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Abstract

The relationship between experience, emotions, cognition, and learning is of increasing interest to educators and researchers who recognise that efforts to promote student engagement and learning must take into account factors beyond the purely cognitive and instrumental. The significance of experience considered as a unity in regard to child development was discussed through the concept of perezhivanie decades ago in the work of Lev Vygotsky (1934). Contemporary explorations of perezhivanie as a concept and phenomenon may be further informed through drawing upon Dewey's work on Art as Experience (1934) and the concept of metaxis as understood in drama education literature. This paper will examine the special nature of arts and educational drama experiences for experiencing, realising, and expressing perezhivanie. It also reflects upon the role of the teacher, their own experiences of arts-inspired perezhivanie and the potentially contagious impact of the teacher's experiences for their students. International Research in Early Childhood Education, vol. 7, no. 1, p. 50-67
International Research in Early Childhood Education
Vol. 7, No. 1, 2016
ISSN 1838-0689 online
Copyright © 2010 Monash University
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Contagious learning: Drama, experience and
perezhivanie
Susan Davis
Central Queensland University, Australia
Kathryn Dolan
Central Queensland University, Australia
Abstract
The relationship between experience, emotions, cognition, and learning is of increasing interest to
educators and researchers who recognise that efforts to promote student engagement and learning
must take into account factors beyond the purely cognitive and instrumental. The significance of
experience considered as a unity in regard to child development was discussed through the concept
of perezhivanie decades ago in the work of Lev Vygotsky (1934). Contemporary explorations of
perezhivanie as a concept and phenomenon may be further informed through drawing upon
Dewey’s work on Art as Experience (1934) and the concept of metaxis as understood in drama
education literature. This paper will examine the special nature of arts and educational drama
experiences for experiencing, realising, and expressing perezhivanie. It also reflects upon the role of
the teacher, their own experiences of arts-inspired perezhivanie and the potentially contagious impact
of the teacher’s experiences for their students.
Keywords
Perezhivanie; experience: drama education; pedagogy; Vygotsky; Dewey; metaxis
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Perezhivanie, experience and learning
The concept of perezhivanie is intriguing for educators as it raises questions about the totality of the
lived experiences of students within our classrooms and how these experiences might be cultivated
for the most meaningful forms of learning. Within this article we are also inspired by the work of
Mahn and John-Steiner and their search for theoretical frameworks and “a model for teachers who
instill confidence in their students by offering caring support” (Mahn & John-Steiner, 2002, p. 46).
Mahn and John-Steiner’s work is informed by Vygotsky’s writings and an appreciation of the
affective, cognitive, and relational dimensions of learning. They identify how the interactions
between teachers and their students are intense creative collaborations that involve reciprocal
emotional support and ideally “supported by the gift of confidence” (p. 48). The social and
transactional nature of experience is further elaborated upon by Roth and Jornet (2014) when they
say, “experience is not something that belongs to or is had by individuals but rather denotes
transactions in and across space and time within irreducible person-in-setting units” (p. 106).
Therefore, the perezhivanie of the individual needs to be considered in relation to the collective and
relational.
The theoretical conceptualisation of perezhivanie has generated much interest, particularly through
engagement with the concept as located in the work of Vygotsky (1934). It is acknowledged that
there is no direct translation for perezhivanie in English, but it is generally interpreted as meaning
“lived experience”, or an “emotional lived experience” (Blunden, 2010; Ferholt 2015; Michell,
2015). It is also used to describe the sense of having “lived through” a challenging, significant, or
difficult experience. Conceptually the term is important for crystallising the dynamic of experience,
which incorporates internal and external characteristics, the cognitive and affective, the individual
and the social. It is also acknowledged that Vygotsky’s engagement with perezhivanie, while present
with some early concerns in his work with experience through the Psychology of Art (Vygotsky, 1971),
was only revisited later in his career. At this time, he was exploring perezhivanie as a concept,
recognising the importance of emotions and volition to human learning and development
(González Rey, 2009; Smagorinsky, 2011) and also borrowing from Stanislavski’s use of the term
(Michell, 2015). Therefore, his project is viewed as incomplete, and perezhivanie is one major
concept that remains the subject of ongoing theoretical discussion and research investigation.
For those who are concerned with the structuring and design of learning, perezhivanie becomes
important when we think about “growth” and transformative types of learning and how these may
be cultivated. If we are concerned for the type of learning where students come to know and to
care deeply about the world and themselves, and have agency in their lives and futures, then the
nature of learning “experiences” are of prime importance. Consideration is also extended beyond
more typical learning objectives (and cognitive concepts) to embrace the emotional and expressive
qualities that may be evoked as well. Therefore, the selectivity and design aspects of the
environment and the qualities of such demand close attention. Vygotsky recognised the role of
constitutional characteristics in determining a child’s attitudes towards an experience within the
1934 paper “The problem of the environment” when he says:
It is not essential for us to know what the child’s constitutional characteristics are like per se,
but what is important for us to find out is which of these constitutional characteristics have played a decisive
role in determining the child’s relationship to a given situation. And in another situation, different
constitutional characteristics may well have played a role.
