In phase four of my curriculum unit, lessons will be designed to evoke the use of the five senses to bring greater elaboration and detail to my students' descriptions, both orally and in written form. Since my students are deeply rooted in the practices of "Doorways to Writing", the following is an attempt at describing the exercise, which is a part of my students' daily routine.
Through 'Doorways', each of the senses is put to use as a way to tap into the various learning modalities of each, individual child. There are several "sensory doorways" to "open", which are meant to provide a spring–board for students to engage in some form of inspired drawn and then written expression. Firstly, it is important to note that there are a total of six bins, each containing objects, which tap into a different sensory approach to learning. For example, a child is invited to choose one object from the 'Touch Doorway' bin, in order to feel and manipulate it. Upon doing so, he/she is instructed to draw whatever comes to mind, be it a memory, connection, the object itself, etc. After a certain amount of time, the child is then encouraged to write about what he/she has just drawn.
A child may also choose from the 'Smell Doorway' bin, in which are placed several different scents, in the form of candles, oils, incense, etc. Upon sniffing a few of the scents, whatever memory comes to mind, the student is to draw and then write about.
Similarly, the 'Observation Doorway', invites visual learners to observe an object (like a lace doily, carved wooden box or peacock feather), draw what they observe and then write about it in the form of a detailed description, personal connection or story.
The 'Sound Doorway' invites auditory learners to listen to classical or jazz music and, like the famous artist, Kandinsky, become inspired to draw abstract shapes or depict memories evoked by the music, and then write about their creations.
The 'Copy Doorway' invites students to choose from a variety of post–card sized painting replicas and, whichever one holds their interest; they copy on their own journal page. When it comes time to write, students are invited to jump into the painting and describe what they experience, be it a story, a sensory description or connection to a real–life experience.
Finally, there remains a 'Title Doorway', from which students pull out a title of a famous painting. From the title, they are encouraged to draw what they think the painting would look like and then write about what they chose to draw. Students are then shown the actual painting, from which to compare their point of view to that of the original painter's. In this way, students are shown how unique and varied are people's perspectives, sources of inspiration and artful expressions.
It is important to note that I very gradually released each of these doorways to my class, making sure to instruct and expose them to each doorway, one at a time. Once each doorway had been modeled, discussed and practiced, students were given free reign to utilize whichever doorway tended to offer them greater inspiration. In so doing, this sensory approach to learning helped give my students a better awareness of their own way or ways of learning thereby helping them to capitalize on their strengths and learning modalities.
With this program in place, along with our recent field trip to the Yale Center for British Art, wherein my students focused on a series of painting, which centered around the five senses, I felt that my students are now ready to utilize their senses in a more abstract way. For our next museum visit, therefore, our focus will be on two landscape paintings by Richard Wilson entitled,
View near Wynnstay, The Seat of Sir Watkin Williams–Wynn, and Dinas Bran from Llangollen
, 1770–71. These works present landscapes with a great deal of character, about which students will be able to write 'snap–shots' and wherein students can imagine themselves as part of the scene.
The idea is that after having had the experience of giving voice to existing characters in a painting, students will themselves be able to take form and identity within a visual landscape and thereby describe their surroundings in great detail, making sound use of their sensory experiences in such an imagined place. In order to capture the image which the artist has created on canvas, students will make use of their five senses to describe the dreamy setting, which may in turn, inspire the setting for their own narratives to unfold. Students will be divided into two groups, allowing for ample time and space to view each painting. Students will be assisted through the following prompts, which appear on a graphic organizer:
What can you hear? Is it soft or loud? Can you compare it to anything you have heard before? Is it pleasant or aversive?
What can you smell? Can you describe the smell by comparing it to something else you have smelled before? Is it an inviting smell or an offensive smell?
How does this place feel as you extend your hand out to touch your surroundings? Describe the textures around you.
What can you see around you? When you look up what do you observe? Is something moving or staying still? What can you notice when you look off into the distance? What can you see when you look very closely?
Are you able to taste anything? Is the taste sweet, salty, bitter or sour? What does the taste remind you of?
How does this place make you feel? How do the colors affect your mood? Would you like to spend more time in this place? What emotions are you experiencing as you explore this terrain?
When students arrive back at the classroom, they will be instructed to write an elaborate paragraph describing the setting of either of the paintings they observed by using the notes they took on the graphic organizer. Students will be reminded to include thought–shots to express what they are thinking. Once students have completed their paragraph they will read it aloud to a partner who will be instructed to close his or her eyes and imagine what the reader describes. The listener will then provide feedback to the reader about whether or not they were able to imagine a "snapshot" of the scene from the description they were read. In this way, students will practice active listening skills as well as benefit from sharing and receiving feedback from their peers regarding their ability to describe something with sufficient detail and elaboration.