“The centerpiece of effective teaching is student engagement, which is defined not as ‘busywork”‘or ‘being on task,”‘ but as being ‘intellectually active’ … as being ‘minds on.'” Charlotte Danielson
Our earliest experiences teach us that artifacts are intellectually engaging. From birth we learn through the examination and analysis of objects. Think about babies and how they learn. If your children or grandchildren are anything like mine, the first thing they did from the time they were six weeks old was to put things in their mouths. They stuck fingers and toes in there first, then, as they grew older, examined their toys, their clothes or any other object that came within their reach. They looked at it. Touched it. Placed it in their mouths. Regardless, these babies learned through engagement with the objects in their environment. As we grow older, we tend to move away from that physical examination to a more “intellectual” approach. Since the Enlightenment, educators have relied more on the written word than any other method to teach about our world. However, times are changing.
The increased emphasis on student achievement has brought with it an increased understanding of the different ways in which students learn. In general, students fall into one or more of the following categories of learning styles: visual learners, aural learners, physical learners, verbal learners or logical learners. Our challenge is to engage our students, regardless of learning style, or level of expertise in the subject matter at hand. Artifacts accomplish that task, and they do so immediately.
Let’s examine what occurs when a teacher divides his/her class into groups of two or three, places an artifact in front of them and offers the following prompt, “What is this? How is it important to us, right here, right now?” In order to respond, students must engage immediately with the artifact, and do so at a level of higher order thinking. “What is this?” begins a process of inspection and analysis that involves comparison and contrast. Students’ minds will take them, almost involuntarily, into asking important questions, “What have I seen, experienced, or used before that looks like this?” (visual learning). They begin to relate to the object through personal experience(physical learning), and incorporate the experiences and ideas of others in their group (aural/verbal learning) in order to answer the challenge. They measure the object, examine it closely (physical learning), and exchange ideas about its size, shape, construction, and possible use(verbal, logical and physical learning). They base their answers (conclusions) on the evidence they have obtained (visual,physical learning), their exchange of ideas(aural,verbal learning), and their decisions arrived at through logical reasoning. From the beginning, artifacts have students operating at the “minds engaged” level in the task at hand.
So let’s look at what happened here. Using artifacts in the classroom addressed each of the different styles of learning and accommodated students at different levels of expertise. One did not need to be able to read at the highest levels in order to contribute successfully. One did not need to speak English very well in order to participate fully and effectively in the process. One did not need to have an extensive repertoire of background knowledge in order to add positively to the group’s decisions. Yet, from the beginning, students were engaged in critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, communication and decision-making regardless of their learning style. For teachers and students alike, artifacts are language and reading neutral, yet they open the door to effective learning. ARTIFACTS ARE INTELLECTUALLY ENGAGING…..