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In this way the emotional experience [perezhivanie] also helps us select those characteristics
which played a role in determining the attitude to the given situation. (Vygotsky,
1934/1994, p. 342, italics from published text)
It may be argued, therefore, that the role of the teacher or educator is not a neutral one with
regards to these learning environments and the shaping of the situation, which may subsequently
impact upon the child’s attitude and constitutional characteristics. Teachers are curators and
designers of learning environments, shaping the prism and constitutional characteristics of the
possible perezhivanie. The curatorial process is crucial to the role of the teacher as a more
knowledgeable other operating within a Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978). We
acknowledge the different interpretations of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and how
it has been conceptualised in operational terms (Chaiklin, 2003; Daniels, 2008). Key features of the
ZPD that we are working with include recognising the role of the more knowledgeable other as an
expert guide or mentor, a responsive player actively engaged in collaborative learning processes.
They structure problem-solving experiences through which participants may experience what is
“proximal” in their development, achieving more than they might do so independently and
autonomously. This space of experience is one where students learn through experimentation,
problem solving and interactions within the environment. It becomes clear that to cultivate
meaningful learning experiences it is important to understand both teacher and students’ attitudes,
motivations, and perceptions (or constitutional characteristics) but also how the teacher might
select and shape elements that constitute the experience (and impact on the social situation of
development). This may involve curating experiences that are within the arts and creative
education realm. A key argument presented in this article is that these types of experiences,
enabled and expressed through the arts, can enable certain types of perezhivanie and these can open
up opportunities for learning and transformation.
To further understand the nature of experience and the role that the arts can play in perezhivanie,
the work of John Dewey is particularly insightful. As Blunden has also claimed, Dewey’s work
highlights the way that some experiences achieve a sense of significance beyond the everyday and
become “an experience(2010). Writing in 1934, at a similar time to Vygotsky, in Art as Experience
(1934), Dewey describes experience more generally as the process of living, which involves
humans in interaction with environments. His argument is that through art creation processes
individuals may have “anexperience, which achieves a sense of consummation and significance, a
unity and integration:
Experience occurs continuously, because the interaction of live creature and environing
conditions is involved in the very process of living. … Oftentimes, however, the experience
had is inchoate. Things are experienced but not in such a way that they are composed into
an experience.
…. In contrast with such experience, we have an experience when the material experienced
runs its course to fulfilment. Then, and then only is it integrated within and demarcated in
the general stream of experience from other experiences…Such an experience is a whole
and carries with it is own individualizing quality and self-sufficiency. (Dewey, 1934, pp. 36-
37)
Not all experiences become “an” experience: some “lived through” experiences may be
transformative, and these might assume significance over time, through reflective and interpretive
processes.
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Before progressing it is important to consider the different notions of experience and perezhivanie.
This discussion acknowledges the ongoing difficulties with translations of perezhivanie from the
Russian language but also the translation of Dewey’s work (or book title) from English to Russian.
At the Perezhivanie Symposium convened at Monash University in 2015, Nikolai Veresov noted
that in Russian the title of Dewey’s book Art as Experience has been translated using the word opyt,
not perezhivanie. The question was raised regarding whether Dewey was in fact talking about similar
types of experience as Vygotsky. It was suggested that the word opyt implies an experience that is in
the past or is like the “accumulated body of experience” (see Meshcheryakov, in Blunden, 2010). It
was pointed out that Vygotsky’s use of perezhivanie does not necessarily embrace an extended
reflective concept of experience. However, there are two points to be made in response to these
arguments. Firstly, it could be argued that perhaps the Russian translation of Dewey’s book title
may not be entirely appropriate as what Dewey was discussing certainly embraces “lived through”
experiences. A key point of Dewey’s book is that art is not about the objects and products but
about the lived, active process, and consummated experience. Secondly while the reflective,
interpretive integration of experience may not be explicit in Vygotsky’s later work in “The problem
of the environment” (1934/1994), earlier work by Vygotsky on defectology suggests the
importance the interpretive, and the processing of past experiences to envisioning future actions.
This was highlighted in Levykh’s doctoral work as follows:
Reflecting on emotional experiences is vitally important because it might lead to the
following realization… Although these emotional experiences are what one remembers, it
is the realization that these experiences are in the past that makes one's emotional
experiences future-oriented. “All individual psychological phenomena and processes must
be understood not [only] in connection with the past, but with an orientation toward the
future(Vygotsky, 1929/1993, p. 101). [Levykh, 2008, p. 76]
The immediate experience has significance in itself, however there is also a provisionality about it.
Reflection may be engaged in after the event, as the experience is interpreted, made sense of, and
alternatives considered (González Rey, 2009). This reflection may heighten the significance of an
episode in itself or may inform further activity that may extend upon or reinterpret that prior. So
the conception of perezhivanie we are working with likewise embraces such “in the moment” and
“outside the moment” experience, as connected to those past and those oriented towards the
future. The diverse characteristics and components of experience and reflection exist within a unity
that is both discrete to each experience but also extends the singular to become something
transformative. This was described by Dewey as follows:
In art as an experience, actuality and possibility or ideality, the new and the old, objective
material and personal response, the individual and the universal, surface and depth, sense
and meaning, are integrated in an experience in which they are all transfigured from the
significance that belongs to them when isolated in reflection. (Dewey, 1934, p. 309)
Perezhivanie may be considered as a significant, transforming experience, and also a theoretical
concept. Practical exploration and research category might fruitfully investigate not only the
constitutional elements, personality, and social situation of development but explore the
significance and impact of perezhivanie, and curation of such, for teacher and for their students.
