Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Memorable teaching.

Observational drawing as part of a fish study - 10 year old.

A professor at Harvard in 1830, Lois Agassiz, had an effective but memorable technique with his doctoral students.

When his students first entered his laboratory, expecting a lecture or an assignment, they would find in front of them a tray with a dead fish in it. Agassiz would say to his students, 'look at your fish', and then he would leave the room. An hour later the professor would return and the students, trying to please would describe their observations. Agassiz would listen and and the repeat, 'look at your fish.What do you see?'

Invariably, Agassiz's students counted scales, drew likenesses, measured, dissected, took notes, and comprehensively ascertained all there was to know about the fish.

After repeating this scenario various times over a couple of days Agassiz would ask , 'do you see the fish yet?'

What he was doing was encouraging his students to know something well.To realize that what was to be discovered lies already to hand , before ones eyes.

It seems counter intuitive in this age of speed and the Internet to encourage students to look carefully and to think slowly but it this experience our students need today. Observation, which involves all the senses ( and especially with a smelly fish) , leads to questioning and imagining - the source of authentic learning.

And the material to observe lies all around - there for the taking.Our students see a lot but too often notice little.

Observation is key skill all too often rushed through with only a cursory glance and little reflection .We should do more of it.

What we what in our schools is memorable learning - the positive sort!


Anonymous said...

Thank you again for reminding me of the importance of using what is just outside the classroom window, taking time to look deeper and to question what we think we know.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Observation is an often overlooked skill - taken for granted by too many teachers.

As one old teacher friend of mine used to say , 'the more you look the more you see and the more words you need to talk about what you see'.

Someone once said the art of drawing is asking yourself questions and drawing the answers.