Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What about those invention drawings?

In my most recent post, I shared the children's fabulous inventions.  But I didn't say much about the invention drawings.  That's what this post is about!

This is a post about reflection,
reflecting on my teaching,
What did I learn?

At the outset of our invention effort, I had the children sit down and draw what their inventions would look like - make blueprints.  The children sat at tables alongside peers and drew pictures from their imaginations. Many children drew hastily, rushing to get to other activities in the room.

Noting their haste, I had questions -
Was this too abstract a request?
Had we not talked about inventions enough?
Were they not comfortable with writing/drawing (not an unreasonable thing, developmentally, for preschoolers)?

Over the next few weeks, the children constructed their inventions.

After all was said and done and the projects made, for whatever reason, I didn't feel as if I had totally finished the effort.

I wanted to do something else to conclude our projects, but what?
I had a crazy idea. Or inspiration?
I know that it came to me in the middle of the night (yes, I get a little obsessed about this!) -

What if I had the children draw the invention again - now that it was done?  
Would there be any similarity or connection to the original drawing?  
What would the children see and do?
Would the drawings look at all like their inventions?

Yes, this fifth and final step in our invention effort was all new to me, a spontaneous risk that I took as the project work emerged:

Study the final product and draw from observation.

The children had been very engaged in the construction of the invention.
Would this engagement carry over to their second drawing?  

Also, this would be a fun way to get a pen in their hand again, to see what they could do.

I was curious.
Simply, curious.

For the "after" drawings, I positioned each child in front of his/her finished invention and gave them the drawing paper and pen, asking them to observe and study the invention and then draw it.
To my surprise,
very few children raced through this drawing.
Most stared pensively at their inventions and drew.
They stayed at the table, engaged.


Let me share some of the "before" drawings (the imagined invention) and "after" (drawing the final invention from observation). The "before" drawing is on the left, the "after" is on the right. I am not sharing any of the student names because I'm really not interested in comparing child to child...I want simply to show the change in these pictures, from "before" to "after."

If I mixed up all the inventions and had nameless drawings, it would not be easy to match the drawing to the invention.  But, for me, there is so much more to see!

What do the drawings say about the child's focus?  
What do the drawings say about attention to detail?
What do I learn about what preschoolers are capable of doing? 

What are best practices for stretching a preschooler academically, to nudge them to reach outside their comfort zone and learn something new?

What does it tell me about challenging children to draw from observation?
What does it reveal about the power of drawing one's own creation?  

Above: These two drawings couldn't be more different.  The first is created hastily. But, there is obvious engagement in the second - focused drawing and re-drawing, as this student tries to record specific details of the final invention. 

Above: This student has details in both pictures, but the second drawing shows much more specificity. Here, I am able to see the long cardboard tube section of the final invention, the billowy shape of another part, and the special buttons added for varied purposes.

Above: Both drawings show focus and purpose. The heavier penstroke of this second drawing suggests that this preschooler was even more focused and engaged the second time around.  And look at the details revealed - circles, squares, shadowing, all replicating parts of what the child observed from the invention itself.

Above: What's going on here?  The first, a rushed and perhaps unengaged effort; the second, more studied, trying to capture the shapes of the final invention. 

Another thought crosses my mind  -
A big part of my job involves collecting data about children - for example, fine motor skills, use of writing tools, or cognitive skills such as attention to detail.
Which drawing provides the better data on these? 
What if I had only looked at the first effort to make my assessments?
How often have I collected data that shows only part of a child's knowledge or skill?

Above: Again, a rushed effort for the "before" drawing; the second, more studied, trying to capture the shapes and outlines of the various parts of the final invention. There is even more "weight" to the pen stroke, perhaps indicating the child's persistence and effort at replicating the details.

Above: Here, the student almost froze with concentration in the second effort.  It is small, but precise.  I have the sense that this child was taking a big risk, trying to do something that seemed almost insurmountable in the child's mind - Bravo!

Above: This student is a detailed drawer, in both examples.  Yet, the second drawing is particularly focused, showing the shape of the final invention and adding specific details, including the netting used in the invention (center of drawing) and special buttons on one end of the invention.

Above: I would be less than honest if I implied that every pair of drawings showed tremendous growth. Remember, these are preschoolers.  There were a number of children who had two pictures that were virtually identical, and basically scribbles.  

Developmentally, three and four year old children are 
just learning to observe, 
perhaps not that engaged by the idea of drawing, 
perhaps desirous and ready to do something else in the classroom, rather than draw.  
I know well the need to catch a child where they are at;
maybe these few just aren't "at" the drawing stage yet?

I wonder, 
What would happen if I provided more 'still life' opportunities?  
More opportunities to draw what we build?
Making them a more ritual and expected part of our centers' work each week?  
Would it lead these more recalcitrant artists to "land" and "focus"? 

Another thought crosses my mind -
Did any children come "alive" when drawing? Show a new kind of focus?
I reflected on each child's engagement during the construction phase of these inventions and contrasted it with the final step, drawing from observation.

I considered those students who had been more hasty (or should I say, "efficient"?) with constructing

(remember, these are three year olds...even constructing a 3-d invention can feel like an intrusion if you were planning on dressing-up)

and I realized...wow, a couple children came alive during the drawing itself.
Whereas they had been rather "matter of fact" with the construction process, the drawing by observation stopped them in their tracks and had them totally lost in thought, working on recording details, oblivious to the rest of the classroom.

Was it the special adult pen I let them use?
Was it a kind of learning by immersion or a "wearing down" of the child? - "Oh, that Ms. Ingram, she keeps calling me over to pay attention to this thing, perhaps I will?" I don't think so.  There was something much more magical and intoxicating at work - these children were engaged.

Is there something more enticing about drawing one's own project?  
Does this make the most sense for a young child?

Realizing this -
wow, drawing "jump-started" certain children -
I reflected on other students and other parts of the process:

Who loved the storytelling aspect more than anything else?  
Who couldn't stop telling me details and reflecting on their invention? 
Who had more to say?

Who was immersed in the construction?  
Revisiting their project many times?  
Adding details?

Was there anyone who did not get engaged by any part of the project work, whether construction, storytelling, or drawing?

How might I use these answers to inform my future planning for these preschoolers?

I am fascinated.

I learned so so much about how these children learn
simply by doing this invention work.

I know them so much better now.

Another thought crosses my mind -
Just like the children, I learn best by doing.
My best curricula, my best learning comes from the risks I take.
I had not planned to do this "drawing from observation" when I first set out to do the inventions - but I started wondering, what would they reveal?

I am so glad that I dared.


  1. I love your questions, Maureen, your deeper engagement with these tasks & what they are teaching you about the students. Since I have a 3 1/2 year old granddaughter, I'm following closely as you write about your students. This is indeed fascinating. I think a big part of the further engagement is that they are passionate about their own inventions, therefore more interested and knowledgeable. Thanks for the time on this; it must have been quite a lot to do.

  2. I absolutely LOVE the last comment "I'm so glad that I dared"