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21 Princes Street, Kensington, Whangarei, New Zealand

Phone: 09 437 2742

Email: mairtown@nka.org.nz

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Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Making visible the movement of children's understanding

Last week I set up the provocation of some model giraffes along with a beautiful photograph from the book  ‘A shadow falls’ by Nick Brandt.  As children came over to wonder, to enquire and to explore this area, we began to discuss these graceful animals. We shared our knowledge, ideas and experiences of giraffes and before long we entered into completing some ‘observational drawings’.

We encourage the use of observational drawings as a tool for learning frequently at Mairtown. As Kolbe (2009) states, “Observational drawing invites children to look very closely at things and to notice all the details. In turn it encourages children to make more intricate drawings than they do from memory alone, often leading to joyful discoveries. It is part of the process of ‘learning to see’”

On this day however I also had another objective - to encourage the children to think about their own learning and accrual of knowledge - to self-assess their work. Of course children naturally do this as part of their play and work all the time, they are definitely the best reviewers of what they have done and achieved, but this is not always visible to us as adults.

How did we do this? After completing their first drawing, we looked again at the photographs and models of giraffes and had some further discussions. Then I invited the children to draw a second picture, after which I asked the question, ‘What are the differences between your two giraffes…what have you discovered and learnt?’.

Here are a few examples. From the drawings below and the responses of the children, I think you can clearly see how their knowledge grows and develops with each repetition. The drawings and conversation show the movement of the children’s understanding - this is learning in motion.

Revisiting the same experience or question throughout the course of an inquiry is a common and simple strategy to gauge the growth 
of student learning. Students can express their understanding orally and/or artistically. This strategy allows teachers to ascertain, over a period of time, whether students are incorporating new information or experiences into their growing understanding, and if so, what they are learning and how they are learning it. It also fosters self-assessment, making the assessment process transparent. When students are able to revisit earlier work, their self-confidence increases because they can see concrete evidence of their own growth (NCAA, UK).

 “This one (drawing 1) doesn’t have a mouth or eyes or enough spots on the face. The tail is shorter whereas on this one (drawing 2) it’s longer and thinner which is better. This one (drawing 2) is better, and look at the photograph it looks like that more cause its neck is curvy and wider at the bottom, I didn’t do that on that drawing (drawing 1) as I didn’t know. And look (pointing to the legs on her second drawing) those ones are fatter and have spots, that one doesn’t (drawing 1) but real giraffes, see (pointing to the picture) look you can see they have spots on their legs, and face, almost all over” (Claudia).

 “This one has better spots (drawing 2), like the photograph, look this one I did is a triangle” Now pointing to the first drawing, “Oh no, I didn’t do a tail, it didn’t have any hooves. This one has a neck but no body.  It has 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 legs, but they only have 1,2,3,4 legs. It has no ears. It looks so different. This one (drawing 2) has a curly mane” (Kate G).

 “They have spots on their head. This one’s better (drawing 2) this one's not as better (drawing 1). This one can reach the leaves (drawing 2) cause it’s so so long. They have horns but they are too long here (in drawing 1). The head is better here, look…(drawing 2) and the spots are good and big. It looks just the same as the picture (pointing to the photograph)” (Wyatt).

 “My drawing is skinny (drawing 1), this one (drawing 2) is fat, and I took notice of the body that time. See, there the body is wrong. On this one (drawing 2) I drew a tail with hairs on the end of the tail, and spots more like that (pointing to the photograph). Do you know Christine, giraffes have lots of spots” (Kate B).

A week on, it is wonderful to see these same children re-visiting more observational drawings of giraffes independently. Each drawing is becoming more detailed, each with the addition of something new. As the children continue to study giraffes and complete their drawings they become more familiar with this subject, they recall past knowledge, construct new theories and pose new questions; we are able to witness the movement of learning and understanding.

“Look, oops, I did no tail on my first drawing, my drawings are getting better and my spots are better, they are different now. On this one I’ve added nostrils, I haven’t had them before, but you know giraffes, giraffes do have nostrils” (Kate G).


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