International Journal of Education & the Arts

Volume 1 Number 2

May 15, 2000

Action Poetry as an Empowering Art
A Manifesto for Didaction in Arts Education

Francois Victor Tochon
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Didaction is an expressive action in search of internal consistency; ongoing appraisal of it develops and establishes indexical connections and relations with the socially useful aspects of creative and evolutionary production. So defined, the didactive perspective is postmodern. It situates Arts education in the autonomous possibility of constructive emergence from the relation with others. In its artistic and discursive expressions, this connection is creative. It is partially explicable–duly made explicit through momentary consensual anticipations; but in its creative originality, it eludes the representational exhaustiveness upon customary school evaluations rest. Evaluation becomes assessment/appraisal. Appraisal is the product and the process of creation or action, rather than its criterion-based anticipation. Adoption of this position leads to a fresh denunciation of the instructional myth according to which it is possible to plan the representational course or trajectory of others' learning. In contrast to this myth, didaction is a personal affair; it does not differ from the representational and motivational possibilities of the individual as expressed in the learning process. The examples of didaction provided here come from action poety in the Francophone world: in Switzerland, Ontario, and the West Indies.

Those who adopt a postmodern position would have it that the border between science and art is fuzzy. Both art and science rest on a set of paradigmatic connections that emerge from shared practices. Both science and art are communitarian practices based on convictions inherent in the establishment of rules and local values. In short, both scientific and artistic culture emerge from historicized actions and thus, necessarily, from literature. The postmodern attitude defines a way of thinking and a methodological proceeding related to the superstructures of knowledge and action. In this underlying framework of approach and assumption against the traditional sense of objectivity, ontological uncertainty arising from the loss of the one and best way puts the social actor in search for new ways of expression. Postmodern selfhood articulates itself in the quest for a new shared meaning and metacommunication in a reflective community. Along the line suggested by Bachelard in 1932, selfhood is never fully realized but in the immediate instant, hic et nunc. Thus the postmodern identity appears always contingent and is linked to the realization of ephemera.

According to this contemporary conception of things, cultures spring from linguistic and communicative specificities proper to various fields of action. These fields of action correspond to expressive paradigms suited to the construction of specific cultural values. In this respect, postmodernism reconciles literature and action, whereas the contextual dimension of literary action partly eluded structuralism. The present article, which employs the essay mode, explores, through specific poetic performances, the possible transposition from social action to original creation, despite, and indeed within, the frame of reference of the school. The article will analyze the didactic implications of the poetic transposition into action and the construction of a possible ethics of a postmodern, empowering action literature by means of the poetic sign.

Through several narratives of experience, and under the theme of “The Arts and Learning”, the article will present lived processes of poetic emergence in French-speaking Switzerland and Francophone Northern Ontario. These processes suggest that it would be beneficial to transcend the usual structural options in instruction on the literary art object, given the integrative possibilities of action and of poetic action in particular. In order to integrate the dynamics of creation, didactics in schools could work from active, poststructuralist principles and become “didactive”, that is pedagogically active along a trend that defines learning as the creation of entirely new knowledge, concepts and artefacts.

School Genres and Didactics of the Poetic Arts

The international educational trend called “didactics” appears to be almost unknown in the English-speaking world, although it constitutes a major movement in many non-English-speaking countries. Defined in a simple and jargon free manner, didactics is the study of meaning-making processes in one specific subject-matter or discipline. Though it would be reductive to assimilate didactics with 'curriculum & instruction' at large: it studies the particular relationships that exist and are actualized between the three poles of the didactic triangle composed of the learner, the teacher, and the disciplinary subject-matter. Research into, and the practice of, didactics are based on the premise that we can construct a pedagogy for each subject matter taught: a didactics of language, a didactics of mathematics, a didactics of the arts, and so on. In its current form, didactics emphasizes the singularity of each teaching situation and attempts to integrate academic content with current theories of education and pedagogy (Bertrand and Houssaye, 1999). It is based upon the assumption that the relationship to knowledge is different in each discipline, and is specific to particular objects of knowledge. For instance the relationship that students of the 5th grade may have with a particular mathematical topic relates to pedagogical problems that can be very different from those that the same students may have with learning to brush a portrait in Fine Arts. Each specific type of knowledge should have its specific pedagogy. You cannot teach a classical language like Latin as any modern language: the emphasis is not conversational in Latin, and the oral exchange does not have the same value; and so on for each discipline. In a sense, didactics is the study of the disciplinary, pedagogical differences that are the most useful to teachers. The emphasis here is on the “newness” of didactic trends in educational research. The fact is that didactics is a very lively field of research in many countries, and any old-fashioned associations that may cling to the word “didactic” in the English-speaking world should be dismissed in connection with this field (Tochon, 1999).

