I learnt this approach to observational line-and-form drawing from our PGCE art teacher. My inner art-snob initially bristled at the idea of just 'copying' other drawings instead of drawing 'from life' but I'm now a firm convert. Drawing has a central role in the Foundation Phase with the biggest emphasis placed on imaginative drawing. Children are expected to draw themselves, their friends, families, homes and holidays, animals and adventures - all predominantly from their heads.
Many enjoy this, some don't. Most become suspicious after a while, seeing the world in its complexity, they start to doubt their capacity to render it at all. The 'I can't draw that' mantra lands on the lips and sometimes solidifies in the heart, hands and gut for a lifetime. From what I've seen, little emphasis is placed on helping children to develop the observational and rendering skills required to actually 'learn to draw'.
I have learnt to love these black and white line drawings, because they give my students a way to connect SEEING and DRAWING, to connect their eyes' work and their hands' work in an accessible way. Rendering the 3-Dimensional world into 2D is a truly complex skill, rendering 2D to 2D is complex still but it is also much simpler. You don't have to see round corners, you don't have to flatten the world onto your page.
What I really wanted to say in this post is that my heart always soars to see the beautiful linework many children produce in these sessions, but there are also always students for whom this activity is quite upsetting and even traumatic, for whom the 'I can't draw that' mentality has already taken hold. In considering teacher self-esteem this week, this drawing session today made me mindful of my students' self-esteem. If I value drawing-as-learning, which I truly do, how can I help my students draw confidence from drawing - especially for those whose perception of the world is already one in which they feel inadequate?
If you enjoyed this post, read more Snapshots, or explore all my most recent work.
It goes without saying that BEING WITH my class is the main part of my teaching life but being APART from them is a big part too. Not only do I spend time after school every day doing student-focused work, like planning and evaluation, but I also think about my students and about teaching further into every evening.
But there are also those times when I don't think about my students or about teaching at all. This requires a significant shift in mentality. I have learnt that if I sit down in the evening to do even one school-related task I almost inevitably end up doing a planathon (and STILL feel behind!) I've learnt that if I want to disengage my teacher-brain, I have to switch it off completely.
This all-consuming aspect of teaching has made my pretty resolute about carving out time for myself that is at least nominally separate from my teacher-brain. I cocoon my weekends (well many of them) and approach Mondays with a possibly flawed sense of fatalism.
And then there's actual holidays. Yikes. This one was especially intensive because I went home to see my family. I knew without a doubt that I didn't want to do any 'school work' while I was in Windhoek.
I prepped and planned and generally tried to organise the classroom so that when I walked in 10 days later I'd get a comforting sense of purpose and flow.
Well, my morning didn't really turn out like I'd hoped. Within the hour I felt impatient and frustrated - at myself and my students, but mostly at myself. I did the gaping fish. I did the stony stares. I felt tired and I didn't feel fun. Why hadn't I spent my whole holiday preparing a world of activities so that this day could be lit? Why didn't I anticipate the lacklustre mundanity of trying to get seven-year-olds to listen to me quietly for unreasonable lengths of time?
At the end of the school day, small groups of students darted and drifted in and out of our classroom, as they always do, wanting to chat, to ask me things and to be comfortably in our space. I even got a marriage proposal - well a declaration really.
We laughed together, we hovered in this calm merriment and I thought about how much I'd looked forward to seeing them that morning. Deciding to disengage my teacher-brain is always a big decision. It has a cost, but I have to believe that it also does me good. A pause. A rest... a gathering of other self-fragments. My afternoon was better than my morning. The teacher is back at her desk.
This week I'm writing about internal teacher dialogue and its impact on teacher-self-esteem and resilience. I'll also be writing about writing. A teacher writing about other teacher's writing. Meta. Read my first 'author snapshot' about the awesome CULT OF PEDAGOGY blog here.
This activity rocks for so many reasons. I especially love it because it shows the versatility of paper and its potential for making 3-dimensional creations. I love how practically and expressively it allows children to explore line and form, the flat but pliable paper strips bent and twisted into extra-ordinary shapes and arranged in energetic compositions. It is accessible, inexpensive and most of all really, really fun.
This is an idea that I originally saw on Pinterest and there are many iterations all over the web, so it is very hard to tell where it originated. Practically it is very easy to execute. I cut some fresh paper strips, but also collected off-cuts over the months, whenever I trimmed card for other projects.
This was my second year trying it and while it was successful and fun last year too, my impression was that this year my students took to it more daringly, with far less reliance on my guidance. I can't pin down exactly why this might be. Perhaps I explained and demonstrated the activity more clearly? Comparing pedagogical approaches from year to year can be difficult because there are so many factors at play - just having a different bunch of kids can have a huge impact on how an activity is taken up.
