Beyond Traditional Classroom Walls:
Voices from the Valley
Nancy Morrell and Nick Forsberg
of two urban elementary schools collaborated with a university researcher
in studying the effects of residential outdoor education experiences
on students, teachers, student teachers and the curriculum. Their
research project took the form of an ethnographic study of a three-day
winter residential experience in the Qu'Appelle Valley undertaken
by Grade 7 and 8 students from the two schools.
project was the assumption that going beyond the traditional classroom
walls is critically important for all involved in education. Today's
teachers are expected to integrate curricula and challenge their
students to experience the interrelationships that exist in learning.
Out-of-door learning opportunities encourage this integration and
provide the increasingly important experience of interrelationships.
research project also bridged inservice and preservice teacher education.
Part of the residential outdoor education experience was the involvement
of second-year education students from the Faculty of Education
at the University of Regina, who were currently enrolled in a winter
Outdoor Education course. These preservice teachers acted as Outdoor
Education "experts" and, in conjunction with the course
instructor, worked collaboratively with the school teachers and
students in the design, implementation and evaluation of the three-day
The study was
an attempt to understand the lived experiences of students, teachers,
and education students involved in winter residential experiences.
Consequently, the research was exploratory and inductive, emphasizing
process as opposed to ends and had no predetermined hypotheses.
The framework for the study emerged from the qualitative paradigm.
More specifically, qualitative case study was the research methodology
employed for this project.
Data were collected
using a combination of techniques that included: Pre-Trip and Post-Trip
Questionnaires, Journals, Semi-structured Interviews, and Document
Analysis. Through these methods, a wealth of data were provided
to unearth and interpret the meaning of lived experiences.
Through an intensive
analysis of the data, themes emerged in relationship to each of
the three groups participating in the winter residential experience.
These themes acted as cornerstones in describing the lived experiences.
The researchers began to story and re-story an interpretive synthesis
for each of the three groups. The interpretive synthesis for each
group has been shared in what the study refers to as the curriculum-as-lived.
In effect, the individual stories for each group narrate how winter
residential outdoor education is experienced by students, teachers,
and student teachers, and their storied voices speak to the curriculum-as-planned.
In capturing the essence of the lived experience of students, teachers
and student teachers participating in the three-day experience,
the vignettes given below inform both the theory and practice of
- The winter
residential experience provided students with the opportunity
to not only learn about cooperation but, more important, to practice
cooperation. From the group experience of Pre-Trip preparation
to functioning effectively as a group during various activities
associated with the three-day trip, students were able to see
the results and benefits of working together. It was recognized
that the transference of these skills and attitudes back to their
everyday life would be a challenge for the students, but it was
one that students believed could eventually happen.
- The winter
residential experience also provided students with a chance to
"get to know others who are not already good friends"
as well as "seeing other 'sides' of people." The opportunity
to view teachers and parents as "friends on a different level"
was a highlight of the trip.
- The experience
encouraged students to take risks that in the end illuminated
the "hidden abilities" of individuals as well as their
"potential" in various areas. Students believed this
revelation was very worthwhile.
- On another
level, students found that taking on responsibilities for planning
and implementing the winter residential experience, as well as
following up on the trip in the classroom, was important to them.
It demonstrated "ownership" and "work ethic",
as well as providing a visible area in which teachers could see
students assuming responsibility.
- Like the
students, teachers also highlighted cooperation, social growth
and the work ethic as characteristics that were evident through
the winter residential experience. The teachers saw students who
were often followers in the classroom emerge as leaders in this
- The areas
of organization and workload were other aspects of the experience
that spoke loudly for teachers. Planning, implementing and providing
a follow-up to these unique out-of-door experiences was "a
tremendous amount of work but definitely worth it." There
was also a "feeling of accomplishment" when it was all
completed. However, the teachers recognized that individuals who
do not possess a great deal of energy or expertise, and do not
have the support of the outdoor education "experts"
(student teachers), might be reluctant to take students out on
ventures of this nature.
Teachers' Lived Experience
- For student
teachers, winter residential experiences nurture the process of
metamorphosis into a teacher. They saw their role now as "being"
a teacher, and they came to understand teaching as being normative,
founded on an ethic of caring.
student teachers struggled with the distinction between personal
and professional development. For these student teachers, development
of both kinds was interrelated and more of a "grey area."
- Their unique
experiences on the trip provided the student teachers with an
opportunity to learn about "student culture" and gave
them insights into really coming to "know kids."
Outdoor Education provided student teachers with the chance to
teach curriculum content in an interdisciplinary fashion and helped
them identify connections within the curriculum.
the winter residential experience provided student teachers with
the opportunity to problematise the theory into practice approach
so commonly found in teacher education. These students had lived
theory through practice and so through practice came to understand
Participants at the 1996 Learning from Practice Seminar learn
about residential outdoor education.