This article will show how creation and action may transcend subject-matter planning in the fields of the arts and learning. Indeed, it is inherently paradoxical to try to plan authentic creation (Tochon, in press). The notion of authentic action and creation in a classroom setting may be presumptuous: how can one prepare for situations that will promote authenticity? The creative arts are actualized in a setting that is usually less than authentic. Ways of producing authenticity in a school setting remain mysterious. There are indications of communicative authenticity in children's behavior, but it is not clear that it serves school goals. Thus there is a gap between authentic creation or action as planned for the classroom and authentic creation or action as experienced in real life, despite the artificial context.

Herewith, then, a proposal for “didaction”, a new kind of instructional action: not top-down and planning-oriented, but bottom-up and based in lived actualization.

In outline, then, this article presents some characteristics of didaction:
  1. Didaction proceeds from the natural flow of a personal initiative occurring within a frame that predisposes to autonomous individual action and the follow-up to its achievement (Csiksentmihalyi and Csiksentmihalyi, 1988).
  2. Didaction sets up the value of life as action and thus assumes a political, meaningful, and creative dimension.
  3. Didaction rests on a consensual, flexible ethics adapted to the creative context.
  4. Didactive appraisal progresses as action unfolds and in relation with the progressive clarity of representation of the goal.

Experiences from French-speaking Switzerland

Postmodernism has granted biographic writings a whole new form of legitimacy. It is in this spirit that I will here present how certain esthetic reflections led me to conceive of action poetry from 1982 to 1986 in the French-speaking region of Switzerland, known as la Suisse romande. Action poetry is poetry put into action, a kind of poetic action-research that intends to change social life in a poetic way. As poetics relate to meaning-making processes, action poetry can be framed into didaction, an action that is aimed to change society in an educational way. This narrative of experience suggests a break between a didactics of the poetic object within a structuralist frame of reference and lived action flowing from (Note 1) the poem. Actually when poetry becomes action, the poetic act is more than an ephemeral urban decor: it becomes—etymologically speaking—a political call. At the time the events unfolded, I was struggling against the disappearance of the poetic in the city of Geneva (Roth, 1983; Sola, 1987).

Papering the City with Poems

At the time an active member of Geneva's authors' society, I was grieved by the disappearance of poetry from urban life. Poetry interested few people, publishers of poetry barely survived. After all, who had the time to read poetry? It was thus that I conceived the idea of papering the city with poems. The cities of Geneva and Vernier allocated money for the posting of 77 poems on public billboards for a period of one month (Tochon, 1985a). The action itself took place in March and April, 1985.


  Every poem was inscribed by hand on an original background created in acrylics by the painter Mireille Wagnière (except for ten backgrounds done by the graphic artist Helen Tilbury). This was evanescent artwork: a month later, the poems had been covered over with advertising. Nevertheless, this exercise in action poetry triggered a rash of articles in daily newspapers and magazines (Martin, 1985a; Matter, 1985) and radio and television programs.

A Vast Poem for Peace

Still in the same vein, the billboard company allotted a huge downtown space for the posting of a poem for peace for two months. The background the poem was inscribed upon was an acrylic collage by painters Denise Rauss and Isabelle Lebeau. This was recognized by the Guiness book of records for Europe as the largest poem in the world. It was placed on metal panels which the billboard company needed to recover. Thus, after being exhibited, the poem was destroyed.

Click on the image to
   see a larger version of the poem. File size is 800K.

Poetry Students in the Arts

The initiative did not pass unnoticed by students, who fell into step with it. They created poems to musical backgrounds, some of which were recorded in studio; and they painted poem posters, several of which were put up in town. A poem by a student named Séverine Michellod was posted in the Old City and attracted the attention of a journalist who dedicated a whole page to the subject in a local weekly. A year later, Geneva poet Huguette Junod launched another initiative deriving from this whole experience. As well, since that time, giant poems on billboards have turned up from time to time.

In action poetry, action produces an image. Action, which, before all else, is abstract, erects a set of values into a symbol. These values cannot be separated from the context and the field of action, and yet they present the sign as a means of reaching beyond the semantic connections usually promoted by the city. Through poetry, the city appears to be rejuvenated.