It was also interesting to notice a few high achieving students who were really anxious to be given such open-ended instruction and for whom the freedom to play and create equated to a scary uncertainty. And at the same time, some students who struggle tremendously with traditional school work, especially fine-motor control, took to it with joyful gusto.
To me this kind of activity forms an essential part of a balanced early years program and it is especially important because it reaches kids who don't thrive at more structured, traditional school activities.
Read more snapshots here, or explore my Instagram @katiencounteract.
One of the classroom management mysteries that I'm still grappling with like a ghost behind a tangled sheet is *what to do about general chatter* in class. My thought process on this topic always runs on a kind of loop:
1. I don't want to be a dictator teacher who insists on pin-drop silence and believes that children should be seen and not heard.
2. besides often when children are working productively they mutter benignly to themselves, counting out loud or sounding out words because they haven't learnt to do that in their head yet. It's just part of their learning! And who doesn't like to think out loud sometimes?
3. At first the room is relatively quiet and I feel like my strategy is viable. Mutterings and murmurings throughout, it's impossible to tell if there are occasional non-work related conversations going on and who cares anyway because remember point 1.
4. Oh but wait. What happened? Everyone is yelling. Everything is loud. Children are calling out my name as though I can't hear or see them. I see you, I hear you, I promise, but aaaaaargh!
5. Yell yell yell. Insist on immediate and continued silence. Insist again because cause they definitely ignored me the first time. I need quiet in this room! So do they! They need to learn how to work without chatting, don't they?
6. Don't they?
7. Return to 1. But now my head hurts and is this a hamster wheel?
Read more Snapshots here or at my instagram @katiencounteract
"All right boys and girls I need someone to come up and help us solve this problem. I'm going to choose someone who's sitting very nicely..."
(This is a time-honoured teacher ruse, met with bolt upright backs and gleaming hopeful eyes.)
Ah, shoot. They all took the bait. Now I have to choose one. I have to choose quickly. I've learnt that if I let my eyes wonder round the room too long, the souls of wide-eyed 7 year olds bore into me like innocuously piercing dentist tools. I call out a name and the announcement is met, instantaneously, with a roar of indignant discord. “Hauw, Miss! “
Some objections are quite articulate...
"Hauw Miss why so-and-so"
"Hauw Miss, you never choose me" (Not true!)
Others more guttural. They roar, they howl. They slam their hands dramatically into the carpet.
Tears erupt silently, heads sink helplessly onto scabby knees. Stumped, I hand out tissues, pat heads and repeatedly utter the now dog-eared "You can't always be chosen but I'm sure you'll get your turn soon" script in a desperate attempt to calm the stormy class and prevent total mutiny.
This kind of meltdown happens pretty much every day with my current class and has been happening since the beginning of the year. They’ve gotten a little less protracted and dramatic over the months. The chorused howl doesn’t last as long, there are fewer actual tears. But I still need to prep the children daily. “You know we need to share our turns to talk” “Try to feel happy for whoever gets a turn”. They nod agreeably. I feel hopeful. But the next time someone is chosen to talk or demonstrate knowledge in front of the class the same roar of objection greets me. Humph.
What really gets me about this situation is that it does feel unfair. My students all love having a turn to stand up in front of the class. They love sharing their knowledge, love being picked. Is there something really flawed in my approach of singling out students in this way? Clearly the injustice to the rest of the class is deeply felt, but is their feeling justified or is this just ‘how life works, kids.’ In my heart I suspect the former, but the status quo would have you believing otherwise. Children Have to learn that Life is Unfair (says the Status Quo) Children have to learn that they can’t always be chosen, that they can’t always be heard. What sinister function do these assumptions play in societal power games?
This also bothers me because I spend so much time asking the children to listen to me. Asking for their attention, rattling on and on about how good listening shows respect and don’t you know that listening is a part of how you learn, boys and girls. BOYS AND GIRlS! Are you listening?! I feel like ‘turns to talk’ are like candies and I am the hoarder, the keeper. Greedily, I keep many of the candies to myself, TTT. I use my candies for a lot of good reasons, but I also feel like I waste them on a lot of nagging, berating and lecturing that could surely be better used some way else.
Writing these Snapshots on talk has helped me to articulate some deeply rooted anxieties and doubts I have about my teaching practice, particularly how we share talk time in our class room. As I reflect on these troubling issues, I have found myself being more alert to my own talk-behaviour, checking myself at times when I have wanted to launch into another lecture or interrupt the children’s work to announce something. But it is difficult to self-correct, to have that acute awareness, hold myself accountable, come up with an alternative and act on it.
Ultimately I need new strategies. Cultivating this awareness, alternative-seeking and problem-solving is a big part of what Encounteract is all about. Read more Snapshots here. Read about new, progressive thinking in education that has the potential to challenge the grim status quo here. Read more reflections on societal and political factors impacting education here.
A daunted but determined teacher irons out the creases of her brain.