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Perezhivanie and art
In relation to art and perezhivanie, art-making offers specific opportunities for perezhivanie that can be
important for human development and learning. Perezhivanie is not confined to the artistic
experience, however various art forms and artistic processes can enable humans (including children)
to encapsulate and shape the experience and enable it to be shared within social and cultural
spheres. An experience might be particularly significant and meaningful for a person and it may be
deeply felt. However, through the arts they may be able to make further sense of it, and make
meaning through expression in aesthetic form. Through art-making the emotions and ideas are not
just “experienced” but selected, shaped, externalised and communicated socially, often in material
form. These are often called expressive forms or art forms including painting, sculpture, dance,
theatre, music, film, and so on. Within and across art forms there are many more specific forms
and genres, with their realising drawing upon a range of materials, techniques, and practices. The
qualities and combinations of such can be shaped to communicate specific intents, ideas, and
feelings. The ideas and feelings then no longer exist only within subjects’ minds: they are
externalised, shaped, transformed, and may be shared with others. This externalisation of emotion
and social power of the arts for enabling humans to share emotional aspects of existence was
something Vygotsky likewise recognised, saying:
Art is the social technique of emotion, a tool of society which brings the most intimate and
personal aspects of our being into the circle of social life. (Vygotsky, 1971, p. 249)
The art-making experience therefore becomes a mediated, expressive, and reflective process
whereby experience is crystallised and emotions externalised in different and productive ways.
In educational contexts these understandings highlight the importance of ensuring students have
opportunities to explore the nature and qualities of different art forms and creative processes. This
can include ensuring children have time to experiment and explore their own feelings and
emotions through various art forms, as well as exploring how other people have expressed ideas
and emotions in other times and various forms. These learning experiences all become crucial for
ensuring children have access to the full range of experience, of perezhivanie, development, and
learning. Having the capacity and confidence to use these expressive modes is important for all
children, but as active leaders and co-players in learning “experiences”, it is also important for all
teachers as well. The teacher’s confidence, their capacity and experience, can have a powerful
impact upon their ability to confidently lead, guide, support, or facilitate the expressive experiences
of their students.
There are many ways that educators may enrich children’s learning “experiences” and potential for
perezhivanie but one artform that offers specific possibilities is that of drama. Therefore for the next
section of this paper we look at the ways that drama processes expand the potential for perezhivanie.
Perezhivanie and metaxis in drama
Within his early and late work, Vygotsky recognsied the important role that the arts, and drama in
particular, can play in cultivating creativity and imagination. In “Imagination and creativity in
childhood” (1930/2004) he specifically discussed the creative nature of dramatic activity and the
special qualities of improvised drama created by children:
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drama, which is based on actions, and, furthermore, actions to be performed by the child
himself, is the form of creativity that most closely, actively, and directly corresponds to
actual experiences … Thus the dramatic form expresses with greatest clarity the full cycle
of imagination. (Vygotsky, 1930/2004, p. 70)
When children themselves are involved in creating the drama, Vygotsky believed the work had
similar characteristics as children’s play. These experiences enabled learning involving imagination
but simultaneously connected to the concrete and real world. In relation to experience and
perezhivanie, drama experiences offer a special kind of “living through” and “experience” because
they use lifelike situations and issues which participants may have an actual experience of, without
having to live with the consequences of real world actions. Drama operates in what Heathcote
(1984) called a “no penalty” zone, where participants can test out experiences but do not have to
live with the actual consequences. Participants may also adopt different perspectives and attitudes;
emotions are engaged and participants may come to feel differently about things through the
experience. While the context and role are fictional, the emotions someone feels may be real
while also being distanced from the real. This is something Vygotsky noted in his discussion of art
and imagination (Vygotsky, 1930/2004). Dramatic experience may therefore enable a wider range
of constitutional characteristics to be explored, with experiences being curated and enacted within
structured and co-constructed learning contexts.
The possibilities for perezhivanie through drama learning can be enhanced through pedagogical
processes characteristic of educational drama or process drama. Process drama is a form of
improvisational drama pioneered by practitioners and theorists such as Dorothy Heathcote
(Wagner, 1976), Gavin Bolton (1984), Cecily O’Neill (1995), John O’Toole (1992), and so forth.
This type of drama is characterised by co-constructed learning experiences, but generally guided by
a leader who may create and negotiate certain parameters and contexts for a group to work within.
The teacher or leader may select mediating materials to situate the framing such as a storybook, a
historical incident, documentary reports, and so on. Throughout the process, participants are
often involved in roleplay and creative problem-solving tasks, developing and sharing dramatic
action. Participants may temporarily take on fictional roles and use different dramatic conventions
to explore and express ideas and emotions. This work can occur in a single session or a series of
linked sessions and often the outcome of the process is not known or pre-determined. The
participants shape and help create a realm of creative inquiry and collaborative imagining, and what
they do helps determine what experience and meaning-making emerges.
The notion of form is significant in shaping the experience. Drama is experience that is selected,
sequenced, shaped, and presented through enacted dramatic form. In the “form” of process
drama, the participant generally takes on a role, which suggests possibilities for entering a fictional
situation. The type of situation or role selected may help offer layers of protection, and different
degrees of emotional intensity, from being a first-person participant within an event, to that of
recorder or more distant critic.
