Category Archives: Practice

A/r/tography as methodology

In their essay titled ‘A/r/tography as Practice-Based Research’ (in the book Being with A/r/tography),  Rita Irwin (University of British Columbia) and Stephanie Springgay (University of Toronto) explain the ideals and the notions of a/r/tography as a methodology associated with  living inquiry.  The book presents a collection of essays that display the potential of a/r/tographic research and Irwin and Springgay’s essay is the introductory chapter.

A/r/tography is explored under the umbrella of practice-based research as a methodology that has multiple ways of being explored and discovered.  The multiplicity of this methodology is part of what makes a/r/tography unique.  This type of work has developed from a “fluid and constantly evolving community” that is willing to work outside of the conventional methodological boundaries in order to present research that is able to extend our ideas of education.

A/r/tography as a term is developed purposefully to include the ‘/’.  The ‘/’ is used to present an equality and coexistence between the three identities that create the term – artist / researcher / teacher.  Along side this the notion of ‘graphy’ makes associations with text and thus, presents a connection between the art and text, aligning the arts alongside the narrative as a joint initiative.  “A/r/tography is a coming together of art and graphy, or image and word.” (Springgay, Irwin & Wilson Kind, p.900).

One aspect of a/r/tography that has perked my interest is its associations with Deleuze and Guattari.  Deleuze and Guattari are fundamental in my research project since their constructs such as ‘images of thought’ and the ‘rhizome’ are integral to my thinking and methods and personal beliefs on the structure and development of our identity.  Irwin and Springgay explain how,

“A/r/tography is a research methodology that entangles and performs what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) refer to as a rhizome.  A rhizome is an assemblage that moves and flows in dynamic momentum.  The rhizome operates by variation, perverse mutation, and flows of intensities that penetrate meaning, […] It is an interstitial space, open and vulnerable where meanings and understandings are interrogated and ruptured.  Building on the concept of the rhizome, a/r/tography radically transforms the idea of theory as an abstract system” (p.xx)

All this too-ing and fro-ing and lack of concreteness  is what is so attractive about a/r/tography and its philosophical associations.  The notion that we are all individuals, that we take different paths, that we  continue to develop in ways that mimic rhizomatic development are all key characteristics.  So to is the interactions and the paths that are derived from the ‘interruptions’ that are created, these paths are sometimes influences by others and it is these ‘in-between’ moments that open up new spaces and directions.  Irwin and Springgay cite the work of Elizabeth Grosz with reference to the in-between,

“The space of the in-between is the locus for social, cultural and natural transformations: it is not simply a convenient space for movements and realignments but in fact the only place – the place around identities, between identities” (Grosz as cited in Springgay etal., p.xx)

The in-between is exactly where a/r/tography is situated,  “where theory-as-practice-as-process-as-complication intentionally unsettles perception and knowing through living inquiry.” (p.xxi)  Having created my collages in the past this is exactly the process and theoretical notions that I have explored, perhaps unknowingly at times, in order to pursue my own autobiographical understanding of identity.  A/r/tography presents a clear way of moving forward with others for my research and aligns many of the thoughts that I have had around the rhizome, Deleuze & Guattari, as well as the use of arts-based inquiry as a method of collecting data from participants.

Pollitt_Kyra_PoeticDrawing_(image from

But why should we see a/r/tography as a methodology and not a method associated with qualitative research?  Springgay, Irwin and Wilson Kind make a clear case, proclaiming that:

“Our arguments stem from a belief that if forms of arts-based research are to be taken seriously as emerging fields within educational research, then perhaps they need to be understood as methodologies in their own right, not as extensions of qualitative research. […]  interdisciplinarity not as a patchwork of different disciplines and methodologies but as a loss, a shift, or a rupture where in absence, new courses of action unfold.” (Springgay, Irwin & Wilson Kind, p.898)

Practice-based and arts-based research have struggle to achieve their credentials in academic circles.  Yet, very often they are praised for their ingenuity and the ways in which they are able to use visual methods to develop different perspective and access the unconscious mind.  Therefore, I think that Springgay, Irwin and Wilson Kind have an excellent point.  If arts-based inquiry and narrative inquiry are the methods that help to explore aspects of a/r/tography.  It is a/r/tography that presents the philosophical grounding and the methodology upon which to work.

