Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Simple but Deep

Observation, a simple but absorbing experience leading into wondering and imagining; the basis of all learning.

The teachers I have worked the most with over the years believe strongly in the primacy of observation. A common conviction is the belief in first hand experience as the root of all learning.

There is a real need for direct experience of the real world as a starting point for as much class activity in science, social sciences,language and art, as is possible. It is all too easy in this age of instant ready made images to forget about the importance of real life observation.

Students need to be taught to observe more carefully to record faithfully what they see but, for this to happen, teachers themselves need to aware of the often overlooked beauty and small scale drama of the immediate world.

By educating students senses, encouraging them to notice shapes, textures, patterns , movements and colours, students develop an appreciation of and identity with their environment. They also develop, in the process, the language to express what they see and think. Before the word must come the experience - and if students are entering school with language deficiency it might well be this paucity of sensory experience that is the cause.

All too often this sensory appreciation loses its edge as children grow their attention being diverted to the divorced world of virtual pre- digested reality. One writer has said that, 'humanity has persistently been weaving a cocoon about itself...denying itself primary experience'.Technology: 'the knack of of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it'.

Sensory deprivation, it has been shown, sets in when there is not enough sensory stimulation. Many children only experience their environment from the window of a fast moving car. Quietly observing the world by walking and wondering is almost a lost art.

With a sensitive teacher help students an be taught to slow down enough to notice the small easily overlooked immediate world. Such students will begin to take personal delight in experiencing such things as a: rain filled gutters, rain on windows, the first frost, monarch butterflies, mossy stones, shells, and dandelion seed heads. All these become available as the fundamental resources for further study back in class and will remain with children as special memories of childhood.

Such an approach was once common in classrooms.

The teachers I have worked with have placed the importance of observation central to their programmes. They deliberately teach the students to look carefully so so to really see what they are looking at. By deliberately 'slowing the pace' of student's work, not only does in-depth observational art result but, also, space is created for the teacher to come alongside the child to provide support and guidance. And, as students draw, thoughts and questions will arise which can be recorded to become the basis of quality research work, creative language, and imaginative art.

In such classrooms quality observational art, descriptive writing, and researched questions is seen along with poetic thoughts and highly imaginative creative art work.

Students educated in such rooms display an absorption and powers of observation that are truly scientific, sadly missing in too many classrooms today that have been pressurized by the rush to 'deliver' imposed curriculums.

Observation feeds curiosity, visual education and the imagination.

It is fundamental to all learning.

More schools should get back to such basics.


Anonymous said...

What you are suggesting is the ideal antidote to the fast paced, self centred , instant gratification, 'virtual reality', lives young children have to live with today.

Focussed 'slow' learning is the real antidote to solve the growing attention defict syndrome.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I am. I have had the experience of taking children ( from deprived decile one to spoilt decile 10 schools) into the environment and found until they are almost forced to 'settle down' they have no idea about how to experience the world around them. Ideally a teacher should take time , by introducing things slowly to children, teaching skills in the process, until students have 'relearnt' lost skills.

Most of our children suffer from attention deficit thinking - they try to pay attention to everything and notice little!