The Benefits I see, a photo reflection by Camila Vargas

Blog Post 1

This picture was taken by a standard 4 student at Swifts Primary School in Arusha. We were working on a project about identifying who they are today, and the girl jumping in the picture chose netball as something meaningful to her. After I suggested a couple of options, the girl holding the camera lay flat on the ground and pointed it upwards. We called “one, two, three, jump” and the result was extraordinary.

As a photographer myself, I got used to laying on the floor, moving to diverse locations, and shifting to unexpected poses to get the best shots. In the process, I got used to planning, thinking outside the box, and stepping outside my comfort zone in order to come up with creative compositions. This became natural to me and so, if I had seen this shot a couple of months ago, I would have thought ‘beautiful’ or ‘interesting,’ but nothing close to ‘extraordinary’.

Nonetheless, working with students in Durham and here in Arusha has revealed to me the intractable way in which we learn scripts and the tenacious way in which we follow them. In our contexts, we are taught particular ways of working and of looking at the world. An example is the way we label papers: at my school in Colombia we used to write the date on the upper left corner and our names on the upper right corner; in San Francisco, where I lived for a year, we wrote our name, the date and the subject all on the top right corner; at Meru Primary School, here in Arusha, students trace a line with their rulers at the top of the page and write their names above it. Students at each of these places learn one way of marking their work and stick to it, maybe even carrying those habits into high school and college.

When creating visual aids with different students, I have noticed that they paste their printed pictures on the top left corner of the page. Every single time. Even when I try suggesting other orientations, students tend to follow their already ingrained practices and the pictures end up in the top left corner, again and again. I have also observed that when taking pictures outside, students always start by holding the camera in landscape orientation right in front of their face. They try to include their subject just like they see it and are hesitant to try something where their subject is not depicted in its entirety.

Yet, through LTP activities students and teachers start trying new things and get progressively more creative. For some, squatting to take the picture is great progress, for others, getting really close to the subject is an advance. In the picture above, falling to the ground and pointing the camera upwards was outside of the girl’s comfort zone, but she tried it, making this shot extraordinary.

During the first LTP sessions, students usually have trouble if they can’t find what they want to photograph. To photograph ‘mango’ I need a mango, right? (wrong). Yet, as they get more practice, they become better problem solvers and start to play with frame, point of view and time to depict things that are actually not there. In the picture, the girls jumping, together with the wooden pole that falls outside the frame allow the viewer to see ‘netball’ even when we didn’t have a net or a ball. This ability to think outside the box is another reason why the picture is extraordinary.

Coming back to why I chose this picture: this shot is the result of a creative process that I would have never imagined is so difficult to teach and to learn. It is the result of students problem solving and stepping outside their comfort zones. It shows that students have begun to understand interpretation. It represents, for me, some of the many benefits I have started to recognize in LTP.

I have to accept that when I started learning about LTP, I was skeptical and often too focused on how the methodology would aid learning factual knowledge (which it also does). However, working day after day with different types of learners, with adults and children, with 3rd graders and 6th graders, has allowed me to see that the real benefits are much more abstract and much more durable: observation skills, learning by doing, problem solving, visual literacy, challenge by choice, kinesthetic and embodied learning…the list goes on. These are not the bullet points we usually find in a curriculum, but these are some of the abilities, skills and traits that make students creative innovators. And, to be honest, these skills are much harder to teach and transmit than are definitions and facts.

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