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.


  1. Cathe - As your cousin, I truly enjoyed this blog because of how you tied in the wonderfully organized and beautiful wedding of my brother's son to his lovely bride. Unfortunately the wedding was in California and you were in Arkansas, but all of us hoped my detailed descriptions and our many pictures helped you experience the wedding. The bride, who may be one of the most beautifully organized and detail-oriented people on this earth, also helped you experience it via the "silver Nordstrom box". What a great topic for blog. Details, details!! For me, they can be a scourge! I do not feel I am detail-oriented. My thinking can be creative which can be good but I remember being called on the carpet by my parents when my thinking became too creative. Not paying attention to details seemed to signify a lack of common sense or the old bromide "you do not apply yourself". Yet I occasionally make lists! My job required a lot of detailed thinking and planning. It is such a fascinating topic and thank you for opening it up. I read the surgeon's article with great interest, too. I once read somewhere that you do not get really good at something until you do it 10,000 times! Food for thought. Thanks for a great read and a thought-provoking blog that would be valuable for teachers and just about anyone else on this earth! Mary Ann

  2. Mary Ann, I appreciate your comments so very much and I am so glad that you read the article out of The New Yorker magazine. The story has stuck with me for months and was the seed for me hiring a computer coach. Whew! 10,000 times is overwhelming...but if mastery is needed/demanded or a strong will exists, I believe we are capable of just about anything. Thank you again for your comments, continual support, and love. Cathe