Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ways of exploring a bridge

  Posted by Picasa There is a lot of talk these about the importance of ‘higher order thinking’ and ‘inquiry learning’; that process is more important than product, but this can’t be true? Real learning needs something to process and inquire about; real learning needs to be driven by learner’s passion of a need to know or to express personal responses about. It is this drive to make meaning, and to express it in an in-depth way, that schools need to protect and value above all else.

Many classrooms have diagrams about ‘multiple intelligences’ on display and try to integrate them into the studies they do with their children. This is a valuable idea but unless students produce in depth research or focused artistic expression about what they are exploring it adds little. Even in schools that profess to use ‘thinking skills’ and ‘multiple intelligences’ etc they still focus most of their efforts on literacy and numeracy, or only two of the ‘intelligences’.

An idea that was around well before the idea of 'multiple intelligences' emerged was to encourage children to explore and interpret their environment using a number of frameworks or viewpoints; the more frameworks, or ways of seeing, the bigger their ‘net’ to capture experiences.

For students to interpret their experiences in such a range of ways teachers need to have similar diverse, yet integrated, ‘mindsets’. Unfortunately how we ‘see’ is shaped by our previous experiences and if our minds are closed to diverse interpretations wonderful opportunities to learn are missing. This is the case for many teachers through no fault of their own.

Take for example the experience of exploring a bridge; most schools have a bridge nearby they could visit.

A bridge can be interpreted in many ways. It can be perceived as structure appealing to the architect, scientist, engineer, or mathematician and, as a result, become the inspiration for a great science unit resulting in lot of measuring and modeling to test strength of shapes. For an artist however the lines, colour, shapes and patterns might appeal. For those with a poetic ‘mindset’ all sorts of thoughts might be inspired - the bridge itself could be seen as a metaphor about crossing over into something new. Years ago I observed a sensitive teacher spend thirty minutes or more letting young children just explore a swing bridge through their senses and emotions. Back in class these five year olds were full of thoughts to express in talk, drama, writing and art. No doubt those with musical or drama background would find some way to express their ideas about a bridge in their own way. And of course a local bridge provides an entry point for students to research famous bridges around the world and historian will know of stories to share – Horatio at the bridge comes to mind from my own school days.

Each way of seeing and interpreting has its own particular set of skills to employ. Each person will have particular strengths that will make certain aspects appeal to them. This is as it should be. To appreciate that there are a range of ways to interpret and express any experience is a valuable insight all students need to gain if they are to really appreciate the wonders of their world.

The true value of any experience involves depth of thought and expression. If such an approach results in a range of mediocre products then it would be a shame for it is the quality of the thinking and the quality of whatever is created that is the key to developing lasting attitudes toward learning. It comes down to ‘doing a few things really well’ because whatever is produced is a reflection of the learners worth in their own minds as well as in the minds of an observer.

It takes a creative teacher to understand the power of such learning.


Anonymous said...

The ideas of Margaret Mahy( in your earlier 'blog'), and your comments about exploring a bridge, answer what is missing in too many classrooms.

Years ago Sir Herbert Read wrote about the importance of education through the arts, and the primacy of the senses for expanding our consciousness.He aslo believed that people artistic creations contribute to the consciousness of others. He also believed that school programmes that dull the senses undercut the possibilities of the human mind.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I like ths quote I received today.

'I'm not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.'

Yogi Berra. Baseball player.

Anonymous said...

Wow! -great stuff!

Anonymous said...

This kind of creative teaching - based on a belief in the intrinsic ability of children to learn from their experiences, is sadly lacking today. Teachers are just to busy proving they are teaching to really value the 'voices', or to capitalize on the passions, of their students.