Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fostering an Eye for Details- Part 2

Teaching our Younger Students to be Better Observers and to Notice Details

“Golfing is more than keeping the left arm straight. Every good golfer is a complex engine that runs on ability, ego, determination, discipline, patience, confidence, and other qualities that are self taught…if their values are solid their work is likely to be solid.”

               In last week’s blog I wrote of details and spoke of professions where lives are dependent upon a person's attention to detail.  The above quote clarified for me all that lies behind the concept “detail-oriented” and certainly helps to answer the question of detail-oriented as NOT being a fixed trait. Wouldn’t you agree? Here are the questions I left you with:

            How do we teach our students to be better observers and to notice details? 

            How do we apply this to their daily reading and writing?

            My husband asks me, “How long will it take you”? I pause for a minute, consider, and respond with what seems like the reasonably calculated amount of time needed to get a particular task or job done. Invariably, I shortchange my time estimate. Usually, by hours, and in some cases by days and/or weeks. It's not that I get off track and mess around (although I sometimes do). It's not that I don't have a list of what I need to accomplish and a plan (although I sometimes don't).

               The problem lies in the fact that I lack a peculiar perception when it comes to quantifying time. Perfect example: As I review the two questions from last week, I suddenly realize their enormity. Entire books and reading programs have been written in order to answer just one of these questions, let alone two. Today’s topic deals only with the first question “How do we teach our students to be better observers and to notice details?”  I will only focus on our younger elementary students this week.

"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” ~ Einstein

              Besides being time-challenged, I am a “why” girl. Tell me something. Anything, really. Automatically, by reflex, my first utterance is “Why?” It annoys the bejeebies out of my   husband. I try to explain that not asking a question translates into disinterest and apathy. In other words, the “why” should be viewed as a compliment. He doesn’t buy it. Regardless, I choose to think asking questions reflects genuine curiosity and a passion for learning. I think it's a good thing!

            Isn't a large part of our role as teachers to stimulate students’ curiosity and imagination? If we desire our students to be better observers and to develop an eye for detail and to ask questions we must create the environment and teach the values that supports this type of learning. It's not just the ability to attend to details, more importantly, it's the values behind being successful and reaching a goal: the ego, determination, discipline, patience, confidence, and other qualities that are largely self taught but can be strongly encouraged and prompted for within the classroom. 
               Innovators, people who learn through inquiry and observation, people who ask questions and recognize and solve problems through careful observation with an eye to detail, and people who share and discuss these and other questions with like-minded others most certainly will have an enormous impact on our nation's future pathway to success. Curiosity paired with imagination is both our legacy and our future!
               This past week I read A Place for Wonder written by Georgia Heard and Jen McDonough. Truly a remarkable and inspirational book. It is easy-to-read, there are many examples, and they address how to foster and strengthen children’s curiosity. Let me share a few of their ideas for primary classrooms.

One Small Square-  This idea is based on the One Small 
Square series written by Donald Silver and illustrated by Patricia J. 
Wynne and Dianne Ettl. The One Small Square series uses the space of a three-dimensional square to explore the details of different habitats. There are at least 12 different titles in the series. Georgia Heard and Jen McDonough created and cut out square viewing frames for students to take outside so they could frame and focus on a small area. At first students noticed just grass, but with a closer gaze they began to observe the more discrete details. They were given student observation guides to record their observations. By explicitly teaching students the how to of getting up close and observing the details, students will have a first hand and concrete understanding of details and can transfer this knowledge to their writing.  
"Put on your socks and shoes -- and don't forget your ears!
We're going on a listening walk. Shhhhh. Do not talk. Do not hurry.  
Get ready to fill your ears with a world of wonderful and surprising sounds”.

HarperCollins. ISBN 10: 0064433226
The Listening Walk- Inspired by the book of the same name by
Paul Shower and Aliki (1993)  The Listening Walk is an attempt to have students “sharpen their ears.” Georgia Heard and Jen McDonough had their students go on a listening to walk to focus on  the ears rather than the eyes. Afterwards, students recorded all the sounds they heard in their “listening walk diary.” Although I have done this with students, the idea of recording in a diary makes so much sense. Being able to take these written recorded sounds and apply it to their writing would be the logical next step.

