I love learning. I
have always loved learning. I am still filled with a hunger to
understand more, filled with a need to use words to describe concepts
I understand with my gut but can’t quite get my mind around. I
am, however, increasingly, filled with impatience at pretentious
books, articles and experts and the re-cycling of platitudinous
certainties that people seem to want to believe. Learning can’t
be reduced to simple platitudes. At the same time I don’t think
anyone has the right to make learning a mystery when it is perfectly
easy to break it down and simplify it into skills and processes
which students of all ages and abilities learn with relief because,
at last, they know what to do and how to do it.
I’ve always admired
Freire who gave people the literacy tools which they were free
to use to ‘conscientize’ and politicize’ themselves if they chose.
I’ve always believed that you can teach people how to think, how
to read, how to learn, how to write, but not WHAT to read, write,
think and learn.
I held Elwyn Richardson’s
new book in my hands with a sense of awe. It’s not a book one
can review or even describe because it’s part of Elwyn - a gift,
printed on his own press and begging a very different type of
reading and responding. It’s a unique blend of Elwyn’s inspiration
and wisdom as a person and teacher. Elwyn does, with a starting
point in observing, drawing and writing, what I have tried so
hard to do with learning and information literacy - strip it down
to understandings and strategies so simple that ANYONE, any teacher,
any parent, can follow and implement them. But, to make it ‘work’
beyond the level of a prescription for creative writing, squashed
into a 40 minute period, you need, also, to do what I said in
the first paragraph - to ‘understand with your gut’ the conceptualisation
of creativity which Elwyn has crystallised into such simple words.
Never confuse simple with simplistic!
Elwyn’s book is the
most wonderfully individual and idiosyncratic simple unpeeling
of these most un-simple ideas. You just have to let his ideas
seep in, read the kids’ poems and words, study the wonderful drawings
and prints and let yourself absorb the sense of wonder and creativity
which infuses the book.
For young teachers
wanting practical things to do - they are there. Elwyn says:
I set about an environmental
observation activity which would provide an example of the simple
equation of art plus language captures emotional feelings. The
language leads to the creation of images, or art; the art leads
to the creation of language... I was looking for ‘pictures in
the mind’ kinds of art and language.
Too hard? Not at all.
It will teach you more about information literacy, about learning,
about finding and using information, about collating concepts,
about comprehension of the essence of things at a gut level, than
anything I or anyone else has written about using and understanding
information. It seeps into you. I started putting yellow stickies
at sentences I wanted to return to and think about more. The book
now looks like a Postit Chriistmas tree!
You’ll discover a
simple programme of using bush and beach as a ‘source of materials
for study’; you’ll find clear recommendations about how to go
from observation and drawing to description, to producing ‘little
pictures of events’, to crafting poems from descriptions and from
‘personal expression’. You’ll see how Elwyn modelled what was
in his head as he observed and described. It didn’t happen just
occasionally. It was done every day, with enough pattern and structure
to make children feel comfortable. For example, "At Oruaiti
we selected about forty sites which we visited in sequence at
the least about twice a term.
What emerges is exactly
what I believe learning (and information literacy learning) and
the creation of knowledge from information should be and do:
Ideas catch fire readily
due to the students’ responses which have their own originality
- I do not talk to pieces of work as the oracle of information.
I have the group respond to the question: what is this piece of
writing/ print/ painting,/ drawing about?... I am of the belief
that what you may tell them is not what they will know - real
learning comes from a process of taking in information and making
it part of inner context. It, at its best, does not necessarily
come from didactic learning.
But, as Elwyn demonstrates,
it comes from precision, honesty, commitment.
And, in Elwyn’s book,
it comes with a wealth of clear, precise, practical, honest, un-didactic
guidance for the teacher, interspersed with the most wonderful
anecdotes about his life, his wonderful relationship with his
first teacher, Wal, and the explication of his ‘image theory’
in action - evidence of a creative genius that, thank God, was
never crushed in the shape of a Ph.D.