I projected a photo on the board and asked, “What do you notice?” This happened to be a photo that inspired my personal narrative about the moment before starting the swim portion of a triathlon. The picture showed a group of women in wetsuits and swim caps, staring into the water.
The students took a few seconds to look at the photo and then turned to their partners and described what they saw-- well most of them just listed objects and descriptions. “There are a bunch of people with black suits on and pink swim caps,” or “There is a blue arch and people in front of it.”
My colleague, Michael, stood up on a chair, extended his arms wide, and told the students to imagine he was an eagle. As an eagle he could soar high into the air and look down at everyone and everything. He could see the big picture, the forest, the colors, but not the tiny details. “When we look at the world in big picture ways we are using our Eagle Vision,” I explained. “When you looked at this photo most of you glanced at it quickly, took in the whole of it and noticed the bigger parts up front first.” Students nodded their heads.
Michael drew his hands in close, squatted down, and pretended he was a mouse. He asked the students to notice how a mouse can only see the small little things around him. A mouse would not even miss a crumb on the ground because that would be dinner. A mouse lives close to the ground and cannot take in the big picture, only the little details around him.
“Look back at this photo,” I directed, “And imagine it was divided into four parts with a line down the middle from top to bottom and bottom to top. I drew the lines with my finger as I pointed. Then I asked the students to take out their notebooks and draw a grid.
I covered the other three boxes and asked the students to look closely at box 1 with Mouse Vision and to jot what they saw in that box. We continued this with each of the 4 quadrants until the students had looked closely like a mouse at each part. “Now turn and explain what you noticed to your partner.” The room began to buzz. The students noticed so much more. “They are barefoot and some have these black straps on their ankles.” “There are people swimming in the lake and wakes are moving from them. Oh, and there are people in kayaks in the water.” The had so much to say and seemed to notice many details they had previously missed.
“When we read, when we write, and when we live our lives,” I explained, “We have choices to make. Are we going to use our Eagle or our Mouse Vision? When we choose to be eagles we see the whole, the big picture, but we might miss the little, interesting details. When we choose to be mice we see up close, we don’t miss any little things, but we might not see how all those little things fit together.” I wanted the students, and their teachers who were watching this demo lesson to know that how we view the world affects the meaning and experiences we make.
When we read we are always making choices, even if we are not aware of them, about when to read wide, using our Eagle Vision, to get the gist of what happened and when we read close, using our Mouse Vision, to get the details. Some parts are worth reading closely and some may not be. As teachers, we can mentor students toward being more aware of when they are reading like eagles or mice and whether that is working for them. In Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst they offer us signposts that help us decide what is worth reading closely. And then of course we can teach students how to read closely-- how to identify tone and the ways an author created it or how to identify the relationship between characters and how this is revealed to us as readers. As literacy teachers we can show students how to decide when to read closely like a mouse and how to read closely like a mouse. Actually, those two areas could comprise much of the school year’s curriculum.
When we write we are making decisions about how we want our readers to experience our message-- up close like mice or far away like eagles. We get to decide this as writers and then craft pieces that show our intentions. For example, if we want the readers of our personal narratives to feel what it was like to be on the starting line of a race we would show all the tiny details-- we would write with Mouse Vision, including all the tiny actions, thoughts, and feelings (see the blue highlighted area in the excerpt from my writing). If, on the other hand, we want our readers to experience a part of the story from a distance, moving fast and getting the gist of that part, we can quickly narrate using Eagle Vision to tell what happened (see the yellow highlighted area).
Personal Narrative Excerpt
“Thirty seconds to the start Pink Caps,” the director announced.
I surveyed my competition and made my way toward the front of the pack. With our sleek, black wetsuits on we all looked the same- dozens of twins. We were like a hundred porsches lined up on the starting line of the track, engines revving up to high speed. Our breath lengthened, muscles tightened, eyes narrowed.
“Ten, nine, eight…” I heard the director count us down.
“Seven, six, five, four...” I looked at my watch.
“Three, two... Bang!” the starting gun went off and so did we.
As teachers we can mentor students by having them consciously decide what they want their readers’ experiences to be and to plan then draft and revise in ways that match that experience. There are writing strategies that involve being the mouse (such as breaking big summary actions into smaller actions that show bit-by-bit what someone did or adding specific internal thinking to reveal motivations) and there are writing strategies that allow us to use Eagle Vision (such as using time transition words that show a chunk of time has passed that we are glossing over). Just like in reading we can teach students when to use Eagle or Mouse Vision and techniques for how to use them.
In school we often ask people to use their highly focused Mouse Vision and I have to consciously remember to open spaces for them to switch to being eagles. The beauty is that both eagles and mice are perfectly wonderful as they are. We don’t need to change anything. But as people we can learn from both of them, not overvaluing one way of being over the other, instead intentionally choosing how we want to interact with our texts, our readers, and our worlds.
If we want our students to be aware of the decisions they make as readers and writers we can begin to have them bring their awareness to the ways they are living their lives. When are they using Eagle Vision or Mouse Vision in their lives? Why are they making these choices? Are these choices really just habits or conscious decisions? In this way they begin to see that Eagle and Mouse Vision can be used internally, as a metaphor for the way we study our own lives. By noticing how and where we put our attention in all the moments of our lives we can begin to be more intentional as readers and writers. One way I do this with students is to periodically stop and take a pause during the day. “Pause for a moment. Take a look around you. Feel what is going on inside you. Use your Eagle Vision. What do you notice?” Sometimes we discuss it and sometimes we don’t.
by Dr. Gravity Goldberg