4 Ways To Introduce The Walking Curriculum To Your Students
Walking-focused learning activities are unlike most kinds of learning activities students are used to.
A thoughtful and engaging introduction is important, as students need to be prepared to “pay attention” on these walks—despite what they might, at first, believe, the walks are not non-instructional time. The walks require concentration. It is likely (especially with older students) that they will need to “un-learn” the belief that outside time is non-instructional time. In truth, the things students are learning about in class can be enriched outdoors; their learning can take on an added dimension. The aim is to change their conceptions of the natural world so that they, too, become aware of what nature has to teach. This walking curriculum offers significant outdoor instructional time in terms of the opportunities it will offer students to increase their familiarity and emotional connections with place.
Here are a 4 ways to evoke your students’ sense of wonder as you introduce the curriculum. Choose one—or a few—that would be most appropriate for the students you teach:
Ask your students to walk around the schoolyard or follow you around the schoolyard for approximately 10 minutes. Do not give any particular instructions ahead of time. Upon returning from the walk, ask students what they noticed. Chances are they will have noticed very little. They will have spent more time talking and thinking “Cool! We get to go outside” than about anything that actually surrounds them. You might then suggest that the walking curriculum aims to help them to notice more details in the world around them, to hone the senses and tap into the richness of the world around them.
You could stop with introduction 1, but you might also use the analogy of taking a test and receiving either a very high or low score. Ask students:
Is 99% on a test a good score? Getting 99% percent right would be something to be proud of wouldn’t it? What if you got 99% wrong? That is to say, what if you missed 99%?
Not so good.
The bad news is, of course, that we ignore most of the mass of activity around us. Horowitz (2013) reminds us this is normal, so we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves: “Part of normal human development is learning to notice less than we are able to. The world is awash in details of color, form, sounds—but to function, we have to ignore some of it” (p. 26). You might then tell students that your goal in using this curriculum is to tap into more of the richness that is in the world—even if we ignore it. You might explain that the walks will function to help them tune into all those details, to learn to notice them and enjoy them.
Or option 3: With students, discuss—and put a spin on—what they think they “see” in the world around them. You might ask and discuss the following question: When you go for a walk, what do you see? Do you see all there is to see? Most of what there is to see? What we want students to realize is that our day-to-day engagement in the world is often limited. Like horses wearing blinders, we do not want to get distracted. You might share the following quote with students (if appropriate given the age of your students) as a means to spark further discussion or questions: “We see, but we do not see; we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object. We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders” (Horowitz, 2013, pp. 8-9). Our aim is thus to try to remove the blinders and broaden our perceptual field through walking with different aims, perspectives, and intentions.
Last but not least, option 4: Discuss the idea of “attention” with students. The idea of “paying attention” is certainly an expectation in most classrooms. Ask students: What does it mean to “pay attention”? What attracts your attention right now? The idea you want to evoke is that our ability to hone in and attune to the flow of sensory information around us. This ability has had great evolutionary value for our species but it is also the starting point of much of art, literature and scientific discovery. That being said, more often than not we ignore what’s going on around us. What these walks aim to do is increase students’ ability to discriminate. They aim to increase appreciation and awareness. By selecting things to pay attention to on the walks, we hope to expand students’ perceptual fields and increase their ability to observe particularities—however small—in the world around them. Share with students that, as a result of the curriculum, two things may happen 1) they may become more familiar with this place, and 2) they may experience the world differently. We can, of course, suggest the ordinary world around them is far from ordinary. Ask students if they have ever stared at a word so long that it suddenly seems odd or strange…if not, have them try it. Staring long enough at the word, well, word, can result it in looking like the squiggles it is composed of. It somehow becomes detached from its meaning. Suggest to students that we mostly take-for-granted the world around us. Its “taken-for-granted-ness” is the very reason we hardly notice it; these walks aim to, instead, reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary world.
Reminders To Students
Once the curriculum has been introduced it is still worthwhile each and every time to set the tone of the walking activities before students begin.
Remind them of the purpose of walking. Encourage (or challenge) them to be as receptive as possible to the world they encounter. Their senses should be on high alert.
Remind them to pay attention to details—to seek particularities—in their surroundings and, especially, the topic, theme or question of the walk. They need to become hoarders of details (Horowitz, 2013).
Remind them what it means to be “mindful” of their actual bodies—how they feel, how they move.
Ensure students are aware of the basic guidelines and your expectations (perhaps develop those expectations together as you would “classroom rules”). Expectations/guidelines may include
a) focusing on the theme or task at hand;
b) not disturbing others;
c) staying within the determined parameters of the schoolyard;
d) observing without harming.
Depending on your pedagogical plan, you might also want to introduce ahead of time what students will be doing after the walk (e.g. what curricular connections will be made or what activity they will do as a follow-up.)