Wild Pedagogies: A Modest Research Inquiry – Pathways Spring 2020 32 (3)
Wild Pedagogies: A Modest Research Inquiry
By Bob Henderson
In advance of the Wild Pedagogies colloquium in Finse, Norway in August 2019, I set it upon myself to represent a practitioner voice for the gathering. By practitioner, I mean those teaching from early childhood to university levels, from outdoor centre staff to education curriculum consultants.
The idea was to give ten educators a copy of Wild Pedagogies: Six Initial Touchstones for Early Childhood Environmental Education from the Australian Journal of Environmental Education (Jickling et al, 2018). I asked each participant to read the article six months before I would interview them with one central inquiry question: how has Wild Pedagogies come to infiltrate your practice, if at all? This article was selected for its readability and succinct treatment with six possible ready-made ideas (or touchstones) to incorporate into one’s practice…or not.
I had a nagging worry that Wild Pedagogies might come to reside in the realm of academia alone. Might the ideas only be used in disrupting some notions of research, journal authorship/conceptual journal submissions, and bestuck-in academic discourses at conferences and among the small group of folks attending Wild Pedagogies gatherings? Given that worry, let’s see how practitioners view these six touchstones as entry points to their practice of teaching and learning.
After concluding July interviews, I planned to present my findings at the Finse gathering. The central interest of this research inquiry was “knowledge translation”: that is, having Wild Pedagogies reach and influence a wider audience than its academic foundations. This notion of knowledge translation should be a significant concern for academic communities.
In the end, nine out of 10 participants complied with the six-month trial. Informal interviews ranged between 15 and 40 minutes. The central theme concerned how, if at all, Wild Pedagogies INFILTRATED one’s practice, but many were keen to include suggestions to the journal article authors — all of whom were present at Finse.
How has Wild Pedagogies infiltrated your practice?
- Three of nine responses were apologetic. They had read the journal article with interest, but for varied reasons, did not actively work with the ideas in any thoughtful or direct way. Why? Lack of time and energy. Lack of opportunity. The touchstones were too quickly forgotten to the immediacy of day-to-day teaching.
- Three participants had or will use the touchstones directly: two in course design and one in writing policy (using the language).
- Two participants felt they had gained insight and the touchstones had informed their practice in direct ways.
- One stated they are “already doing all of this.” For this person, the exercise had been, in essence, a satisfying, confirming read but nothing new.
I will add that not engaging with the material is a useful response; no apology needed. There is an acknowledgment needed that it is not easy to bring this work to your day-to-day as a teacher. There are many barriers and circumstances at play. One person (a grade 7 to 10 teacher) sent an additional letter describing his efforts to bring Wild Pedagogies directly to his practice. (See page 13).
When it came to making suggestions to the authors, the advice was a bit less varied.
- Five advised the authors to present examples of applying the touchstones. What might be a lesson plan? “How to” to accompany the “what is” would help compel the practitioners into direct action.
- Three practitioners were supportive of the journal article as having workable ideas presented clearly: readily digestible and ready for trials and testing in the field.
- Two suggested the language could be improved to advance the overall message and promote applications for practice.
- One practitioner wanted the six touchstones to be distilled into a more discernible manner.
Some individual comments stand out as particularly interesting:
- These touchstones are “back of the head” ideas.
- “Easy to make this complicated but it distills down to one single thing: take kids outside. That’s the crux of the problem.”
- “The problem: teachers are all out of the same mold. They teach inside.”
- “The curriculum hangs over the head of teachers.” [Even grade 2.]
- “If you know the curriculum really well, it increases the option to develop Wild Pedagogies into your teaching.”
- It was important to read for course touchstones — helped me create more “openness into curriculum/evaluation.”
- “The public system doesn’t really allow for these touchstones. But I’m an intentional practitioner so I’ll find a way.”
- “The feel of this is not preachy — good for reflection.”
- “My board [of education] is trying to modernize outdoor education, i.e. local and accessible, equitable, decolonization, more place-based. Wild Pedagogies helps.”
- Curriculum constraints dominate.
- A strength: “Allowing it to look like many things.” i.e. Wild Pedagogies is not prescriptive.
- “Language is too cognitive.”
- “Can language be adopted to elementary teaching?”
Having digested all the above and formatted the “infiltrate” question and suggestions for authors and for presentation in Finse for a group of thirty, mostly university educators, the following recommendations were suggested:
Develop a Wild Pedagogies workshop for teacher professional development.
Present “How To” Wild Pedagogies sessions at conferences to spread the word.
Further work with language and make an effort to distill the message.
Develop theme issues in a wide array of practitioner and academic journals (Pathways can be seen as a hybrid journal in this regard).
After the summer 2019 Finse gathering, some of this work has commenced in Canada and beyond from Botswana to Norway to Australia.
See the Wild Pedagogies website: http://www.wildpedagogies.com/.
Bob Henderson is involved in a number of Outdoor Education projects since his retirement from McMaster University in 2010.
Jickling, B. Blenkinsop, S. Morse, M., and Jensen, A. (2018) “Wild Pedagogies: Six Touchstones for Early Childhood Environmental Educators.” Australian Journal of Environmental Education.