               Other ideas from this wonderful book include a Wonder Center, easily incorporated into a center rotation, but also available to students throughout the day. Here students write their "I Wonder" questions on sticky notes. A set time is given for answering questions...perhaps, as a culminating thread on a Friday afternoon. Along this same idea is Wonder of the Week. One of the students’ "I wonder" questions is selected as the wonder to be focused on throughout the week. Students research, hypothesize. discuss, and write their explanations under the posted question(s). This can be easily turned into a center. Pondering Time and Whole-Class Shared Research is another idea that follows and supports students forming their own questions. They need to know how to research. With the help of an anchor chart on how to find answers to questions, independent or small group research is a perfect segue. Almost magically if the word "club" is added to an activity a new excitement ensues. The Wonder Club is a place where students voluntarily enter and exit to join in discussions of important topics like “How Does God Make Toenails?”  

           Another idea to strengthen observation is critter observations paired with wonder journals. Most, if not all of us, have experienced having classroom pets. By leaving observation journals near the pets, students will be encouraged to record their questions, observations, and to share ideas. I have found that teaching them how to draw the basic shape of the animal courtesy of an Ed Emberley type drawing helps them to discover and appreciate the more subtle details. In addition, researching a particular critter goes hand-in-hand with observation.
               Finally, Discovery Tables periodically set up by the teacher (or a group of students) in order for the class to look closely at objects through a microscope and to experience them through touch and smell is exciting for students. They can then record their observations and in so doing have something stimulating to write about, building their vocabulary, and their observational skills.

               These are just a few ideas to get you started. I know you can think of many more. Next week I will explore what would foster a sense of wonder and curiosity in our older students. Sounds kind of like an oxymoron, doesn't it. In the meantime, I will hope there is something here that sparks an idea, a connection, or a wonder for you all. Have a great week, allow yourself an opportunity to look at something closely in order to see life's beauty that surrounds us. Happy Saturday!


Saturday, October 19, 2013

How Detailed Oriented Are You?

 The Power of Details

              Casey, our Labrador, obviously agitated began his loud, continual barking. As I checked from the window, the rear lights of the postman's truck fading into the woods confirmed a box had been left by the door. Yep! Amazon had once again come through. In looking more closely the return mailing label was mysteriously unknown.  Piqued, I tore into the box only to clamp on the breaks when I saw the sleek, shiny silver Nordstrom's box. Okay, you have to realize for a transplanted California girl living in Arkansas this would be the high point of any week so I indulged in one solitary moment of reverie. Inside I found all the exquisite accouterments of my cousin's son's wedding held this past summer. Everything was so perfect and precise in its packaging right down to the creasing of the otherwise pristine tissue paper. Even the tape was perfect. Not too much. Not too little. Ashamed, for a tiny second at the thought of how I send off gifts, I then dove into the treasures. Cards adorned with doilies, ribbons, sachet, tiny silk flowers...all the details of a carefully planned wedding with much attention given to even the smallest of details. I was completely awed by the perfection of details.

              Within the same hour, not nearly as dramatic or fun, was a request from LinkedIn for me to write a friend's recommendation. LinkedIn provided this example: "____ is detailed-oriented."  I couldn't help but reflect on the concept. Obviously, if I were hiring I would think "detailed oriented" is a good thing. In last week's post I talked about us (collectively speaking) waking up and paying attention to life's details for the sake of both quality and our safety. This week I wonder...
Is "detailed-oriented" a fixed trait like blue eyes? 
We either have it or we don't? 

 I have always referred to my husband as being anal which admittedly sounds gross, but Jerry is so precise about EVERYTHING. Heck yes, he is detailed-oriented. Mine is more situation specific. Teaching-yes. Being a wife-almost always. Housework-No. Cooking-sometimes. Baking- yes. It seems our priorities in life is one of the factors that determines the quality of our attention to detail. Maybe another factor is stimulus input. Perhaps, we have only so much cognitive energy to take in information to then sift and sort out details. If we are on overload we won't notice the more discreet details.

