Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Thirty Seconds

Sometimes I feel like my day is so full, I can’t possibly fit in another thing. I am literally writing this Tuesday night at 9:30 at night because I haven’t had a spare minute in I-don’t-know-how-long. I text at stoplights. I listen to books in the car so I actually have time to read. I read the newspaper on my phone while I walk from one room to another. I clean things while waiting for the microwave to ding.  

Thirty Seconds. That’s all you need.

Here are ten things you can do in Thirty Seconds:

  1. Stretch
  2. Thank someone for doing something nice or well-done.
  3. Take your attendance in Portal/Focus
  4. Give your students a turn and Talk break
  5. Text your mom (between classes, I hope!)
  6. Compliment one more student (“good job today!”)
  7. Eat half a granola bar.
  8. Drink some water.
  9. Take a deep breath (before you say something you probably shouldn’t)
  10. Ask a kid for EVIDENCE for whatever answer he or she just gave.

I want to add one more thing to your 30-second list:

Examine art.

(Tracy, isn’t that a little ridiculous? Shouldn't we give real art TIME to study it well?)

Stay with me. We’ll get there. I promise.

There is a wonderful strategy for looking at art that helps students develop observational and critical thinking skills.  It’s called “Thirty-Second Look”. It is obviously brief. But it’s solid!

Full disclosure: Despite the name, there is some work to do on the FRONT END of those 30 seconds and on the BACK END and therefore the strategy actually takes a couple minutes. (Hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t name the strategy! :))

Here’s how it works.

  1. Find a work of art. It may be in your textbook. It may be from somewhere online. It may be in a museum. Don’t give your kids background knowledge (or not more than the name of the piece and the artist and date, if necessary. I prefer going at it cold.)
  2. Ask kids how much time most people spend looking at a work of art (hint: the answer is 30 seconds or less). Ask them if they think that is enough time.
  3. Direct students to look at that work of art for thirty seconds. Use a timer. At the end of the thirty seconds, turn it off.
  4. Once the image is gone, ask students to use their memories to answer several questions you direct. Make ones that will work for you. Some ideas may include:
    1. How many objects/people are in the piece?
    2. How would you describe them?
    3. How are they dressed?
    4. What kind of setting is depicted?
    5. What time of day is it depicting?
    6. What is the subject?

   5. Chart the words they come up with to make a word bank -- or put their words in categories.
   6. Now that your students are curious, put the artwork back up and allow the kids to answer all the questions that they couldn’t answer from memory. See if their answers are different the second time around. Ask if there is anything on the list that isn’t actually in the work of art.
  7. Encourage students to really thoughtfully hypothesize about  the artist’s message (or point).  Ask them to explain how their second (more careful) observation allowed them to better grasp the author’s message.
  8. To have them wrap it up, have them do a brief check for understanding or quickwrite or ticket-out-the-door where they explain what THEY believe the artist’s point is (claim) and give evidence from the artwork.

As an added bonus, I used to feel that my kids were burned out during testing weeks and didn’t want to dig into any text. But PICTURES, they would tell me, weren’t REAL work. You don’t have to READ them or THINK or anything HARD like that...

Ha. Silly kids. I tricked ‘em again with this art-IS-real-thinking stuff!

Try it with an image in your textbook or one from online. A slightly complicated one is good. An overly complicated image may make this too confusing.  (The School of Athens, at right, is a bit much). But the photo of Lincoln with Gen McClellen (above) or the statue of Augustus of Prima Porta (below) are PERFECT!

Try it today. Nothing like a test-week to try something different! Try the Thirty Second Look and let me know how it goes. How can you use the terms generated by the observation to teach vocab? How can this teach content AND claim/evidence?

It’s an awesome strategy, one that takes little time and less prep time.

Let me know how it goes! Drop me an email at


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