Art Teaching: Braiding Strands of Theory into Practice

brooks_Jan board_webEvery teacher-in-training takes theory classes in preparation for entering the classroom.  Over time, our theories about children and learning become the foundation for our practice–the daily life of working with children in the classroom.  As I have matured in my teaching I have integrated various strands of theory into my own unique hybrid of classroom practice.  I like using the word “practice” because it reminds me that I am a learner too.  I also like the image of a braid.  When I first moved to Maine in the 1980′s I attended the Common Ground Fair, a celebration of rural life and community.  I purchased a braid of sweetgrass, a special grass that grows in the brackish marshes of the inland bays.  The Abenaki, the First Nations people from Maine, use this fragrant grass in their handwoven baskets.  My braid of sweetgrass reminds me of my connection to the land and to everything I cherish in the world.

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My special blend includes mindfulness in education–the mindful awareness of our embodied selves in time and space and how we interact with one another.  P1010722

Another strand is TAB–Teaching for Artistic Behavior.  Grounded in what have been termed the “Studio Habits of Mind” TAB practice is based on the strong belief that all children are artists and can use the languages of art to express their ideas and feelings–to make meaning with materials.carter_brodi_blocks

P1010982These strands blend beautifully with the Reggio Approach, a philosophy that was developed in the infant-toddler centers and preschools of a city called Reggio Emilia located in the Emilia Romagna province of Northern Italy.  P1010266

Loris Malaguzzi, the founder and key theorist of the Reggio preschools, wrote a poem called “The Hundred Languages of Children.”  “A child has a hundred ways of knowing, feeling, being, and expressing…”  Here (above) a kindergarten student has translated her 2-D painting into a 3-D clay figure.  This concept of translating from one “language” to another is key to helping children grow their knowledge and investigations of the world around them.  I continue to be inspired by the theory and practice of the global Reggio Emilia community.

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In Reggio pedagogy, all children are seen as creative, capable individuals from birth.  One holds a strong “image of the child” as well as the image of the parent and the teacher.  It is this triad–the child, the teacher, and the parent, who are the key protagonists in a child’s education.   P1010694

The classroom environment is considered “the third teacher.”  Designing an environment that is welcoming, supportive, and accessible to children provides a context for exploration and growth.  Teachers use the classroom as a place of action research.  The curriculum unfolds in response to the actual children who are present.

All of these deeply held values feed my teaching soul and allow me to interact with a bigger world of ideas and inspiration.

Each strand of educational theory offers an intellectual framework as well as a community of like-minded educators who are willing to explore and exchange ideas.  http://reggioalliance.org/  I bring these treasures with me to each learning context, whether it be a short-term artist residency or a longer term position in a school.

It is not always easy to maintain my educational values in a mainstream culture that foregrounds individual achievement, standardized testing, and competition rather than collaboration.  But I strongly believe that our work with children should be driven by learning theory that has a biological basis rather than one that is market-driven.   Our future depends on teachers who are willing to risk challenging the status quo to defend the rights of children to have authentic learning experiences throughout their schooling.  I do my best to uphold this ideal.

Robin E. Brooks, revised May 24, 2016

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MiEN is the Mindfulness in Education Network.  Started by Richard Brady, a math teacher at a Quaker School in Pennsylvania, this has grown into an international network of educators and medical professionals working with mindfulness and youth. http://www.mindfuled.org/

TAB-Choice is a practice founded by teachers Katherine Douglas, Pauline Joseph, and Diane Jacquith in the greater Boston area.  The TAB community continues to gain momentum in the art education world and is now officially recognized as a practice group by the National Art Education Association.  http://teachingforartisticbehavior.org/

 

In viaggio con i diritti / A journey into rights

Centro Internazionale Loris Malaguzzi

https://youtu.be/JQr2yFAC10E

Published on May 23, 2016

autori: bambini dei nidi e delle scuole dell’infanzia di Reggio Emilia
authors: children from infant-toddler centres and preschool of Reggio Emilia

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