To further understand possibilities for perezhivanie, learning, and development, the concept of
metaxis may contribute to understanding how new and significant meaning making occurs through
drama. This concept may further complement discussions about double subjectivity in relation to
perezhivanie and play (Fleer, 2015), recognising the development and shifts in learning that can
occur through these experiences. The word metaxis is arguably derived from a Greek word,
however Allern (2001) suggests it would more likely (and accurately) be metaxy, with both terms
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being used to describe the condition of in-between-ness that is a structural characteristic of the
human condition. In drama education it has become an important concept used to describe a state
of double subjectivity and simultaneously belonging in two worlds (the real world and that of the
drama). Boal describes metaxis as:
the state of belonging completely and simultaneously to two different, autonomous worlds:
the image of reality and the reality of the image. The participant shares and belongs to these
two autonomous worlds; their reality and the image of their reality, which she herself has
created. (Boal, 1995, p. 43)
The explicit link between the concept of metaxis as used in drama, to Vygotsky’s work can be
traced back to the work of drama education scholar Gavin Bolton (1986) and his discussion of
“dual affect” which is attributed to Vygotsky. He says “two orders of experiencing stimulate what
Vygotsky terms ‘dual affect’, emotional responses which may contradict each other” (Bolton, 1986,
p. 122). The reference to this term in Vygotsky’s work is to be found in the paper “Play and its
role in the mental development of the child” (1933/1966) where he discussed the idea of a “dual
affective plan”. In the text it famously says: “thus, in play a situation is created in which, as Nohl
puts it, a dual affective plan occurs. For example, the child weeps in play as a patient, but revels as a
player” (Vygotsky, 1933/1966, p. 11). So Vygotsky himself actually credits Nohl, but still uses the
term to describe a process whereby through play situations, the child may then carry out a rule of
inner self-restraint and self-determination which may be beyond or contradict what they may do in
real life. Bolton and others have therefore argued that likewise in drama there is often a duality of
role as well as affect engaged through drama work and roleplay. The notion of Vygotsky’s dual-
affect” (while perhaps not accurately ascribed to Vygotsky) has become a foundational
underpinning for the concept of metaxis since Bolton, and referenced in other drama education
publications (O’Connor, 2013; O’Toole, 1992).
The particular qualities of the dramatic situation lie also in how they allow subjects to encounter
and experience emotions in different ways. Bolton explains that the dramatic frame may both
protect participants from, but also protect them into emotional experience:
One way is to say that when we involve ourselves in games, rituals and the arts, we are
protected from distressing emotional reactions by the modifying adjustments of the
practical world i.e. ‘It’s not for real’, the other way is to say that we are protected into
significant emotions that practical living never allows us to express. The explanations may
not be as mutually exclusive as they first appear. That we simultaneously hold both worlds
in our consciousness does have a modifying influence, that we are released from practical
considerations may indeed have a liberating influence (Bolton, 1986, p. 123).
Bolton further points out that there is a diverse array of choices available to the drama teacher or
leader in selecting different dramatic roles, but also the frame of the situation (e.g., taking on role
as a reporter of a violent incident provides greater distance and protection than taking on role as
the victim of the incident). Choices can then be made regarding setting up dramatic roles and
frames with degrees of distance and projection used to protect students or reduce the intensity of
“raw” emotion:
What gives drama education its richness and variety is the wide range of degrees of
projection available. It seems to be the case that where projection is minimal the emotional
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engagement can be more volatile compared with the more contained emotion of a highly
projected form. (Bolton, 1986, p. 130).
The drama experience may therefore cultivate specific forms of perezhivanie, featuring dual
subjectivity and the state of metaxis, opening up zones of experience, but also expression that they
may not otherwise have. The emotions felt may be real, but they are not just “expressed”, but
shaped by the frame and the form. Strange to say perhaps, but emotions may be “felt” even more
deeply because the situation is not real. Furthermore, the pertinence of this type of work to
learning arises when understandings from the world of the drama may affect and impact on
perspectives in the real world as well. In some cases what has been experienced, felt and thought
about through a dramatic experience may impact on the participant’s attitudes and perspectives
within their life roles as well. This can lead to potentially transformative learning and development.
If we recognise that the classroom space is, as Mahn and John-Steiner (2002) suggest, one of joint
activity and creative collaboration, then there is value to be found in considering how the teacher
as well as their students may benefit from sharing these drama and arts-enabled perezhivanie
experiences. In the following case study, the perezhivanie for a teacher and one of their students is
therefore examined. This work emerges from research concerned with experiences and
opportunities for learning arising from a drama and arts-based project that targeted early childhood
teachers.
The Open Storybox experience and teacher learning
The Open Story Box project1 is a professional learning program for early childhood practitioners.
The intent was to design and implement a creative learning model that uses arts-based inquiry
processes to support literacy and arts-based learning for children in the early years. The project
includes professional learning workshops with early childhood educators, supported by providing
each with resources in a storyboxincluding selected children’s literature. As well as a picture
book, the storybox includes informational texts, selected finger puppets, props, poems, music, and
a teacher booklet including a set of sample lesson plans. Teachers are then encouraged to use and
adapt the resources to their own sites and students. A community of practice is created as
participants share their site’s learning through accessing online collaboration sites and
videoconferences over a period of about six weeks.
For the pilot project, approximately 35 teachers/educators across a range of sites in Queensland
and New South Wales were recruited through an expression of interest. Participants included
those from metropolitan/regional centres, large/small schools and centres, experienced/newly
graduated teachers. Teachers and educators were also invited to participate in a related evaluation
and research program. Teachers self-nominated to be involved in such and the process included
gaining the permission of their School Principal or Centre Director. Research ethics approval was
sought, with the study approved via university research ethics protocols (Ref: H14/06-134).
