Bird Droppings April 27, 2020
Driving up a mountain takes considerable effort
I am looking forward to another trip to Black Rock Mountain in North Georgia, the site of the Foxfire Museum property. In the past, the site was used as a focus of Piedmont College’s teacher’s class in The Foxfire Approach to teaching. My oldest son took the course as a piece of his master’s degree program at Piedmont. But interestingly enough several folks who graduated from Loganville High School my son’s old HS attended this course. One of the teachers, as we went around the room doing introductions, made a comment about an interesting point for her was the first time she had ever held a snake was in my old classroom at Loganville High School, holding Stevie my ball python. Sadly, Stevie has passed away after nineteen years of being around students. Sitting here thinking actually there is a picture of her 2003 State Champion Softball team in my files.
As I recall my past sessions sitting and listening to teachers and teachers to be in the discussions that went around the room with the lead facilitators providing a frame work; I was always amazed at how quickly others began to expound or expand the conversation which was a starting point of a weeklong session. Depending on the facilitators the initial start could take a few minutes for those gathered to realize it was a joint venture of teacher and students searching for answers.
Just prior to leaving our house to drive up I had hit on an idea for my dissertation topic which has been eluding me for some time. I had been sitting in a discussion with a former student and he offered the idea of that I had shown him or helped him find, how learning was an artform. As I pondered deeper into that morning this idea stuck with me and from it a topic. I would use my passion for story telling which for me toed directly into the Art of Learning and using the Foxfire Core Practices as a palette and it was only a few days ago my idea evolved again and now is, Birddroppings: Passionate learning through story telling. I have come across the word improvisational through discussion on my own style of teaching. It is that combination of student and teacher thinking is just that improvisational.
When I left Mountain City on my last trip and drove back to the lower lands of Walton County I felt excited about the possibilities and my own epiphany that morning with the idea of learning is an art form. John Dewey’s book, Experience and Education sits to my left as I write and the past few days I have borrowed from it several times as I jotted ideas down. But it is within the community of fellow learners and teachers we find answers and again more questions to ask. I thrive on the idea of learning even though I am sure many of my high school teachers and some college professors would argue. When students want to learn and desire to learn amazing things can be accomplished. Core practice one sums it up.
“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Core Practice One from The Foxfire Core Practices
John Dewey and his thoughts run through the Foxfire Approach to Teaching with an emphasis on a democratic classroom, experience as a means of learning and student input into the process of learning. I find that this is a rather simple statement this initial core practice which along with the other nine have evolved over the past nearly fifty years of teacher interactions and discussions from literally around the world. But so often a key attribute is missed and that is that students and teachers do this undertaking together. At my last course attended listening to sixteen nearly teachers and active teachers respond to why they were involved in this class provided me with a sense of maybe there are a few who get it in the world.
In education we talk about test scores which are also what is used to measure in most schools to federal and state guidelines. Standardized tests given to all students at the end or near end of a school term on specific subjects that are to measure what students have learned. Sadly, many students could take the same test at the beginning of the term and score the same so is that really a valid measure of what is learned probably not. Far too many teachers avoid discussing the concept of learning; they are engrossed in standards, curriculum, forms and teacher manuals on the subject. So, I sit here offering learning is a stream to cross and or an art form. Both of these ideas are fluid, moving and ever changing.
“Measuring tools lead to quantification; the tools in the arts lead to qualification.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind
Do we ever truly measure learning? I have been wondering this since I started back into teaching although in various different words and meanings. A simple measure would be giving a pre-test and post-test which would show where a student started and where they ended. On a far more involved scenario would be that of using portfolios gathering the evidence as the student progresses through material. They are effectively used in some schools to measure learning and student’s growth. These would consist of gathering artifacts along the way from the student. Essays, reports, assignments, any piece of material that is involved in the student’s educational life could be considered an artifact.
“With respect to art and its meaning I share Dewey’s view that art is a mode of human experience that in principle can be secured whenever an individual interacts with any aspect of the world.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind
So, I am wandering as I sit here this almost summer like morning pondering an article to write on critical pedagogy. I sat down yesterday trying to write but my energy level has deteriorated even after two five-hour energy shots and I did little more than ponder a moment. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)