Smiling when I think of certain art pieces and children’s reactions when they first encounter the “Art” ; with the approaching American Thanksgiving weekend my thoughts have been on a space across the Ocean- Barcelona Spain where Museums feature two children’s favorites – Picasso and Miro!
Critics may enjoy declaring “a child could do that,”- and then ought to remember Picasso was known for suggesting that everyone needs to hold onto that early child each of us grows up from, and to honour the excitement that provides entertainment when we as adults encounter something new. But it is Miro and the work of Miro which personally holds strong appeal: bright colours, fun shapes, stories within stories…
This weekend as many families either shop or watch a Football game, and wonder if they are allowing the children too much screen time, head on over to a museum with that very computer on line or simply google the artist and have the children self select which picture amuses; then look up the image and try to draw or colour a picture in similar fashion. Many of the artists also look at “Nature” from a personal perspective, and with the weather on the cusp of a new season, a brisk neighborhood walk after the Thanksgiving meal can find “treasures” – leaves and whatever else depending on which part of the States one is located in. Paper, children’s glue, tape, crayons, even the boxes that may have accumulated from the extra groceries purchased in preparation of a gathering all may become “art supplies” and when children see Art that has moved beyond representation, to encompass the imaginary, (Miro admired Calder- with parent’s help a clothes hangar is suddenly transformed into a hanging mobile..) the spirit of play and creativity may emerge. And just think- as parents you will be encouraging a life long love of this “maker concept” that you may be hearing about from teachers… it begins with first taking a Look. Artists do see our world differently, able to question and suggest where some areas could be improved ( consider the cast of “Hamilton” (the Broadway play) and their fervent appeal to future leaders to respect Humanity and to honour the Freedoms those very Founders depicted in the play were fighting for.
images which continue to make me smile:
- my children
- their art work
- places and experiences we have together…
and often the “unexpected!”
Happy Thanksgiving! When people come together to simply celebrate “being together.” A unique non-denominational day that allows each of us to take stock and consider the extraordinary; that a country could be filled with so many with different roots, and that over-all the simple celebration of harvest time could grow to be the event which for a brief weekend may remind everyone that there is a common ground.
P.S. remember to have the children sign and date their creations
“I don’t know”
Is there a teacher at any grade who hasn’t heard that comment at one point or another? And not in relation to a specific question/answer such as a Mathematical equation, but in relation to the more general questions which we as Educators ask: What type of books do you enjoy reading? What topic have you selected to research? Did you include a personal reflection at the end of the unit? Will you be ready to present next week?
What do you think…? is behind the questions, and such a question in itself is scary for many to answer. Lately I have been wondering why we make it so difficult for students to consider their own “meta-cognition” or personal responses and evaluations of their own understood if not spoken “gut reactions” to situations because as educators the entire “take back Education” movement is only partially resonating and if an Educator is unable to model expressing opinions beyond teaching to the test, and then sharing only a series of prescribed responses, the students are neither seeing nor hearing the multiple ways in which we as adults and as engaged members of society do wrestle with many ideas- the simple and the complex, from how to organize the environment (complex unless objects like desks and chairs are fixed, then each teacher may stamp a personality on the room) to what ought to occur when a bell goes (simple as this action has been practiced and is prescribed) and only if we begin to share more openly the doodles, notes in margins, rehearsed speeches and other actions each of us allows ourselves to express privately will that sense of their doing so become more than “come on class it is mind mapping time!”
Years ago I began teaching my youngest students to enjoy their wonderful smelling erasers and to use them for their best copies only- and to draw a line through any inaccurate word or number and to write the corrected response on the page that later in preparing for any test or quiz the students would see the areas where they had felt challenged and be able to see also the changes made. When I switched to higher grades I was stunned to discover how many students simply copied in the correct answers and didn’t take time to question why any changes might be suggested; Learning to Question WHY became a strong theme in middle school and often carried over to High School. But still, High School students could stare, startled, at the question, ” Did you enjoy the…?” as if enjoying any aspect of school, or learning or even attending an out of school event hadn’t been organized with the hope that students would not only participate but also communicate why such events -curricular or extra-curricular were of value. Yes, even as adults we really simply wish to be participatory and not always analyzing every detail however it is essential when we prepare programs, and these I have recently done also for fellow teachers, that we encourage those involved to suggest not only improvements but also what to keep.