Consent for student participation and documentation was sought from parent/caregivers via the
teacher participants.
The research program sought to investigate the following questions: “What is the nature of
perezhivanie, experience, and learning for the teachers, and in turn for their students emerging from
the arts-based learning processes?” and “What factors appear to be significant in contributing to
learning, development and transformation?” Throughout the project, data was gathered through
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two survey tools used with the teachers, an evaluation form on the day of the professional
development workshop, an online survey at the end of the project, and recordings of four
videoconference sessions with teachers. The documentation and reporting of student learning
relied on what the teachers were able to record and identify, and their voluntary sharing of
documentation and learning stories recorded in their classrooms. These types of documentation
were therefore an extension of their normal teaching practice. This was encouraged through
project having a particular focus on the Reggio Emilia Approach practice of documentation and
documentation walls (Bryant & Gallen, 2003; Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 2012).
As part of the program, teachers experienced a full-day workshop, where they were participants in
drama and arts-based experiences that centred on the selected picture book for the project. The
text chosen was The Long Way Home by Emily Rodda and Danny Snell. The story follows the
journey of a young sugar glider Bright, as she is blown far away from her home one windy day.
With the help of various animal helpers and using a number of significant landmarks she arrives
home just in time for Christmas.
The type of learning model promoted through the program was that of process drama whereby the
teacher becomes a co-constructor and co-player within structured, but open-ended learning
experiences. They may co-create play environments and fictional storyspaces to situate children’s
own dramatic play, but also enter and lead episodes as well. The teacher is therefore an active
participant, but also shares and passes over control as well:
In both the building of fictional contexts and the scaffolding of children to build dramatic
worlds, the teacher can move from teacher-in-role to teacher as co-player. When this
occurs, the experience of co-player is enhanced by the shared understanding of the
dramatic world that has been created by the drama experience (Dunn, 2003, pp. 127-128)
This shift in positioning of the teacher to active participant and co-player can be quite difficult for
some teachers as noted by Dunn. Fleer and Peers (2012; Fleer 2015) have likewise noted that many
Australian early childhood teachers show great reluctance to become actively involved in children’s
imaginary play, subscribing to a philosophy of child-centred and child-led play. It could be argued
however that such an approach often limits the scope of the teacher’s potential for enabling
perezhivanie, and perhaps limiting opportunities for perezhivanie themselves.
In reviewing the data from across the workshop evaluation and survey, a key finding that was
supported was the importance of teachers having had the “lived experiences” themselves. Teachers
enjoyed the opportunity to “play” themselves, to take on role through working with the puppets
and to explore environments through the creative framing. This was especially so when teachers
were able to experience a process they could use with their own students (see Figure 1 for images
of teacher experiences).
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Figure 1: Teachers working dramatically and outside with finger puppets
The findings also highlighted the importance of having a shared experience and being provided
with a package of physical, material resources. These could be seen to provide a set of common
tools and pivots for facilitating work across a series of adjacent or contiguous zones of proximal
development. This first zone involved the teacher working with the project facilitators and other
teachers with a focus on the teacher’s experience and learning. The second involved the teacher
working with their own students. The “storybox experience and materials assumed a key role in
connecting the two zones of experience, providing a set of boundary crossing materials.
What is of relevance to this article is that for some participants the overall experience became a
particularly significant one. This was largely flagged to the researchers through the teachers’
willingness to participate in the online sessions and share what was happening on their site. While
there were four teachers who engaged in this level of committed activity, the following vignettes
will focus on one teacher participant, and then on the subsequent significant experiences for one
of her students. This provides an interesting insight into the possible contiguous and contagious
nature of perezhivanie enabled through the arts-based learning.
Teacher experience and perezhivanie
Kathryn (the second author) is an early childhood teacher. She has been teaching in schools and an
early learning centre for the past seven years after completing her teaching degree as a mature-aged
student. Prior to this project, she did not have a lot of experience in drama based learning, but
often used storytelling and puppets within her classroom and was very committed to enquiry and
play-based learning. She attended the professional learning program with another colleague from
her site and was an enthusiastic participant in the subsequent online collaboration and
communication. Throughout the process, Kathryn applied or translated learning experiences from
the professional learning program into her own context, and it can be argued that the experiences
for her were not only significant but also transformative.
Over a period of weeks after the professional learning day, Kathryn began to use some of the
strategies she had experienced as she sought to find ways to introduce them in ways that were
relevant to her students and their context. Some of the specific strategies she drew upon were
drama conventions such as creating animal shapes in pairs, mirror movement in the style of
selected animals, and so on. She also worked on creating a “storyworld2 and documenting it,
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applying and extending upon strategies she had experienced herself on the professional learning
day.
Day 1
There has been much thought and reflection about how to launch this project with my
class. After my first few days back with the class I decided there were a couple of
opportunities to develop a starting point. Behind the scenes throughout week one I began
introducing some drama conventions: children going in role as an animal character from
our story, making our partner into an animal from the story, as well as using animal
movements for our transitions. (Reflective Diary, July 2014)
Day 2
This morning I introduced the puppets to the early children who were all keen to begin
acting out the story. We needed to go off and find some green material and some blue
material and a tree branch for Bright to land in. We made a list of all the characters and the
children chose which animal they wanted to be.
