This is a really neat overview on YouTube of my favourite module, “my” Outdoor Learning module. It can serve as a version of the fictionalised examples I have picked up over the years that I present below. As I burble on in the video, I raise the question about where does the passion and interest lie in being outdoors.  We whet the appetite in Year 1 in the module Introduction to the Study of Education, pick it up in Year 2 with this module, and some will go on to a final year placement in Forest Schools or maybe do a dissertation around the outdoors. I’m never sure quite what to make of the student evaluation questions about “challenge,” however: U70124 is a popular module, whatever that means, and the eager student will doubtless go beyond the procedural, the basic literature (however valuable) – but we sit, perhaps ambiguously, between the placement modules and the theoretical. What do we mean by challenge, then? Is there a difference between academic challenge and physical challenge? Between physical challenge and overcoming resistance?

Here’s one student: she joins the module with a (largely unacknowledged) antipathy towards sustained reading. She is not alone in finding essay writing an awkward mixture of thinking out her opinions based on class input and “finding the right quotes” for the essay.

And here’s another: she is a solid practitioner who finds the academic stuff hard, but equally finds the alternative perspectives she meets uncomfortable. There are real points in the outdoor learning module where she finds herself thinking “I would never do that with my children.” At heart she is here to make her setting better.

And in the rule of three, here is the last: a good student, an experienced EY worker, she is nonetheless convinced by voices from her past that a stick on the floor is dirty, that sitting in the floor is unpleasant. Even being in the little wood here is several steps into an unknown.

Are their challenges the same? Are engaging with effective reading, linking theory to practice, overcoming tactile defensive systems all fundamentally about overcoming some resistance? And what does their tutor do – what do I do – to help them face their challenges, to see the threshold idea as something to be welcomed ?

U70124 2009

I confess I find myself hampered by my big question from the YouTube video, around where the “passion and interest lie.” So often we talk about passion, about well-being, or (worse) “allowing children to be children.” These ideas – sometimes surrounded by metaphor or given authority simply the power of the slogan – may well have power in the advocacy that student 2 may need, but are well-nigh fatal to the thinking and engagement required by student 1.  And while this is familiar territory to me as an academic, where does this leave student 3? How do I look at student well-being and challenge on all three levels? It’s as if I need a set of resources or an approach that will

  • encourage engaged reading
  • improve practice
  • support challenge without acting as Mother-Hen.

Oh, wait: that’s probably my job: to develop a package  (a class, a module) that enables as well as challenges; where reading is expected, opinions are welcomed, and even den-building in a muddy wood has its place. Maybe that “place” (metaphorically) also has to make the discomfort of changing minds acceptable to students. A tall order: the students aren’t the only people who have a challenge in the module on Outdoor Learning.




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