Thursday, November 3, 2011

Being Mindful


Kira Campo wrote a terrific post today about being mindful.  She began by posting two images she made of a lake, taken at different angles on the same day.  Kira then asked her readers to take two minutes (a fair amount of time) to actually study the images and to note differences. She wanted us to explore being mindful of the different angle she used to frame each image. I did explore both images and found that I was able to create new categories apart from simply, lake. Both images fit into a category of texture as well (just look at that water).  The roughness of the water remained a constant across both image, although there were distinct differences. I am pretty sure I might have glossed this, had I not stopped to look again and used a tool to help me look closely.

Ellen Langer in Mindfulness, tells us that noticing novel distinctions leads to mindfulness.  In 'The Construct of Mindfulness', Langer and Moldoveanu (2000) note:

The process of drawing novel distinctions can lead to a number of diverse consequences, including (1) a greater sensitivity to one's environment, (2) more openness to new information, (3) the creation of new categories for structuring perception, and (4) enhanced awareness of multiple perspectives in problem solving (p.2).

I thought a lot about Kira's post, her observations and wanted to add to that dialogue.  It seems to me that in addition to changing the angle or perspective, the presence and absence of light and fog, alter landscape images allowing me to notice distinct differences as perspective is altered often in dramatic ways.  For example, take a look at these two images made two days apart of a reservoir near where I live.  No filters were used on either image and the post processing of each image was minimal.

Autumn. 10:52 a.m., Nikon D300, Manual, 1/320 sec, f/6.3, ISO 250, 170 mm (Lens: 70- 300 mm), Raw.

A Certain Grace, 8:26 a.m., Nikon D300, Manual, 1/400 sec. f/5.6. ISO 250, 200 mm (1Lens: 8 -200 mm), Raw.

Both images were made in the morning, using the same camera, different lens, and were shot from different locations in the reservoir. The presence of fog and partial sunlight in the later, colored the image differently.  Part of being a photographer is to notice novel differences and to remain open to new insights that are revealed while watching.  It is a familiar stance I would guess that is common to art makers.  Noticing, looking deeply, and remaining open to the unexpected is part of the ways many fine arts photographers work.

Differences in photographic images are certainly not rare and having artifacts to study also helps us to notice.   I wonder though, if any of the ways we can and do study images might lend itself to classroom-based learning that is mindful. What tools might we use to engender more mindful ways of being in classrooms? Ron Ritchhart and David Perkins (2000) in 'Life in the Mindful Classroom: Nurturing the Disposition of MIndfulness' outline a few conditions of mindfulness. 

There can be no deep understanding without the exploration and testing of ideas from various perspectives.  There can be no transfer without the constant refinement and reorganization of one's conceptual categories. Critical and creative thinking depend on an openness to new ideas and the ability to break out of one's mind-set (p. 29)

With that in mind, here are three wyas that lead to mindfulness.


Kira asked her readers to take time to explore the two images. I am reminded here that exploration can lead to mindfulness. Simple tools can enhance our exploration. For example, I clicked on each image that Kira posted.  This allowed me to better see the images as each opened in its own window and was considerably larger. I could then zoom in on specific parts of the image using the zoom tool.  This allowed me to explore in new ways, to notice how the tree trunks were warped by the intense sunlight and the sections of the image where no color penetrated.  Similarly, learners can explore everyday objects using inexpensive magnifying glasses, as well as zooming tools readily available via the Internet and apps.  Use of these simple optic allows for a new perspective and new ways of categorizing what we are seeing.

Being Scout

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus offers Scout some advice:

"First of all," he said, "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." (3.85-87)

Considering different perspective from your own is another way to be mindful. How different might our understanding of the lake images be if we were to experience the images from a boat on the lake? Riding in a hot air balloon? While struggling to swim? Context and perspective matter.  Helping learners to experience content from various perspectives can lead to mindfulness.

Conditional Ambiguity

Ritchhart and Perkins explain that conditional ambiguity is another method to trigger mindfulness.  Phrases such as could be or may be attached to problem scenarios enhance learners' problem solving capacity. When ambiguity is introduced using these conditional statements 'the learner is prompted to shift fro a passive to an active role.'  Instead of attempting to name a correct answer, conditional statements direct learners to consider possibilities.

Ritchhart and Perkins conclude:

...teachers develop in students both an awareness of situations where it is important to be mindful and a sensitivity to mindlessness traps. By necessity, this means that schools must focus more on developing understanding than imparting knowledge and skills through mere practice and repetition. Teachers must also guide their students in understanding the value of mindfulness and the costs of mindlessness so that the will have the inclination to be mindful.
How do you engender mindfulness where you work and with your students?


  1. Mary Ann,
    Deepest thanks for your thoughtful response to my post. I am moved that you took the time to participate in the exercise I suggested. That alone would have been satisfying.

    The fact that you have now added to the dialogue that I was hoping to spark by writing about it here (in your characteristically elegant and substantive way!) is quite a gift.

    I look forward to further thoughts and dialogue!


  2. Thank you Kia. I look forward to continuing the dialogue.