After morning tea we gathered together and I showed the children the map of the route
Bright and his friends took to get home. We decided together that there were three props
that were really the standouts. A tree, a lighthouse and a river. The children chose which
group they wanted to be in and we set about creating … The children suggested we needed
to get some blue paper for the river. They chose light blue, dark blue, and some green. We
decided we would like to collage the river and they began ripping the paper into small
pieces. (Reflective Diary, July 2014)
What was evident during these early phases was that the significance of her experiences, and her
perezhivanie, grew as she tested out strategies in the classroom, and experienced some success and a
growing sense of confidence. The response from her students was very positive and this along
with the validation she received from the community of other professionals heightened the
significance of the experience and learning. Furthermore, she was reconnecting and reflecting
upon past experience and this contributed to the sense of having “an” experience:
I am finding this whole journey very inspiring and I am learning a lot and remembering old
and new ideas that I haven't tried for a while. (Newsletter 1, content contribution)
Her journey of exploration and discovery continued to develop across the course of the following
six weeks. What was interesting to observe in terms of her work with story and drama was her shift
in experimenting with dramatic role and co-construction with the children. She began to take on
roles and create episodes with and alongside the children, extending her work with puppets, and
even at one stage adapting a bunny suit to become a mother sugar glider. What was clearly evident
in her final feedback was the transformative nature of the experiences for her in terms of
emotional and cognitive engagement and development, a heightened sense of confidence in the
use of these drama and arts-based strategies, and also in herself as an educator.
The project has given me the confidence to pursue my passion for literature and story
telling and continue to develop my love of using puppets to tell stories.
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I have gained confidence to expose my children to more drama activities incorporated in
our program and more confidence in going with the children's take on the story. I’ve
learnt to extend a story rather than just use it as a reading experience.
In terms of the perezhivanie through art for herself, what was evident was her growing development
of a language for naming and describing some strategies she was using. Furthermore, she
expanded her pedagogical toolkit, especially in regards to stepping “inside” the story with the
children. This was particularly completed through the artistic forms of drama—taking on roles and
extending the scope of learning experiences for children through drama, roleplay, and storytelling.
The experience certainly constituted a form of perezhivanie for Kathryn, which assumed greater
significance in terms of her work and life. She has said of this time “for me that experience was
transformative, it changed my life”. Since the conclusion of the project, Kathryn has enrolled in
research higher degree studies and is engaging in a Masters of Education by Research. She is
particularly keen to further explore the possibilities for learning enabled through drama and
storytelling and considering the role and impact of the teacher’s role.
While her experience of perezhivanie is an important story in itself, what is of great interest is the
recognition of how her experience and gift of confidence did not play out in isolation. With the
site of her activity being the classroom, what is important to examine is the impact of her
experience upon those that she worked with, especially her students, as signalled by this comment
in her feedback evaluation:
Story telling and puppetry have become a spontaneous and regular feature of our
classroom and children have become confident and competent storytellers, in particular
with the engagement of our Autistic student.
Student learning and perezhivanie: J’s learning story
J was a four-year-old boy who had been diagnosed as having features consistent with an Autism
Spectrum Disorder. Typically, J was unable to connect to learning experiences without adult
support. In the classroom prior to this project, it was generally a challenge for J to interact with
other children in play experiences. J loved animals and his world of communication was based
around his profound knowledge of whichever animal he was focused on at the time. This would
change periodically, but whatever animal it was, he would fixate on it, carry it around, and all
conversations and interactions would be based around this animal, for example, a whale, a
rhinoceros, kangaroo, and so on.
Over the scope of several weeks, a physical storyworld was created in the classroom (featuring key
landscape features created by children based on those the book) and this was maintained and
extended upon. At various times throughout the day children could play and engage within the
space, sometimes within structured learning experiences and sometimes during unstructured
playtime. What was significant over the course of the project was how J adopted a section of the
storyworld space as his own. He would populate it with various puppets and other animal
figurines and use them to tell stories, many based on the selected text and extending upon it. He
would also take on roles as the animals, and this was facilitated through the puppets, figurines, and
animal masks. Other children respected this space as “his” space but were also invited to play
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alongside J within it. The following learning story, written by Kathryn after the event, captured one
of the significant experiences that occurred and seeds of possible perezhivanie:
Today I put out the finger puppets to see if anyone was interested in acting out the story.
Six girls came over and organised roles. They asked me to be the narrator and our story
began. Not long into it, the wallaby puppet broke. J was over in another corner of the
room playing with the animals. He came over to us carrying a kangaroo/ wallaby figurine.
“Oh I see, there's a wallaby. Hey sugar glider here. Bright I'm right over here. There's your
family”. As J moves into the space where the family tree is he repeats, “Excuse me Bright.
I'm over here. Here's your family. Fly now!”
Some children had had enough and left the area, but two girls stayed and continued to
retell the story with J. One said, "Let's do the story and you put the family in the tree”.
