Putting it all in perspective
Someone walks in the classroom, looks out the window, comes to sit at the risers and says to someone: "I've never seen anything like that in my life!"
What happened? As we discovered recently, the way one person tells what happened can be very different from the way of another storyteller.
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It is no secret that Opal 3 is diving into the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In addition to studying maps and plant specimens, reading stories about the Corps of Discovery, and playing out scenes from along their journey, we have gone into the Arboretum to become our own Corps of Discovery. The children began taking on roles of different members of the Corps: Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, Little Pomp (her son), Native Americans, the animals they encountered, and supporting members of the Corps.
As we watched the children play, we couldn't help but wonder how taking on the perspective of different characters within the expedition helps them understand more of the story? Isn't studying history all about understanding the perspectives of others? What is the role of understanding perspective in the study of history?
But first: What is the children's schema for the idea of perspective? I put this question to Opal 3 on Thursday and started gathering ideas on paper:
– Seeing something in a new way
– Putting yourself in someone else's shoes
– Pretending to be someone else – seeing through their eyes
Then I asked one student to serve as an actor in the story I began with (see above). Three students told the story of what they saw, which I also recorded on paper:
1. MM: "KG walked around the table to the pillars. She looked out the window. She hadn't seen that much rain before. She came back to the risers and said, "I've never seen that before."
2. AI: "KG just got to school, walked to the tables to a window, and saw it was raining and pouring. There was so much water, she was sad it was raining again. She came to the risers and said she had never seen that before.
3. JP: "Maybe she's from a different town that is sunny and hot, and hadn't seen rain before. She goes over and looks out at the rain for the first time."
Then, the real conversation began. "What do you notice about these stories?" I asked. Below are some excerpts. (First, some context: The Magic Bug Forest is a part of the Arboretum that the children named last year as part of their Project Work. They each took on the character of a bug that guided their learning about the world and significance of bugs. You will read several references to this work below.)
AI: Oh! It’s all different perspectives!
AA: It’s like one thing happened, but because it was mostly silent, you can’t tell what it is, so everyone had a different perspective of what it was, what was actually happening. Everyone saw the same thing, but they saw it through different eyes and different perspectives.
OB: Because no one thinks the exact same as somebody else, so when they saw KG act it out, their minds immediately went to a subject, imagining what was out there, what she was looking at.
AI: In the scenario, it could have been snowy or sunny. I chose rain because it was there. There was so much water outside.
ER: I think perspective is what you’re seeing that happened, but you’re adding guesses based on the information that you know. And then you add the information in differently, based on what you think happened.
IM: I think perspective isn’t really putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – it’s how you see things and what you’re thinking about them.
RS: It’s like it’s not stepping into someone else’s shoes, it’s stepping into a different part of your own shoes, looking through a different part of yourself.
ER: It’s staying in your shoes, but it’s also taking out some part of you to put someone else inside, to see it through their perspective.
Avery: Can you think of an example of how this could happen?
ER: If you have an argument and you’re trying to see the other person’s perspective, you’re looking through your eyes, but thinking about what they’re thinking. You’re using some of you to recognize them and what they’re thinking.
RS: What I meant was, well, when we each had a bug, or when we take on different Lewis and Clark characters, that character is a part of you.
SD: But you’re still yourself.
ER: Like, when we went to the Magic Bug Forest with the perspective of a different character – a L&C character this year – it was a part of me, and a part of my bug character.
HG: It’s like wearing two different shoes.
SE: Or like two lives mixed together.
RD: If you’re looking through a different perspective, it’s like you become that person or the thing. You can feel how it felt and how it feels to be that person or that thing. And it’s hard. It can be really hard, because it always has something to do with how you think about that thing.
IM: I have a response to ER. It’s like at one point you can be all of your perspectives at the same time, and other times, you’re just one. Like when we went to the mountains as L&C, we were mostly in the L&C perspective, but also other perspectives, too.
MG: I think there’s a box inside of you that stores what you’ve thought of before – like your bug schema, and your L&C schema.
RD: Does schema have something to do with perspective?
MG: If I want to be my L&C character, it’s like I pull it out of the box. It’s like I zip on a new suit.
RD: Once you fit into one perspective, you can always come back to it.
JP: So, MG, I’m just seeing if this is right or not. What I picture is that you have little boxes like little SD cards into your mind.
MG: No, not really. But you have a different perspective! [Several children laugh at this recognition!]
ER: It’s like your opinion, what you think of what’s happening.
RS: Like, as your bug, in your bug shadow, you have your layers – your L&C perspective, your neighborhood self, and so on.
MG: And when we walked into the Magic Bug Forest this year as L&C, we basically changed it because we went in with a different perspective.
RD: We zipped on that new suit and BAM! We were shadowing L&C – we were shadowing a new perspective.
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As the children are discovering, perspective is a lot more than seeing things through new eyes. They seem to be beginning to recognize everything that comes along with that new way of seeing: thinking, feeling, reflecting on what they already know, and incorporating a new "layer" of understanding onto their previous thinking and feeling. All of these capacities, of which they are becoming more aware, will form the foundation of how we continue to make sense of the stories we will study from Oregon's history the rest of the year.