Why should intermediate teachers use the Walking Curriculum (Judson, 2018)? Simply stated, it emotionally connects your students to their natural surroundings and awakens their imaginations. The Walking Curriculum can inspire, improve and increase written output for your students’ creative writing.
As a Grade 5 classroom teacher pursuing a Master degree in Imaginative Education (IE), I was looking for ways to integrate what Dr. Kieran Egan calls “cognitive tools” in a manner that would be a good fit for my active group of students. (Learn more about cognitive tools and how to employ them in your teaching here.) I was also interested in expanding my teaching toolkit by trying “new-to-me” methods that would align with the big ideas and core competencies of British Columbia’s Curriculum. I found what I was looking for in the Walking Curriculum. It fits well with the current educational trends such as ecological, social emotional, Place-based, 21st century, and differentiated learning pedagogies. What makes the Walking Curriculum and, more broadly, the IEE (Imaginative Ecological Education) approach unique are the imagination-focused practices that employ cognitive tools and tap into the distinctive nature of students’ imaginative lives.
In my Action Research project, I decided to investigate using cognitive tools, in the area of creative writing for two reasons. First, I wanted to end the school year’s writing component with a positive and productive tone, hopefully avoiding the downward slide that typically happens in May-June. Second, I wanted to breathe new life into the stale and predictable writing rut my students had fallen into. My intent in using the Walking Curriculum was to seek out IE inspiration for my students to write imaginatively and to also get my wiggly students out of the stuffy classroom to enjoy the nice weather and exercise.
In the resource book, Judson has made each walk very straight forward and any teacher K-12 could pick it up and use it with very little prep or IE experience. As a person that is still new to cognitive tools, I appreciated the identification of the tools being used and the suggestions she gives.
I started with the Bird’s Eye View Walk, Cognitive Tools: Role-Play, Change of Context and Binary Opposites. We are fortunate to have resident eagles that frequent our school skies, but any birds would do. On a day the eagles were spotted, we ventured out for our first walk. I instructed the students to be scientists making silent observations about these majestic birds by drawing pictures or writing notes. All students were partnered up before hand and told to use an iPad to take pictures and videos. We came back into the class and had powerful discussions about our observations and generated further wonders.
Then on a second day of eagle observations, I asked the students to “get in role” and use their bodies to silently mimic the movements of the eagles above. While the students were on our gravel field, I instructed them to visualize being up in the sky like the eagles using their senses. How would that change as the location changed? I would call out a new location: White Rock Beach, Whistler Mountain, and then a student choice location. I enjoyed watching their movements almost as much as these intermediate students liked “being the eagle”. Later in the week, we continued to practice with a similar activity about clouds floating in the sky.
Using Discovery Education’s writing prompt builder, I created a writing assignment for the students to complete online with the following instructions:
Imagine you are an eagle soaring or a cloud floating. What would you see? Where would you go? How do you feel up high in the sky? Write a story about a day being an eagle or a cloud.
Following the Austin’s Butterfly peer feedback model, students provided and accepted meaningful feedback before submitting their writing to me to be assessed. The results were amazing and so unique. Each student had crafted a beautiful, almost poetic, detailed short story. I was extremely impressed that by using digital writing tools and cognitive tools, all students found success. I feel, using the Walking Curriculum as a pre-writing activity gave the students the emotional connection to their topic and sparked their imagination in wonderful ways.
Each week for the remainder of the school year we tackled a different walk, a variety of cognitive tools and ended the week with a new imaginative writing sample.
Not once during those weeks did I have a student say to me they didn’t know what to write about nor did I hear a negative comment towards writing.
These are two common problems associated with intermediate students writing, that IE and the Walking Curriculum solved! The walks were listed as a highlight to the school year by many students and a source of mental well-being for us all during the chaos that occurs in June. In my own reflections, I identified this as a practice I plan to implement early on in September so I can cultivate my students’ imaginative writing, year-long.