Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Da Vinci’s Seven Principles in ELT

Leonardo da Vinci, probably the cleverest man in human history, was a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, poet, musician, inventor, physiologist, naturalist, scientist and all-round visionary. In his book Think Like Da Vinci, Michael Gelb identified seven principles that guided Leonardo in his life and work and I feel his ethos can be equally applied to our industry as well.
1. Curiosity.
In ESL, learners with curiosity talk more, they are less shy and less reluctant to raise questions. In life it is the people who continually ask questions who get ahead. Curious people are not satisfied with the answers that everyone else blindly accepts. They dare to step out from the crowd. They dare to probe further. Curiosity is the hunger to understand and it is the driving force of human progress. Without it we would still be living in the trees, yet as Einstein said, the amazing thing about curiosity is that it survives formal education at all.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

2. Demonstration
It is often said that a good teacher demonstrates rather than explains. Demonstration is the willingness to take risks and learn from the outcome of those actions so that you develop through a process of trial and error, towards the truth. There is no better example of truth than the understanding that experience gives you. Leonardo never stopped taking risks professionally and the lesson teachers and learners can heed is that to move forward we must experiment and create.

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.

3. Sensitivity
Being sensitive means being aware of the dynamics of the group including your role in relation to the students, the students’ abilities and their relations with each other. The more sensitive a teacher is, the more he or she can pick up on what’s happening and adapt to changing circumstances to meet students’ needs accurately. The closer the connection to your environment, the more influence you have within it.

Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.

4. Sfumato
Sfumato is a painting technique demonstrated most notably in the Mona Lisawith its layers upon layers of shading. Sfumato creates a smoky, less-focused effect which is a lot more appealing than obvious clear lines. In general terms, sfumato means blending ideas with subtlety and elegance. In life it means seeing the world in shades of grey rather than black and white. Our students tend to talk in generalisations because they lack the language skills to articulate finer points. So the teacher’s job is to encourage more precise language by demonstrating it ourselves in emphasising nuances.

The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It doe s not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books---a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.

5. Art & Science
In da Vinci’s time there was a blurring of the boundaries between art and science. Regardless of the end, learning was learning and creating was creating. Leonardo, like his contemporaries, received his formal learning chiefly from the classical texts. There was at this time an explosion of knowledge and da Vinci led the race to use this to create new concepts, including machines and robots.
The internet has brought us full circle. Our society is gradually leaving the industrial age of specialisation and homogenous urbanisation to return to the fusion of art and science. This means educators have more resources at their disposal and unprecedented opportunities to create and learn.

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.

6. The Corporeal
Leonardo tired to capture the freshness of life and as such he had an intricate knowledge of physical forms. Many of his drawings deconstruct and illuminate the muscular forms of animals, faces and organs. He studied life at every detail and believed that nothing was as perfectly designed as nature.
Kinasthetic learning is one of the most overlooked facets of language education. We must remind ourselves that physical movement from students and from the teacher is one of the best ways to dispel lethargy, add energy, switch the focus, zap boredom and make a point worth remembering.

Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions, and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seem to me to be empty and devoid of meaning.

7. Connections

Good communicators have the knack of finding common ground with people. They think on their feet to search for connections and build bonds. In class that means learning something about the students’ lives, teaching with authenticity and employing synchronicity to the full as inspiration and opportunity dictates. By connecting ideas and recycling language we make content relevant and interesting.

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

You’ll notice I have punctuated each principle with a quote from the other great genius of history, Albert Einstein. One thing that becomes clear from reading Einstein’s quotes is that he implicitly knew da Vinci’s mentality all too well. If they were alive today, I think we would probably be going to the stars. There’s no reason why we can’t apply their thinking in order to go beyond expectations and be brilliant educators ourselves.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bhujangasana (boo-jang-GAHS-anna)bhujanga = serpent, snake

This posture promotes flexibility in the spine and encourages the chest to open.
Bhujangasana (boo-jang-GAHS-anna)bhujanga = serpent, snake

