Thursday, December 15, 2005

Being curious -the key to all learning


Hooked by
a need to know.

Learning through
the senses. Posted by Picasa

Many Years ago I read a book called the ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson. Its message has been with me ever since; it provoked an understanding how ‘progress’ and technology were destroying our natural environment. Later, she wrote (in 1956) a book, for her nephew Roger, called ‘A Sense of Wonder’. This was a photo filled book all about taking a young person on nature walk.

Her messages are more in need today than ever.

Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and fingertips, opening up the channels of sensory impression.’

Students today, given the opportunity, are still hooked by an intense curiosity and drawn by an enhanced sensory awareness of the natural world, writes Robert Fried, in his book ‘The Game of School’. But to do this they need to be encouraged to think with all their senses.

When I visited primary schools, many years ago, it was common to observe student’s involvement with their natural world.Classroom environments celebrated poetic and creative writing, observational and imaginative art, and it seemed, most of the class studies related to learning about the natural world. The environment and real world experiences were the basis for the creative teacher’s literacy and content learning programmes. This was in more relaxed days when compliance to preplanned curriculum, and unrealistic accountability demands, were beyond imagination.

It is important to appreciate that by learning to observe the natural world, not only is curiosity stimulated, but it is also the beginning of development true literacy. Learning about the natural world is not about the need to name all the plants and animals, but more expressing a relaxed interest along side the learner. It about enjoying the experience; young children soon pick up knowledge.

Rachel Carson talks about a ‘learning spirit’ and, in her book asks that we provide a gift for each child in the world of a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, and the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial and that alienate us from the source of our strengths. All of this before the advent of virtual reality.

I would wish that junior teachers, once again, would learn to appreciate the power of the natural environment to inspire student’s curiosity language and vocabulary. I wish that teachers would realize that ‘before the word is the experience’ and, before ‘real’ books, is the nned for books written by children based on their own experiences and imagination.

Today literacy is seen as an 'achievement to target' in its own right. In this process teachers bypass the very source of student’s ideas and imagination; the children’s own thoughts, when ‘scribed’ or written, are the true basis of literacy learning.

We have fragmented everything in learning and, in the process, made it all too complicated – let’s get back to helping students do their own learning by valuing the power of their own ideas and their intrinsic need to make sense of their environment. We have cut then off from their natural source of learning.

Students need to seen as inventors of their own minds and meaning and not be limited to isolated skill teaching which, at its worst, degenerates into sterile isolated phonics all in the name of doubtful ‘achievement’.


Anonymous said...

You are so right. There is so much pressure these days to prove what students have achieved that creativity and fun - essential elements in any learning, have all but been forgotten.

Certainly the use of student's poetic thoughts, inspired by environmental experiences, is no longer as common.

Improved reading at any costs - including 'jolly phonics' is the name of the game.

In the rush to improve reading we seem to have forgotten that what is more vital in the long run is the development of the student's sense of 'ownership' and learning power.

Anonymous said...

Great post Bruce - you capture the dilemma of the coercive and compulsory ritual of schools that Illich spoke about so eloquently

"By designing and packaging knowledge, schools generate the belief that knowledge must be acquired in graded and certified sequences. ... And this monopoly of schools over the very definition of education, not only inhibits alternatives but also leads to life-long dependence on other service monopolies" Cayley p8 Ivan Illich in Conversation

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Artichoke. I am a great fan of Illich. Nothing much has changed re power sharing since he wrote so long ago. I also enjoyed searching your blog and links.

Anonymous said...

I remember those days you talk of and particular the natural wonder, delight and insight that children gain from exploring their own environment. Many teachers seem unaware that what they inflict with their 'classroom programme' is akin to a form of sensory deprivation.

Bruce Hammonds said...

You are so right about sensory deprivation.I believe that this deprivation ( and the ignoring of the individual's questions, thoughts and feelings) is the basis for later school failure and our, so called, 'achievement tail'.

Anonymous said...

Your post made me weep, Bruce, for remembering my first reading of Rachel Carson and to think of how far a feild we have come from such basic human understandings in education--especially here in the U.S.A.

As a teacher librarian, and lover of new technologies, I continually stress to teachers & students that the first and most powerful technologies are curiosity, experience & bold questioning OF EVERYTHING (thank you Jamie McKenzie!). Instead all resources are geared toward meeting the unrealistic demands of high-stakes testing leaving little room for discovery and inquiry. We hard-wire our schools, but fail to upgrade teacher's skills so our students are out there on their own in cyberspace.

At least in New Zealand you have a national effort to implement ICT as a curriculum, which demands critical engagement--and access to such natural beauty...

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thank you Babbi for your comments.

I think we need 'bold questioning' of our current education system. We need to consider what needs to change to transform our schools so as to match the 21st Century environment they work in.

ICT could be a liberating factor in all this but so far politicians, school principals and school structures seem impervious to change.