Thursday, August 23, 2007

Missing out on valuable learning experiences?

Close observation( a learnt skill ) results in quality thinking and expression.

A visit to many classroom will show that the students do not seem to be encouraged take advantage of their immediate environment as they might.

This is a shame for all sorts of reasons. Opportunities to develop environmental awareness and, in turn to uncover latent students interests, are missed. Teachers seem unaware of the possibilities their environment offers for exciting studies their attention and energy diverted by literacy, numeracy and the demands of ICT. The virtual world seems to have replaced the real!

An environmental trip, even if a quick visit to see a seasonal event, if used wisely, results in excellent language and other expressive work .

To take advantage of such experiences students need to be well prepared.
In class they need to be 'taught' to look closely at natural things brought into the classrooms. Photos are also very useful. They will need to be taught to 'slow the pace' of their work so as to learn to look carefully so as to notice patterns, shapes and colours. At the same time they can be asked to think what thing they are drawing reminds them of ( similies and metaphors in context) or what it makes them think about.During this process questions will emerge that may well become the basis for serious studies. The more students learn to see the more they will begin to think and the greater their vocabulary will be.

Slow observation drawing is an excellent activity for all ages, as it helps students focus their attention, notice details and to develop reflective thinking, all of which will be useful when the class leaves the room to observe outside. Teachers will need, at first, to encourage students to look harder and to invent marks to represent their observations. It is such interventions that result in important 'learning conversations' and eventually quality work

Many teachers complain that their students enter their classrooms with 'language deficits'
.Focused environmental experiences are surely one way to remedy this situation. Students of all ages an be encouraged to write and draw what they see. If students have trouble with writing ( because they are not developmentally ready or, all to often, 'turned off') their thoughts can be 'scribed' for later reading.

All students should be encouraged to explore and, in the process, learn to identify with their natural and man made environment.

Classrooms should display observations, thoughts, drawings , imaginative art and creative language based on environmental experiences. Classrooms should celebrate both students 'voice' and 'identity' and a sense of 'place' with their environment. It is from such experiences that later ideas of the importance of environmental sustainability will emerge.

Not only are such experiences the basis of class studies they contribute and enliven teachers planned language and mathematics programmes.

Most importunity they provide the opportunity for students to develop what may at this stage may only be latent interest and talents.


Anonymous said...

Simple but effective ideas - let's hope schools begin to use such ideas again! It has been a long time since teachers had such intellectual freedom. What has gone wrong?

Anonymous said...

You have made important points. At the same time it is important that teachers go well beyond simply letting kids loose outside and become seriuosly involved in teaching skills and attitudes to permit focused and intensive use of the physical environment in children's learning.
Obsession with computer based technolgies need to be put in perspective. First hand experience is essential. You don't need to step outside with laptops and digital cameras to explore the world outside the classroom. They are good tools, at times, but not essential to the experience, and in some cases tend to get in the way. Similarly the current drive to have 'smart white boards' in every classroom. They may assist communicate and process information but real experience can not be replaced.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I agree - to work outside students need carefully developed attitudes and skills as you say.

I see little of computer, or digital technology, being used as a means to capture information or interpret data in the field. Teachers needs to se the environment as a place to explore first - most teachers are unaware of such possibilities.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy using the computer and digital camera and other ICT tools in classroom teaching and learning but I see the point of the above anonymous comment. It seems that computer based technologies get over promoted. It is the underlying first hand learning and personal experience that is the important bit. The 'pre technology' bit. It seems that computers tend to be over used in school publicity as if somehow simply having x number of computers surpasses the need for real and in depth learning. It is such an easy 'look at me' sell for schools to demonstrate that they are 'modern' and 'technologically with it' without anyone examining exactly how these technologies are used. The latest N.Z. Teacher's Council quaterly "Teachers" makes great play on Kindergarten kids using ICT tools. I agree with much of what is said in this article but perspective must retain the importance of original experience in learning. Similarly I wondered why so much was made of the student outdoor use of laptops with digital magnification in a TV item I veiwed recently. Why also do some schools need images of students using cameras, laptops and cell phones outside prominently positioned on their web pages. It seems such technologies are sometimes used as promotional tools as much as educational tools. I think we need retain the focus on the quality of the teaching and learning otherwise even so called 'smart white boards' may be simply used for 'dumb' teaching.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I agree with your comments about how valuable technology can be. However I see little intelligent use of digital technology out in the field to collect data and information to be questioned and processed back the classroom.

All too often trendy schools parade their technology as if, just by having it, is enough to let everyone know the school is in the 21stC!

All too often 'info tech' is 'oversold and underused! As you say with your,'look at me schools', comment! It seems to me you can fool most of the people all the time if your school has all the 'technological bling'!

In some schools the virtual world has replaced the real.I am a great believer that students need a couple of hours outside every day, using their senses and imagination, to make up for staring at a screen!

Mind you, where I have seen creative teachers making use of technology as integral to class studies it is certainly amazing!