The Art of the Heart

During this time, metamorphosis had been felt as a transcendence of the structuralist and of structuralist fixity. The wave of poems of 1984-1985 aimed first and foremost to convey a sense of poetry as urban essence or urban psyche, but the very material nature of the sign transformed into action caused this process to evolve; action was the bearer of poetry, and poetry seemed initially to be the sole goal, sufficient unto itself as it emerged as a value revealed to the world. Although this poetry touched the city, at the outset politics were almost wholly absent from it, as though the necessary transformation must be internal, and any expression besides change itself were undesirable. In reality, however, the poetry intrinsic in the presentation of its own signs was becoming political, almost, one might say, etymologically, from the moment it penetrated urban life. How could billboard poems be nearly free of ideology? Their ideology, which was the bearer of emotion, was located in the affirmation of poetry, love, and peace. This same emotion led me to inscribe poems on watercolors and then, by means of several slides, impose fragments of art on giant screens and deconstruct them a single beat after.

Action poetry was intent, then, on freeing itself from the dichotomies that restrict the arts; it was synesthetic and brought liberated analogies to bear on lived experience. In the classroom, the passage from action poetry to action poetry and research allowed for osmosis among students and myself. The students realized the importance of knowledge in action. This approach ceased to be overly sanitized, or inauthentic, as soon as students saw in it the opportunity to raise their voices for the sake of a cause. The cause mattered and motivated them, because without it, no true problems appeared to stir their hearts in daily life. The Wittgensteinian poetic play of ideas suddenly acquired the urgency of a fight for survival.

The gesture called the Act of the Heart emerged from an initiative of mine in 1985. It consisted of a group dedicated to collaborative self-training in action poetry. Our goal was to organize a large-scale poetic action that was to be “non-denominational, non-political, and not-for-profit”. We wished to stimulate thought towards the ecological. Through an Act of the Heart, action poetry acquired a pedagogical dimension. Poetry became social and educational (Martin, 1985b). Whatever our declared intentions, the Act of the Heart led to the emergent politicization of the literary, to literaction. Declared apoliticism more truly bespoke a will to contribute to a different politics, a politics of the other that would be humanist and not reductive to oppositions of right and left (Morin, 1967).

“Life-Lines”: An Action Poem for Life

The action poem called “Life-Lines” was conceived as a prayer without religion. The goal was to spread conceptual energy in a collectively useful direction by the declaration of common objectives for survival: “To love, because present-day spiritual anemia appears to be coupled with emotional famine; to act, because action in thought alone is not sufficient for change.” Loving and acting were to be applied to peace, to food shortages and poverty, and to major ecological problems: pollution of the soil, air, and water. The poem would have love pass to action and burn through problems.

This action poem was distributed from Geneva on 12 December 1985. It consisted of fifty thousand postcards printed with the poem and a user's guide, which consisted of sending the poem to friends abroad such that it would spread as fast as possible, and thinking about it for several months. A press conference was organized to launch the action poem and to put forward the idea of a tax to benefit the third world. The poem was translated into 18 languages and distributed in some forty countries. For several months, thousands of people thought about a poem for life. In the United States, “L'Agir du Coeur” was translated as “Life-Lines”.

Life-Lines: An Action Poem for Life

Pure light

We are many who love
We love for peace
We love so that all may eat
We love so that the earth may be pure
We love so that our water may be pure
We love so that our air may be pure
We love so that a space of love
Will build up among all human beings

Let the fire of love
Burn all our problems with love

Pure light

We are many to act
We act for peace
We act so that all may eat
We act so that the earth may be pure
We act so that our water may be pure
We act so that our air may be pure
We act so that a force of love
Will build up in human beings

Let the fire of love
Burn all our problems with love

Experiences from Northern Ontario

In a similar vein, I'd like to present experiences of action poetry by a Franco-Ontarian poet born in Ottawa, Jean-Marc Dalpé. Jacqueline Dumas introduced me to the work of Dalpé (Tochon, 1994). Dalpé's poetry is put into action through his theater; his theme is linguistic survival.

Action Poetry to the Rescue of a Minority Language

The actor-poet lives where two genres intersect: the linearity of drama, occurring in sequential time, and the rupture of poetry, occurring in atemporal paradigms. The actor-poet's writing and speech translate a situation of linguistic rupture: rupture between English and French (Romeo and Juliet is bilingual), between the rich and the poor, between elevated and popular language, and between generations. Dalpé conceives of poetry as a gesture made towards purity (but not towards purism, which is why he rejects elitism). Like other Northern Ontario poets (Patrice Desbiens, Michel Vallières, Michel Gallaire), Dalpé offers powerful, disturbing poetry rooted in claims for both linguistic and political existence (Dumas, 1990). He is highly regarded by young people and conducts tours in high schools. His utterances are reinvested in the teaching of French and serve as the foundation for interdiscursive action. His poetry shows a blend of rhythm, sound, and meaning, and revive a particular history “in order to never be silent again” (Tassé, 1990; Fugère, 1989). Inspired by his work, classes write and present sketches and restore the dimension of sound to the Word. Students organize performances and enter into action poetry.

