“…they scatter memories behind them like breadcrumbs…”

Sometimes life can feel incredibly complex to break down into small digestable bits.

Many rich projects have been occurring in the studio during this time of my playing hookie from blogging. This causes me to feel overwhelmed on what to include. (I mean I’ve been told my blogs are too long already.)

Sometimes I can see this same feeling within my students.

A provocation can seem overwhelming, draw a self portrait, build a chair out of clay, draw your nightmare and tell me about it. A big part of my work is teaching others how to break down what they see, feel, think, or hear into pieces, deconstructing what seems insurmountable.

 

Some background of what you are seeing: The “Chair Project” emerged in Ms Burke’s PreK class. Winnie drew a picture of the tables and chairs to illustrate the job of “snack helper.”  The table had about fifty legs and the chairs were represented as circles on top of the table. Dimensional thinking is complex, let alone representing it with pen and paper as a four year old. Ms. Burke found it fascinating, and we discussed it. I suggested giving the children the challenge of creating a 3d chair out of clay, and returning to the drawing later. The photos above from the studio include Hannah Birney scaffolding or asking questions to provoke understanding that would facilitate overcoming the challenge,  examples of  chairs in different postions to help children understand how they are  constructed, and Zuri giving peer support to Matteo.

50 percent of the children began by making a flat “drawing” out of clay initially.

90 percent of the children struggled with creating sturdy legs and balance. What you see plus the wonderful quality of clay-you can smoosh it when it doesn’t work out, led to enormous leaps of growths.

About 20 percent of the children came up with their own strategies  for making the chair upright. Platforms, bucket chairs and a chaise lounge were some of the ways.

When the children  finally manipulated the clay and created an upright chair, I had a few figures from the play castle for testing stability. After children “tested” their chair with the fugure, they went off to have some studio freetime.

In one small group, all but one child was done. Fionn was working with great intensity to tackle his chair. When he finally had success, I commented on how he stuck with this project, even when it was hard. I placed Fionn’s chair next to the other chairs still on the table that had a small figure seated.

“WAIT WAIT! He didn’t get to put a person on his!” Michael exclaimed from the floor where he was playing with the wooden castle. I had no idea he was paying any attention at all. I was about to just pluck a figure off the neighboring chair, when Michael rushed up with the small figure he was playing with. “There!” He pronounced, placing the toy he was playing with onto Fionn’s chair.

That small moment of caring, of equity and of kindness struck me as not just kind, but incredibly giving. Memories like these remind me of the tiny gestures which make humanity grand.

 How do I hold on to these small moments?  How can I catch them, and put them in my pocket, to be retrieved and written down before I forget them? And then, when do I remember to share them, with the person who made the moment, or the small gesture?

“…I wonder how memories can be here one moment and then gone the next. I wonder about how the sky can be a huge, blue nothingness and at the same time it can also feel like shelter. ” p.175 from Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

After the chairs were fired in the kiln, I placed them on black paper and put up a stand so that black paper would be a backdrop for the chair. I wanted the children to see the negative space  black instead of the entire visual field around their chairs.

I wondered if the memory of mentally deconstructing a real chair and physically constructing a clay chair would support their dimensional thinking , allowing them to “see” and draw this complex object.

Mira’s chair with standing figure above.

I told the children that this was difficult for even grown-ups to do, and that they should expect to do a whole bunch of tries. That even grown ups have to do things a lot of times, and even then, it might still be difficult. As you can see from the above photos, the cognitive and tactile experiences paired with the expectation that it would take a bunch of drawings to figure it out, made for astounding development. I witnessed tremendous breakthroughs in this process.

 Dima

When it was discovered that a seat of a chair sideways makes a letter “L” shape, I showed everyone this finding.

This immediately made sense to Tessa (above)

Bella, below, was really trying hard to figure out how to draw her chair sideways. Her seat was a big circular shape, and the way she saw it, it was more from an aerial perspective. I know she was listening as I urged each child to notice that “L” shape on their own chair. When she didn’t find it, she added it to the bottom of her drawing as a bunch of “L” legs. Sometimes what you see doesn’t look like what others see. If you look closely, there is indeed a side view, just from a different perspective.

