Susan Riley | April 2013

Be a Noticer

One of best parts about spring is that it encourages each of us to be a noticer.  Each day, there is something new to discover: a blossom that finally opens, a few more birds that have returned for the warmth of the season, the unexpected burst of color.  If you’re not careful, you can blink and suddenly everything is full of life again.  But we all know that’s not how it works.  Spring doesn’t appear all at once; it happens through a process of individual “mini-miracles” that join together to create the warm embrace of the season.  The only way to truly appreciate this and not let spring slip through your fingers is to slow down and carefully observe what we would otherwise dismiss.

This is one of the (many) reasons I love being a mom to a 3 year old.  To her, Spring is a time where even the smallest details become the big rocks of joy in her day.  This morning, she looked out our living room windows and exclaimed, “Mommy!  The lilac bushes have opened all of their leaves!  It happened while I was sleeping” and she immediately ran out the front door to inspect the bushes herself to make sure it was real.  You could just see the wheels in her sweet little head spinning as she raced to understand how this happened when she wasn’t looking.

That’s the thing about encouraging our children and students to be noticers: it’s as if they are seeing the world for the first time. By providing them with opportunities to slow down, use all of their senses to see, hear, smell, touch and feel the world around them, they experience the world in a whole new way.  It makes them more aware of the natural connections that exist, teaches them to think critically and ask questions about what is happening and to experiment with this new knowledge in creative, exciting ways.

We all observe the world through our own lenses, based on the experiences we’ve had.  Many of our students may have not had these previous experiences, so it’s a good idea to explore this concept in detail in the classroom.

Here’s a few ways to encourage your students to be noticers in your classroom:

  • Take a nature walk and look for specific items that are needed for an upcoming project.
  • Research items found on the nature walk and encourage students to look for natural connections between objects.
  • View paintings and use the “See, Think, Wonder” strategy to break down thinking and dig more deeply into the details.
  • Listen to a piece of music for one specific sound (a lone trumpet call, a specific rhythmic pattern, the moment when a song climaxes) and then choose an adjective or verb to describe that sound.

By taking time to encourage our students to become observers, we are modeling to our students how to look at problems from multiple angles, to delve past the first answer that comes to their minds and to think about other solutions, and to work collaboratively by listening to what others noticed.  Working through this process, we can help them build their capacity for connecting the details to the big picture and to understand the relationship of each.

I’m in the middle of reading Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O’Hara to my daughter as we get ready for school.  She is enthralled that the little red-haired pixie in the book takes pleasure in the small things too.  Because in the end, the small beauties are what culminate in our most precious gifts.

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan