The earlier post about my experiences at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA only begins to touch the surface of my reverence for the museum's founder, the mission, and the gentle manner in which high level learning occurs for those who walk through the doors. Ever the packrat, I mean collector of any item that can be potentially used for a future lesson, I recently pulled out and reread the small activity flyer from the exhibit, The Art of Allen Say: A Sense of Place that closed October 28, 2007. Even the words on the cover of the "Gallery Search" activity were kinder and gentler: "We invite you to look...", "We encourage you to describe...", "...express what you feel...", "Remember to look..." These nudges to purposefully look at the art were invitations, not directives. Built into these few extra words were the difference between being asked to do something and being told to do something. Embedded were choices.
One activity gives students a brief description of how Say sees painting versus writing as a more natural way to express and describe things. The activity has students looking for paintings that convey different feelings- surprise, lonliness, frustration, satisfaction, affectionate connection. It doesn't say, "Go to... and find the painting that..." It allows the observer to interpret those feelings using any number of paintings suggesting there are so many ways to express and interpret those universal emotions. How many times in an effort to be efficient, have I written activity/ response sheets for students with direct instructions? (Look at the image...) In fact, the prompts were sequenced and numbered. Heaven forbid a student go to step 3 before completing step 2! So what if they are more interested in step 3 and know how to do step 2.
The next activity in the Gallery Search further challenges the student to higher level learning by adding a writing piece. "Write about what in each picture made you match it to the described feeling?" So much teaching and learning in just a few words. These are the kinds of tasks all teachers are challenged to place in their daily lessons.
I rationalize my sometimes direct approach in curriculum writing by saying so many students are English language learners. They don't need to navigate so much text. Hmmm. But, don't they still need to be invited?