                Artists, photographers, scientists spot details in nature elusive to most of us. They have an eye for detail.  Does this eye-for-detail exist in all professions? The pilot is detail-oriented in his pre-flight checkoff just as the quarterback is detailed-oriented in his pass patterns.  IS the ability to see and attend to the most subtle of details a mixture of natural ability combined with experience and training and repetitive practice?  Artists, photographers, pilots, football players, and doctors are able to experience nuances through their senses that are invisible or non-existent to many of us. Why?

               What is also important to note is that these details add up to a qualitatively better end product. Atul Gawande, a surgeon from Harvard wrote at great length about hiring a coach to closely observe him so he could be more detailed-oriented, more precise (and more successful) in his surgeries. You can read more about it here. Long but fascinating.

               Our classroom universe is filled with millions and millions of tiny details stitched together. Years ago one of my tricks for creating a second set of eyes in the classroom was hosting student teachers. Details I see often were not the same details someone else sees. I know we all get the importance of classroom details. Behind these details lie rich life stories that often are the critical puzzle piece we have been searching for. Bobby wore the same clothes three days in a row while his sister Rachel hasn't combed her hair all week. Gone are her colorful hair ribbons. What's up with this? Usually, Michael has been reprimanded five times within the first 30 minutes of class. Today he hasn't uttered a sound. Is it already noon?
               All the details compete for our attention. Sorry. I don't have any brilliant solutions to offer. This certainly has captivated my attention though. Classroom teaching is a mirror of the world outside. Fluid and fast paced, moving, changing so quickly it's impossible to take it all in to include the more subtle details. Funny. I used to think of the classroom back in the old days (late 80s -early 90s) as a student's refuge, or a haven. I suppose it still is for many students, it's just become so much more stressful. Teachers, we do the best we can given the day of the week, the time of year, the weather outside, and how much sleep we had last night. For me, what was the hardest to deal with coming back to the classroom after more than a 15 year absence was the lack of time to reflect and plan. Reflection and planning is where the details give birth to new details... details that support the success of our students and details that could possibly change their lives. What and how can we take these insights and apply them to our practice? Next week I will offer suggestions on the how.  
  • How do we teach our students to be better observers and to notice details?
  • How do we apply this to their daily reading and writing?   


               We created a new Freebie ABC's of Teaching Academic Vocabulary. Clicking on the icon will get you to my TPT store. If by chance you are in need of more information, please check out the 570 academic words organized into 10 lists developed by Averil Coxhead. These are not the usual high frequency words we think of in terms of sight or spelling words, but instead are words found in textbooks and academic discussions. The lists are grouped and listed in their frequency of showing up in textbooks. Also, check out my Pinterest Academic Vocabulary board.

                 In last week's post Kelly provided the Tulare County Office of Education link. I printed out the reading, writing, and speaking/listening sheets for the grade levels I was interested in and have referred back to them all week. The layout is friendly and comprehensive. For each standard there are essential skills, academic vocabulary, questions stems, and the standard's expectation for both the immediate grade below and above to help with differentiation. Thank you once again, Kelly.  After you link to their website scroll all the way down to ELA CCSS templates and you will be able to choose from K- 12th grade. These truly are awesome.

               About a month ago the Achieve the Core website published the long awaited writing information. All 600+ pages are devoted to where the standards meet the students in their writing. It serves as a collection of K-12 annotated student writing samples for the three types of writing stressed by CCSS:  1) argument/opinion 2) informative/explanatory, and 3) narrative. What makes this manageable is that you can download whatever you need rather than killing off another National forest. Just use the table of contents as your guide. I think I might use these in tandem with rubrics so the students would have a concrete understanding of what each score looked like.

I hope I have offered something that you can use today. In the meantime, Happy Saturday.

P.S. I wish leaving a message on this website was more direct. I would love to hear your thoughts on the details of teaching, and/or teaching our students to be more detailed oriented. To leave a message you just have to type in your name. You can leave URL space blank.