Dalpé has attained some prominence thanks to the TNO (Theatre Northern Ontario) in Sudbury. His pieces, including Shouts and Blues, Romeo and Juliet and, especially, Dogs, have met with considerable success. Some 2500 spectators saw Dogs in the Franco-Ontarian Théâtre-Action, while the English-language version shown in Toronto drew 2700 spectators. Dalpé's poetry collections display the same performative force of expression: Les murs de nos villages (The walls of our villages, 1983), Ceux d'ici (Those who come from here, 1984), Et d'ailleurs (And from Elsewhere, 1984), all published by Prise de Parole: “Don't be afraid of busting your face / as long as you open your mouth / Our whole history is one of broken open mouths / and, too often, also / silent broken mouths”.

The actor-poet, the “laborer of speech”, has lost his homeland but found his identity through language (“We had our language in our pockets / but our pockets had holes in them”) and in the effort of sawing through the chains that inhibit free expression.

Si on avait le coeur de dire
toutes ces chaînes qui nous retiennent
Si on avait des yeux de dire
tous ces soleils qu'on nous voile
Si on avait les mains de dire
tous ces coups qui nous tombent dessus
Si on avait les pieds de dire
tous ces chemins de travers
qu'on nous invite à prendre
Si on avait le ventre de dire
toute cette musique qu'on nous interdit
Si on avait la langue de dire
tous ces mots qui sont menottés au silence

(If we had the heart to speak
all the chains that hold us back
If we had the eyes to speak
all the suns that are veiled to us
If we had the hands to speak
all the blows that rain on us
If we had the feet to speak
all the wrong roads
we are urged to take
If we had the guts to speak
all the music we are forbidden
If we had the tongue to speak
all these words handcuffed to silence)

        Dalpé, 1983 , p. 39 (Note 2)

For Dalpé, poetry is action: it saws through bars and handcuffs and frees you up from slavery by giving voice to the oppressed aspects of one's being:

Il y a des barreaux aux fenêtres de chaque coeur d'homme.
On les forge de fer et d'ignorance
On les pose de force en douce
La poésie est une scie.

(There are bars in the windows of every human heart.
They are forged from iron and indifference
They are gently installed by force
Poetry is a saw.)

        Dalpé, 1983, p. 20

One last example of action poetry: the poetry workshop for griots (Amoa, 1994). The griot is a musician-poet who has a lot of prestige in traditional african society. In the West Indies, griots organize poetry-workshops to assemble the villages around common political goals. The action poetry of griots has emerged from a dual activism. Evening, self-taught, seduces the child with the magic of words (Fitte-Duval, 1992, p. 30); then the action of griots (poets/musicians/historians of the community) in the Caribbean islands, an action that is educational, identity-building, and autonomous, combats the insecurity of diglossia. The evening of the griot, a political microculture, is built from moment to moment in tune with every participant and resists assimilation. This is poetry as a different action.

The Politicization of the Teacher of the Arts

The opening of this article suggests examples of action poetry, of an action through which poetry could become cross-artistic and promote a politics of the othernessing of values. In French-speaking Switzerland and Northern Ontario, action poetry touched students' lives: billboard poems open up avenues for creation in the classroom and the actor-poet promotes a Northern Ontario cultural expression in schools. In both cases, action is educational and yet not didactic. These actions rest on a creative principle. Is this principle transferable to didactics? If so, which didactics? The didactics of language arts will be examined below in a postmodern perspective.

Poetic space rests on the effulgence of meaning in a time freed from all constraints other than reflection on the Sign. Free time, open space: is this the definition of the classroom? The classroom is a space with a certain minimal closure, aiming towards the transmission of formalized epistemologies. At its heart, a class is a group entity governed by standards. Even if these standards are not imposed by the teacher or the institution, they emerge implicitly from the group. Conceptually, the class-group is a minimal paradigm, a field for action governed by local epistemologies and more general ways of thinking. As such, it metamorphoses through the interactions that occur within it as a conceptual unity creating a microculture in process of change (and sometimes of evolution).

