An analogy for the '90s.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder (Hines, 1991, p. 52)
I would like to reintroduce James Moffett's timeless statement that one learns "by doing and heeding what happens" (Moffett, 1968, p. 193) into the academic arena. In keeping with that spirit, I offer a simple analogy for all who seek to teach anything to anybody:
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Jane and a little boy named Dick. Now, Jane and Dick were good at many things but they had never ridden a bike.
One day Jane said to Dick, "Let's get those old bikes out of the garage and go for a ride."
"We don't know how to ride," Dick replied.
"Oh, I'm sure we can do it," said Jane. "It doesn't look that hard."
"I don't know," Dick said, hesitating. "I heard Mr. Brown at school today announcing a bike-riding class starting after school tomorrow; why don't we sign up for that first?"
"I want to ride now," Jane insisted, and she hurried off to the garage to pull out one of the bikes. Since Dick was still a little leery, he headed back to the school to sign up for the bike-riding class.
It did not take Jane long to wheel one of the bikes out onto the sidewalk. She used her foot to push up the kickstand as she had seen other children do. She then put a foot on the pedal, threw her other leg over and climbed on. The bike began to roll. Unfortunately, it only went a short distance before both she and the bike tumbled over.
"Hmm," Jane thought. "This may not be as easy as it looked." But she picked herself up and prepared to try again.
Jane then noticed her mother, who was returning from work. She waved her arms and yelled, "Mom! Can you help me a minute?"
"Sure," her mother replied. She reached out her hand and steadied the bike as Jane climbed on again. Slowly, Jane began to ride the bike down the sidewalk as her mother held the bike. Once Jane got the hang of it, her mother let go of the bike and just walked along to give support if needed. Soon Jane needed her mother less and less, until she finally said, "I believe I'm OK now, Mom. Thanks. I think I'll just get in some practice before dark."
The next day after school Jane could hardly wait to tell Dick about her bike-riding experience. She was disappointed when Dick told her he could not talk right then because he was on his way to the bike-riding class. Jane headed home alone as Dick hurried to his first lesson.
As Dick entered the classroom he saw an attractive bulletin board on which appeared a large picture of a shiny new bicycle. Some words were written on the chalkboard. Dick read through the list: "Handlebars," "Spokes," "Wheels," "Pedals," "Brakes," "Kickstand."
Over the next few days, Dick learned to spell all of these words and how to locate each of the parts on the pictured bike. He watched a filmstrip that showed how to mount a bike, how to place your feet on the pedals and how to use a kickstand. He learned the names of five different kinds of bikes and learned about several famous cyclists. He saw a lovely video that showed bike racing, cross-country bike racing and a dirt bike competition. At the end of the course the instructor, Mr. Brown, gave the group a test. Dick received a perfect score and was awarded a certificate of commendation for having done so well and having completed the course.
As Dick was walking home with his certificate in hand, Jane came by on her bicycle.
"Hi!" she shouted. "Come ride bikes with me."
"I don't think so," Dick replied. "There's so much involved in that bike-riding stuff that I don't believe I'd be very good at it. Besides, I want to go home and show my certificate to my mother."
"OK. See you later," Jane called back, as she popped a wheelie and gleefully coasted down the hill.
Doing and Heeding What Happens
Jane achieved success with bike riding as a direct result of her own experimental, reflective actions, which were made possible by a challenging yet supportive atmosphere. Teachers must provide that same type of setting for students if they wish to facilitate learning as Moffett envisioned it. They can accomplish this by:
* Helping children put together the playground teeter-totter
* Allowing children to take turns deciding how many supplies to use, and how to assemble and distribute them, during snack time and tabletop activities
* Turning writing time into a process instead of using assigned topics and timed writing periods
* Allowing ideas to grow and develop, so they become vehicles for learning spelling, semantics, syntax, decoding skills and comprehension in the context of what is real and meaningful to the writer (Arkins, 1984; Calkins, 1983, 1994; Graves, 1983)
* Using self-selected tradebooks as the springboard for discussion and skills development and for making reading-writing connections (May, 1994), instead of using vocabulary lists, assigned basals and "round robin" reading
* Bringing alive the concepts of inertia, momentum and gravity by building and experimenting with roller coasters, racetracks and ski jumps (Zubrowski, 1995), rather than only reading from science texts
* Making math a part of students' lives by 1) incorporating the daily lunch and attendance count into mathematical lessons, 2) making graphs comparing students' different modes of transportation to school, clothing styles and colors and types of books being read and 3) using games to build and reinforce mathematical concepts (Kamii, 1985)
* Eschewing abstract commercial maps and building a foundation for mapping by using 3-D models and photographs of the classroom, school and neighborhood (Atkins, 1981)
* Using procedures such as HighScope's plan-do-review method (Goffin, 1994; Ransom, 1978) and Greenfield Center School's "Guided Discovery" (Clayton, 1989) to ensure reflective thinking and making connections.
Coming Back to "The Truths"
"If the pupil's physical actions are not accompanied by parallel mental activity, such as thinking of alternative types of results and their meaning, it is unlikely that much real and lasting learning will occur" (Ginsburg & Opper, 1979, p. 225). However learning is labeled, teachers must give students daily opportunities to both do and heed if children are to find real and lasting learning. Therein lie "the truths."
The purpose of this column is to stimulate debate of timely issues affecting children, youth and families. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Childhood Education or the Association for Childhood Education International. Readers are urged to respond by submitting manuscripts or letters to: Barbara Foulks Boyd, CE Issues Editor, 97th Ninth Street, Radford, VA 24141-3030.
Permission to reproduce the column intact is not required. Copyright [C] 1996 Association for Childhood Education International.
Atkins, C. (1981). Introducing basic map and globe concepts to young children, Journal of Geography, 80, 228-233.
Atkins, C. (1984). Writing: Doing something constructive. Young Children, 39(6), 3-7.
Calkins. L, (1983). Lessons from a child. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Calkins, L. (1993). The art of teaching writing (rev. ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Clayton, M. (1989). Places to start (videotapes). Greenfield, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
Ginsburg, H., & Opper, S. (1979). Piaget's theory of intellectual development (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Goffin, S. (1994). Curriculum models and early childhood education. New York: Merrill.
Graves, D. (1983). Writing: Teachers and children at work. Portmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hines, S. (Ed.). (1991). Laura Ingalls Wilder's little house in the Ozarks: The rediscovered writings. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Kamii, C. (1985). Young children reinvent arithmetic. New York: Teachers College Press.
May, F. (1994). Reading as communication (4th ed.). New York: Merrill.
Moffett, J. (1968). Teaching the universe of discourse. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Ransom, L. (1978). The cognitively oriented curriculum: Planning by teachers. Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Educational Research Foundation.
Zubrowski, B. (1995). Raceways: Having fun with balls and tracks. New York: Morrow.
Cammie Atkins is Associate Professor, Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, Alabama.
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|Date:||Jun 22, 1996|
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