With each group, I left time at the end to reflect about what was hard or difficult as well as what they and or their friends figured out.

This intentional practice of teaching and modeling observation, critique and reflection is a way to make it a value or eventually an internalized practice for each child. At first it’s a little like pulling teeth, and then “pop” with ease and surprise great awakenings are verbalized.

Eva, throughout the process kept saying “I can’t do this.” I reminded her that “can’t is a bad word, but instead she could say, “This is hard! Can you help me?” She was however quite successful in in the end representing her chair, which she created on a base.

When we regrouped to reflect, Eva exclaimed poetically:

“If your brain looks into your creation,

Use the power.

And tell Mommy and Daddy, ‘You did it! Whoo Hoo!'”

I returned to transcribing the nightmare paintings. My goal was to complete this important process of writing down each child’s words with their paintings. I find these works by four year olds both brave and playful. While some children turned their nightmare into a dear friend like Simone,

or an element of power like Archer

 Ava S. expressed herself in an honest and touching way. I find her nightmare painting and memory as incredible evidence of the importance of  parents  protecting their child from even the  imaginary.

“Then he holds me by the shoulderss and looks me in the eyes and says,

We see things. Sometimes they there. Sometimes they not there. We see them the same either way. You understand?”

p169 from Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

The intensity in the studio is coupled with the free time children are able to take, time permitting. While sometimes project time will use up the entire slot, I try hard to be cognizant of the merits of free time as equally important to the teacher facilitated period, and make space for it. Some children live for free time, especially those who seek the social emotional release and joys of dramatic play. While they might “live” for this free time, it does not mean it is easy. Negotiating friends, time, space, place and materials takes a multitude of thought and self regulation. Even those who prefer to make something on their own or play alone often have to defend their choices- all important habits of mind.

Here are some memories caught and documented during free time.

 Lane over the past weeks has sought out the drum during free time. He keeps a repetitive and steady beat, and loses himself in the concentration and rhythm. A few weeks ago, he began rearranging chairs and stools to make a seat and platform for his playing. He was experimenting with many configurations independently. “Can I sit on this?” he asked, rolling over the clay trash container on wheels. No child had ever asked this, so I told him to go ahead. After some bustling around, I realized the steady drum rhythm had returned. When I looked, I could see that Lane had created a throne for his music making.

Sophie this week chose to use clay to make something for her free time. She spent a long time crafting a teeny tiny sculpture. While she was welcome to take a big wad of clay, she chose to make something small and precious. When she was done she handed it to me. “It’a a platypus.” I turned it around in my hands trying to figure out how to even put one initial on it. When I determined an initial would overwhelm her piece I told her, “Sophie, this is so small, I am unable to put your name or letter on it. Please remind me that you made it after it’s been fired.”

Sophie looked at me in alarm and said, “But Ms. McLean, what if someone ELSE makes a platypus?!”

 Robert and Gabriel chose to work together making copious amounts of meatballs and spaghetti. For a half hour they made tiny pinch pots and squeezed out clay through the extruder with great excitement and seriousness. It was an epic amount of clay pasta, and their engagement and spirits were so high. Was this a fleeting moment?  or a memory that one day, when they are grown and cook for themselves,  will slip into their consciousness like a small little jolt?

What memories do we control? How can memories be utilized as a learning tool in intentional connected ways? How accurate are memories in reflecting or re-experiencing events?

Mant times when I lead classes to a museum, there is no photography allowed of the objects. In these cases, I speak very seriously to the children. “It’s important that you sketch what is interesting or gives you ideas. Since photography is not allowed, these pictures in your sketchbook will be your memory for you to return to.” I was floored by the intensity I observed when I led Ms. Ricks’ PreK class to the Museum of African Art. The line quality and pen strokes conveyed materials, features and intricacies of art and artifacts.

