Learning how to observe takes time, patience, and practice. Also, it takes silence...which can be tough to generate in a middle school classroom. Some adolescents almost tremble with energy. Teaching adolescents how to observe is certainly a challenge in larger groups...but...I may just take another whack at it this year.
In 2012, I studied deer paths for myself. Mostly, I sketched them. Researching deer paths proved challenging as most of the texts I found about deer were about how to control the population. For example, when I referenced gardening texts (about the types of plants deer preferred to eat or bed down in) I encountered words such as pest and nuisance. Yet, to my surprise, I found the best information--full of subtly and nuance--from texts written by hunters.
For a year, the research supported a picture book I imagined and sketched. In the end, it did not go anywhere as a story; nevertheless, I grew as a writer. I honed my sketching ability (a.k.a. my thinking). By focusing on what was there, I became a better observer. I learned to detail with imagery which led to detailing with words and color.
I worked on this sketch for several days. Sometimes, I took my classes outside to also practice observation. At worst (best?), if they were stuck and did not know how to begin sketching or writing (there is nothing to write about!) they saw and heard me practice the act of observation. I shared my thinking. I shared how my thinking was flowing better if I could make myself relax (sort of like when ideas flow late at night, just before falling asleep).
I always wanted to return to this type of activity with students for an extended period of time. Our principal is encouraging us to brainstorm ways to upend the apple cart for the month of May. He wants to call it Mayhem...we teach, students learn, but take a deeper risk with something which we believe we never have the time to do.