Some New Methods

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 17 (3 August 1997)

Unlike hundreds of other profoundly accelerative or enhancing techniques developed by Project Renaissance, these are two methods of teaching and learning which have not yet been tried. We’d like to see what you can do with them. Let us hear from you.

Some untried new methods to experiment with and report on, to improve: learning, perception, and conceptual ability in young children.

1. Sherlock Cruises The GEOGRAPHIC 

Organize children into tables or teams of 3-4. Provide each team with a selection of 2-3 or more pictures from The National Geographic or equivalent. 

Level One: 

A] One child describes as much as s/he can of the one selected picture while the other children either look away or “rest their eyes” and try to picture in their own mind’s eye what’s being described. 

B] Each of the listening children then tries to tell everything that that description suggests to them about the location, climate, culture, demographics, whatever else about who and what is depicted in that picture, from the one child’s description. 

C] Now everyone looks at the picture, and the former listeners describe what differences it makes for them actually seeing the picture, in what they were guessing or speculating about who and what were in the picture. Example: the steep roofs of buildings suggesting the climate has much heavy rain or snow; clothing that suggests a hot time of year in an otherwise cool climate…..

Caption and brief digest of article from which the picture was excerpted, provides feedback. Each child gets his/her turn as observer-describer, on a different picture. Emphasize this as game and treat, not as a lesson.

Level Two: 

Most of my techniques are intended for easy use by teachers, without time and effort spent in special preparation. In Level Two, however, this could be made into somewhat more of a scored game if the teacher has points of geography he/she wants to teach with this, or to give a little more formal structure and/or competitive impetus w/o actual competition. If the 3-4 pictures cycled are on the same locale and people, a simple checklist or “test” of who, what, where and how at the end of the cycle could lend an informal scorecard so long as the teacher goes to some lengths to keep this an informal game and not a “lesson.” More important by far than any particulars of correct or incorrect will be getting children used to looking at all sorts of things with an increasingly perceptive eye and being entertained by what they can figure out. Letting this become a lesson or a real competition would kill such a development in all but a few, whereas we want everyone to become more observant, and more entertained by what s/he can figure out from what s/he sees. 

An easy further step is to get children to “go meta” to their own perceptual and thought and languaging processes. This greatly encourages the growth and development of their higher-level functions, to such a splendid extent that it is one of my own major objectives to get young children, especially, to start looking at their own perceptions and thinking analytically and creatively about their own thinking. 

Variance: Some few young individuals will stand out spectacularly well in the above activity; others will not. We need to find some ways to support these few individuals in the further development and upper ranges of their success, without daunting the other children before they can bring their own functions up. Prediction: without exception, these few young individuals will usually also be voracious, wide-ranging readers who have built a broad information base through their irrepressible reading-for-entertainment. Problem: if that prediction holds true: how to use that outcome to motivate voracious reading in other children without targeting one-another’s differences and without daunting some of the children whose initial “Sherlockian” performances are much more modest.

2. How did they DO that? 

An art-related developmental procedure. Arrange children in pairs; the pairs also paired closely enough to overhear each other but not interacting formally. Only within their own pair will the children interact formally. Taking turns, each with a different picture work of art– 

A. One child describes in as much detail as s/he can the one picture. The other looks away or “rests his/her eyes,” then asks questions about the picture and/or tries to “predict” other aspects or features of that picture from that description. 

B. Describer then identifies 2-3 special features about the painting and speculates what the artist did which enabled him/her to so create or execute that feature. Did he sketch first and paint over; did he use such-&-such a brush stroke or other technique? Did he lay down one color first and then daub over it? Just guessing, how did the artist DO that? 

C. Listener now looks at the painting, and describes– 

  1. What’s now in his awareness about the painting that wasn’t before he looked at it?
  2. Counter-speculations about how the artist executed each of those 2-3 features.
  3. 1-2 further such features in the painting and speculations how the artist achieved those effects. 

D. Both children now begin experimenting onto paper testing their hypotheses how the artist may have created each of those special feature effects. Then go on to free-form their own paintings, with or without regard to the foregoing. 

E. The paired groups de-brief to each other. 

Note: encourage children to describe in detail everything that went through their minds as they painted their pictures and while they were creating this or that feature. 

Objectives: To engage the power of description to enrich and inform vision in the context of art. To make it real for children how there are different ways of seeing things, and different ways of creating effects in and out of art. Also to start especially young children thinking in terms of how they might portray this or that effect, and to let that thought further inform their vision. Becoming more effective representational artists can be a further objective – the ease with which this is achieved by this and similar approaches can be important to self-esteem and thus to achievement and performance in all other areas of the curriculum. The previous objectives are, however, the more important and must be protected from any tendency of students to either formally compete or to become invidiously self-critical. 

If you perform such an experiment as either of these: inform me of the details and as much on the results as possible. If you get up anything at all worthwhile, I will help you publish, on several levels. 

I will also welcome suggested procedures from you which extend the range, interest and variety of colorful activities wherein children develop their conscious minds, their language, their intelligence, their vision, and their independence of vision, by interactive, expressive, increasingly articulate means. Between us, perhaps we finally can fire up our children and our schools with better methods and better results – in time to help the ones you care about!!!

Unlike hundreds of other profoundly accelerative or enhancing techniques developed by Project Renaissance, the above two methods have not yet been tried. We’d like to see what you can do with them. Let us hear from you.