In the art studio, Raigan tends to complete drawings with speed and little effort.In the Museum of African Art she was transfixed, staring closely as she slowly sketched. I never tire of the phenomenon of young children enthralled and engaged in an art museum. So many parents tell me their children won’t draw or aren’t interested in looking when in a museum setting. These very same children, with high expectations that they are competent and able , seem to float into a zone where the rest of the world disappears. They create images, ideas and connections which they know are important and can see are strong work.

Shaw

Will

Zander

Loic

Sometimes memory is important  just for the reason to share a moment that was delightful. The first week back after Winter Break, folk dancers came to share dances around the world. Despite having an audience of over 80 four to six year old children, the performance was interactive and entertaining and the hour long performance was a hit.  Thanks to Arts for Every Student and Class Acts, this program was free.

The hundreth day of school was marked  by the Kindergarten students with a lot of numeracy and ritual. This year, I joined each classroom with thousands of craft sticks, wire, glue dots, paper towel rolls, egg cartons and some foam bits and pieces. In both K classes the children were given the challenge of using each one hundred sticks in some kind of sculpture that they make in an hour. A beautiful chaos of “making” ensued.

While most kids consciously or  unconsciously gave up on the idea of incorporating one hundred craft sticks, Emma Clare was determined to use all 100 sticks. With shades on, she created a skateboard storage area on her sculpture (that woud be the sticks as skateboards placed tightly in a paper cannister.) Brilliant!

 

This exercise of exploring and constructing without a plan was filled with engineering and ingenuity. It was however lacking time, so I found myself in a mad rush of cleaning up the gazillions of materials which sprawled, before the kids missed lunch or the bus. When I was leaving Mr. Jere’s class, clutching various materials I heard my name being called and felt a small person quickly following me as I zipped around. “Ms. McLean, Ms. McLean” I hurriedly said “What?” and spun around to face Anja. “Thank you for setting that up in our class. I really like doing that kind of thing.”  I felt a wave of gratitude and a little shame for being so curt initially.

I happened to bump into Anja’s parents one afternoon and told the story. It’s not often that someone even thinks to thank you for the everyday work you do, and especially not a 5 or 6 year old. This memory truly stops me in my tracks, and illuminates the great power of a small heartfelt thank you.

Memory is closely related to observation and discovery. I took one group in the art studio and decided to see if they were interested in some water experiments. The Kindergarten classes are in the beginning phases of The Anacostia River Project. Because the first visit to the river was cancelled due to weather, there were no first encounters to rely upon.  My idea was to observe water in altered states and sketch afterwards. I was not certain at all.

Dropping a golf ball in the water. Adding oil to water. Adding water color paints to water. Adding salt to water.

Stephen

Maya

Jasper

Perhaps the memory of the experiment will connect to what they see when they visit the river at the end of the week. To my delight, this one group of children (Jasper, Stephen, Ra’Kiya, Luke and Maya) were eager and enthusiastic scientists. They each documented the shared process and sequence and ideas- their memory of the multi step experiment.

Memory is called upon as a coping mechanism.With children, both the joy and the pain must be revisited with support and care to gain a sense of stability and understanding. “Remember when you were left out of your friends game? How did you feel? How do your friends feel when you leave them out? What do you need to do?” Children spontaneously bring up memories of grief, from a relative to a pet. These are great windows into life. I recently attended a funeral of my uncle. The power of memory and story is not only essential to the grief process but to each and every individual as a human being.

Piper

How and what we remember informs our very being.

Last Friday, a former student, Eva Epstein who is now in third grade came to visit me. After a big hug she looked into my eyes and said, “Ms. McLean, I came into here (the art studio) and all the memories came flooding back!”

“We return to the places we’re from; we trample faded corridors and pencil in new lines. “You’ve grown up so fast,” Robert’s mother tell him at breakfast, at dinner. “Look at you.” But she’s wrong, thinks Robert. You bury your childhood here and there. It waits for you, all your life, to come back and dig it up.” p.242 Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

Slowly, I get to know each child, quite intimately. Helena often creates representations of her baby sister. The drawing above came about when I asked her, “What are you into? What interests you? What is something you think about?” My sister, she replied. When I asked her what her sister can do, she told me “crawl”. I bent a small figure in a crawling postion so she could figure it out.