Springgay, S., Irwin, R. L., Leggo, C., & Gouzouasis, P. (Eds.). (2008). Being with A/r/tography. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Springgay, S.; Irwin, R. & Wilson Kind, S. (2005) ‘A/r/tography as Living Inquiry Through Art and Text,’ Qualitative Inquiry. Vol. 11, No. 6. p. 897-912.

A/r/tography –

*image from a/r/tography  for more information about this piece check out the blog entry at

Check the new special issue of the e-journal Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts on
A/r/tography and the Arts @

ART – the fourth ‘r’

Interesting article in TES (Times Education Supplement) this week in support of the need for art as a fundamental part of our curriculum.

This is timely since art and design are under some threat of being diminished with Michael Gove’s talk of the ‘EBacc’ and now the ‘ABacc’. And a revision of the curriculum to focus on skills that are more pertinent to ‘work’ and more suited to achieving a place at a Russell Group University.

There is something really funny about the government in the UK thinking that the creative industries are not a key part of the British economy.  As mentioned in the article “creative industries now employ more than 2 million people in the UK and this is forecast to grow”. Not to mention, the value that creative thinking for the future.  It is no secret that we are teaching students to develop an understanding of a curriculum that is likely to have little relevance to their future employment because we don’t actually know what these future jobs will be.

Directing the curriculum toward the needs of industry are likely to promote a sense of dismay in young people .  This dismay is also linked to their sense of unknown and their dismay at the lack of employment related to their own areas of expertise.  This has provided devastating consequences in the classroom with student motivation lowering as they realise that there aren’t many options and that they are bystanders in a  government agenda that is interested in promoting an education that facilitates big business and current industry.  What about their dreams and desires as they might relate to the development of their own world and their own ideas.

Maxine Greene presented this idea clearly many years ago in her  essay titled ‘Art and Imagination’ stating,

“Young people find themselves described as ‘human resources’ rather than as persons who are centers of choice and evaluation.  It is suggested that young people are to be moulded in the service of technology and the market, no matter who they are.  Yet, as many are now realizing, great numbers of our young people will find themselves unable to locate satisfactory jobs, and the very notion of “all the children” and even of human resources carries with its deceptions of all kinds.  Perhaps it is no wonder that the dominant mood in many classrooms is one of passive reception.” (p.379)

What we do need to teach them are the thinking skills to enable them to cope with the situations that they will encounter (or that they desire for their own success) and do so with creative ingenuity, thus, not only preparing them for a future of employment but life.  Amongst many subjects Art & Design already have an understanding of these critical skills and are ready and waiting to be teach them — if only the government will give us the opportunity to do so!


Have a read for yourself and see what you think.

I couldn’t agree more that art should be the fourth ‘r’ – an essential component of the education curriculum.

Greene, Maxine. 1995. ‘Art and Imagination: Reclaiming the Sense of Possibility,’ The Phi Delta Kappan. Vol. 76, No.5, pp.378-382.

Developing Teachers

Last Friday Michael Gove, Education Secretary, announced the changes to education that would allow head teachers to ‘sack’ a teacher in a minimum time of one term.  In speaking on BBC Breakfast it was evident that this was another means of reinforcing how accountable teachers are for the success of their students.  Charlie Stayt and Susanna Reid put him through his paces on the topic and he did seem slightly rattled and vague about his facts.


BBC Breakfast – Michael Gove on axing crap school teachers (13Jan12)


What it did make me wonder was how the Department of Education would be offering support to below average teachers both before and after they were deemed to be ‘poor’ teachers; and how they would be supporting their professional development in order to increase their teaching abilities and retain teachers who had devoted their lives to teaching – before sending them off to recreate themselves in a new career.


Part of my development and interest in the work for my doctorate studies is based on this premise.  How is it that we track our development as teachers whether it be through appraisal systems or self interest?

My recent paper based on the my own reflective practice has highlighted the need for a critical awareness of our own teaching.  The process, although looking at the role of art educators, has been significantly helpful in allowing me to understand my own development as an educator due to both philosophical and environmental factors.  What worries me is that, as a mid-career teacher, this more thorough reflection has not been instigated by my institution but rather by self interest and personal motivation to improve my teaching.  What if I was content with the way I taught? … but then found out this was below average!  How would an institution show that it has helped me to be the best teacher that I could be before recommending another career?  Continued Professional Development (CPD) has always been a track record of your career progress; however, due to the economy, this training is reliant on teachers being proactive as well as institutions having the funds to support this development.  This is a hot topic that will become more important if Gove is to implement his policy on ‘crap’ teachers.  I hope that there will be a clear structure (not just observations) for how this is implemented and one that will give teachers a clear opportunity to reflect on their practice, to attend relevant re-training, and to make changes before being ‘sacked’ for simply being ‘stuck’.

