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!



  1. Cathe there are so many great ideas and suggestions. I love that they are open ended and will easily lead to other thoughts and ideas on the subject! Nice way to start a beautiful day in calif.

  2. Glad you enjoyed. Honestly, just reading a couple of these makes me want to teach again.
    I love their open-endedness, as well. Very good point. Thanks for leaving a message.

  3. Thanks for another great read, Cathe! This brings back memories from my classroom days. The Listening Walk was a favorite book and outdoor learning experience!!

  4. Hey Dede, I am glad you enjoyed. Doesn't today's blog make you want to go back into the classrooms. These were fun and effective. Just think what we could do now with linking it back to their writing and reading...not to mention building vocabulary like crazy. Thank you so very much for leaving a comment. Cathe