 Previously, during free time she created her sister in her car seat out of clay.

There is an amazing way we, all people walk the earth. We bring our memories from home with us, wherever we go. They are invisible to others most of the time. For young children, they wear their memories  on their sleeves. The family memories bubble up and emerge. One moment they are playing happily and the next moment they think of their mommy, and briefly, the tears or yearning is vocalized. The next moment they are a part of a new group, building new memories, creating new pathways in their brains. Like Eva Epstein, who visited me, someday these memories will just bubble up. And define them.

“…every hour…, all over the globe, an infinite  number of memories disappear, whole glowing atlases dragged into graves. But during that same hour children are moving about, surveying territory that seems to them entirely new. They push back the darkness; they scatter memories behind them like bread crumbs. The world is remade.” p.242 Memory Wall By Anthony Doerr

 

 

The Honor to Witness

This blog post is a collaboration between myself and Kindergaten Teacher Jere Lorenzen-Strait. In a whirlwind of adrenalin fueled by immediate happenings, we furiously and joyfully created this documentation. It is my hope you feel the energy of our shared dialogue.

 

Noticing the note of each bird

The year started, well…big.

First there was an earthquake (in DC!?) and then there was a hurricane.

Then it rained. Not just rain, but RAIN, for a week. I believe that this all happened within the first 2 1/2 weeks of school.

The rain flooded the landing to the playground so much, workers were brought in.

 

The rain and the puddle did not deter fun. In between the lightening and thunder, the kids went out.

Room 11 (Ms. Ricks and Ms. Fineran even requested boots for this exploration.)

 

Water, the essence of survival. The joy it brings to every sense.

 

The qualities of water are soothing and invigorating, and exploration is endless. As an adult, great films , literature  and works of art rely on the many metaphors and qualities of water. One of my favorite films is titled Water.

While squeals of  delight mix with my  my often heard voice in the Common Area,  “What do you need to do when you make a big spill on the floor? Why do we need to clean up spills? Keep the water in the water table…”, the concentration, discoveries made , and social interactions are rich. The warm water is soothing. The funnels, pulleys, measuring cups, tubes, water wheels and marbles lead to the unexpected. This is the beginning of theory development. These moments connect to understanding concepts.

In addition to water, the Nature Play Space outside is a rich environment and never ceases to amaze me. Children create soundscapes;

 

Create rich make believe (birds with eggs game)

 

There are so many versions of King of the Hill games. When was the last time you spontaneously made up a game with friends, complete with rules and fantasy? This is complex stuff for any age disguised in play.

Testing physical limits while being connected to trees and stones is important. Children are drawn to this area, more so than the manufactured play equipment. And while the equipment is good stuff, the Nature Play Space allows children to move what they climb on into new configurations, expand, change and create.

I initiated this natural area after being inspired by so many creative outdoor spaces ( great blog from Australia about nature Play Let the Children Play and this 20 Ways to Creat Play Environments for the Soul ) so I wrote a grant and made it happen. Since natural materials decompose, we are often in search of fresh “tree cookies” and loose parts to keep this area vibrant. Feel free to contact me to add to the space.

Inside the school  additions and traditions in the studio and common area keep things evolving.

Small additions to the playhouse has brought big excitement this year ( I love a good hardware store and thrift store!)

A very special hand operated machine

The beauty of this pulley, is that you need a friend to collaborate with you.

A small tray with handles and a fiber woven tea set provoked an elaborate playtime. While this might seem banal, there was an intense amount of negotiating and agreed upon management of materials, as well as debated role playing. Freetime is an intentional part of learning and offers guidance to teachers, not only on social climate-but on what is interesting the children and what is difficult for them. You usually will find me scrawling on a clipboard while observing the children. Often I watch quietly, while other times I join in to offer support or a challenge to provoke  new thinking.

 

A new opened ended provocation allows children to “sew lines.” Doing this sewing works best with two, and I am thrilled by the way the children direct each other and decide where to place the needle to make a desired shape, Almost like looking at clouds, the children exclaim, It’s a rocket ship or It’s a car!  Everyday it gets more and more filled with color and line.

