This week I’m sharing a book for you – the grown-ups – because it is filled with such good ideas for writing and learning. When Uma Krishnaswami wasn’t busy writing her own children’s books, she wrote Beyond the Field Trip: Teaching and Learning in Public Places.
Uma wants students to be “actively engaged as learners, framing questions and working toward greater levels of understanding,” whether they are visiting a museum, a park or just the center of town.
She recommends planning backwards.
“Figure out what the ultimate product of the study will be. Then work back to find all the activities you will need to use to get there. What you are doing is building bridges between what students know already, and what you anticipate they will know when you have completed the sequence of activities. The place you visit is one ingredient in this process. The visit is not in itself the objective.”
Let’s start with one of Uma’s own picture books, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! about a tree whose role and importance in the center of a village changes as the village becomes crowded, people age, roads are built and everyone is in a hurry.
For one old man, the tree reminds him of stories his father and mother and grandfather told him long ago.
“Even today, those stories are told and retold,
as the traffic rattles past
going from here to there and back again.
But sometimes the drivers of cards
and buses and trucks
and vans and tractors
Stop and stay a while…
So after you’ve all read Out of the Way, have the children think about their own town or neighborhood. Ask them to write about or draw something that has changed – a new building, a different store, a new park. Ask the students to write some questions they could ask people who lived in the neighborhood before these changes.
Make a plan to visit a park, the library or even a nearby mall. Ask children to write a description of what they see while they are right there. Encourage them to observe carefully, soaking in as many visual and sensory experiences as possible. Try to arrange a meeting with some older residents - perhaps from a nearby senior center, older staff members at the school or family members of the students - so students can ask questions…and listen. Record the conversations if possible.
Back in the classroom, the children can each write their own paragraph or poem or draw a picture recalling what the older residents had to say. This can also be a group writing project combining the recollections of all the students. Uma notes that “cooperative rather than competitive activities in all phases of a place-based learning program will make for more authentic and participatory learning on everyone’s part.” If there is time for a larger production, plan a celebration including the older residents to share the students’ stories, poems and pictures. As Uma notes, “outcome events crown your program.”