Saturday, 14 December 2013

A few words

I am not an art expert but I like art and I believe in the powerful impact art can have upon students’ thinking, learning and life attitudes. That was my starting point. An intrinsic inclination to experimentation is also to be held responsible. In the last three years I have been using art in a more conscious and systematic way within the efl context. The person I have to blame for this is the School Councelor Dr. Eleni Manolopoulou-Sergi. Her own support of art in the efl teaching and learning process, and her initiative to organize a relevant Special Interest Group as part of her in-service training activities has helped me pursue systematically my art-oriented experimentations.  
 What kind of art?
     Visual arts 

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world”                        
    John Berger

I work a lot with paintings, photography and video. Within the context of an increasingly visual in nature contemporary culture, we receive and interpret the world through visual images. Systematic contact with the expressive and communicative potential of visual language helps students become gradually proficient operators of visual discourse and enhances their ability to communicate ideas, meanings, information and feelings; they become visually literate. Visual literacy allows the evaluative and selective use of the huge amount of visual information received daily and helps them become themselves active readers of images. 


“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” 
F. Scott Fitzgerald

At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.” 
                                            Alberto Manguel
Regardless of the practical difficulties, literature in the efl context can develop learners’ critical thinking abilities, increase their emotional awareness and stimulate their imagination. Involvement in trying to understand a piece “different” from textbook material brings about a greatly felt sense of accomplishment once the task is finished. Exposure to literary texts also gives students the opportunity to deal with structures and forms which broaden the sense of language. Reading, analyzing and trusting their own interpretations allows them to think of literature as something enjoyable, worth exploring and, hopefully in the long term, develops the desire to read in the foreign language. 

From art-literate to art-productive

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”
 Pablo Picasso

Usually, in our projects there is a part where students express themselves freely and imaginatively on the theme at stake. Children love creating; drawings, collages, improvisations keep the enthusiasm high and create expectations for more art in the English class.  

Meta-cognitive implications
Writing is not the destination; it’s the journey” 
  Mikhail Bahtin, philosopher, semiotician

“Writing is thinking on paper
William Zinsser, American writer and teacher

I became convinced of the value of keeping learning journals in the development of students’ reflective and meta-cognitive skills, when I was in the adult education sector. At that time I was an English educator working with adults from socially vulnerable groups who had not completed compulsory education. Apart from the regular English classes I ran a series of workshops and projects. Themes varied but the overall connecting link was human rights. Journal writing worked well for the participants with benefits in areas like deepening of self-understanding, reflective awareness on group dynamics and enhanced engagement with workshop content. 

In the primary school I presently work, I use journal writing as a standard assignment with my fifth and sixth grade students during projects or art oriented experimentations. The general advice is that they could describe the meeting, express opinions and feelings, write if they liked it or not and why. As they enter the process of trying to reconstruct classroom experience in writing, they monitor their practice and progress better, become more attentive and concentrated, their commitment levels grow and their note taking skills too. I used learning journals with my last year’s 6th graders during a project about Europe and the European Union and it worked really nicely.

Diaries from hrysa

To blog or not to blog?

I first used blogs last year when I worked on two projects: one on Europe and the European Union with a group of sixth graders and one on Shakespeare with a group of fifth grade students. We all got wiser from the process. I learned what a blog is and the children were greatly motivated, reaching levels of enthusiasm. A few months ago I came across Kieran Donaghy’s Film English which had a significant impact on my decision to start my own blog and an obvious influence in the layout of the lesson proposals in Art Least. I then started exploring the blogosphere of efl teaching and learning where I found amazing people and blogs that made me wonder what on earth I had been doing all these years not to be aware of them. A vibrant community of interacting, learning and sharing. 

Sharing is a great thing. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Visible Thinking

Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based framework stemming from Project Zero, an educational research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Principal Investigators are Veronica Boix-Mansilla, Howard Gardner, Tina Grotzer, Carrie James, David Perkins, Ron Ritchhart, Steve Seidel, Shari Tisman, Daniel Wilson and Ellen Winner. Its original aim is to study and improve education in the arts. Visible Thinking has a double goal: a) to cultivate students' thinking skills and dispositions and b) to deepen content learning. 

The basic idea is to make thinking visible within the context of learning thus fostering cultures of thinking. Post-it notes, construction papers on the walls, any sort of visible documentation within the classroom can be used for this aim where students’ individual and collective thinking is valued, revealed and promoted. By making thinking visible, students regulate, monitor, guide and reflect on their learning hence their metacognitive skills are developed.    

Thinking Routines are at the core of the Visible Thinking programme. The underlying idea is that classroom life is structured upon routines which regulate diverse aspects such as student behaviour management, organization of the work and the process of learning, and the establishment of rules for interaction, communication and discourse. Thinking Routines can be conceived as flexible, simple structures, a set of questions or a short sequence of steps that can be used systematically to promote the development of students’ thinking and the classroom culture. They target specific types of thinking, are easy to learn and teach, can be used across a variety of context and can be subject to group or individual work. 

Many of the proposals put forward in Art least explore the possibilities of integrating the Visible Thinking approach in the efl classroom as a means of developing critical thinking and critical reflection.