TEACHING VS. LEARNING: One of the scariest things about transitioning to a choice based approach to working with children is a teacher’s fear of losing control. Many of us are operating under the false assumption that if we control every possible variable, we will ensure that our students are learning.
Today, there are whole texts such as _Teach Like a Champion_ that promote this idea. While some of the strategies for student engagement described in this book may be useful, I dispute the underlying premise that total teacher control leads to better student outcomes. This is based on my professional reading and learning across the disciplines, from the humanities (Maxine Greene is an articulate voice) to contemporary neuroscience, to developmental psychology, and of course, to my own messy journey as a teaching artist. In fact, it is just the opposite. When we let go of control and begin to listen closely to how children are experiencing the materials and processes of art making, that we begin to discover the real learning that is happening right before our eyes. Nowhere have I seen this process unfold more organically and beautifully than the early childhood classrooms in a small city in Northern Italy called Reggio Emilia.
REGGIO EMILIA: The teachers in Reggio Emilia have documented the many ways children are hungry to learn in their wonderful publications. The Unheard Voices of Children series, Reggio Tutta, and many other titles along with their traveling exhibitions have allowed their ideas to influence parents and teachers across the globe. When we see the thinking and learning that children are capable of, given the proper scaffolding and environmental supports, why would we ever want to hold them back in highly scripted, structured teaching environments? www.learningmaterialswork.com carries these books if you are curious.
LEARNING: Learning, that mysterious process that a person undergoes, is an internal process that is both personal and subtle. We can create the conditions for learning but, even though children may go through the motions to complete an art project, this does not mean they have really learned something. Learning is the ability to apply skills and knowledge to explore, predict, and create new conceptual understandings. These “a ha” moments, and new connections between knowledge we hold and our new experiences help move us forward in our lives.
PAINTING WITH CHILDREN: A child may know a little bit about paint, but how much more is there to discover? How do we create opportunities to truly explore the properties of paint, different kinds of paint on different surfaces, different viscosities (thick vs. watery) and different hues through mixing? Is making a little mud really that bad?
Here are some of my simple teaching strategies for success using paint as an example:
- Offer a clean palette of basic colors in small quantities.
- Give a simple demo of how to wash the paintbrush to the whole class. Repeat this demo gently when you observe a child banging their brush on the side of the water tub.
- Introduce new colors such as white, black, magenta, turquoise, and secondaries as mixing colors once children have gotten the hang of the basics.
- Talk about brushstrokes a lot. Demonstrate on little “test strips” of paper. These are the white strips left over when I cut 8 1/2 inch square folding paper for the origami center.
- Turn it over to the children. Listen to their questions. Document their discoveries. Honor their curiosity. Try to say “Yes” as often as possible in as many ways as possible to their ideas.