And then it dawned on me how much more responsive individuals are when not worried about their placement within the “group,” and how much quicker to venture an opinion and to share insight. Somewhere between grade five and grade nine- those middle school formative years, students move from not worrying about sticking out as individuals to almost cloning themselves within many a school environment! And with all the current discussions about the culture of a school- its atmosphere and its opportunity for students to extend themselves we must then make time for all students to get some quiet time for reflection, and time to communicate directly and the only way we as Educators make this possible is through open and expected mini conferences and whole school collaborative activities.
Tests abound; we continue to prepare students for them whether we label them “common core” or any other title, but none of these formal tests come anywhere near the types of constant decision making all of our young adults are faced with deciding upon, sometimes hourly! And for these real decisions, there is only trial and error- and kids recognize that aspect of participation, and we as adults owe it to all of them to respect each and every choice without condemnation and with the understanding that being an “Educator” is supposed to instill; “supposed to” – for each of us is “human” and as capable of going for the wrong door as any television contestant who publicly demonstrates the mistake making that can happen. We must therefore recognize that the real value for some students when self challenging using a game like Minecraft is the safe aspect of where the trial and error will take them- only inside the game after all. But we must also recognize that school should not be the place that provokes negative; we need more than posters that speak out against bullying on the walls, we need active demonstrations of how students need to get along for the school itself to thrive and then we will be teaching the reflective stance when we encourage the students – all the students not only those who elected to be student representatives on council – to share in decision making- and to recognize when erasing a mistake is of value, and when placing the better solution on the table will actually provide results.
We often do “would you rather…” with children, and young adults as a quick and generally pleasant way to generate free flowing discussion and an alternative to brainstorming in the formal sense. A simple way to start the in class process would be to pose a question, open ended, and to have the students respond directly- no need for a “hands up” but to simply begin calling responses and engaging in the questioning with one another as well as with the teacher- warning, the room is bound to become noisy.
For example, would you rather recall a positive or a negative memory? The Why and they Why Not become intertwined in the student’s responses. If there is a Writing area in the classroom it is a good idea to begin posting the examples free style; that is do not organize the responses- if suggesting what a mind map may look like then let the ideas pop up on the black board or electronic white board as the come; the results will be an area filled with ideas. And Students thoughts will digress. As they begin to argue their points of view, they will also be supplying a supporting point, and considering the “story” within their point of view. Perhaps most importantly they will have a direct understanding of what is meant when a teacher states “there is no right or wrong answer to this question,” for it is an opinion piece and students MUST be encouraged to validate their own opinions.
Surprisingly with all the current talk in Education about teaching diversity and teaching empathy and teaching creativity, there seems to have become a sense of each of the above as being distinct fields of thought. Perhaps because this allows for someone to become a specialist in a field; it makes for jobs? When the natural outpouring of ideas amongst students tends to flow towards ideas of social justice, towards why anything might be wrong or right, towards how their current experiences do give them an understanding of the greater social order, even when it hasn’t always given them a voice or an outlet through which to express their thoughts, or a means of putting together thought and action. We could all recall the famous quote from artist Picasso on how everyone is born an artist but some – well to paraphrase – some have all those unique and curious thoughts and unique and curious actions – squashed by others who see very restrictive and prescriptive educational concepts as being the only way to teach! When Educators have guidelines in a curriculum along with a modicum of Freedom in how to apply these guidelines, the results tend to amaze. Kids own their memories, and their passions. And are not born with prejudice or indifference or even a lack of ability to care- yes each statement must have its qualifying accompanying comment that indeed there are exceptions to every “rule,” however; when we recognize that regardless of what neighbourhood we teach in, the wealthiest or the poorest, the students are learning about the world in more ways than the time in the classroom can provide, and we as Educators do a disservice if we don’t allow the students to honour their own experiences, and to learn how to express these experiences in a manner that later can be empowering. As long as the spoken and written word continues to offer the student a powerful means of expression, and if the student wishes to add any of the other artistic endeavours to the process so much the better – for what began as an open ended discussion can spill over into a full scale problem solving individual or group project; and the best type of advice from the Educator at this point becomes only the truly formal suggestions of how it either has been done or could be done- letting the students run with ideas is safer than running with other objects!
Things for Teachers to Remember:
Children and young adults are a “little bit of everything.” Too often as we approach the final portion of an academic year, we are busy thinking tests, reviews, scores, and how to get it all done in time. We also have to evaluate the pupils, and suggest not merely for those upcoming reports but also for the files, the notes we make on the students and that allow us to intelligently discuss what worked, who worked, and how they worked throughout the academic year.
