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Is It Art or Science? A Reflection on the Art and Science of Teaching

By Sue Rockwood

The following is a reflection on the art and science of teaching and the way a student attempts to categorize his own learning.

It’s Writing Workshop time with my Kindergarten group. We’ve just had a mini-lesson in which I modeled showing “the inside story” – drawing and telling about how I felt when my cat knocked my laptop off of my desk.

We talk about how to show and tell how we feel in our writing. Telling the “inside story” is an idea for our writing toolboxes — along with labeling pictures, making the characters talk, and describing with our senses about smells, sounds, etc. Students get writing paper and settle in.

As I circulate, I am happy that a new student is comfortable asking me “Will you help me write?” (yes, by encouraging you to do as much as you can on your own and then supporting your growing edges) and another student has an idea and is writing down all the sounds he hears in a sentence (next time we get together, I will show him how to put spaces between his words to make it easier for a reader to read his story).

As I visit with each student I think about their individual stages of development and what “next step” they are ready to try.  Science helps  me know the steps and how to help students along them; art is in establishing trust and confidence, in celebrating the students’
temperaments and skills, and in giving them just what they need right then to keep them inspired and advancing.

I am thinking about this wonderful relationship between the science and the art of teaching when I check in with one student about his writing. He is having trouble starting, and exclaims “I can’t tell if it is science or art!”  The way that he just echoed my internal thoughts really gets my attention.  As a Quaker, and a Quaker teacher, I believe that there is “that of God” in each of us, and that every one of my students has the potential to speak Truth to me as I am ready to hear.

But really, could he be chiming in on my internal pedagogical musings?

We talk about what he plans to write, and I realize that he really enjoyed a “thematic time” exploration of color and light the other day,  making color spinners using the primary colors, and working with filters  and flashlights blending colors. This young student read our morning message and knows we will do more “work with colors” today. But he isn’t sure if we will label it “science or art” and he wants to write that he is excited about it!

I explained to him that our work with color is both art and science, and that many things we will work on will be a blend of more than one skill.

I am grateful for his question, and glad that he can’t put our thematic work under one heading or the other.  I think much truly valuable work can’t be separated into exclusive subject classifications like art or science. I need to help my students realize that each of these skills (art, science, math, writing and reading) doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and is best used as part of their toolkits to help them understand and shape their world!

Ah, there, what I just said works for me as I think about my teaching practice too: truly valuable work is a blend of art and science. I thank that student for noticing—and share with him that I am happy if he can’t tell if it is science or art!

About the author:

Sue Rockwood is Primary Lead Teacher at Greenwood Friends School, Millville, PA

Education Is Key


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