(Learning story, 15 August, 2014)
What this learning story described was a significant experience for J. Through curated learning
experiences introduced through the story, the dramatic framing, and the tools and artefacts of the
puppets, he was provided with some new means for experience. He was able to use them to
negotiate his way into new social situations and these crossed over both the fictional dramatic
frame but also into the “realclassroom frame. This was not an isolated incident and signaled the
establishment of a zone of experience that J continued to inhabit, explore, learn, and express
within. As time went on J made connections to other children through using dramatic roles,
storytelling, and puppet shows. The children learnt that J would always be in the story in role as
whatever animal he brought with him. He also voluntarily joined in group drama and roleplay
experiences, once he knew he would be able to take on an animal role (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: J voluntarily participating within a group roleplay experience
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A key shift, in terms of the impact of experience working with drama, related to shifts in his
engagement, but also the expression of his learning within a social sphere. Previous to this project,
he would always recite facts about the animals he was interested in at the time. Conversations
were not reciprocal, but rather a relaying of facts. However, during the drama and storytelling he
would take on a role as a character and roleplay rather than recite facts. He also began to have
more social interactions; connections with a core group of girls in particular, who were patient with
him and also happy to follow his lead.
These experiences could be argued to represent perezhivanie for J through which he was able to
access new zones of experience, which extended his learning and development. The introduction
of dramatic and fictional framing provided him with a means for sharing his learning in ways that
were more socially acceptable and productive for him and facilitated his entry into ongoing social
relationships within the classroom context. The use of artefacts such as finger puppets, figurines,
and masks operated as boundary objects that stimulated and facilitated his activity within and
across frames (fictional and real) and we can see features of metaxis with learning crossing the
boundaries between the dramatic play and “real” life. Contagious learning could also be seen at
play, stemming from the perezhivanie of the teacher, their subsequent curation of, and interaction
within learning experiences, which further stimulated the perezhivanie of the student enabled
through art (in particular, drama and dramatic play).
Conclusions
An examination of the concept of perezhivanie in educational contexts highlights the opportunities
available to educators in designing and interacting within learning experiences to cultivate
transformative learning, not only for their students but also themselves. This paper also draws on
Dewey’s work to acknowledge the special qualities of art-making processes to enable subjects to
have an experience, living through something of significance, shaped through form. It has also
been argued that the artform of drama can provide a means for opening up different zones for
experience and affective learning. The fictional framing of drama offers both layers of protection
but also opportunities to “feel” things outside the scope of everyday experience.
The case study presented suggests that, in educational contexts, it is important to consider the
experiences and perezhivanie of educators themselves and how they shape and design the
environment the scope for experiences for their students. With respect to learning, development,
and the possibilities for students to have an experience, there are many decisions that can be made
and these include the teacher stepping inside the creative world and interacting within it alongside
their students. Educators play important roles as guides and participants within experiences which
students live through, may be challenged by, and gain new insights from. Educators need to
consider their own experiences and confidence as well, recognising the contagious nature of their
own perezhivanie and impact on children’s experience and learning within their classrooms. The gift
of confidence for the teacher is also a gift of confidence to their students, enabling them and their
students to explore and express their feelings and ideas through the rich expressive means available
to us as humans.
Acknowledgements
The authors acknowledge and appreciate the input and suggestions of the reviewers and the
journal editors.
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1 The Open Storybox model was first developed through a partnership between CQUniversity and the Sydney Theatre
Company in 2014.
2 We use the term “storyworld” as it references the “playworlds” work of Linqvist (1995), Ferholt (2015), and others,
but with a more specific focus on creating and inhabiting the world of a story or book, but also with supporting
children’s capacity to explore and create their own stories as well.
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Authors
Susan Davis is Senior Lecturer at CQUniversity in education and the arts. Her research has
focused on drama, engagement, digital technologies and cultural-historical theory.
Correspondence: s.davis@cqu.edu.au
Kathryn Dolan has fourteen years experience as an Early Childhood, and is currently working as a
kindergarten teacher in an Early Learning Centre. Kathryn was involved in the initial Open Story
Box Project and is now completing her Masters of Education by Research.
Correspondence: kathryn.dolan@cqumail.com
... Conflicts are embedded inside the storyline, and the method supports children in experiencing the unknown in a secure, fictional environment. This perspective also includes research on disorders within the autistic-spectra, where research following similar methodology supported children in their exploration of the environment without having emotional crises [55]. ...
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... The second category of research involves educational methods for creating meaningful learning situations [55], a category that focuses on contextualised learning situations for creating common meanings [47] and positive emotional involvement from groups of children through the use of fairy tales [19], games [73], play-worlds [73], and role play [55]. Using perezhivanie as the unit of analysis does indeed provide a fine-grained level of analysis, which when applied to early years education can help educators to support the development of emotional regulation and positive attitudes toward different topics. ...
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The discussion on the intellectual-cognitive aspect of a child's learning and development in science has a long history. However, less is known about the interrelation between the intellectual, affective, and enactive aspect of young children's learning and development in science, how these aspects intertwine in praxis, and how can be empirically documented. The present study seeks to capture and explore the dialectic interrelations between intellect, affect, and action during science experiences within early childhood educational settings. The initial sample of the study involved one hundred and thirteen (113) kindergarten students, within the age range of 4.5 to 6.5 years old. Empirical data were collected during joint science-oriented activities centered on the natural phenomenon of clouds. Indicative case examples are presented. The cultural-historical concept of perezhivanie was used as the main analytical tool. The findings made visible the processes through which children make sense and shape their understandings of the natural phenomenon through cognitive, emotional as well as physically and bodily charged situations during everyday educational reality. The qualities and the nature of science learning in the early years are unpacked. The paper concludes with insights into how the findings address ongoing methodological challenges in the field and inform pedagogical practice.
