Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We don't see all at once...

I am amazed sometimes that when I demonstrate things, methods, objects, to my students at school, they don't see the whole thing at once. So today we began stitching the bindings of our books. First, of course there was a flurry of folding papers. The paper as it comes off the roll has a natural curl to it that is deceiving. Your eyes tell you it should fold one way, but the fibers in the paper and their alignment requires that it be folded the other for best results. This takes very close observation to see. This takes very careful explanation to impart, and when your mind is full of your own thoughts, it is hard to listen with complete attention. We miss way too much.

And so it is in schools. It can take the engagement of the hands to learn the lessons. With the engagement of the hands, the mind and heart follow. And of course, if you were to read this from the standpoint of academic/scientific precision of language you would stand back in critical judgment, while those who work with their hands will know exactly what I'm talking about. So it was with the teachings of Friedrich Froebel.

As a patient teacher, I bide my time. I explain things, then allow the students to get the materials in their own hands and proceed to the point where their understanding runs out, and I explain again. They get more the second time when they stand on the platform of their own experience. In the photos above, students are tearing, punching with an awl, and beginning to sew. And I will also explain that one's best work is often not one's first work. We see more as we progress, and if a craftsman's will is at work, what we do in time is lifted to the level of "art craft"... art in which deep development of character is expressed.

Can human qualities mirror the crystalline forms that Froebel handled in the Mineralogical Museum? Froebel was inspired to believe that could happen. I think of it as craftsmanship... the process through which one grows to meet full human potential.


  1. Anonymous4:29 AM

    Some of the value in the lessons learned with the shop projects won't be apparent for years. That's another "problem" teachers have. We can't be expecting instant gratification all the time.


  2. And we can't be so easily measured. Yesterday was the last day to apply for race for the top money.

    I am frankly disappointed in the department of education, proposing that throwing more money at some specific schools will bring the educational changes we need. Especially when the money is thrown in the direction of that which is most easily measured, student short term achievement on multiple choice standardized tests.

  3. Anonymous12:10 PM

    If your experience is anything like mine, there's a point at which it is necessary to "fail" - to cut and fold the paper the wrong way and experience the consequences - in order for the "lesson" to truly sink in. In most schools, however, making mistakes is a source of embarrassment and to be avoided at all costs. Do you find yourself explicitly setting up a classroom climate where "mistakes" are encouraged, and do you see the kids learning to not be afraid of trying and failing? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

  4. I set up situations in which they are challenged, but I set up situations in which I am also challenged and fail in the classroom. As I explained to my high school students yesterday, I tend to teach what I want to learn, so some failure is inevitable. I tell my students "this is what I thought yesterday, but this is what I learned today." Why should a teacher be any different from a student, and why should we keep our own interest in learning hidden from them?

    I was asked to teach the high school students processes for testing materials yesterday, so we had pieces of wood that they were told to break. Now, why would it break along the grain so easily and not across grain? In our digital, virtual world, there is no such thing as grain, but I had them mess with paper, to discover that even it bends more easily and more precisely one way than the other. Things that we take for granted have material qualities that can only be discovered by hand, but then only if we take the time to test them and learn from them. It is part of a teacher's job to ask that of them...

    In the case of folding the paper the wrong way, I clearly explained the process and the reasons for it 4 times, but many students still don't really hear until they are holding the material in their own hands and have the foundation for learning that sensory engagement supplies.

    Age old pedagogues knew the truth of this. I see it because my own lineage is that of the wood shop and not the university.

  5. Another thing is that we don't grow all at once. We have 3 grades to a classroom and each kid gets to be the mature, confident one at some point in the process. Failure is never criticized or held up for ridicule or set up as a cause for embarrassment. The same students seem to make the most mistakes, and would it surprise anyone if they were the youngest in the class? Don't we accept that as most natural to the process of growth?