Implications of Hawkins Centers of Learning on Contemporary Work:
Drawing in the Hawkins Room for Messing About with Materials and Ideas
at Boulder Journey School
Is it possible to support children in their work if we, as adults, are not comfortable working with the materials we offer them? This question has stimulated much contemplation and conversation within the Boulder Journey School learning community. David and Frances Hawkins believed that in order for an adult to effectively support children's work, not only must the adult work with children as a learning partner and observe, document, reflect upon and revisit children's theories and ideas, the adult must also explore and make discoveries about the world as an adult learner. At Boulder Journey School, we believe that an adult, equipped with an understanding of the various materials and tools made available to children in their environment, is better able to recognize children’s goals and encourage their thinking and learning. With this belief in mind, in 2007, we created the Hawkins Room for Messing About with Materials and Ideas, a room in which adults can explore, investigate and share new ways of thinking about and using materials.
During the school year, 2008-09, educators at Boulder Journey School introduced drawing as a provocation in the Hawkins Room for Messing About with Materials and Ideas. As a faculty, we had many questions about the children’s drawings and about our role in supporting the children in their use of drawing as a language. For example, in one toddler classroom, the children encountered Wally and Angel on their walk through the neighborhood. Reflecting on their drawings, teachers had these questions.
Small groups of educators at Boulder Journey School have taken time to draw in the Hawkins Room for Messing About with Materials and Ideas and have carefully documented the processes involved. One exciting result of educators’ work in the Hawkins Room was the creation of a guide for adults that outlines strategies for drawing. While certain that the list contains only a small portion of the possible strategies an educator might use, we were confident that it would stimulate new ideas, and based on its use, could be added to and amended.
At Boulder Journey School, we dedicate professional development hours to “Hawkins Groups,” designed to offer small groups of adults in our community the time and resources to focus on specific projects and topics of interest to them. One such Hawkins Group is focused on drawing. The question this group is asking is: How we can better support children’s desires to express themselves using the language of drawing? Questions that stem from this overarching question include: Do we provide children with the resources they require to express themselves adequately, and, if so, what are these resources? Do the questions we ask children during the drawing and/or revisiting process help or hinder their work? How do we store and present children’s work, and does this honor the care they take in creating their work? Is drawing viewed as a language to be explored, analyzed and revisited, or is it simply an activity we use to help children pass the time?
Do we provide children with the resources they require to express themselves adequately, and, if so, what are these resources?
After revisiting documentation of children drawing, the Hawkins Group noticed that children's work became more detailed if the children were provided with an appropriate reference, such as a photo or a model. Asking a child to draw something without a reference often yielded results that were unsatisfactory to the child or caused drawings to become “universal,” (e.g. drawing the side view of a horse or fire truck or drawing a house from the front, with a rectangular door in the middle and a few square windows on either side). Additionally, even when provided with a resource, children and adults often chose references that reinforced these universal perceptions. These seemingly universal representations of an object, while possibly fun to draw, did not seem to challenge the children to consider their subject from different perspectives or in new and unique ways.
|The first drawing of the shark and the corresponding mask.|
In one preschool class, a child was attempting to create a mask of a shark to use in his dramatic play. The teacher encouraged him to choose and then draw a picture of the shark to support him in his creation. This way, he would have a reference that highlighted the features he considered most important from which to make the mask. The child chose a picture of a shark from the more universal profile view, likely due to the fact that physical details, like the fin, can often be more easily identified from a side view, and he drew the shark accordingly. However, when the boy created his mask using his drawing from the side, it did not accurately show the face of the shark, and the boy’s mask did not look the way he wanted it to look.
|The second drawing of the shark and the corresponding mask.|
The teacher, who was closely documenting the process, recalled her experience working in the Hawkins Room and encouraged the boy to choose a new picture, this time a picture of a shark taken from the front, where he would be able to see the detail of the shark’s entire face. His second drawing was from the same perspective as the new photograph. Using the second drawing, he again created a mask, and this time was happy with his creation.
Do the questions we ask children during the drawing and/or revisiting process help or hinder their work?
Often when working with children, we are tempted to regularly check in, asking many questions. Our intention may be to help the children remain engaged and focused, to gain a better understanding of their thinking, etc. However, we rarely ask ourselves how these questions might alter a child’s interpretation of an object, or whether constant interruption could be distracting. Most adults would not be able to focus if they were constantly being asked to explain the details of every action they took.
For example, in one class, the teacher observed that she often asked the children questions that focused their attention on the parts of the object they were drawing, like the petals and leaves of a flower. The teacher observed that many of the children’s drawings of flowers were similar -- basic representations of a flower. Through participation in the Hawkins Group on drawing, she realized that by asking the type of questions she was accustomed to asking, she was reinforcing the stereotype of what a flower is “supposed to look like”, and thus was presented with very similar drawings by all of her children. With this realization in mind, she challenged herself to focus her questions and remarks on aspects of drawing, such as contour, shape and relationships between objects on the page, and she began to see more uniqueness in the children’s drawings.
How do we store and present children’s work and does this honor the care they take in creating their work?
