Thursday, August 3, 2017

Some Thoughts about Packaged Workshops

Sleep (M.A. Reilly, 2014)

I was moved when I read Identity, a wise post by J. Carey, a literacy coach (and mom) in Connecticut.  Her post prompted me to think about the interior work of writing and painting and how such work is often at odds with school structure and agency. Carey stresses the need for teachers--be it of the visual or written arts--to help learners develop authorial identity. She marks such work as a critical beginning point. I thought a lot about her post as a visual artist, knowing how hard it has been the last two years for me to even contemplate the development of a style.  I am so far from having a personal style as art technique is still a wobbly affair. Only of late, do I sense a style emerging.

Later in the day I was reading John O'Donohue's Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom and stopped after reading,
When I left home, I entered the world of thought, writing, and poetry. This work is in the invisible realm. When you work in the territory of mind, you see nothing. Only sometimes are you given the slightest little glimpse of the ripples from your effort. You need great patience and self-trust to sense the invisible harvest in the territory of the mind. You need to train the inner eye for the invisible realms where thoughts can grow, and where feelings put down their roots (pp. 134-135). 

O'Donohue seems to be saying something similar to Carey. He stresses the need for great patience by the artist. Such patience is engendered when time and focus are being controlled by the learner. When agency is limited by pre-determined curricula and allocations of time learners often do not develop identity.

I think of this when I visit schools where I consult--especially at the beginning of new work. So often these schools have bought into non-organic writing and reading workshops where a timeline has been set by an external authority and the content for a full year has been pre-determined.  Usually these schools are seeking my assistance as learning is stalled or in some cases, regressing.  When I examine the curriculum products such as packaged workshops that leave little to no room for the learner I cringe. As an artist and writer, such products are the stuff of insanity.  They also are often a major source for what has gone wrong regardless of the good intentions of the authors.

I wondered how differently we might approach learner agency, the allocation of school time, and the control and development of content if we deeply understood Carey's notion of identity and O'Donohue's discussion about the temerity of the writer. It is surely harder in some immediate ways to build a curriculum with youngsters, but without authorship it seems impossible that the harder and more profound lessons stand a chance of being articulated, let alone learned. 

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