« Preconference : Workshop

Teaching a Tree

Susan Tomlinson
Associate Professor, Environment and Humanities degree program
Texas Tech University

Sydney Landon Plum
English Department
University of Connecticut.

Teaching students to slow down and observe the natural world in a deep and reflective way can be a challenge. Fortunately, drawing, photography, and writing are three powerful tools at the teacher's disposal. This workshop proposes to use all three for the study of a tree. Participants will learn techniques for each of the disciplines, as well as how and why we use them for pedagogical purposes.

The workshop consists of three modules. In the first, participants will learn how to draw a tree and what that teaches us about the tree itself; in the second, we will use photography for the purpose of approaching the tree from multiple angles and distances; and in the third, we will use writing to reflect on what we have learned about the tree that we did not know before. By focusing on a single, familiar subject and approaching it from three perspectives, we will see how to overcome the entrenched "icons" we carry around in our heads and truly observe nature. Also, studying a subject using three radically different techniques helps each of us avoid the complacency of using our most comfortable form of expression, and will give us newfound confidence in less comfortable ones (yes, you can draw!). Finally, learning a tree through different pedagogies may suggest options for writing and teaching the nature essay.

Prior artistic ability is not necessary—all that is needed is a desire to learn and teach. Participants will need to bring a pencil and sharpener (or a mechanical pencil), eraser, drawing and writing paper (or journal), and a camera (a smart phone with photo capabilities is sufficient). The workshop will take place within a short walking distance from the conference.

Workshop Leaders:

Susan Tomlinson is an associate professor in the Environment and Humanities degree program at Texas Tech University. She is the author of How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook and has taught numerous workshops on sketching for the purpose of observation.

Sydney Landon Plum has been an adjunct in the English Department at the University of Connecticut, Storrs since 1999 and in 2009 received an award for outstanding teaching. She is the author of Solitary Goose published by the University of Georgia Press, and edited Coming Through the Swamp: The Nature Writings of Gene Stratton Porter.

Together they are collaborating on A Workbook for Understanding Nature, a guide for teaching nature writing at the college level.