Another question on which the group reflected was not specifically related to drawing, but instead focused on how we, as educators, care for the work that the children create. For example, if a child spends all morning on a drawing, and we place his/her work in a growing pile that contains all of the children’s work, what does that say about our respect for the child and his/her drawings? Will children take pride in their work if we do not reciprocate in kind? We do not have a classroom example that illustrates this, but we think that this lack of respect can negatively affect children’s images of the importance of their work, and even discourage them and diminish their desire to participate.
Is drawing viewed as a language to be explored, analyzed and revisited, or is it simply an activity we use to help children pass the time?
The Hawkins Group on drawing observed that drawing is one of the easier provocations to offer, as classrooms often have paper and drawing utensils readily available, and there is no time intensive setup or cleanup work involved, as there is in painting or gluing, for example. Because of this, it is easy to fall into the habit of using drawing as an activity to pass the time, and thus, an activity, which does not need to be observed, documented, analyzed and revisited. However, in so doing, we would be missing out on a great opportunity to learn with and about children, as drawing is a language that children use, beginning at a very young age, and it remains an important means of expression throughout the many phases of their growth and development.
After much observation and reflection, a Boulder Journey School faculty member contributed some thought provoking remarks about the progression of children’s drawing and the importance of supporting children through this process. Following is an excerpt from her observations:
One thing that I shared with Christy was that children’s markings seem to follow a basic progression. They begin by just moving the marker with their hands over the paper, not necessarily noticing that marks are being created. Next, they appear to take note of the marks, but not necessarily how the movement of their hands produces and influences these marks. However, once they note the marks, they begin to pay more attention as they are being developed, and they eventually discover that the movement of their hands produces and influences the marks that are made. Then there seems to be a long period of testing the movement of their hands with the marks. This is when I tend to see children using the same motion, producing the same marks, as if they are experimenting over and over again to prove: “If I use this motion, then the same marks will be produced.” At this point in time, I tend to see children making dots and either circular or horizontal linear marks. I cannot recall a child who has started making both circular and linear marks; it seems to be one or the other. This tells me that one movement is natural for the child, while the other may be more forced and therefore more complicated to execute. I also notice that children tend to make continuous horizontal lines rather than continuous vertical lines. Again, I think the crossing over from one “sphere” to the other that exists when making the continuous circles or the continuous horizontal marks is more natural than the movement in the up/down direction that exists in the center between each sphere.
At some point in time, I observe the children’s shift from making continuous lines or circles to making independent circles and lines. The independent marks require more fine motor and mental control, which is why I think I tend to see this following the making of continuous marks. Some children are also making marks that extend lengthwise horizontally or vertically. This movement also involves moving out of their sphere proximity, which I think is more difficult for them, and thus why I tend to see it later in the progression. Offering drawing experiences that allow for a lot of movement supports this.
Next, I begin to see children combining their marks together. Marks are created in relationship with one another (dots within a circle, a line extending from a circle, lines passing through lines, etc.) rather than isolated in the space. The children also begin to realize that their marks can stand for something. They may not represent the “form” of the object/idea, but they understand that the mark they have made has meaning. Slowly, I see them relate form to object.
These observations are NOT linear by any means, but rather represent what I tend to see as a typical progression. Children are all at different places and progress in different ways but tend to go through the progression in some way at some point. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
Understanding this basic progression helps teachers know what to expect, what to notice, and how to interpret young children’s drawings that hold a great deal of meaning but are typically passed off as scribbling. It is important for teachers to be knowledgeable about children’s drawings in order to effectively challenge and support them, with the intention of extending, expanding and increasing the complexity of their work. For example, a teacher who observes two children using different drawing techniques might challenge the children by inviting them to draw something together. Thus, the children have an opportunity to learn about various drawing techniques from one another. Additionally, negotiations between the children may become necessary as they analyze the benefits and shortcomings of each technique and make collaborative decisions about how to proceed with their shared work. The following excerpt by Bedrova and Leong in Tools of the Mind (2006) offers the Vygotskian perspective on the importance of drawing:
… (drawing) serves as a function similar to oral and written speech, allowing children to communicate to others and themselves. There are many parallels between how children learn to say their first words and how they learn to draw. . . . Drawing plays an especially important role in helping children master one of the most complex tools of the mind - written speech. Vygotsky considered young children’s drawings a prerequisite to writing. . . . He argued that learning letters does not initiate children’s writing but instead supplies the final component to move the child from idiosyncratic forms of “drawing speech” to a conventional way of recording speech in written words (pp. 72-73).
One of the fundamental concepts in the Hawkins Room for Messing About with Materials and Ideas is that the role of an educator is complex and ever-evolving. In The Roots of Literacy (1990), David Hawkins states that:
It may be possible to learn in two or three years the kind of practice that then leads to another continued forty years of learning…To understand the dimensions of the teaching art, complex and inexhaustible though it be, is an equally endless commitment and one that needs constant insight and renewal (p. 41).
By encouraging our exploration and experimentation of materials as adults, we believe that we are, in turn, better equipped to support children’s thinking and learning. Creation of the Hawkins Room for Messing About with Materials and Ideas and the Hawkins Groups has provided us with opportunities to challenge ourselves with many new provocations. It is exciting for adults to feel what the children might feel as they try something new or achieve success by a new definition. We are confident that our work is valuable, and we will continue to grow as a community because of our commitment to working together.