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

About the artwork

'Dante and Beatrice' was the most important painting by Henry Holiday. The theme of the painting is inspired by the autobiography Vita Nuova of the medieval poet Dante (1265-1321). Dante concealed his love for Beatrice by pretending to be attracted by other women. The scene depicted in the painting is that of Beatrice refusing to greet Dante because of the gossip that had reached her. Beatrice is the woman dressed in white and she was modelled by Eleanor Butcher. The woman next to Beatrice is Monna Vanna, a companion of Beatrice and the mistress of Dante's friend Guido Cavalcanti. Monna Vanna was modelled by Milly Hughes.
Holiday was introduced to both models through friends. In the painting the stern almost statuesque expression of Beatrice contrasts with the posture of Monna Vanna who not only appears to support Beatrice's decision but looks back to Dante's reaction. The maidservant behind Beatrice was modelled from Kitty Lushington, the daughter of a well-known judge.
Holiday was greatly interested in the medieval poet Dante. As early as 1860 he painted another scene from Vita Nuova, the meeting of the poet and Beatrice when children in her father's garden, with the aim of exhibiting at the Royal Academy Exhibition. In 1875 Holiday painted a portrait of Dante. The Walker Art Gallery owns three sketches Holiday made for the 'Dante and Beatrice' painting: two of the sketches show all three figures with an additional maiden, while the third sketch is of Dante himself. Holiday had also made a plaster statuette of the two female figures nude to which he later added clothes in plaster. This statuette of the two clothed figures is also in the Walker's collection.
Holiday was concerned with the historically accurate representation of the scene and in 1881 he visited Florence to carry out research for his painting. In a letter from Florence he describes the project : "I wanted to get on the spot the general lie of the lines-the perspective, in fact, of the buildings and still more the sense of colour, and as far as possible to collect such fragments as remain of buildings of Dante's time, so as to be able to alter the details to the character of the period. "
Holiday decided to depict the scene at the Ponte Santa Trinita looking towards the Ponte Vecchio along the Lungarno. From his research he discovered that the Lungarno was paved with bricks and that in the 13th century there were already shops in the area which he included in the painting. Holiday painted the Ponte Vecchio with scaffolding because he had found out that the bridge was destroyed by a flood in 1235 and was still under construction around 1285-90.
The most outstanding features of the painting seem to be the view of Florence in Medieval times and the costumes of the figures rather than the spiritual content, as in the case of Rossetti's, 'Dante's Dream' (also on display in Room 5). The dresses of Beatrice and the maidservant are medieval whereas Monna Vanna's dress derives from antiquity. In 1892 Holiday became editor of the journal Aglaia, the journal of the Healthy and Artistic Dress. In 1896 'Dante and Beatrice' was used for a tableau vivant (a living picture) at St. George's Hall in Liverpool as part of a presentation illustrating past, present and future dress. The presentation was organised by the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union
Henry Holiday was a painter as well as an established stained glass artist who had commissions both in England (Trinity College Cambridge, Birkenhead New Ferry Liverpool, St.James's Church, Kirkby Church and Huyton Church in Liverpool) and America (amongst others the Holy Trinity Church in Manhattan New York). He was also an illustrator, his most important illustrations being the ones he made for Lewis Carroll's book 'The Hunting of the Snark'.
Holiday was the youngest student of painting at the Royal Academy Schools in 1855. Like many of the young artists of his time Holiday was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Early in his career he was praised by the painter Millais (1829-1898) and was in contact with artists such as Holman Hunt (1827-90), Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and D.G. Rossetti (1828-1882). Holiday also knew the critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) who encouraged the young painter.
In 1862 Holiday's career as a stained glass artist was launched when he succeeded the artist Edward Burne-Jones as the designer for the glass manufacturing company Messrs. Powell and Sons. Edward Burne-Jones had moved to William Morris's company. The painter Albert Moore (1841-1893) (his work Summer Night also on display in Room 5) had recommended Holiday as an efficient draughtsman.
On his first visit to Italy, in 1867, Holiday was inspired by the way Renaissance artists broke new ground from Gothic art and reflected their times. In his paper 'Modernism in Art' which Holiday read to the Architectural Association in 1890 Holiday asserted: 'all great art is modern when it is produced' and 'no art is genuine which is not modern in the sense of expressing the best of which the artist and his age are capable'.
Holiday's designs for the memorial window in Westminster Abbey and the west windows of St. Mary Magdalene's church in Paddington reflected the influence of Italian Renaissance art on his work. Later on, in 1891 Holiday became dissatisfied with the working methods of the commercial stained glass firms and set off to establish his own workshop in Hampstead in London.

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