day one #tatesummerschool

This year the Summer School is about gender. Advance material explains:

2017’s Summer School uses art and the gallery to support teachers in understanding what gender is, queer theory, feminism, trans, intersex, and non-binary genders; and asks how making and being with art can support young people to explore and express their gender identity, thinking through teaching and learning practices.

All of us attending had signed up to/for this invitation.

When we arrived at the Exchange (Tate Modern), we found the space divided into several ‘rooms’. There were clothes lines, tables of art materials, a book shelf, and various arrangements of screens and chairs. It was clear that Travis and Linda (the curating artists) had been very busy and that these various spaces were designed to host distinct activities – although the exact nature of the activities we were yet to understand.


There’s that pink wig!

The morning was spent getting to know each other, and the focus of the summer school. We began sitting in a circle and discussed our preferred gender pronouns. Linda recorded our preferences. We established some rules that would operate throughout the week – being generous, apologising when we got things wrong. One section of clothes line became a repository for questions and comments that could be asked anonymously. We practiced writing a question. We were encouraged to continue to record questions during the week.


Linda and Travis

We then moved to an enclosed space to explore the usual gender binary and variations which disrupt it – for example, queer, inter sex, gender neutral. This was necessarily a long process, and a lot of information was on offer.

In the afternoon, following a short drama-based warmup led by Travis, we moved to the gallery to work in pairs. We had to find an alien body, and think about its qualities, including its gender, movement, differences from human bodies.


alien body exercise

What can be surmised from appearances? What can we imagine for this body that is like us, not like us? We then came back to the Exchange, and discussed our experiences with others at our table, while making an alien body from clay or plasticine.


clay body

The last activity of the day was working on the Summer School timeline. We recorded our responses in post-its and emojis – we got to write on the wall at Tate 🙂  – and noted further questions for tomorrow.


timeline record

During the day, Travis and Linda made their own pedagogical moves explicit,: for example,  they introduced an idea such as writing a question and pinning it up, and then had us practise it straight away. Some of their strategies – such as waving hands to show agreement, or saying “ouch” if something was upsetting – had been developed in workshops with young people and were offered to us as something to be done not only during the week, but also as resources to take back to school. Travis and Linda continued to alert us to the necessity of the work we were engaged in – for example, they pointed to statistics which suggested the likelihood that teachers already worked with children and young people who were either uncertain about gender or who had a non-binary gender preference. They combined permission, information, encouragement and legitimation through their conversation, a blend for us to adopt too, if we choose.

Pedagogical pointers

  1. Spend time finding out what people already know
  2. Introduce vocabulary and definitions about core ideas and design activities for their use
  3. When discussing a topic around which there are variable knowledges, and the potential for hurtful comment, it is important to establish clear agreements, and processes for handling difficulties
  4. Give time for clarification of ideas and uncertainties
  5. Offer an activity which allows for an imaginative and playful engagement with the core concept (the principle of serious fun)
  6. Structure time for both individual and group reflection
  7. The group can be a resource for each other’s learning, but this potentially asks more of some people than others. Make this possibility clear – and unacceptable*.


Linda’s cartoon of me. Expect to see this again in the future. 

* I always think here of Elizabeth Ellsworth’s important paper, Why doesn’t this feel empowering? It was written at a different time, but her critiques still stand.

















About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in Tate Summer School, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to day one #tatesummerschool

  1. Rebecca Bourgault says:

    What kind of questions were asked? Can you give us examples?


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