Edward Hall, The Silent Language
In this post, I described an awareness of being in the space between students while teaching. What constitutes this space?
This post contains my thoughts on this, based around Yi-Fu Tuan's book Space and Place.
A sense of place
Tuan describes space as movement and freedom, whilst place is pause, return, familiarity, attachment. We move through space, but dwell in places. I would like my classroom to be both space and place; somewhere where students have freedom, but also a place they are happy to spend time in.
I liken this to General Gordon Square in Woolwich. It is a place, where the community comes together. Contrast this with other public spaces, where people want to pass through as quickly as possible, without incident, without meeting others. Here's a photo of me and my daughter enjoying the water feature this summer (thank you @MissJones_14).
I watched a lesson yesterday in which there was just this sense of place. It is hard to describe from where this sense arose; perhaps security, a togetherness? The students huddled together on two desks, engrossed in the constant murmur of conversation (about their work), as the rain pattered on the window.
Tuan asks: 'How do we describe 'familiarity', that quality of 'at homeness' we feel towards a person or place?' I would also ask: How can teachers cultivate such a quality in the classroom?
I am most comfortable in the classroom when I am moving between students, pulling up a chair to talk to them about what they are working on. I have found many of the best lessons are when I 'plan myself out of the lesson', creating tasks that students can work on independently.
This is not to say that teachers should not stand at the front of the class and talk, but rather that they might become more aware of the messages they send through their positioning. Often teachers are in front of, above, over... Superior is from the Latin superus, meaning 'that is above'.
Intimate experiences escape our attention... A mere smile or touch may signal our consciousness of an important occasion... they are so fleeting and their meaning eludes confident interpretation... At the time we are not aware of any drama; we do not know that the seeds of lasting sentiment are being planted... It is by thoughtful reflection that the elusive moments of the past draw near to us...
Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place (Ch.10)
As a teacher, how aware am I of the ways in which 'intimate experiences' - or lack of them - effect my relationships with students? It is hard enough to notice these fleeting moments when watching others, let alone notice them in our own experience. As Robert Pirsig suggests: 'Quality is what you see out of the corner of your eye.'
However, it might be possible to act, and structure our interactions with others, in a way that makes intimacy more likely. For example, I have found that speaking with small groups of (between one and three) students results in a deeper conversation, whether about academic or a more personal matters, and especially with those who are less confident.
The more angels there are, the more free space.
Swedenborg, taken from O. Bollnow, Lived Space
How does the presence of other people affect our sense of freedom? This is a crucial question for the classroom. Whilst others can expand our minds, they can also deprive us the opportunity for quiet reflection. Crowding is the opposite of spaciousness, described by Tuan as 'an awareness that one [might be] observed.'
Space is required for contemplation. I am moving to Orkney in January; I hope that living on an island, the expanse of the sea, will provide the space for my mind to roam. In A Time to Keep Silence, Patrick Fermor describes the building of Trappist monasteries on wide, flat expanses to allow for the 'contemplation of last things'.
Here you wait for the poui to flower one week in the year and you don't even know you are waiting.
VS Naipaul, The Mimic Men
In The Silent Language, Edward Hall talks of our informal cultural patterns being 'out-of-awareness'. Our development as teachers, and the well-being of the children we teach, requires that we bring some of these intangible but important ways of being with others into our awareness.
As Tuan describes of his book, the aim is to 'increase the burden of awareness.'