 

I finally bought the missing small piece of hardware that has expanded the piano play. A double jack! It is beautiful to watch the many interactions here.

 

While the next two experiences are not new in the studio, they are new to all our entering children. The snow globe collection and the whirly plate machine. I challenge any computer to elicit this kind of wonder, awe, and thought…

And the simple pleasure of painting during free time, choosing from multitudes of colors and varieties of brushes created these complex and organized representations. Sylvie’s palette is cool and breezy and notice the details like the bird flying above the two smiling figures.

 

Alex painted a Matisse like painting, filled with movement and brightness:

This year, the Kindergarten students spent their first few weeks in the art studio working at a furious speed to make ceramic pendants. Every year, Kindergarten children make a gift for all the new students in PreK and K. We created a ritual of gathering, all together, a circle within a circle to greet new faces (including all the staff), sing songs and  give kindness. We have this tradition in response to September 11th, and it is called Kindness Day (just click on Kindness Day to the left for the full explanation.)

It was the first year the Kindergarten created not only a ceramic necklace for a new child, but an identical one for themselves too.  This new idea was inspired by a conversation between Mr. Jere , Ms. Scofield and myself about upholding traditions while at the same time adding new layers of thought/intention.

What is kindness?

“Being polite” -Luke

“Making a card.” -Caroline

“Sharing” -Zaire

“When the Kindergarteners gave us a bracelet last year! I wear mine all the time. Alex is his name who gave it to me!” -Ava

“When you say, ‘Do you want to play with me?'” -Brooke

“Being nice and helping them to do stuff.” -Joseph

Ms. Cross led us in song, I asked each Kindergarten friend to say “Hi, my name is ________, what’s your name?” and then present the gift, Mr. Burst introduced all the staff, and we all closed by singing You are the Sunshine of My Life.

Look closely at the images. The earnestness of the intros and gift giving. The joy of community. Tenderness and pride. It is refreshing and hopeful.

 

I love this small moment captured between Emma in Kindergarten, and new PreK Tessa:

Adinath and Gabriel make their new friends Archer and Emmett laugh by pretending their necklace is some type of transmitter /phone:

New Kindergarten student Anja helps another  Kindergarten student Sophia:

The beginning of the year is about developing new relationships that nurture the spirit to grow and expand (kids AND adults.) It is about creating a safe and creative space that offers boundaries and room for risk-taking. It is about getting to know each child as an individual and as part of a group. It is about caring. That is what I felt I needed to share, more than the emerging projects.

The Prek children just started a project observing Swallow Tail caterpillars and representing their observations in their new sketchbooks. The Kindergarten children have begun a project about costumes, and have begun planning in their sketchbooks. I can’t wait to post these emerging projects in the next blog.

I will end this blog with a favorite bit of prose which truly explains what the start of a new school year is like. It is why this work is always filled with wonder, research, joy, challenge and surprise. It is a metaphor of The Hundred Languages of Children. Welcome to a new school year at SWS. I hope you will feel comfortable sharing your comments and thoughts. My intention is to blog every two weeks, so check back soon!

Each new year is a surprise to us.

We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird,

And when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream,

Reminding us of a previous state  of existence…

The voice of nature is always encouraging.

-Henry David Thoreau

Seeing

“Seeing is like dreaming, and even like falling in love.

It is entangled in the passions-jealousy, violence, possessiveness, and it is soaked in affect, in pleasure and displeasure and pain.

Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis not mechanism.”

-James Elkins

This quote was brought to my attention by Rika Burnham, author of Teaching in the Art Museum, Interpretation as Experience who was one of the presenters and leaders during the week long seminar Conversations in Creativity at the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington DC.

It is such a poweful statement and it has been resonating and dancing in my head. It brings to mind images of a project I did with Kindergarten children on the idea of seeing. I asked, How do we see? Do we see with more than our eyes? What does “seeing” look like? Here are some of the images from four years ago:

 

 

The thinking and emotion that is intrinsic in “seeing” is at the core of both my work with children and adults as well as my personal art making.