One problem of creative action in change is that it is unforeseeable. If literature is to be inserted into this microcultural space-time of the group, it can be integrated by top-down means (prefabricated conceptual spaces are then integrated into the surrounding microculture) or by bottom-up means (the meaning is grasped by individuals who share it with the group, and the group fixes the meaning in a consensual space-time that sometimes emerges into action). Mixed methods may be used, following principles of alternation or embedding. Curriculum designers have been stymied for some years now in disseminating their models, by the difficulty of foreseeing both the process and the product of creation. Full foresight necessitates top-down prefabrication, which often inhibits the creation of the new. Thus content (keeping in mind the teacher-content-learner triangle; Gagnon, 1987; Houssaye, 1988) is not wholly foreseeable, and neither is its form. The solution is to create a consensual space within which individual expression is permitted. Thus the angles of the didactic triangle must be differentiated from the relational arrows that represent the dynamics that operate within it. The structure of the triangle constitutes a given state of the relationship and conceptually fixes specific and idiosyncratic pedagogical dynamics. In this perspective, true interaction exceeds the frame of didactic foreseeability: conceptual interaction bears with it a dynamic that cannot be foreseen, depending on the context, and even reverse dynamics, which can generate the emergence of a counter-culture unforeseen by the teacher. Thus, McDermott (1976) and Buckley and Cooper (1978) had shown how, in class, children develop strategies not to learn. One can even imagine the existence of a counter-instruction, a possible product of Jackson's implicit “nil curriculum” (1968). The counter-cultural role of creation has been the subject of discussion since the early period of postmodernist thought: there is no need to insist on it here.

Epistemological reflection on the nature of anticipation suggests the difficulty of foreseeing the bottom-up processes of creation in an instructional framework. Top-down processes can be foreseen, because they flow from pre-established consensual standards. Bottom-up processes are born of momentary consensus that emerge from the situation. For example, a counter-culture in process of being ratified and standardized is an emergent political phenomenon specific to a field of action that cannot be reduced to dominant conceptual paradigms. Initially, its process is bottom-up. On the other hand, action poetry appears to emerge from a mixed process, because it incorporates some aspects of consensus in order to manifest itself. Would it be possible, then, to make its consensual aspects valid for instruction?

Since didactics are defined in terms of generalizable anticipation, they rest on consensual elements. To be integrated into didactics, action poetry would have to be articulated around a definitional consensus that would allow for the generalization of this type of action. Now, although action poetry is political in its representation of a conceptual minority, and, indeed, rests on minimal consensus, it also must incorporate bottom-up processes of formation and consist of original (non-consensual) components. The consensual, non-original elements of action poetry that can be articulated in didactics are the category-specific and paradigmatic elements that transpose, not lived experience, but representational features that authorize poetic expression. In practice, the problem is the following: curriculum designers can never be certain that, in lived experience, their category-specific scaffolding will result in the intended effects. What may just be possible is that a didactic design not built on the anticipatory organization of contents, but rather on its motivational relations to the infinite possibilities of creation, could be redeveloped into personal strategies.

The Junction Point between the Arts and Education

The conceptual organizers specific to didactics, then, must simultaneously play the role of motivational organizers, by establishing links with students' lived experience. What is needed are indexical links. If didactic organizers are subject to the terms of a life action taken on as a personal project (Tochon, 1990), they become didactive. Didaction is thus located at the junction of the didactic and the pedagogical. It takes account of pedagogical variability and bases itself on creative, motivational elements that emerge from interactions.

The perspective of classical didactics is to develop a set of cognitive goals with a view to mastering the conceptual and assessable aspects of linguistic production. The didactive perspective, on the other hand, proceeds from a whole different concern. Working from the post-structuralist principle according to which every methodology is ideological (Galisson, 1985), it seeks to elicit the organization of linguistic action on the basis of motivating the individual to express his or her personal voice, to assume a political responsibility for change, and to do these things autonomously, with no further process of appraisal than that of satisfying the communicative goal. Thus the individual assumes his or her own ideology and, in a sense, expresses his or her microculture. The individual is empowered to speak. In this perspective, action is organized in an organic fashion and didactic organizers properly so called, those of the curriculum, develop on the basis of the action that unfolds.

In an analysis of the “authorized” expressions of the student Séverine Michellod (namely, her urban billboard) and those of Dalpé's fans (rock-poetry school performances), it will be observed that, irrespective of the instructional guidelines, in the structural sense of the term, the expressive gesture is itself the bearer of a sufficiently flagrant meaning for action to flow from it self-motivated. Idea is tied in with the various logics of action. Ideology, functioning as an engine, implies methodology; working from initial personal creative impulses, the teacher indexes those organizational elements of the curriculum that are the most favorable to the development of knowledge in action. Examples like these lead one to reflect on the place of the school and the choices that have led to the purging of the faintest move towards the political from school-based actions. It's true that the inherent danger of explicit politics, its anti-educational potential, is doctrinal manipulation. But measures can be taken to preserve autonomous decision-making and the expression of personal ideas through the choice of different possible actions and their methods of implementation. As has already been said, the politicization of constructive values — survival values — in a school context can be linked to a politics of the human that transcends concepts of right and left. It can be matched to a taxonomy of commitment through autonomous action. Whereas the taxonomy of affective goals devised by Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia (1964) has proven dangerous when ideal goals are imposed on it, nevertheless the potential for harm in constructivist social involvement is reduced if the choice of positive action is left to the individual; in this manner didaction can be extended to the arts, to science, to social and philanthropic work, to environmentalism.

