I think it was Thoreau that said “it’s not what you look at… it’s what you see” or something along those lines!
This really reflects the way that I have been teaching for the last couple of years – I have become aware of a trend in my teaching and tried to build on it more deliberately. I am trying to get my kids first to start looking more, and then to start seeing in greater detail.
“Although I have nearly perfect, 20/20 vision, I’ve never had the ability to actually look” said comedian Vic Reeves!
Many students spend very little time actually looking. In fact, looking has become a much rarer pastime over the last five or six years as handheld devices have made looking semi-obsolete. Think about the times in our lives that we spent looking and I’m sure that, like me, you’ll come up with a quite a lot of examples. The one I often think about, after reading “Last Child in the Woods”, is looking out of the car window during a journey. I spent hours doing that!
At the risk of sounding like an old fart, kids don’t need to look at much these days. Whenever there’s a spare few minutes with “nothing to do” we can all whip out our iPods, iPhones, smartphones, iPads etc… etc… and be entertained by that instead. Vast tracts of life pass us by (and we all do it now, let’s be honest) while we stare into our little screens,
So, I do a lot of things with my students that reconnects them with the art of looking. Here’s a few examples:
- Still-life, landscape and portrait drawing: http://6ssatnist.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/the-birthday-project/
- Photography: http://www.flickr.com/photos/53771866@N05/with/6358114339/
- Artful thinking routines: http://6ssatnist.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/using-the-compass/
- Observational science experiments: http://6ssatnist.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/check-out-these-time-lapse-experiments/
- Lots of work on patterns: http://6ssatnist.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/patterns-may-and-jon/
- Regular walks around the school neighbourhood and their own neighbourhoods: http://6ssatnist.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/homework-being-aware/
- Using our “mental video cameras” to watch and observe each others’ behaviour
Once students learn how to look, they may begin to see things! They start to notice patterns in behaviour, reactions, numbers and so on. They notice trends in the world around them. They notice details like colours, textures, shades, shadows and perspective. They become aware of flaws, problems, difference, inequalities and issues. They become more capable of making informed statements or judgements and can provide opinions that go beyond the emotional or stereotypical. They are able to add more detail to the way they speak and write. They become better artists. They understand the complexity of visual imagery and the world they live in.
They understand that very often you can learn a massive amount more about life by looking, and seeing, than by any other means. We just have to take the time and give them the experiences to learn that powerful lesson.
Photograph by Paul Keen, a Year 6/Grade 5 student last year!