Writing in LEGO®

A skip for unwanted attitudes:  detail from Alison's CoP model
A skip for unwanted attitudes:
detail from Alison’s CoP model

A bit of background. Long before Alison trained as a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator, she had already experimented with using LEGO® to construct her version of a pedagogic research project using Wenger’s communities of practice framework (see Chapter 9).  At the time this had been born of a night-before-the-morning-after panic of getting ready to present research progress to colleagues and realising she had done the archetypal student thing of not reading the brief: this informed her that she was expected to produce an A1 size visual to depict her findings. This, at 8 pm at night, was not going to happen. Instead she dived into the toy cupboard and dragged out a jumbled box of her son’s – and own (from days of yore) LEGO®. The next morning she carried a vast and delicate model on a crowded commuter train and survived, and was forgiven for having strayed from the instructions. From that moment she was determined to find other ways of using LEGO® to express her daily activities.


We promised in the book that we would share one of the ways we communicated while writing together, alongside emails, Skype sessions, phone calls, and infrequent meetings in London, often when Stephen was en route somewhere else. What we share here, with no little trepidation, are our experiences of sharing models and narratives constructed through a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® approach.

These were my (Alison’s) attempts to provide Stephen with a visual account of how I was feeling about the emerging book, and where I thought we had got to. They were never intended for public use, and in fact I had never meant for anyone – not even Stephen – to see the first one, as I made it to try and straighten out things I felt (even when I was not sure I felt them – even less articulate them) so I could see where to go to next. The only reason I showed it to Stephen was because he asked to see something which gave him a better idea of the methodology in practice. As I hit play, I suddenly remembered I had talked about Stephen and given him a tower and a very big hat. I did not breathe for six minutes (ok, slight exaggeration) as I was not sure how this might be received. Thankfully, he appreciated the playful spirit of the movie and suggested further movies at staging posts along the way, to accompany the emailed chapters, and more focussed discussions of content.

The reasons for my nervousness in sharing them here is that they provide a window into the rambling mind and varying levels of confidence of someone wading through the process of writing collaboratively. As they were not made initially for public sharing, the film quality is poor, wonky, unedited and in some places a telephone rings or a kettle sings. These things may add to the authenticity of the viewing but not necessarily to the aesthetic. I’m including them a) because we said we would and b) in the hope that they provide a useful illustration of how the process of building reflections on writing to share with a long-distance co-author may add something to shared understandings. It certainly worked for us.

The first video

was recorded after I had completed a student workshop in May 2012, where they had been constructing models of learning experiences, just as we describe in our case study in Chapter 6. To me, it reveals some of the angst you experience when matching your own beliefs and experiences about your subject matter against the existing literature and established thinking in the field.

Video 2

followed six weeks later and sums up those end-of-academic-year feelings when energy is running low and the tally of jobs to finish is running high.

Video 3

was made in the summer vacation (hence the domestic interruptions) and there are signs of positivity and confidence building, as well as awareness of significant work still to do.

Video 4

in all its greyness is indicative of a period of doubt over how coherently our material was being welded together and how we were articulating our central theme.

Stephen played all four videos together after receiving video 4 and could see a real pattern emerging in terms of mood and belief in my thinking: “I watched this one last; it was interesting to see your increasing confidence about the project – this first one has a far more tentative tone. The dark mother ship – ominous color ‘the mothership of doom’, ‘arctic voyage into the unknown’. Crikey! Confusion and jumbled-ness – but a hothouse that flourishes in later videos.”
There was plenty to enjoy in the models too – “I love the good ship Brookfield-James. Though from now on let’s call it the good ship James-Brookfield. And I have a large collection of cowboy hats (honest!) so that should be on me as well as you”, “The spectres of timekeeping, the web of end of year reports, the crocodile in the garden – wonderful metaphors!The tractor of authorship! I’m really starting to ‘get’ this technique a lot better”while he was also glad he was not the tyrannosaurus…Just a few of these random reflections indicate, I think, how being able to share the movies brought our thinking alive to one another.
It was only in gathering together resources for this website that I realised I had had a flurry of movie making early on, but had never produced a final film.

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