I was 12 years old, a 6th grader with the biggest questions – or so I thought, when I got a hold of a book about Frida Kahlo’s work. Barely had I started to navigate the pages of the book when I came across the one quote of hers that has haunted me since: I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality. After this quote I came across a ‘La Venadita’ (a deer with a few arrows in her body); ‘Columna Rota’ (Broken Column), and ‘Lo que el Agua me Dio’ (What the Water Gave me), and while this was the instant that activated my fondness and admiration for unique artist, this was also a moment when by learning about her; I also learned about André Breton, Communism, and heartbreak.
Why am I writing about Kahlo? Like her, I seldom write or even think about the nightmares involved in the fear for change in teaching, the negativity that sometimes surrounds teachers’ good intentions and other attitudes that obstruct creativity, enjoyment and further learning. I teach as a life style and have become friends with the dreams, nightmares and difficulties of teaching, and I have actually used them as a platform to study scenarios that I haven’t explored, and to discover abilities that I did not know I possessed.
‘What the Water Gave me’, unlike most of Frida’s paintings, has no dominant central focus: I have regarded it as a symbolic collection of flashes that illustrates how she used her senses to document her life experiences, and how she recorded those moments using images of past, present and future. Nickolas Muray, the person to whom Frida gave this work of art, claims that the brilliance of this surrealist painting lies in the fact that Frida didn’t even know about surrealism when she painted it, but she already possessed the vision.
Language teaching is also not limited to a central area of knowledge; this discipline is a forum that embraces all kinds of information and data that, when studied, allow to develop and enhance our existing understandings on any given subject matter. Thus, I relate the processes and outcomes in language teaching experiences to Kahlo’s What the Water Gave me, as teaching languages makes use of the different knowledge/datum/experiences/inquiry/curiosity repositories in the past and the present (in perfect and continuous tenses!)
How often do we record / document our experiences for future reference? To what extent do our reflections enable us to re-construct new learning scenarios and to innovate? To what extend does looking back at our journey, the resources we have used and the learning setups we have generated help us get an idea of the kind of painting we are (in the most surrealist or realist way)?
For around two weeks, I have been looking at all the student productions saved in e-colelingvo (the learning platform I use to document my experiences with students, where they blog, and where they document their learning), and I realized that if I were to copy + paste their productions I would get thousands of pages. In this observation exercise, I have realized the extent to which my students’ contributions to the class have had an impact on the sophistication of generalizations/contexts that I have generated to study language and use it with the purpose of sharing and enhancing our knowledge.
If I were given a canvas to paint ‘What Students Gave me’, I think I would need to include representations of the experiences they bring into the classroom; symbols of the ideas they shared with the whole class; signs of the roads they walk with me in this learning journey; representations of the big ideas they shared, of the our ‘A ha!’ moments when we all co-constructed a new understanding.
Documenting our ideas on a unit planner is a tough task that makes many teachers’ life miserable. However, I wonder if this negative view of documenting experiences could change if we actually looked at what we have done, and appreciated the moments that we enjoyed in such learning experience; if we revisited those moments that allowed us to be surrounded by the sense of success, both our students’ and ours… I wonder if to what extent we are even interested in revitalizing our efforts by doing this.
This effort of mine might be somewhat an arrogant, but what is true is that looking back at all the contexts and scenarios we have explored makes me feel that I have also allowed students to teach me to have access to their ideas, and use them as a resource and as a tool in my class. I am truly taking this moment as an opportunity to celebrate reflection, embrace possibilities and to think how I can explore the same concepts differently next time, for one thing is sure: countless are the possible explorations for a concept, and for a global context when we want to discover new horizons.
Below is a video that recollect some significant moments of one of those units of work that I revisited and whose experience I would like to share.
That is What Students Gave me.