“Nobody sees a flower really, it is so small. We haven’t had time, and to see takes time.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)
It has occurred to me that what might be lacking in teacher professional development and student learning is perhaps something much simpler and less expensive than more recent attempts suggested by those designing and selling prepackaged assessments and curricula. In my opinion, what we need to be teaching teachers and children to do is to pay attention.
Paying attention is not easy for teachers or children. It requires time and organizational structure. In my experience, the documentation and learning experiences of the Reggio Emilia approach, Descriptive Review, and other educational programs that build curriculum based on children’s interests support the role of paying attention. The teachers at Christina Kent Early Childhood Center (CKECC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico study photographs, children’s artwork, and recorded conversations to focus their attention on children’s unique learning styles, interests, and theories.
In a very similar way, the children at CKECC study documentation. In the example below, teacher Amber describes how photographs allowed children to study the details of the moths they discovered at the center.
In small groups the children attempted to observe and draw what they saw when looking at the moths. During this process some of the children struggled saying things like “I can’t draw it teacher” and “I can’t see the moth because it moves around too much.”
After reflecting on this experience, I decided to give the children photographs of the moths to draw from. They discovered that the photograph was not only a source for observation but also a template. Using the photographs, they began to trace the shapes of the moths and to notice their details. This lead to a discussion of how each part of the moth has a specific shape.
The moth photographs were tools for children to examine, study, and investigate more carefully. They allowed the children to get to know the moths more intimately. While discovering how to pay closer attention through the photographs, the children’s drawings began to show more details of the moths.
Elliot Eisner (1998) pointed out, thoughts or ideas can be very slippery and hard to grasp. Thoughts and ideas are similar to moths that can be hard to see when they are flying around. Documentation gives us something to hold on to, to study more closely the children’s thoughts, ideas, and learning experiences. Documenting and paying attention allows us to see what children are capable of and where their interests truly lie as opposed to what we thought they should know and be doing.
As one teacher said, “I realize to pay attention more when studying the children. I gain so much more to pay attention.” (Christina Kent Teacher, March 8, 2011).
Eisner, E. W. (1998). The Enlightened Eye: Qualitative Inquiry and the Enhancement of Educational Practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.