggested “that the main principle to be learned (about the Tangram) is that of economy of means – making the most of the least.”  Given the virtuosity of the performers in Seven Boards of Skill I wondered how coaches and teachers might transform learning environments and explore ‘the economy of means’. This is a French video report about the creator of the Seven Boards performance, Aurelien Bory.

In the same week that the Seven Boards was being performed in Perth, Deborah Ruf was in town too discussing pathways for gifted children. Her interview on Radio National’s Life Matters led me to her writings about giftedness. Her article on individualising opportunities for gifted children, for example, is a great stimulus to thinking about learning environments.

Photo Credits

Seven Boards

Practice

Speaking About Performance: Hearing Other Narratives

Back in 1988 Donald Polkinghorne produced the delightful book Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences. In his preface to the book he observes that “practitioners work with narrative knowledge. They are concerned with people’s stories…”

In Chapter Two he notes that “Narrative is the fundamental scheme for linking individual human actions and events into interrelated aspects of an understandable composite.” His insights resonated with qualitative research I was doing in the 1980s and have informed my work ever since. They added to my reading of Miller Mair‘s work at that time too.

I have been prompted to revisit their ideas about narrative and storytelling following two fascinating radio programs and the discovery that Miller Mair is a keynote speaker at the 2010 CPN Conference. His workshop at the conference is titled Imaginative Writing as Psychological Enquiry. The information for the workshop states:

If we are psychologists, counselors or psychotherapists, we live and work in conversation. This means we have to engage more fully with the ambiguities, surprises and riches of language. Writing as a significant mode of inquiry will be approached as a form of conversation.

These “ambiguities, surprises and riches of language” enchant me too! The Clyde Street blog contains a number of posts about writing and narrative. There are posts about performance too. My interest centres on how these elements are focussed in coaching and learning.

The two radio programs that ignited my desire to write today are Barry Lopez’s discussion with Ramona Koval on Radio National’s Book Show and Ramona Koval’s interview with Lady Antonia Fraser.

In the first program, Barry Lopez (who is taking part in the 2010 Perth Writers’ Festival) discusses Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (edited by Debra Gwartney and Barry Lopez). I enjoyed in particular Barry and Ramona’s discussion of William deBuys‘ discussion of ‘ripple’ in his story of New Mexico.

A week before the Barry Lopez interview, Ramona Koval interviewed Lady Antonia Fraser about her account of her life with Harold Pinter Must You Go? I enjoyed this interview enormously partly because of Ramona Koval’s questions and Lady Fraser’s discussion of the role of a biographer in telling the story of a creative artist. I thought Ramona’s use of her own meetings with Harold Pinter at the Edinburgh festival were wonderful anchors for her conversation with Lady Antonia.

This convergence of ideas around narrative has furthered my interest in how we discuss, describe and share performance in sport. My thoughts about narrative and story telling were framed two decades ago by Donald Polkinghorne, Miller Mair, and John van Maanen. They were harbingers of a wonderful approach to story sharing. In the last year I have become a real fan of Ramona Koval’s Book Show and her interviews with Barry Lopez and Lady Antonia Fraser were gems. Collectively they all provide a discourse that has enormous possibilities for those interested in exploring coaching and learning in sport.

I believe any discussion about performance in sport is enriched by our openness to the forms and contents of other narratives. This post is part of an ongoing story about coming to know performance.

Photo Credits

Private Conversation http://www.flickr.com/photos/danisarda/4204257051/

Donald Polkinghorne www.usc.edu/uscnews/experts/841.html

Miller Mair http://www.constructivistpsych.org/2010/mair.html

Barry Lopez www.upaya.org/newsletter/view/2009/03/16

Ramona Koval www.abc.net.au/rn/bookshow/about/

Lady Antonia Fraser http://www.flickr.com/photos/35803015@N03/4345794258/

Bluebells http://www.flickr.com/photos/anguskirk/2684740057/

Visual Literacy and Fair Play

Two recent events have stimulated animated discussion about the role video can and should play in officiating.

Thierry Henry’s handball in a World Cup Football qualifying game led to a FIFA disciplinary commission hearing.

The International Cricket Council will investigate the umpire decision review system after protests about decisions made in the fourth test match in South Africa.

These events have underscored for me that the essence of sport is in a state of flux and is so because of the mediated and constructed views offered by television broadcasts. The ICC proposes to meet with television broadcasters in March to discuss the standardisation of technology. Ian Chappell identified some of the issues about standardisation in his post. (See also this post and audio file from Harsha Bhogle.)

My view is that these incidents raise fundamental questions about sport and visual literacy. I note John Debes’ definition of  visual literacy as “a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences.” Ari Santas and Lisa Eaker (2009) observe that:

… to be visually literate requires us to readjust our thinking habits and have another look—to review what we have viewed. Unfortunately, there is no ready made teaching strategy that guarantees progression from unsophisticated viewing to sophisticated viewing. … our propensity is to act habitually, and it is through habit that we navigate our social world. Consequently, habituation is not something educators can opt out of, but must make use of; but this is not to say that they should thereby succumb to the mind-numbing practices of manipulators. They must, instead, habituate their students into reflective and creative modes of thinking. Visually, this means learning how to look and getting into the habit of looking, at images with a critical eye. To educate for visual literacy, then, must include training but it is training that facilitates ready movement from habitual ways of seeing and thinking to creative ways of seeing and thinking, from distinguishing between what is in need of extensive reflection and what is best left to snap-judgment or intuition.

I believe the transformation of sport through television broadcast has habituated the viewer to a particular form of experience. This is transferred to the sports arena too where spectators and players now expect large screen images of performance. The emergence of sport as spectacle in the age of entertainment has transformed the structure of sport. The rich and high definition images created by television coverage have removed the intensity of observation needed to engage in real-time (synchronous) sport. In the home theatre environment sport has become an asynchronous relationship in which real-time events can be paused and caught up with. I am wondering if the cumulative effect of this mediated visual and aural experience is transforming our ability to learn and remember.

The dilemma for sport is that in order to appeal to audiences there is constant discussion about what constitutes a sport. The more sport negotiates away its ownership of time as an essential characteristic of participation the more mediated the experience of televised sport becomes. In cricket, for example, there is growing debate about the fate of 50 over game in the light of the success of 20 over competitions. The shortened forms of any game should offer wonderful opportunities to observe and process action in real time and facilitate the neural activity so important to participation.

Francisco Maruenda (2009) discussed a fundamental issue for the game of football:

… the human being and the technological media are both physically and technically incapable of detecting an offside position in real time, in zero milliseconds. The results of this study show that when the ball is passed, the human eye and brain and the technological media need some time to locate the at least four players who intervene in an offside position. When those players are located, time has passed and they are never in the original position, when the ball was passed. Football players are trained for speed and acceleration to change their geographical position in the field when the ball is passed. Therefore, we cannot refer to a human error when an offside position is misjudged. The human being and the technological media will never be capable of detecting an offside position in real time, in zero milliseconds. The key of the offside position is a physical problem: time.

Formal games include some means of arbitration. The future of sport could be to value the person as arbitrator rather than media as judge. Sport is essentially fallible and we should celebrate this fallibility. In the process we might enhance young people’s visual acuity in real time contexts and deliver some very important long term neural stimulation.

Perhaps we need to know more about striatal volume too as we use video as a learning medium for education spectators, players, coaches and referees.

Photo Credits

Mailliw Umpires

Gazzat Refereeeee

Kevin Katinas Superman

Breaking a Snow Jumping Record