The Way Teachers Look

In the book that I have been reading titled That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Teacher (1995) by Weber and Mitchell there is a discussion about our perceptions of teachers and the way they are portrayed both in reality and in popular culture.  The book asks us to question: does popular culture dictate how teachers are perceived or is it teachers who inspire the roles played out in popular culture?

Weber and Mitchell draw on a variety of examples from media, film and television for their practical examples of teachers within popular culture and support their discussion with a variety of highly theoretical writers such as John Fiske, Luce Irigaray and Angela McRobbie.  Interestingly, it was refreshing to see these names appear in relation to teaching since I am used to encountering them in relation to visual culture.  Although the reason for this is the heavy influence from cultural and communication studies as well as the premise of their study being centred around drawings of teachers and how they look.

I have a few interests in discussing this book, one is personal and another is about using more current examples  of popular culture to discuss the ideas explained by the authors.  Firstly, it is not uncommon in my current role as an Art Teacher to either be told, ‘you are looking like an Art Teacher today Miss’ or ‘I would have never thought that you were an Art Teacher, you look more like a Biology teacher’.  To which my response is often – what does an Art/Biology teacher look like?  Having experienced this personally, made my interest in reading Weber and Mitchell’s account of teachers appearances much more interesting.  Weber and Mitchell start by inviting children to “Draw a teacher (any teacher)” (p.17).  Due to criticism from other researchers this question was later changed to a series of questions that included: Please draw your teacher teaching somebody, Please draw your favourite teacher, Please draw your class at work, Please draw an ideal teacher.  This was to be reassured that children were not just drawing stereotypical images of ‘a teacher’ when asked to respond to the task.  In addition, Weber and Mitchell collected drawing from pre-service teachers by also asking them to draw a teacher.  Surprisingly, regardless of the questions, the outcomes were all quite similar.  Most were female and most stood in front of a blackboard.

Out of curiosity I Google image searched the terms ‘art teacher’, ‘biology teacher’ and ‘teacher’.  These are among some of the examples of drawn images that I found.  Like Webber and Mitchell’s study there was also a dominant portrayal of women and a dominant use of the ‘blackboard’ in the background.

Google search for ‘art teacher’ – I was surprised by how an art teacher is still portrayed with a blackboard/whiteboard behind her.  Yes, I have a whiteboard in my classroom but it doesn’t define me as an art teacher.


Also found on Google images – titled ‘a boring teacher’ ; although she is performing her experiment with a smile!?


Overall, this whole discussion makes me query the ‘look’ and stereotypes associated with the word ‘teacher’.  It has also been interesting to see how some types of teachers have a more dominant presence in our visual vocabulary and that this is has not waned for a decade if not a century!



… further commentary from 23 July 2011

Glee – extension of  ‘High School Musical’
Bad Teacher – Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake

Waiting for Superman – animated interview with director at:

As Gadgets Take Over …

When I first developed this site I became instantly obsessed and distracted with its look, information, tidbits of knowledge and potential interactive options.  The reality was I was suppose to be reading! However, the computer and watching my information load, visitor statistics rise was more enticing.  The paper bound entertainment quickly became second choice.

A recent article in the New York Times section of the Observer (Sunday, June 13, 2010) titled “As Gadgets Take Over, Focus Falters,” by Matt Richtel, explores this exact idea with a focus on the potential detriment of multitasking.  It is classic that we associate multitasking with high levels of productivity; but researchers at Stanford University have noted that the heavier the multitasker the less productive they can be.  The larger the number of distractions, means a heavy multitasker is less likely to be able to perform tasks effectively.  “When multiple distractions are present, the difference in performance between light and heavy multitaskers is statistically significant” notes Ophir and Nass from Stanford.  Other important features highlighted about multitaskers include the fact that “multitaskers tended to search for new information rather than accept a reward for putting older, more valuable information to work”; and that there are “a growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip.  They can’t ignore it.”  As a teacher, this is one of my personal challenges – continually reminding my students that the world is not going to pass them by if they don’t answer the text message instantaneously, or tweet back how boring (let’s hope it is exciting!) my lesson is at the moment.

