Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Coloring Outside the Lines

| 10 Comments

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Been reading a novel where they kept using the expression “coloring outside the lines” during the same time we’re talking about learning outside institutions in #moocmooc

I also yday co-facilitated two workshops for faculty at work: one on alternative assessments (esp authentic/sustainable ones – here is n old version of it) and one on assessments that help us listen to our students more carefully

Been thinking also of how i want to handle my daughter’s learning outside of school because i am almost sure i won’t like school

And this coloring outside the lines thing struck me. In a school entry assessment they ask kids to color something in and i am pretty sure they are checking for fine motor skills of coloring inside the lines

I remembered something my mom noticed about my child. She said she started coloring inside the lines, then said “ok, i’m now done with that” and proceeded to color outside in broad strokes

What a moment. The lines provide structure and school tries to control the child within it. The key is to make sure that even though my child can see the lines, she knows she is free to color outside them occasionally

It is how i teach within institutions – i see the lines, am aware of them, but most of the time find ways to color outside them. And sometimes i spill over outside the paper altogether, because the paper is a limitation.

Kids have it right when they want to color on the walls and floors, when they want to sometimes read from left to right or right to left (this is particularly funny in the bilingual context of my daughter but she cannot read Arabic yet so she doesn’t realize it – she actually thinks all Arabic text is Quran which is adorable; also shows how little Arabic text lies around the house – need to fix that?)

One more thing: can i possibly imagine how i want to nurture my daughter’s learning without discovering first what interests her and makes her tick? We’ll probably come to that next week in #moocmooc as we discuss Papert

All i know now is she loves music and dancing and it’s something we love doing together. She learns new words from songs and loves books that have songs in them. I’m keeping an eye out for other entry points but this is a pretty big one already

Sooo since i don’t think we are getting rid of institutions any time soon, nor am i able to imagine it, i’m going with coloring outside the lines. Be aware there are lines and people expect you to stay within them. But be comfortable and confident crossing them when it feels right. Know that beyond the lines there is paper and have judgment to know when you can go beyond the paper too. Sounds like a plan!

10 Comments

  1. I really appreciate the connections you make between your family and professional experiences. Understanding and insight come in so many different shapes, sizes, colors, tastes and sounds, yet in education we tend to want to determine beforehand which shape or sound that understanding should have for all learners. Writing it here helps me see how absurd that very premise actually is. Thank you for this robust illustration that offers so many entry points that invite dialogue rather than shut it out.

  2. Thank you for responding. It’s comments like yours that give me a meta-view of what it is I do when I blog, which I am not always aware of.

  3. This is a good point Maha, well made and immediately comprehensible to me and probably many others who are also not immersed in learning theory – you have a gift for doing this. In general, I think that some of your writings could provide a basis for a very welcome publication /compendium /’popular’ book aimed at ‘ordinary’ teachers.

  4. “One more thing: can i possibly imagine how i want to nurture my daughter’s learning without discovering first what interests her and makes her tick? We’ll probably come to that next week in #moocmooc as we discuss Papert”

    That’s maybe a natural maternal understanding so wouldn’t it also be natural to do the same for our students during their schooling? And yet most of what they do is prescribed. My kids got Montessori preschool at least so there was choice and respect for allowing the child to do an activity they were passionate to do, and then follow up with the others. The children didn’t have to do the same thing at the same time!

    I loved your post and your connections to family life made the ideas we’ve been reading about (trying to) more relevant and interesting.

    By the way, I’m not sure if you can get it, but I gave my children a book called ‘The musical life of Gustav Mole’ and it came with a cassette – hopefully now CD. There were two books actually, and it was about a mole who plays the violin and practises even when his friends try to entice him to play, and becomes a good violin player. It worked on my second son – he studies music and plays violin. The second story was interesting because it was about Gustav grown up with his own children who refused to practice, so he took them on a trip around the world and they saw and heard music from different cultures. I loved it.

  5. Thanks, Tania! I’ll look the book up… I found Kindle Edition but no audio version which is weird?

  6. I second Gordon’s suggestion. 🙂 I won’t comment here coz I’ll blog about you and Tania’s together

  7. I came across this post of yours by accident while looking for something old on the #ccourses website and it warmed my heart because I remember exactly how you feel. I still have the same feelings but now that the girls are 7 and 9, it’s a little different. When my girls were the same age as your’s, they, too, liked to sing and dance, so everything I tried to do to supplement their learning came through music. Because global studies is so important to our family, we danced to all kinds of music and made a game of guessing where it came from on a giant globe. Most of the time they didn’t seem to care about making meaningful guesses but years later I can tell you it all laid a foundation – an assumption that anything could come from anywhere in the world rather than just our city or state.

    Also the modeling was important. I draw on our walls. They draw on our walls. We have explicit discussions about questioning the rules and exposing the power hierarchies and why we draw on the walls at home rather than at school. Clearly I approach things from a Bruner perspective – spiral curriculum 🙂

    You know I fight the schools and I try to connect work and my kids all the time. I respect you for doing the same. If we didn’t, what’s the point of being educators? I don’t think you’ll need to do more study on Papert to get it right – you are already on high alert for the entry points as they come and they will come. You already have what you need to do in your heart.

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