Arts and Esthetics as Social Intervention

The potential for considering the classroom situation from a didactive perspective requires a change in the ways we conceptualize intervention. Classically, intervention has been organized by a syntax. This syntactic perspective has prevailed in the formalization of certain didactic models whose structuralist dimension cannot be denied. In didactics, the context of intervention is understood as entailing a category-based division that allows one to proceed in stages. The rationale of didactics rests on the generalization of a set of instructional procedures. This generalization is based on decontextualizing principles of intervention so that they can be transferred to potential new situations. In contrast, didactics emerges not from a morphosyntax of generalized action, but rather from differential semantic elements subject to being actualized in individual pragmatic ways. Didaction is situated in the search for the most significant fields of action from the perspective of the microculture that emerges from “personal projects” brought together with an educational goal. School curricula form conceptual fields which are adjusted after the fact to cultural and political initiatives that are most likely to attract autonomous conceptual energies with a potential to be positively creative in a given situation.

In the field of arts and esthetics, literaction is a particular field in which literary and cultural action meld. This field is socially didactive. It is aimed at social intervention. Action poetry occurs within literaction, and literaction is not fully foreseeable. To some extent it slips out from under the didactic framework. Quite possibly it has a historic dimension that allows for post hoc detection of an introduction, a trigger event, a transformation, a development, and a conclusion; but all these emerge from a reconstitution. Didaction is cathartic and, within school-authorized zones, it produces the elements that lead to organizational rupture, allowing individuals to grasp that a legitimate part of their own motivation to live and express themselves can be made concrete in the here and now.

Thus, didaction is based as much on conceptual organizers indexed to the enacted curriculum as it is on disorganizers that have been polarized by the proximal zone of the freedom to learn, conceive, and create. These didactic disorganizers have been presented in a corpus of verbalizations, by 30 experienced teachers of French-language arts, of lesson plans (Tochon, 1991). The instructional disorganizer is an abstract element whose connection with task domains or work spaces must be created by the learner himself or herself. The disorganizer is a “problem poser” and prompts didactic suspension. It is an element from which it is neither certain nor required that the following element will be reached. Disorganizers prompt both activation and transcendence of the didactic.

Contents are only of interest to didaction to the extent that they propel individual energies towards the building of a socially constructivist identity. Deconstruction of the paradoxes and contradictions inherent in the planned action consists of an introspective move that supplements the stage of creative development. The intentionality that underlies the poem is alternately laid bare and then “enacted” through a becoming that is individual, then shared, and thus political. The contradictions of becoming are resolved in the creative action. The strategies developed thus become individual and situational and correspond to only partial predetermination.

Didactive Appraisal in Creative Arts

School-based necessity entails appraisal of actions and their results. Once the goal becomes didactive and no longer corresponds to the necessary preliminary, but rather to the necessary post hoc, what becomes of assessment? Well, it may be observed that nothing prevents the devising of a didactic contract (or consensus) as things unfold, which would set objectives for a project in process of being conducted. If the formula then proved to limit action excessively by making the venues for creativity too rigid, the contract or consensus could be based, not on objectives, but on proximal challenges, determined from proximity to proximity, as creation progressed. Challenges could be negotiated in order to index them to curricular items. Thus consensual components would underlie the original components of action. In a framework of this kind, the communication of assessment would come down to decoding its language.

But an epistemological reflection must nevertheless be conducted on the postmodern dimensions of assessment. For this purpose I am taking as a point of departure the analysis made by Louis-Marie Ouellette on the subject of interactive assessment. In the tradition of Bateson, Castoriadis, and Serre, Ouellette (1996) shows the role of the communicative (that is, of the contextual and the cultural) in formative assessment, given its essentially interactive aspect. According to Ouellette, the dynamics of knowledge are translated into the variation in transformations perceived in a bounded universe. These transformations affect either the immediate or the long term. Assessment can isolate elements for reflection elicited by observation and transfer them to a level where they can be articulated into virtual models of responses. This process allows for the model to transform immediate experience into a message about reality. The assessment proceeds to perform operations on knowledge by developing descriptive propositions about factual history and the direction it tends towards. Reflection for assessment purposes thus exceeds individual boundaries by entailing constant interaction between the transformative period of existence of representations of the real and the space that molds them in line with local characteristics.