Robert S and Michelle M. Root-Bernstein, the authors Sparks of Genius  and  Dr. Kimberly Sheridan, one of the authors Studio Thinking:The real benefits of Visual Arts Education also led the seminar with a combination of passion and research. These two books have shaped my practice, so I was honored to have the opportunity to be a part of a small group of educators from all over the world to engage with them.

The seminar allowed me to both reflect and recharge on the Atelier or Studio environment that I facilitate.

Last Spring, when I asked a group of Pre-K students to think about, plan and create “What makes you happy?” I was inquiring into the minds of 4 year olds, however I was not only honoring their place in life as a 4 year old, but facilitating and mentoring the process of constructing their ideas into a symbol.

Here is Jasper’s Supersonic Aircraft:

Yes, this is an amazing scupltural construction, but what you don’t see, is that it took Jasper one whole hour to put holes in the bottle caps using an awl and hammer, and then he had to secure  the body of the aircraft into a vice to drill holes with a hand tool in order to attach the wheels. It took another 40 minutes to maneuver the wire through the small holes. These moments of engaging, persisting and working through frustration and often failure- to the end, are a micricosm of the process for all the children in the studio.

Weeks after Jasper completed this sculpture he informed me that he was not done. He still needed to add passengers. I honestly had no idea how he would find materials to fit in such a small area of his sculpture. But, I learned, that he has the great ability to visually make dimensional estimates. Through the proposition “What makes me happy” (a seemingly benign proposal), came great understanding of his thinking and habits of mind.

My commitment to Atelier or Studio (transdisciplinary) teaching and teaching environments was supported and challenged to grow during this amazing and in depth seminar. What a wonderful summer gift!

In addition to the seminar, I have another occurence to reflect upon.

Last night I had an experience that was complex and thought provoking. I was hired as an artist by Class Acts-Project Youth ArtReach to lead art workshops in a local detention facility for youth. This type of work is new for me. I brought clay and universal, diverse cultural & ethnic images symbolizing protection, elements, totems and human qualities. The youth were to make sculptural reliefs inspired by these images. Here are some of them:

 

 

I am planning on creating a mixed media mosaic for Class Acts, with these pieces (and more from subsequent workshops.)

Just like with Jasper’s process, this is what you didn’t see: the facility was disorganized so workshops scheduled were cut short, and/or moved to a room without a table/water access. Some staff were disengaged, creating a challenging climate. Eventually, the majority of youth were engaged.

While some participants voiced bravado or tested limits in conversation-others worked in silence. Others told stories inspired by the images. One youth told me with excitement about catching a huge toad, and going to the insect museum at The Smithsonian when he was a kid and seeing the huge hissing cockroaches. (I had scarab images.)

Another told me of his plans to have tattoos all over his body. When he shared plans to one day tattoo his eyelids with “Game” on one eye and “Over” on the other, I gently suggested he get tattoos in places he could hide them. “You really would be limited if you went on a job interview. What would you do, not blink? One day, you will be a father or a grandfather. You want to be able to think ahead and be proud of the images on your body.”

Some of the youth already had tattoos. One had several nautical stars. “What does that mean to you?” I asked. He replied,  “Reach for the stars.”

Another had an intricately drawn and shaded tattoo of a tree with entangled roots on his forarm. He told me it was The Tree of LIfe. It was beautiful.

One youth spent most of his time hiding behind a sofa, eventually emerging to sit apart-declaring he was not going to get his hands dirty. Near the end of the workshop, he stood next to me and began going through the images I had brought.

“Can I have some?” he asked.

“What for?” I replied

“I draw.” he said.

“What type of pictures are you looking for? I can give you a few, but I need the rest for the next workshop.”

“I like wings.” he said.

He found wings. I gave them to him. he said,  “Thank you.”

Poetic, bittersweet and sad. I question what an hour or 45 minutes of images and clay and me is worth in this environment? I believe in connection and relationship, and yes transformation through “seeing.”  How  do brief moments with limited connection and relationship effect (do they even effect at all) incarcerated or detained youth?

