This is the third article in an ongoing series about working with kids by Copenhagen-based architect/designer/educator Moa Dickmark. Her last article was on the Future of Learning Environments.
There are a few things that one should think about when it comes to working on a project using co-creative processes. There are the basics, such as how you develop and structure them, and then there's the small things that make the process go more smoothly. Sometimes these small things end up making a big difference, so I'm going to let you in on some of the ones that my colleague and I use more or less every time we are out working. Most (but not all) of them are applicable also when working with teachers, leaders, politicians etc.
Start the process with a few meetings with the headmaster and school leadership, where you can decide on a common goal and make sure that you are on the same page. A goal for a process can be something along the lines of:
Develop spaces that students and teachers feel comfortable in and that can be used in various ways depending on subject and the individual students needs.
Decide on a timeline, a budget, how many hours you will spend with the students per workshop and ask them to find a class with teachers that are open-minded and up for the project. No point in hitting your head against the wall with teachers who don't want you to be there; the students will probably take on the sentiment of teacher and the process to reach the set goals will not be enjoyable for anyone.
1.) Make sure that everyone involved in the project feels like they are truly a part of the project, and that they have an important role in the process and outcome.
When working with students, invite their parents for a meeting where you tell them about the project, tell them a bit about the basics of co-creative processes and what sort of things their kids are going to come home and ramble about. It's really good to let them try what you are talking about, so let them do one of the exercise—i.e. a quick and dirty model-making session always bring out a lot of laughter—in order to provide a greater understanding of how fun it can be, and so they have something to talk about when their kid comes home from school.
This is also a good way to get them more involved—maybe one of the parents works at a warehouse and can arrange some sponsorship deal with the boss or something of the sort, or that some of them want to spend some of their free time helping out at one of the workshops. The more support you get from the parents, the better.
2.) Also make sure that people who are not directly involved of the project feel welcome.
For example, shortly after starting working with a 6 grade class in a small school in the middle of Jylland, Denmark, the biggest ambassadors for the project and for what the students were working on turned out to be the librarian and one of the cleaning ladies. They showed parents what their children were up to, and talked about the vision developed for the various areas.
Click image to view full version [PDF]Click image to view full version [PDF]All on the Same Level / Experts in Their Own Right
No matter who you work with, be it a class of 7-year-olds, a class of 17-year-olds, a bunch of teachers, the school administrators or a mix of all of them, always remember to make sure to listen to them and and take them seriously. Whoever is a part of the project team is an expert in his or her own right, so when working with co-creative processes, no one's opinion is more worth than anyone else's. A 7-year-old girl's opinion about the learning space is just as valuable as that of her teachers and headmasters; make sure that this is clear when you start working together, and that it is respected throughout the process. Make sure that no one plays the seniority card to get her/his way...
Design an overview of the process and the various workshops. Explain the overall goal with the process, and the goal for each workshop—but not the details—to the students and teachers in the beginning of the first workshop. Draw them on the whiteboard with figures (cameras, maps, tools etc) representing each workshop. It's good if you do this in the beginning of each workshop—that way, they will have a visual understanding of what is going on, and will be able to see where in the process they are, what they have been through to get there and what they have to look forward to.
Everyone has an opinion of their surrounding, but not everyone has the language to express it. Students and teachers will find it difficult to express why a certain area is good, and why another one isn't. It is your responsibility to help them develop a better understanding of their surroundings, and a way for them to express it, and it is your responsibility to make sure you get the information you need, and to make sure that the students and teachers participating in the workshops learn from them, and find them interesting to take part of. This wa,y no one feels like they are wasting their time and everyone works a bit harder to reach the set goals. It also creates a great positive energy that spreads like wildfire around the school.
When working with students, no matter what age, never ever use oversimplified language. Continue using words such as design process, co-creation and modules. Write them up on a section of the white-board, you can call it "The dictionary," and then explain what it means using words that already are a part of their vocabulary.
By the end of a workshop, you might hear a student say to another student something along the line with "Oh, but this is not the finished product, it's just a prototype of the modular system we are working on..." When that happens you will stop, listen and think to yourself, "Wow, so cool!"
There's no Right or Wrong
Another thing that is good to think about is to tell the students when you start working with them that:
There's no right or wrong! If you want to write down your idea, write, we don't care about the spelling, or grammar for that matter. If you want to draw down your idea, draw. If you want to build your idea, we are going to do that too!
What at your age is called Fantasy and Imagination is called Creative Thinking later on, and is something older people go to university to learn more about. So don't lose it, you will need it now and for the rest of your life!
When designing the process focus on teamwork. Make sure that they vary in size in the very beginning; depending on how many students you are working with in total, you can make them bigger. We have found that the magical number is 5–8 people in one group. It's better with more teams than bigger teams. During the first few exercises, you will be able to see how they work in teams: which ones work more closely; who naturally becomes a leader and who takes the leader role by force; who is a good project manager or creative thinkers; who brings positive and productive energy to the team; and who simply can't work together. Try to get them to reflect upon this in various ways so they are more likely to develop good team by themselves later on in the process.
And then you have the ones that just don't seem to fit in—or in some cases don't want to fit in—to any sort of group. It is your challenge to figure out what sort of role they can play in process. Maybe they can be the Journalist, create a blog for the project, take pictures, do interviews with teachers and their fellow students, and write articles for each workshop. Or maybe they can be your personal assistant, or the shoulder-tapper, the one who goes around and gives high-fives, tells the other students how good they are and gives them positive reinforcement, it's an important task too. Just make sure that no one is left out.