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New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education's Blog

What's the Story? 

Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


Drawing a Blank



Had one of those moments of late, when you go to put the dishes in the washing machine, or leave a room only to have to return a minute later to try and remember where you were headed in the first place? Yup? I swear that the end of year seems to bring more of them! But I am glad to say that in amongst the hectic end-of-year blur of exhaustion we all experience, I didn’t drop the ball when it came to remembering the up-coming social inquiry and action exhibit being held at a local secondary school.

This event, a culmination of a term’s work carried out by small groups across the whole of Year 9 and 10 who had each chosen an inquiry that linked to one of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, was amazing!! I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to share the students’ knowledge, perspectives and actions more broadly, because what they were showing and talking about was, as a whole collection, a really rich kete of knowledge, understanding and change leadership. The project had clearly provided an exciting platform for students to explore their values; draw on their interests, strengths, and qualities; and apply their learning in a range of ways. There was a real buzz in the room; a strong sense both of kotahitanga and māramatanga poured from the students as they shared their new learning and the processes undertaken to get to the stage they were at. Through the ownership of their work, coupled with awhi from teachers and their peers, these kids’ fires had clearly been lit!

As I moved around the room, it was suggested I go and find the “whiteboard,” as it had a “great backstory.” I was looking for something akin to a modern blackboard, but as I rounded the end of an aisle I realised my mistake. Three students stood patiently around their blank exhibition board, waiting for the next interested passer-by to enquire about their project. It would have been easy to walk by, thinking they had not completed their assignment, and that perhaps they had in fact ... drawn a blank. However, having had the heads up, I made a bee-line to them to find out more. I was officially curious!

“Tell me about what you have been learning,” I asked. The response? Responsible production and consumption. Take a moment ... starting to see where this is going? To have used paper, pens, ink or other products on their display would, in their eyes, have been hypocritical. They perceived the output as irresponsible consumption of products. When they could use their voices and share their message without the wastage, why, they asked, would you approach it any differently? Thus, they had a pure white, “unused” board (arguable point there, hence the quotation marks). It was eye-catching, that’s for sure. But much more than this, it was a courageous statement. These students chose to do something differently than their peers, persuaded their teacher that this approach was important, and were carrying out social action in a very simple, yet highly effective, way. In future, when I think about drawing a blank, I am never going to think the same as I did before that experience!!



So when else might drawing a blank be a statement? And no, just to be clear on this, I am talking about a blank statement, not a blanket statement - although that could be blank too - and making a statement ... but now I am starting to grasshopper. As it happens, drawing a blank can be an interpretive dance or piano instrumental (which in this case both go by the title of “drawing a blank”), or even relate to feet in poetry (yes, it’s a real thing ... apparently!), with each carrying a powerful message. But for me, perhaps a little less literally, the phrase conjures up the notion of purposefully leaving something out or removing a component as a means of strengthening a message. Examples? Tape Face, the New Zealand comedian who never says a word (when performing anyway), drawings which optimise the use of negative and positive space, and even television advertisements with no sound.


“ ... interesting insights on the impact of silence in television commercials ... greater attention was paid to an ad with a silent segment than one without ... also ... silence enhanced the recall of television commercials.”  - Association for Consumer Research


Perhaps surprisingly (or not!) this notion of “less is more,” led me full circle back to contemplating the use of blank space in effective presentations and how ironic the saying “drawing a blank” really can be.  We tend to think of this as a bad thing, but ... it doesn’t have to be. If we move away from remembering the particulars of a speech and toward crafting something like a SpeakerMap, and think in terms of pauses as opportunities and blank canvases as speaking volumes, perhaps next time we draw a blank, it will have great outcomes.


“Composer and theorist John Cage was inspired by the blankness and silence of the White Paintings and responded to Rauschenberg’s work with his most well-known composition, “4’33,” a musical score in which a pianist just sits at the piano for 4:33 without doing anything. The work becomes the sounds and the activity of the outside world. Ten years after the White Paintings were made, Cage referred to them as “airports for lights, shadows and particles.” Rauschenberg also referred to them as clocks, since if you tracked the changes on their surfaces day after day you could track the time and the weather.” - Matthew Israel


So, next time you ‘draw a blank’, pause to remember just how powerful that can be.



To find out about opportunities to engage and stretch the minds of your gifted youngsters in the coming year, get in touch with the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education today, and ask about their specialist programmes, training and library services.


'What's the Story?' is a blog section which is written for the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, with posts being added regularly. The purpose of this space is to share musings and anecdotes relating to giftedness and gifted education to provide a form of information and support for those living with and/or teaching gifted learners. Please do share them along.


We would love to hear from you.  Grab a cuppa and share your story in the comments.

What's the Story? Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


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Please note that the views expressed in these blogs are those of the author and not necessarily representative of the views of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.


Image credits: Blank Canvas by Celeste Lindell is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and has been modified.


Drawing a blank: When nothing inspires

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