Monday, July 21, 2008

Reading the environment.

A student highly 'trained' in the skills of observation, after observing a spring on the mountain, recreates her experience in an amazing piece of art. This quality of observational art is sadly lacking in many schools today.


I have aways enjoyed the following quote from art educator Elliot Eisner:

'To be able to write one must be able to see.To be able to write one must be able to have access to a content, one must be open and able to see the world and experience ones encounter with it. To see the world one must learn how to attend to it, how to penetrate its deep structure, how to capture what is significant.It is through the literacy of sight, and smell, and touch that literature and poetry, drama, science and dance are given the stuff with which to work.'

Too many of our students, if we are to believe teachers, enter schools with poor language ability. If this is the case, and I believe it to be true, then to remedy the situation, we need to help our students see, capture and express their thoughts about their personal and environmental experiences.

Unfortunately we often ask students to explore their environment without first helping them develop skills to make full use of such experiences. That many of our students have lost their inborn exploratory skills is a sad reflection of our technological age where students no longer explore their world as once they might have.

All students need assistance at developing sensory awareness and teachers ought to ever on the alert to point out environment experiences, both from the intimate world and major seasonal weather events, so as to educate each students individual sensory pathways.

A skilled teacher takes advantage of any such experience and helps the students focus their thoughts and feeling and takes the time to gather their question and 'prior' ideas.

To do this teachers must not only be visually aware to the potential of environmental events themselves but also be prepared to spend the time to take full advantage of such experiences. Students need to be helped to appreciate and notice patterns, movements, sounds,shapes, colours, and textures, to be seen in the immediate world around them.

Unfortunately this is not often the case. This is a shame because, from an early age, students should learn to value their ideas and questions. They should be given the time and assistance to do something really well, whether written thoughts or a piece of quality art. It is through the intrinsic reward of doing something really well that gives each student the 'learning power' and courage to do better next time.

Teachers, by helping students 'slow the pace' of their work develop in their students a kind of inner quiet in contrast to the frenetic environment of many classrooms.

Outdoors students need to learn to observe and gather their thoughts perhaps by writing, or dictating, thought poems or simple haiku. They need time to draw things of interest both outdoors and back in class. Digital cameras could be useful to gather useful ideas to explore and later to add personal thoughts below.

Such experiences, combined with quality means of expressing their ideas, will provide students with growing confidence and competence. A great deal of the curriculum of such classes could simply 'emerge' from student's questions and concerns.

Most of all students skills in literacy will developed through the valuing their 'voice' and identity.

As Eisner says, 'the writer starts with the vision and ends with words. The reader starts with the word and ends with the vision.'

It is worth remembering, particularly teachers obsessed with 'book' literacy, that 'before the word comes the experience'.

Valuing this world of experience has always the approach of creative teachers.

Our environment is full of information to be gathered if students have developed awareness to take advantage of such events. As teachers we need to help our students develop the awareness and critical skills to appreciate their environment both aesthetically and scientifically.

The future will need people who are 'in tune' with their environments, not only for personal enjoyment, but also as a means of inspiring creative responses.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is this creative environmental approach to teaching that has been all but lost the past two decades. Thanks for keeping reminding us.

Bruce said...

As teachers we have the unhappy knack of making a natural process of learning hard. We should work 'with the grain'. Students are born to learn until adults get in the way.

R said...
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