Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Aesthetics: Where Thinking Originates

My well worn and underlined copy of Art Costa's collection of articles 'The School As A Home For The Mind'. Art has been a leading proponent of the explicit teaching of thinking to be infused throughout the curriculum. Art has been an enthusiastic educator since the mid 50s and is a living example of a life long learner. His book features his 'habits of mind' which many schools have introduced. His 'habits of mind', or dispositions, are aligned with the 'key competencies' of our 'new' 2007 New Zealand Curriculum. Guy Claxton, an United Kingdom educator, also aligns his 'learning power' approach with Art in his latest book. Such approaches see the 'mind as a muscle'- able to be amplified through experience and practice; able to grow intelligent behaviour rather than seeing intelligence as 'fixed'.

Visit Art Costa's site for further information.
Article at Leading and Learning

Art Costa places premium on developing our greatest human resource, the human mind.

The second essay in his small book introduces the notion of aesthetics, an area not mentioned much by those academic 'best evidence' researchers so loved by the Ministry of Education who have a narrow view of cognition - worrying only about what teachers can gain data and evidence on and measure. Such a narrow approach demeans the work of creative teachers who know that many learners are transformed by powerful experience that literally change their minds.

All information, Costa reminds us, comes through the various sensory channels.Those, he writes, whose sensory pathways are open are able to absorb more information from the environment than those whose pathways have withered through neglect. Too many children today suffer from sensory deprivation it often being substituted by more limited virtual experience via computers and TV. Our more cosseted world does not encourage children to freely explore their immediate environment nor are many parents, or their teachers, knowledgeable or confident enough to take children to explore such places.

Developing aesthetics through sensory experiences is vital to all learning and the basis of developing all sorts of language and creative expression. Children who do not experience such rich sensory experience will come to learning with restricted language acquisition facilities. Before the word must come the experience.

The aesthetic dimension permeates the spirit of inquiry and is inherent to creativity and a prerequisite to discovery. For all this such important ideas have not received much emphasis from cognitive academic educators and researchers

Students to learn need the curiosity sharpened by being 'enraptured' with natural phenomena. As Costa writes 'in order for the brain to comprehend the heart must first listen'.

Aesthetics as Costa sees it 'means sensitivity to the artistic features of the environment and the qualities that evoke feelings in individuals. Such feelings as enjoyment, exhilaration, awe, and satisfaction'. It is from this aesthetic beginnings that lead to language and rational thought and questions about the environment.

From aesthetic and sensory experiences come the inquiry 'skills of observation, investigating, further questioning, germinate.' And, he continues ' aesthetics may be the key to sustaining motivation, interest, and enthusiasm to young children, since they must become aware of their environment before they can explain it' - learning becomes, he says, a 'tenacious quest'.

Parents and teachers need to take every opportunity to ensure children 'commune with the world around them'. Children to need time to experience and reflect on such things as the ' opening of a bud and to sense the logical simplicity of mathematical order.They must find beauty in a sunset, and intrigue in the geometric of a spider web'.

'We need' Costa continues, 'to observe and nurture these aesthetic qualities in children. Students who respond to the aesthetic aspects of their world will demonstrate behaviour manifesting in intangible values....Their curiosity will become stronger as the problems they encounter become more complex. Their environment will attract their inquiry as their senses capture the rhythm, patterns, shapes, colours, and harmonies of the universe. They will display cognizant and compassionate behavior towards other life forms as they see the need for protecting their environment: respecting the roles and values of other human beings'.

From such encounters with their environment children can express what they have seen and felt using a variety of media - including the use of digital cameras. They can research their questions and deepen their understanding by digging deeply in what has attracted their attention and curiosity.

And also from such encounters children will develop their What? Why? How" Why? and What if ? questions and from such questions begin writing 'scientific' explanations and personal poetic expressive writing.

Children will need help to explore and express ideas they develop from their awareness. Each sensory mode can be sharpened with parent or teacher encouragement. Children thoughts can be written or scribed for them. Observational drawings are a powerful medium to encourage depth of thought and imagination .

Creative teachers have always valued children's curiosity about their natural environment even if academics take it all for granted.
Both teachers and students need to become 'ardent observers and insatiable questioners. Teachers may be the only ones who develop in young people a compassionate attitude towards the environment, to develop a curiosity with which students will continue wondering through life - a prerequisite for higher level thought.'

Perhaps it an absence of these very qualities that lie at the basis of the so called 'achievement tail' in our schools - children who have been rushed into academic work before the ground floor of sensory experience has saturated their minds to be called on during such things as talking reading and writing.

Developing such an aesthetic awareness is far more important than the current obsession with measuring academic skills many children do not as yet have!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

This area of aesthetic awareness is so easily overlooked by teachers - to the cost of developing active, curious learners. I hadn't realized Costa was so interested in such things.

