Silent Walking and Writing – discovery beyond classroom restrictions

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Breaking the boredom by writing in a different environment is widely accepted practice, for both students and teachers. Recently, my ‘nearly-over-it’ Year 12 class and I took an interesting approach to gathering ideas that could improve our writing.

The idea for ‘silent walking’ came from poet Katrina Naomi who recently shared a residency with artist Tim Ridley in Cornwall. While eagerly waiting to read their work, I chose to develop my own ideas of what ‘silent walking’ might constitute and how it could be applied to imaginative writing.

Before setting out for the better part of a 50 minute lesson, students were instructed to walk behind me in single file, without talking, and focus their senses. We would be stopping at different points to write words and ideas. And so we began …

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Walking in silence without hordes of students added purpose, and moving downstairs became liberating. Once outside, distant sounds of sport students were apparent, as well as general traffic and machinery. I began to doubt the validity of this activity, as it seems obvious that silent walking would suit a natural environment. My planning also occurred on a much warmer, sunny day and the temperature shift was somewhat disconcerting.

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We stopped first at a point just outside our school fence, where we had a few moments to jot down ten words based on what we had seen. Still silent, we moved forward.

Travelling across the school site and it’s many different levels gave us the opportunity to descend widely spaced concrete steps onto the grass playing field. Silently, we ignored the game  but remained attuned to the range of sounds we could hear. We paused beside treefs and jotted our ideas, before moving into the thicket.

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An unexpected situation occurred: as we wove between trees, I surged forward, ducking and catching a small spider on my glasses. One student walked carefully backward, wary of potential dangers. Another student later reported catching several branches in her face from her companion pushing through. Yet we all kept silent and recorded words and ideas of what we had felt.

Moving past the cooking rooms, alert for aromas, it seemed my original plan and route did not produce any specific smells. We stood near the office and wrote, and only later did woodsmoke waft past.

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Our final destination was the seldom used multi-level ramp with ‘secret’ artwork displayed on the supporting beams. Here we discussed our ideas and shared words by reading aloud from our lists in a round-robin fashion:

hidden locals

SEE: blossoms, ashphalt, buildings, painting, cars, hedge, fences, yellow stripes, clouds, machinery, bricks, bubblers, vivid

HEAR: plopping, plonking, footfalls, “Now” engines, velcro, sniffling, bird call, instructions, “OK”, tweeting, laughter, teasing

local hangout

FEEL: uneven ground, tree branches, scratchy, damp, gravel, bark, cool air, lack of breeze, stillness

SMELL: damp, lingering coffee, mulch, cold cold cold, bbq grease, fragrance, perfume

parroting fauna

We also discussed how these words and ideas could be translated in to writing for the Area of Study – Discovery. Students shared:

  • an epiphany – I thought about how we must have looked to the PE students on the oval, but realised I didn’t care. It’s important to be yourself and this helped me focus on what was important to me at that time.
  • walking through the trees reminded me of how much I enjoyed playing in the forest as a child. It brought back memories of my childlike awe – rediscovered a sense of wonder
  • being here and doing these things made me think again about the hidden world beneath everyday school – a deeper understanding
  • it was being in a state of mindfulness and appreciating the small things
  • even though it was short, there was time to focus on my own ideas and leave the noisy school routine behind

secret street art

Back in the classroom, we briefly discussed our impressions and made links to a deeper metaphor, symbol or motif that could be incorporated in our writing. The obvious idea was the traditional link between forests, tress and confusion. Accepting this as a cliche, students were encouraged to extend these suggestions: what else could be used?

We then had 10 minutes of free writing to let these ideas settle. After this time, we chose a word or phrase to share with the class – our final gift for the lesson. Students are free to write any words or ideas that resonate with their perspective, including

  • weave between the trees – assonance that suggests a difficult path
  • They had freedom. – short sentence with two short words contrasting with longer ‘freedom’ which allows the focus and idea to expand
  • symbolism and minutiae of everyday life – an intense focus
  • I can feel it teasing my nose. The smell and memory of spring, but with this cold, I can’t smell, I can only anticipate the shift in seasons. I remember the smell of blossoming trees and new grass, new lambs and life in the paddocks
  • soon the voices and yelling are repressed and out of range. More focus on myself / more private now that the sounds of the oval have receded
  • feeling the roughness yet a gentle sensation – from moving between the trees

disappearing street art

Many students had not noticed the pasted graffiti and apple sticker that I felt enhanced the space as a haven for creativity.

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