This is not just an afliction that our young are experiencing.  The article mentions that we now understand that our “neural networks continue to develop, influenced by things like learning skills.”  This was one of the concepts that made Ophir wonder how the characteristics of the brain might be influenced by multitasking.  The main protagonist in the article Mr. Campbell is not unlike my own husband who is keenly anticipating the release of the new iPhone and who likes to check the mobile phone coverage of the area in which we will be holiday-ing.  I too have felt the draw to the ping of my own blackberry and have had to be diligent about silencing it when reading books and having conversations.  Is all of this attention to our technology worth the increase in stress? and increase in isolation?  Perhaps the most relevant point made in relation to my doctoral research is in the final stages of the article when it is noted that “the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room.”  As I complete this sentence, I think it is about time I log off and go out for a walk with my husband and the dogs.

Developing Minds & Imagination

On April 14th, I drove down the windy corridor of the M5 to Exeter to attend a lecture by Dr. Kieran Egan, a professor at Simon Fraser University and Canadian Research Chair in Cognitive Development and the Curriculum.  As an aspiring doctoral student, I was hoping not only to hear some familiar Canadian vocabulary but also some exciting new insight in to the relevance of imagination in the curriculum.  Introduced by Prof. Anna Craft, Dr. Egan immediately launched in to the different kinds of understandings associated with his IE (imaginative education).  He exudes the ideas and references by talking through stories that encapsulate both his own passion for education but also the excitement of learning through oral traditions.  As he moved through the different ‘kinds of understanding’ (somatic, mythic, romantic, philosophic and ironic) that were intrinsic to his imaginative strategies we were also entertained by his subtle sounds sporadically inserted in to the lecture.

The first ‘kind of understanding’ – somatic – includes tapping in to our physical attributes with sensory experiences, emotion, humour, rhythm, gesture and intentionality (referred to as the body’s toolkit).  His particular interest in this lecture was in portraying the importance of these tools as a means of developing and exciting a child’s imagination.

Secondly, mythic understanding builds on the body’s toolkit by providing an oral language through which children begin to gain an understanding of metaphor, fantasy, opposites and images generated from words.  By using oral traditions and telling stories these attributes are brought to life creating an effective way to connect with students.  Egan believes that humour is an important element of education, a few minutes of joke telling goes a long way to helping engage learners. What do you call a bear with no ear?

A ‘b’, started our reference to the alphabet, (answered our joke!) and the romantic understanding.  As Phaedrus noted “the discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness …”.  It was evident throughout the lecture that Dr. Egan had an interest in classics with his numerous references to Plato, Socrates and Roman soldiers.  Not only was he embedding the ideas associated with romantic knowledge but also displaying his own factual collection.  As students grow and gain greater awareness of their written abilities they begin to encounter literary culture and are caused to reconfigure reality.  As a result, teachers are guided towards connecting with the heroic as it humanized the portrayal of knowledge, ultimately making it more accessible.  By assigning a hero to any topic you can engage your learners in an adventure that helps them retain knowledge on any subject.

The final two kinds of understanding, philosophic and ironic, were passed through quickly.  However, by spending time on the initial three it was evident how each built on one another culminating in students (of an older age) being able to begin to analyse and identify anomalies in their fantasies and bring them closer to reality, cultural awareness and further growth as individual learners.

During the final minutes of his talk, Dr. Egan also introduced the research project titled ‘Learning in Depth’ (LiD).  Through curiosity and individual development of young learners engage in long-term research based on randomly assigned topics such as apples, dust, cats, etc.  Starting at entry in to school (approx. ages 5- 6) the idea is that students develop an individual interest and become an expert on their own topic across a number of years.  The concept is heavily reliant on the students’ personal motivation.  More information and resources are available on the IERG (Imaginative Education Research Group) website

As I drove home, northbound on the M5, I couldn’t help but think a new adventure was starting and that soon I would have more stories to tell inspired by a series of magical thinkers.  Thank you for the brief escape back to Canada Dr. Egan, even if it did have a bit of those dulcet Irish tones.

Additional information on Dr. Kieran Egan’s ideas can be found in his books The Educated Mind (1997) and The Future of Education: Reimagining our Schools from the Ground Up (2008).  Further information on the LiD programme can be found on the website or in their upcoming book published by the University of Chicago Press.