In this process, knowledge bears its own standard, that standard being the explicitation of the aim of the process. Assessment is experienced through statements that describe perceptions in line with explicitations linked to the context in which the experience unfolds (Ouellette, 1996). Assessment of this kind comes close to being research; such research is an expression of individual responsibility. By expressing his or her position in relation to the real, the individual articulates his or her representation of the real. Thus, conceptualized through the process of assessment, the real no longer exists only in the self. It resides in the relation between the individual and a collectivity, a movement of thought. Thus assessment of an object, by virtue of the fact that the observer is unavoidably situated in a field of observation, translates an unlimited succession of relationships.

If this postmodern conception of assessment is integrated into didaction, didactive assessment will then transform the object into a relationship and subject the discrete reality of the object to question. Through its very relationship with its reality, the object is transformed and undergoes a variation that corresponds to the search for meaning. By identifying his or her position on a trajectory, the creator who observes his or her creation is involved in a whole whose internal consistency communicates local knowledge. This local microculture is nourished by the representation of relations with the object, to the extent that it reflects an organized image of the object and its development. Contents specific to the object flow from (as opposed to following upon) successive approximations and reconstructions of the object, in the sense that they explicate reality and motivate the creative trajectory.

The cohesiveness of the creative context, then, no longer depends on a taxonomy of goals, but rather on an elucidation of the representations that motivate action. At one and the same time, these motives for action rise up as standards, in the sense that the standard can no longer be separated from the explicitation of action. Henceforward, the opposition between criterion-based and standard-based references in assessment has no reason for existence. Standards proceed from successive adjustments of relations between the individual and the conceptual consistency he or she is constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing, in the ceaselessly renewed search for a fit with the representation of the object of his or her action.

Creation as the locus of différance

In this article, I defined the didactive perspective as postmodern. It situates esthetic education in the autonomous possibility of constructive emergence from the relation with others. In its artistic and discursive expressions, this connection is creative. It is partially but it eludes the representational exhaustiveness upon customary school evaluations rest. Evaluation becomes a didactive appraisal. Appraisal is the product and the process of creation or action, rather than its criterion-based anticipation. This position leads to a denunciation of the myth according to which it is possible to plan the representational course of others' learning. In contrast to this myth, didaction is a personal affair; it does not differ from the motivational possibilities of the individual as expressed in the learning process. Examples of didaction were provided from action poety in the Francophone world: in Switzerland, Ontario, and the West Indies.

Since, in didaction, the organizational elements that initiate action are intrinsic to the individual in a pre-didactic stage, it would seem to be impossible to schematize their expression. Expression of an original relationship with action is conceived in context on the basis of the knowledge of those who intervene and materials that can be made use of once action is initiated. The only thing certain is that inactivity is not didactive. The virtual screen is ready to depict action. No diagram, no model, no system can fully anticipate didaction. Personal projects to some extent determine a post-systemic action. Creation escapes the logic of systems and recasts them with each new relationship with a representation of the task.

Is creation not the locus of différance, of the possible reorganization of frames of reference, of the autonomous emergence of proprioceptive idiosyncracy? Can we tame creation in all its provocative nature, and didacticize it? Can we transpose it into a concatenation of discrete units? Or rather, can we didactivate it? What is this didaction, and what value does it have (how do we assess it)? Can we, at last, create in education? But if so, how can we forecast creation? How can we organize intrinsic motivation? In the trans-didactics of language, literaction recognizes the cry from the heart as an act of intelligence.

  1. I presented the debate around this issue and the experiences from French-speaking Switzerland and Northern Ontario in the journal Études de linguistique appliquée, 93 (Tochon, 1994).
  2. The English reader should note that the sounds of “Si on” (“If we”) are the same as those of “Scions” (“Let us saw”) with the implicit metaphor of the jail bars alluding to freedom of speech, and to speaking in French while English is the language of the majority and the well-off.
  3. Acknowledgements
    The backgrounds of the poems were painted by Mireille Wagniere, artist, Geneva (Switzerland). The giant poem that won the Guinness World record on September 20, 1985 (record number 86149), was a paper collage of Tochon's poem by Isabelle Laude and Denise Rauss, professors in Fine Arts, Grandes-Communes College, Geneva (Switzerland).


Amoa, B. (1994). L'atelier de poésie du griot (The Poetry Workshop of Griots). Revue de Linguistique appliquée, 93, 62-77.

Bachelard, G. (1932). L'intuition de l'instant. Paris: Gonthier.

Bertrand, Y., and Houssaye, J. (1999). Pédagogie and didactique: An incestuous relationship. Instructional Science, An international journal of learning and cognition, 27(1-2),33-51.