Jody said...

I love that phrase 'ardent observers and insatiable questioners' ...

Bruce said...

The question is Jody, 'why do so many students lose their ardent observing and insatiable questioning'?

Hi anon

One of Art Costa's 'habits of mind is 'Using all the Senses' and another is 'Wonderment, Inquisitiveness, Curiosity, and the Enjoyment of Problem Solving- A Sense of Efficacy as a Thinker'.

He writes, language , culture, and physical learning are all derived from our senses. He says, we can encourage children to be aware and to learn to express what they see, hear , feel, etc.

Simple stuff but not often seen in schools.

As for the 'wonderment habit' he quotes Socrates, 'All thinking begins with wonderment.' It is, Costa says, about feeling alive and connected.

Too many people, he writes, do not let themselves express wonderment and curiosity and to show real enjoyment in learning.

Children must learn to sense the world around them not just let it pass by. The wonder of nature promotes endless thought. Passion, wonderment, a sense of awe - thsse are what Costa believes are pre-requisites for intelligent life.

And all too often missing in our achievement based classrooms - no time to stand and stare.

Jody said...

Passive learning becomes acceptable ... so why bother ... no time to think ... just doing ...

Well that is my rant for the week - and it has been a busy one. We have been observing, sampling, questioning CHEESE as part of our inquiry - something I would have expected the children to know much about - I was surprised - much learning will occur.

Bruce said...

Cheese - now that could be a tasty study! Will you try and make some?

Jody said...

Yes we are going to ... so any tips gratefully received ... send to hayes@olol.school.nz

Jinan said...

I am planning to do a workshop called ‘Awakening the Aesthetic Awareness’ at Nilambur from 16th Feb to 20th Feb 2011 (wednessday to sunday).
This workshop is in a way the culmination of my work related to recovering authenticity, originality in terms of aesthetic sensibility and cognitive process.
This has been developed from my past 20 years of work (learning from) with artisans and children. (www.kumbham.org, www.rediscoveringchildhood.org, http://www.my.opera.com/jinankb )

Two parallel explorations I have been engaged has been to understand how we have been damaged – homogenized, cloned, de skilled, fragmented, alienated- by the modern education and other conditioning institutions and tools– market, hospitals, TV, news etc. and how as a biological organism born with tools to make sense of its world understands it and inhabit.
School prepares us for processing and storing information by excessive importance given to memorization and development of conscious and instrumentalist reasoning. These two skills seems to be incapable of perception, creativity which is what is required in the realm of unknown.

Some time ago, in 1996 or so I had done a workshop called Against the tyranny of reason. An year later I did another workshop called de textualising experience. All these issues seems to me very much connected to loss of our connection with the core of our being which is biological, sensorial, experiential, autonomous etc.
My work with the non literate artisans due to its paradigm of respect for their creativity and cultural rooted ness gave insight in to a very different way of knowing and being- humble, innocent, respectful of nature and at the same time original and creative. ( Modern notions of creativity is very much a commercial centered and market driven which stems from greed and not need)

This 5 day workshop do not claim to solve any of that but would probably initiate a journey towards that end.
I am attaching a flyer, registration form and a write up about the event.
Kindly pass this on to any one who would be interested in attending the event.
Jinan
http://vimeo.com/8026239

http://awakeningtheaestheticawareness.blogspot.com/
--
Jinan
jinankb@gmail.com

Jinan said...

I am planning to do a workshop called ‘Awakening the Aesthetic Awareness’ at Nilambur from 16th Feb to 20th Feb 2011 (wednessday to sunday).
This workshop is in a way the culmination of my work related to recovering authenticity, originality in terms of aesthetic sensibility and cognitive process.
This has been developed from my past 20 years of work (learning from) with artisans and children. (www.kumbham.org, www.rediscoveringchildhood.org, http://www.my.opera.com/jinankb )

Two parallel explorations I have been engaged has been to understand how we have been damaged – homogenized, cloned, de skilled, fragmented, alienated- by the modern education and other conditioning institutions and tools– market, hospitals, TV, news etc. and how as a biological organism born with tools to make sense of its world understands it and inhabit.
School prepares us for processing and storing information by excessive importance given to memorization and development of conscious and instrumentalist reasoning. These two skills seems to be incapable of perception, creativity which is what is required in the realm of unknown.

This 5 day workshop do not claim to solve any of that but would probably initiate a journey towards that end.
I am attaching a flyer, registration form and a write up about the event.
Kindly pass this on to any one who would be interested in attending the event.
Jinan
http://vimeo.com/8026239

http://awakeningtheaestheticawareness.blogspot.com/
--
Jinan
jinankb@gmail.com