July 1, 2016


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On Looking

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

                                                                                              ~Annie Dillard

…so begins the review for the first book mentioned on Brain Pickings’s The 13 Best Psychology and Philosophy Books of 2013The book, On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz, is a title that we have not yet read but have placed on the top of our “Want to Read” list.  The review reminds us how easy it is to become so wrapped up in the trappings of day-to-day living that we can exist in our world without really noticing much about what is going on in the immediate world around us. Horowitz realized she had fallen into this daze  as she walked her dog around the block day after day. She resolved to make an effort to “attend to inattention,” Horowitz   enlisted the help of eleven different “experts” (e.g. an artist, a geologist, a dog) to help her learn to “look” in new ways.

As we mentioned, we are intrigued by the premise and find ourselves thinking about how it can help us think about “being present” in our personal lives and in our work with teachers in their classrooms. Without even reading the book, thinking about how other “experts” would view our work is fascinating and so, today, we leave you with this task:

After teaching a lesson, ask yourself these questions:

  • What would my grade level colleagues notice?
  • What would my administrator notice?
  • What would my students notice?
  • What would the parent of the most difficult child in my class notice?
  • What would the parent of the most compliant child in my class notice?

Does this help you to “look” more closely at your classroom life? What do you notice? What do you see?


  1. Kim and Jan! Thank you for this post. I can see such a thread of mindfulness run through your work. It is inspiring!

    This noticing through the eyes or ears of another is one of the reasons I love walking with the dog through the woods behind our house. Last week a light snow fell and I could finally see what they had investigated every day. Tracks, large and small, covered the ground! Many stories, dramatic and comic, had played out during the night. Without the dogs and the snow I could never have imagined them!

    I’ll try out the questions you suggest in my teaching journal. Video taping/audio taping my classroom regularly this year has helped me see our learning (and my place in it) in different ways, too.

    Finally, I suspect that noticing the details and patterns of life is one of the most important habits for a learner to cultivate. Noticing, collecting, curating, reflecting, all take time. I need to remind myself that no matter how many “skills” I feel I need to teach to satisfy whatever outside authority, I have a great deal of control over the culture in my classroom. I need to clear space and time for students to sit with something long enough to notice, to wonder, to connect, to shift perspectives rather than simply rush to conclusions.

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