Artists stimulated interest and excitement through 'the provocation'

Artists used provocations as a stimulus to meaning making. They inserted an unfamiliar object, image, sound, person, event or action into familiar circumstances. When students encountered something or someone deliberately ambiguous, unexpected, strange, out of place, open and/or contingent, they had to use their existing knowledge and their imaginations to make sense of it.  The provocation provided a platform for thinking of ideas and possibilities. The provocation demanded an explanation, a rationale for appearing in their location.

The story-makers that we saw regularly used provocations. One had been a dinosaur which travelled around the country sending the children letters from a range of unfamiliar places. Another sang outside the classroom door.   Some routinely brought objects into the class to ‘kick off’ storymaking sessions.

A story of a provocation

Mike asks the children to sit down in their circle and he sits in a chair he has situated behind him. He produces a folded white handkerchief from his pocket, swirls it in the air to release it and then pulls it along the bias to form a long strip. He then ties a knot in the middle. He pauses to look at the children who are watching silently, expectantly. Mike then lifts the handkerchief with two hands, holding each side of the knot so that he forms a shape that could be taken as a head and legs. He begins to move the legs around, and the handkerchief becomes a creature which can walk, hop, limp and jump. He introduces small noises as the creature moves. Sometimes it is appealing, at others funny, at one point it transforms into something menacing. After a few minutes the children are also moving, craning forward, some reaching out their hands, some moving their hands to manipulate an imaginary handkerchief creature of their own. They clearly want to do this themselves. As Mike distributes materials that the children can use to make their own creature, they are already thinking about what they will construct, what kind of character will feature in their story today.

Video materials

A selection of videos from our Vimeo channel on provocation can be viewed below.