Scratch: Making and Being Made?

Traditionally, disciplines including art, music, dance and drama were considered to be the creative aspects of the school curriculum – but times are changing. And now, children and young people are using technology to be creative in new and unprecedented ways. As a consequence, they are embodying the multiple identities as: learners, collaborators, artists, designers and as computer programmers in parallel spaces both physically and virtually.

Players and Programmers

Scratch is a visual programming environment developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. It encourages users to create animations, games, stories and interactions using drag-and-drop programming blocks as described by Marji (2014). Scratch is used as a tool for teaching programming in both primary and secondary schools, and because of this, it is a familiar platform for exploration and creativity. Surrounding this platform is a diverse-yet-inclusive community of both players and programmers. But what is fundamentally unique about these roles is that they are not fixed, and as a result the outcomes of the interactions in these spaces are striking and if observed, may even influence perceptions about what creativity might mean.
Just as you would expect to see in a playground, as both players and programmers, children are able to choose their role based upon their confidence or experience. Some prefer to watch from the side by consuming other projects or by following instructions or tutorials without sharing. I have found that for many children this helps to develop their confidence before stepping into the role of a programmer and sharing their creations with others. I believe that when they decide to embody the role of a programmer, they are actually looking to establish a dialogic interaction with others for friendship, support/encouragement, teaching and for advertising themselves or their abilities.

A View from the Classroom

While teaching computing several weeks ago I overheard some pupils talking. As part of their topic on Space, I had been teaching pupils in Year 5 programming through the context of creating a video game based upon the classic arcade game Space Invaders. Ali got out of his chair with laptop in hand and began to walk around the classroom, searching for someone to show what he had on his screen. Despite my usual expectations of being seated during the lesson, Ali, who is small for his age and ordinarily softly-spoken, was suddenly very animated. Instead of intervening, I decided to watch as events unfolded, to better understand his reasoning for breaking the rules.
He stood beside Leon (whom I would consider the most-able programmer in that class) and asked him to play his unfinished game. Leon agreed, thinking perhaps that Ali might have needed help from him, as Ali watched. The two exchanged while both pointing towards the screen, but Leon’s face looked more inquisitive than authoritative. A minute or so later, Ali contentedly walked back to his seat and resumed the activity as though what I had seen hadn’t happened.
At the first opportunity I went over to Ali to ask him about why he had got out of his seat to speak to Leon. Ali said that he wanted to show Leon because only Leon would ‘get it’. He explained that he added several customisations that he learnt at home from using Scratch into his game to make it more exciting. When I asked him whether he used Scratch a lot outside of school, he explained that after learning how to use it in an after-school club he decided to create his own account so he could comment on and remix other peoples’ projects. But what startled me was that he said that Leon and several others at the school had started a studio (meaning a collaborative group space) – which I had no idea about! He added that they would work on projects as a group, giving encouragement and support to others and problem solving collectively.

Digital Engagement & The 4P’s

Reflecting on the events above it was clear to see that Ali was just seeking the validation and support he was used to online. Collaborating with Leon and the others, empowered him create and improve upon his work. In both the work he was doing at home online and the work he was doing at school demonstrated the ways he was purposefully and creatively engaging online. The features of this type of engagement has many similarities to the 4P’s of digital engagement in childhood described by Craft (2011; 2012; 2013): Possibilities of transforming from ‘what if’ to ‘as if’; Participation through democratic and dialogic interactions; Playfulness of engagement (the exploratory drive); and Pluralities of identities (people, places, activities, literacies).
Further to this Craft (2012) suggests that engagement in this way contributes to possibility thinking which is said to be the driving force behind little-c creativity. She describes little-c creativity as an ‘everyday’ creativity used democratically to innovate or problem solve, distinct from mini-c creativity (Beghetto and Kaufman 2007) and from big-c or pro-c creativity (ibid 2009).

Wise Humanising Creativity

The idea of being able to view Scratch as both a platform and a tool for moving from ‘what if’ to ‘as if’ opens up many possibilities. It enables children and young people to transition from their physical identity as learners and novices asking ‘what if’, to that of experts who share and collaborate in the Scratch community – acting ‘as if’ they were real programmers and designers. Craft (2012) also elaborates on this by describing: question-posing, play, immersion, innovation, risk-taking, being imaginative and self-determination, as features of possibility thinking – all of which seem to be inherent of the experience when creating and collaborating using Scratch. Thus, this platform for creating animations, games, stories and interactions – becomes something really powerful. Almost overriding the discourses on childhood ‘at risk’ and learning as individual.

Further to this, the concept of Wise Humanising Creativity (WHC) was conceived by Chappell and Craft (2011) and Chappell et al (2011). This perspective of creativity focuses on the key features of the engagement offered by Scratch. This has been defined by Craft (2012: 179) as being:

“…grounded in a reciprocal relationship between the collaborative generation of new ideas and identities, fuelled by dialogues between the participants and the world outside…”

The preference for nurturing WHC comes from its intentions. It is a type of creativity that is guided by ethical action and the consequences of creative activity. It sits in direct opposition to the traditionalist and performative rhetorics of creativity (Banaji and Burn 2010) and seeks to empower through ‘quiet revolutions’. It relies on collective action, collaboration and dialogic exchange. And finally it favours self-expression and so-called ‘journeys of becoming’ and the relationship between creativity and identity.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Scratch offers not only a platform, but also the tools for children and young people to be creative. Its ability to foster WHC supports the transition away from traditionalist and performative rhetorics of creativity, towards a democratic and inclusive type of creativity which promotes dialogic exchange, self-expression and collaboration. This is of significance to those understanding the tensions of elitist conceptions of creativity – as it recognises that all contributions are valid.

Furthermore, I believe the relationship in WHC between creativity and identity is paramount. In the process of making when using Scratch, children and young people are being made. When creating and collaborating on their work with others, they embody the role of the expert: sharing their thoughts, ideas and knowledge and acting as both learner and teacher. From this, they engage in change and the process of becoming to: problem solve, explore, navigate and take risks.

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