My husband, LaMar Davis of The Choice Program has done research on the Arts and incarcerated youth. “The truth is,” he told me, “you just never know what it might mean to a kid. That boy who took those (wing) drawings, it might mean a lot to him. These are kids who have nothing, and have nothing to do all day. Who knows, he might draw and create and that’s really great.”

I return to the words in the opening quote: “Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis not mechanism.” and leave them for you to ponder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An awakening of sorts

What is a plan?

“It’s when you decide whether to go to the park or do something else.” Josie

“It’s something you think of and draw, and then make later.” Maya F.

I initiated the Fairy House plans.

drawing plans

It was after collecting and sorting natural materials,

natcollect

reading the book Fairy Houses,

having lots of practice using the sketch books in different ways (in museums to make memories, outdoor observational sketching, indoor self portraits),

otherportrait8

and after discussing the qualities of artificial, living, and found natural objects.

object

I am mentioning this, because this process of modeling and working with children is based on the idea of learning called ZPD, or Zone of Proximal Development developed by Vygotsky.

DomicPlan

To cite directly from Vygotsky, this most widely known concept of his theory represented “the distance between the actual level of development as determined by independent problem solving [without guided instruction] and the level of potential development as determined by problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.

“This is confusing.” Ava

I was able to show Ava some work from her peers’ sketchbooks. I also was able to scaffold, or ask questions to give her support. Here’s some diverse examples of the plans:

Using the sketchbooks and mark making to create symbolic representations, for a blueprint, for a fairy house.

Bridgets plan

Wills plan

P1090211

The following week, children worked in groups of 2-3, combining their ideas to create one Fairy House.

FMFairy1

fmfairy2

fmfairy3

In these small groups, children challenged each other to develop and build in a more complex manner. Ideas bounced off one another. More experimentation was observed, due to collaboration. Groups working next to other groups shared ideas.

FH3

FH4

FHMove

“Theirs is more beautiful than ours!” Maximillian

A magnanimous attitude towards others developed.

FHSign

fmfairysign

The thesis behind this “zone” is that at a certain stage in development, children can solve a certain range of problems only when they are interacting with people and in cooperation with peers.

water

The Kindergarten children spent a few weeks with me, developing the thinking and skills to make a 3 dimensional clay sculpture of a Fairy.

The collaborative time spent figuring out how to do this was essential to internalizing how to do this.

When I decided they were ready to create and keep a sculpture to be fired, I witnessed children commenting, questioning and supporting peers who were struggling.

maddie clay

“You forgot the neck, that’s why the head is coming off.”

“Make a slab, like this to make a body.”

“How did you do the hair again?”

Laura clay

Lauraclay scup

“Attach the hands to the body, or it will fall off.”

Ben clay

This theory of teaching and learning (ZPD) differs from children performing tasks in isolation. In isolation, a child’s success depends upon another child’s failure.

Environments such as SWS that focus on Mastery as opposed to Performance create a paradigm switch amongst children from “self” to “other.”

LiaClay

LeelaClay

Peers are seen as assets as opposed to competition. Each child’s individual success is celebrated within the context of a group.

fairies

Claire, Emma Clare, and Ava’s Fairy House has the following text. They created the narrative together, with passion and excitement:

There’s a water fountain you can drink out of on the outside of the house. Inside the shell, there is fur. You open it up, and then there is water to drink. The little tree is for the fairies to lay on. The seed pod is a big slide. The fairies have  blueberry and cherry blossoms in a bowl. We have water and cherries for each fairy kid in the home to have dinner. The shiny shell is the entrance. I love it!

Once the problem solving activities have been internalized, the problems initially solved under guidance and in cooperation with others will be tackled independently.
Elanor1clay
This teaching/learning approach takes thought, intention  and preparation. It is most powerful when deconstructed  & shared with the community. Much time must be alloted.
Despite all the work and time involved, a funny thing happens. An awakening of sorts. What emerges from the children is often as magical and illuminating as a fairy.
fairy