And I remember how with the youngest who were still at the picture book stage, we often used metaphor to get the point across that they as children were “allowed” to have all the emotions, to be all the fish in the pond, not merely a static “happy fish” or happy smiling face. Then as children complete middle school literally for many “trying on roles” and enter High School as the young adults we encounter, they are beginning to solidify an image- if not quite their true image. As Educators we have to keep encouraging them to continue to not restrict themselves into one specific personality trait or one specific mode of practice- for this I turn to the already famous to share how so many had more than one profession, more than one talent, more than one fixed and celluloid image. And for those who have gone on to become rock stars, or sports heroes or even Nobel Scientists there is also their other characteristics as well: Einstein famously playing music, rock stars who become spokes people for environmental issues, Environmentalists painting or capturing their beloved outdoors in photographs or on film, and for the students skeptical if they can break their “molds” and the expectations of their peers we happily have a host of relatively recent young adult movies where the actors actually do try on other roles to the chagrin of peers and with at times extreme growing pains- these may be shared to generate free style brain storming and writing exercises.
And we as Educators ought to recall for ourselves those “hobbies” which once brought pleasure and remember to share our efforts with our students so as not to be one dimensional to them, either. When we care about students from a holistic perspective we share a little part of our personalities, too. We might not be “the biggest fish in the pond” but we can keep swimming and demonstrating that each of us is a valuable part of the whole, for when we do so we validate our students’ efforts and make real the notion that yes it is good to try new challenges, to encourage ourselves as well as one another, and to perhaps even uncover hidden talents and new dreams.
What do you do if your nature and training says “leader” but your personality says “don’t control?” You become an Educator. You lead, encourage, exemplify, and demonstrate how to bring out the best in others, without controlling them.
Teachers don’t just make things happen, they allow people to change and grow! Format, question, draft and resolution, names for activities, but what is going on inside, the curiousity, ambition, challenges and achievements are personal; students own them and proceed forward with each iteration, constantly refining themselves and reminding us as Educators how very essential it is to make room for the surprise responses, the non-conventional answers, the real thinking to progress.
“Buyer beware” is an old saying- and one I usually put into practice- after all, education plus experience is meant to be worth something- isn’t it? and of course- everyone makes mistakes …
As I type this my left eyelid is swelling, my left cheek is bruised and my left side of my face- well- I hope it won’t be scarred. In any event three red welts have already encircled that left eye and I either look like a prize ring boxer or a lady who went for plastic surgery and it didn’t take. In reality I am neither- neither the boxer nor the person undergoing plastic surgery- an ordinary teacher rushing to a bus with books in an unusual position-books in one of those “neat- little- carry- on- carts” that some people seem to either push or pull effortlessly and what others- who hardly ever carry a thing- exhort as the latest and greatest non technological advance- “imagine” – it slides on wheels! and suddenly all one has to do is pile it with all the paraphernalia that we who teach or carry objects to and fro usually lug in bags over the shoulder or the wrist, – “freedom?!”
Up early double cup of coffee- lunch made, books in order- bus at the corner – just go! And everyday except this morning- no problem- today = the unwieldy “neat-little-carry-on-cart” just toss everything in and – boom- flat on my face on the sidewalk- the – neat -little- carry-on-cart standing at attention after it had picked up speed and smashed into my ankles- I was pulling rather than pushing it- and hadn’t realized that the objects inside would have had to have been placed- “just so” to give it ballast- either way- kind gentleman and his dog looking extremely worried as I begin to stand up- my face had hit the ground- hard; glasses cutting into my cheek may have prevented further damage as no ground went into the eye proper- but I do look a sight! A bit scary really – for even with 1/2 hour of an ice pack (actually a frozen bag of corn- peas would have worked too!) the bruising and cuts are evident. So …advice to the ones who may consider purchasing one of these “neat-little-carry-on-carts” buyer beware- give me an old fashioned bag or two any day, and I will restrict the carts which I push to carts in a grocery store. And don’t look askance please if you should see a lady carrying her books old-fashioned school girl style – in her arms- instead of in one of those “neat-little-carry-on-carts”; mine will be going in the garbage can while my head is still on my shoulders; and next time someone suggests I could make my life easier if I were to*…I might just buy a pair of running shoes…instead.
Thanks for reading.
*sit down, relax and put my feet up- that didn’t work either- but that’s another story…