Bird Droppings August 21, 2022
Driving up a mountain takes effort
I am looking forward to another trip to Black Rock Mountain in North Georgia, the site of the Foxfire Museum property and the former site 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 College, as did I. Interestingly enough, several folks from Loganville Georgia attended the course during his training session. As we went around the room doing introductions, one of the teachers commented on an interesting point for her: the first time she had ever held a snake was in my room at Loganville High School, holding Stevie, my ball python. Sadly, Stevie has since passed away at over thirty years old. I’m also sitting here thinking there is a picture of her 2003 State Champion Softball team on my wall.
As I am sitting here thinking back to listening to teachers and teachers to be in the discussions that go around the room with lead facilitators providing a framework within which to expound or expand the conversation is a starting point of a weeklong session. Before leaving the house to drive up a few years ago, I had hit on an idea for my dissertation topic, which has been eluding me for some time. I had been sitting in discussion with a former student, and he offered the idea that I had shown him or helped him discover more about a subject through the stories I would tell from experience. The topic caught wind and is now developing into my dissertation—inspiring passion in learning through storytelling.
When I left Mountain City from that last course and drove back to the lower lands of Walton County, I felt excited about the course going on and my epiphany that morning with the idea of storytelling as a key to learning. John Dewey’s book, Experience, and Education, sits to my left as I write; I have borrowed from it several times over the past few days as I jotted ideas down. But within the community of fellow learners and teachers, we find answers and, again, more questions to ask. I thrive on learning, even though I am sure many of my high school teachers and some college professors would argue. Amazing things can be accomplished when students want to learn and desire to learn.
“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuse 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, emphasizing a democratic classroom, experience as a means of learning, and student input into the learning process. I find this is a rather simple statement. This initial core practice and the other nine have evolved over the past nearly fifty years of teacher interactions and discussions from around the world. But often, a key attribute is missed, and students and teachers do this undertaking together. That last summer, listening to sixteen teachers and active teachers respond to why they were involved in this class gave me a sense that maybe there are a few who get it in the world.
In education, we talk about test scores, which are used to measure in most schools to federal and state guidelines. Standardized tests are given to all students at the end or near end of a school term on specific subjects that 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 a valid measure of what is learned? Probably not. Far too many teachers avoid discussing the concept of learning; they are engrossed in the subject’s standards, curriculum, forms, and teacher manuals. So, I sit here offering to learn a stream to cross 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 to show where a student started and ended. A far more involved scenario would be using portfolios to gather the evidence as the student progresses through the material. They are effectively used in some schools to measure learning and student growth. These would consist of gathering artifacts along the way from the student. Essays, reports, assignments, and any piece of material that is involved in the student’s academic 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
I am wandering as I sit here this morning pondering an article to write on critical pedagogy after a weekend with my grandkids. I sat down yesterday, trying to write, but my energy level had deteriorated, and I did little more than ponder a moment. I am excited to think about the possibilities of the future working with future teachers teaching education courses. Perhaps a future teacher will be experiencing some exciting and enlightening ideas and concepts across their course. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and hearts and always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)