Buckley, P. K., and Cooper, J. M. (1978, March). An ethnographic account study of an elementary school teacher's establishment and maintenance of group norms. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Toronto, Ontario.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., and Csikszentmihalyi, I. S. (1988). Optimal experience - Psychological studies of flow in consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Dalpé, J. M. (1983). Les murs de nos villages. Sudbury, ON: Ed. Prise de Parole.

Dumas, J. (1990, August). Analyse d'un poème de Dalpé. Sudbury, ON: OISE, CRENO.

Fitte-Duval, G. G. (1992). Intervention des griots de la Martinique. Les Ateliers du Sud-Est, 28, 30-32.

Fugère, J. (1989). Jean-Marc Dalpé - L'urgence de se dire. Liaison, 53, 28-30.

Galisson, R. (1985). Didactologies et idéologies. Etudes de linguistique appliquée, 60, 5-16.

Houssaye,J. (1994, April). The Relevance of the Pedagogical Triangle: Understanding Operating Principles of the Pedagogical Situation. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). New Orleans, LA.

Jackson, P. W. (1968). Life in classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Krathwohl, D., Bloom, B. S., and Masia, B. B. (1964). Taxonomy of educational objectives.The classification of educational goals. Handbook II- Affective domain. New York: David McKay.

Martin, M. C. (1985a, March). Et voici les affiches-poèmes! La Suisse, 6 March.

Martin, M. C. (1985b, December). Internationale de l'Amour - Poème au poing. La Suisse, 22 December.

Matter, H. L. (1985, March). Poésie - Un coup de Tochon. L'Illustré, 12, 64.

McDermott, R. P. (1976). Kids make sense: An ethnographic account of the interactional management of success and failure in one first-grade classroom. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Morin, E. (1967). Pour une politique de l'Homme. Paris: Seuil.

Ouellette, L.-M. (1996). La communication au coeur de l'évaluation en formation continue (Communication at the heart of evaluation in in-service education). Paris: Presses universitaires de France (France University Press).

Roth, D. (1983). Prix littéraires. Le Nouvel Humaniste, 3, 3.

Sola, E. (1987). François Victor Tochon, un homme des Arts. Educateur, 1, 27.
Tassé, R. (1990). Jean-Marc Dalpé, poète - Voir le dessous des dessus. Le Temps, 5, 2-3.

Tochon, F. V. (1985a). 77 poèmes d'amour. Paris and Geneva, Switzerland: Helios.

Tochon, F. V. (1985b, November). Un poème pour la vie (A Poem for Life). Geneva, Switzerland: Unpublished Action Report.

Tochon, F. V. (1990). Didactique du français - De la planification à ses organisateurs cognitifs (French Didactics: From planning to its cognitive organizers). Paris: ESF.

Tochon, F. V. (1991). L'enseignement stratégique - Transformation pragmatique de la connaissance dans la pensée des enseignants. Toulouse, France: Editions Universitaires du Sud (South University Press).

Tochon, F. V. (1994). La Poésie-Action ou la postmodernité littéractive: Pour une didaction de l'art langagier (Action-Poetry or the Litteractive Postmodernity: For an Aesthetic Instructional Design). Revue de Linguistique appliquée, 93, 49-61.

Tochon, F. V. (1999). Semiotic foundations for building the New Didactics: An introduction to the prototype features of the discipline. Instructional Science, An international journal of learning and cognition, 27(1-2),9-32.

Tochon, F. V. (In press). When Authentic Experiences are “Enminded” into Disciplinary Genres: Crossing Biographic and Situated Knowledge. Learning and Instruction.

About the Author

Francois Victor Tochon
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
University of Wisconsin—Madison
225 North Mills Street
Madison, WI 53706
Phone: 608-263-7570     Phone: 608-263-7570

Professor Tochon is a specialist in the field of "French didactics". He works at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he coordinates foreign language education. In his doctorate in the Curriculum and Instruction of French Teaching (Laval), Dr. Tochon proposed the first semio-cognitive grammar of educational interactions. He also has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Ottawa) on situated problem solving through oral communication. Dr. Tochon works in applied semiotics and language teacher education. With fifteen books and a hundred scientific articles and book chapters to his credit, he has been recognized elsewhere as Visiting Professor in several universities including Toronto, Paris V, Paris X, Princeton, Rio Cuarto in Argentina, the Free University of Brussels, Hanoo, Mexico, Arizona, and recently Brittany and Nantes in France. He is published in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Vietnamese. He is currently coeditor of the International Journal of Applied Semiotics, a member of the executive of the Semiotic Society of America, and the current chair of the AERA Special Interest Group of Semiotics in Education.

   home   |   articles   |   abstracts   |   editors   |   submit   |   subscribe   |  

You are visitor number since August 27, 2007.