... Vygotsky's construct of perezhivanie (Vygotsky, 1994) (which is interpreted as 'lived experience' or 'emotional lived experience') is useful in drama education as the learning focuses on human experience and emotions. When in role, pupils cultivate the 'lived emotional experience' through dramatic action by interpreting the actions (and reactions) of their role in relation to those around them, and, by default, provides the opportunity to alter their behaviors in action (Davis and Dolan, 2016). Therefore, using the lived experience of the role and the environmental situation of the drama (perezhivanie) empowers participants to broaden their experience and make new understandings through the dramatic form (Heathcote, 1984). ...
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This case study explores how pupils might address the issues of bullying and friendships during primary-secondary transition through drama conventions. The research was implemented on the west coast of Scotland during the final four weeks of primary education in three associated primary seven classes. Research methods included pupil questionnaires (primary and secondary school), teacher observations, researcher’s diary, semi-structured interviews (teachers) and a focus group (pupils). The data suggest that some pupils conceptualized their primary-secondary transition as ‘moving up’. However, as the drama developed pupils recognized the multiple and multi-dimensional aspects of their transition. In addition, pupil and teachers indicated that when pupils engage with a drama transition curriculum, it supports the promotion of friendships while diminishes fears and provides strategies for those who might encounter bullying.
... These memories tell us a little about the teaching methods used, influence of prevailing theories and the value of shared musical events to extend children's conceptual development. It also introduces the idea of perezhivanie which is a Vygotskian term that has become popular (Davis and Dolan 2016). The anecdotes told above, and the stories shared by the participants in the following chapters have a significance for the protagonists. ...
Chapter
This chapter presents insights into a collaborative musical journey that a group of preschool children took with their two preschool teachers, in Belgrade (Serbia). These preschool teachers offer their views, thoughts, aspirations and observations about a music project that culminated in a performance. In this chapter we describe and reflect on this endeavour and the resulting multi-media end-of-year performance titled: Ruke oko Sveta, deca Majskog Cveta (Arms around the world: Children of the Majski Cvet; Majski Cvet is a name of the early childhood setting). We explore the motivations for the theme chosen for the concert, unpack the process of creating a concert and analyse the video recording of the performance using one child, Teodora, as a unit to evaluate the experience. A socio-cultural contextual view of children and their learning framed this story. The aim of the project was to exploit music as a language of childhood and its capacity to inspire intercultural dialogue within an educational setting. The teachers sought to help the young children to overcome anxiety about a nearby asylum seeker camp. This emphasis is discussed as well as the efficacy of using music as a socio-cultural tool.
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This book provides readers with an overview of the implications for research of the theoretical work which acknowledges a debt to the writings of L.S. Vygotsky. A concise introduction to Vygotsky's original thesis and discussions on his approach to research methods is given; this is followed by an exploration of the research practices which have arisen in fields developed on the basis of his original thesis. These include: Socio-cultural studies with a focus on mediated action; Distributed Cognition, Situated Cognition and Activity Theory. To aid understanding, chapters devoted to each area will provide excellent accounts of specific studies which illustrate the underlying methodological principles and the specific methods which are being deployed. In each case assumptions and limitations are discussed. The book concludes with some proposals for future developments at both methodological and conceptual levels.
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Dramatic Interactions in Education draws together contemporary sociocultural research across drama and educational contents to draw out implications for researchers and practitioners both within and outside the field. Drama is a field for which human interactions, experience, emotional expression, and attitude are central, with those in non-arts fields discovering that understandings emerging from drama education can provide models and means for examining the affective and relational domains which are essential for understanding learning processes. In addition to this, those in the realm of drama education and applied theatre are realising that sociocultural and historical-cultural approaches can usefully inform their research and practice. Leading international theorists and researchers from across the UK, Europe, USA and Australia combine theoretical discussions, research methodologies, accounts of research and applications in classroom and learning contexts, as they explore concepts from Vygotsky's foundational work and interrogate key concepts such as perezhivanie (or the emotional, lived experience), development of self, zone of proximal development. - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/au/dramatic-interactions-in-education-9781472576910/#sthash.RhZuzmt9.dpuf
We call any activity of a person that creates anything new, creative activity. This includes the creation of any kind of inner world or construction of the mind that is experienced and observed only in humans. Looking at human behavior, we can distinguish two basic forms of construction. One form of activity can be called reproductive, and is closely connected with memory, its essence consisting in a person's reproducing or retrieving traces of previous impressions. When I remember the house in which I spent my childhood or a remote country I sometimes visit, I reproduce traces of the impressions I obtained in early childhood or at a time of a journey. In general, in all these cases this activity of mine is not creating anything new; basically, it is more or less just a return of what was.
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Experience is one of the most used terms in (science) education, and it is recognized as being related to learning (education). Yet what experience is and how it is related to learning and change remains untheorized. In this paper, we mainly draw on the work of J. Dewey and L. S. Vygotsky but also on M. Bakhtin and more recent advances on the topic of experience from French philosophy to contribute to a theory of this important category. Accordingly, experience is not something that belongs to or is had by individuals but rather denotes transactions in and across space and time within irreducible person-in-setting units; and it is perfused with an affect that is not (only) the result of mental constructions. An episode from an Australian physics classroom is used to exemplify what such a theory and its method-related implications have to accomplish in the analysis of concrete science lessons.