Unforgettable lessons are ones that use all the senses, get everyone actively involved, and create personal meaning and deep understanding. An example from Jearnine Wagner’s “Ideas in Motion” classes I attended as a child and assisted throughout my college years: To understand the primitive period, she gathered us children together and told us we were cave people who were about to encounter a strange new animal that we would examine gently and carefully. She then had an expert trainer bring in a very docile (and real!) horse! In small groups we approached the “new” creature and investigated. We felt the lines of the back, the textures of the hair and nostrils, the movement of the muscles as the trainer walked the horse in a slow circle on the patio. We noticed the variations in colors of the horse and how the sunlight reflected on his glossy coat. We listened to his soft snorts and grunts and the sound of his hooves on the flat stones of the yard. When he was led away, we were challenged to recreate the lines, textures, movements and so on of the horse in our own unique ways. Old sheets were stretched from clotheslines and pegged to the ground. Large paintbrushes were lashed to broomsticks. We were covered in old shirts to minimize the mess. And some of us painted. Some created paintings that looked like a horse. Others created almost cubist looking deconstructions of the elements of the horse. Others created pantomimes of horses moving slowly and quickly, stopping, tossing tail and mane and gamboling around the patio. A few chose to write poetry about the strange new creature. We returned to this unforgettable lesson in other, quieter lessons as we studied cave people’s survival and forms of communication, the anatomy and adaptations of different kinds of animals and the visual art of different eras. Size, senses, significance and all the other traits of an unforgettable lesson were welded together and held firmly in our long term memories.
Paul Baker’s brilliant course, “Integration of Abilities,” taught first at Baylor, then Trinity University, demonstrated what might happen when an unforgettable lesson is synthesized into an unforgettable course. For many people from different majors who took this course, it changed the trajectory of their lives. In the course, a key exercise was the “Inanimate Object Study,” which continued over many weeks. Each student was asked to find a nature object that appealed to them: a rock, shell, bone, twig, leaf, flower, piece of bark, feather. (I love dried gourds!)
The student not only studied the object for a sustained period, she was asked to represent its qualities through dozens and dozens of drawings (of its lines), paintings (of its shapes), collages (of its textures) and so on. We were encouraged to let our representations spark our imaginations. We also made an extensive list of words that described the object and then used that list to play with possibilities, create sound and movement studies, and finally develop and enact a theatrical character. At the end of the course, everyone’s work was displayed and presented. Just looking at the “ocean” of visual pieces was amazing. In part because, although we had been totally focused on our objects, our products revealed unique and amazing characteristics of our own imaginations. You could literally look at each person’s body of work and infer some of their incredible creative strengths. (And remember this course was taken not only by drama and art majors but by people studying social work, athletics, the ministry and many other majors.)
My hope is that teachers and parents will use their own creativity to create UNFORGETTABLE positive experiences for their own children.