Not just looking, but also seeing.

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:


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!


  1. Simone

    Hi Sam – I love this post, particularly the line of just looking out the window. When I was in Dehli a couple of weeks ago the drive from our hotel to the school was about 40 minutes. James (doing an Action workshop) and I would take turns of sitting on opposite sides of the car so we could just look out the window. I felt like I was 10 years old again, just staring out in wonder at the amazing scenes, landscapes and life just outside of the car window. I actually asked myself the question – when was the last time I just looked out the window? As I looked questions cropped up in my head about indian culture, daily life etc and thankfully these were happily answered. The examples of what you do in your class are inspiring and I know, as a parent, I try to encourage looking, wondering and seeing with my son all the time. I think it’s sad when you get in to cars these days and there are dvds attached to the back of car seats. Your post is timely as it matches my state of mind at the moment but also so important for teachers to stop and wonder how they incorporate ‘looking’ into their daly teaching. Thanks Sam!

    • Mr. Sam

      Thanks Simone. It’s so interesting to think about these things as a teacher and as a parent isn’t it? We really tried to teach our girls about looking out of the window last summer as we were driving through France and England. We did pretty well… but we did use a portable DVD player for about an hour on really long journeys, just for our own sanity!). I guess it’s about balance. We, as adults, have to find a balance and then we have to pass on that balance to our own children and to our students.

      I feel as though I am there with you and James in that car! How great that both of you were so into looking out of the window, imagine if you’d been alongside someone who stared into their mobile or laptop on every journey… that’d be kind of shocking! I know exactly what you mean about the questions flowing as you looked at daily life passing by. I think that’s why I love countries where life is so visible, so shared.

  2. Jodie

    This reminds me of the Robert Fulghum line in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarden “Be aware of wonder. And then remember the Dick and Jane books and the first word you learned — the biggest word of all — LOOK.”

    I loved starring out the car window as a child and I still do.

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