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Mindfulness: Using Sustained Attention to Read Objects


I. Describe

1. Turn off all electronics. Put down your pencils. 

2. Spend time looking closely at your group’s object. What do you see? Discuss all of the details that you notice, and not your previous knowledge of the object, its uses, or its story. Start with the largest, most comprehensive observations and progress to more particular details. Discuss not only about images, designs, and motifs, but also physical dimensions, the materials used, the ways in which the materials are put together in the fabrication of the object, etc.

3. What do you wonder? What additional research could you do to learn more?

II. Connect

"The method of object analysis... progresses through three stages. To keep the distorting biases of the investigator’s cultural perspective in check, these stages must be undertaken in sequence and kept as discrete as possible. The analysis proceeds from description, recording the internal evidence of the object itself; to deduction, interpreting the interaction between the object and the perceiver; to speculation, framing hypotheses and questions which lead out from the object to external evidence for testing and resolution." - Jules David Prown

III. Reflect

Are there aspects of mind to be discovered in objects that differ from, complement, supplement, or contradict what can be learned from more traditional literary and behavioral sources? - Jules David Prown

Questions to consider:

• Why is it important to separate observation/visual evidence from analysis?
• How does our cultural perspective influence the ways in which we interpret evidence of another culture?
• Consider the relevance of using objects actively, as evidence, rather than passively, as illustration, in your subject area and courses. In what ways do you do this already? In what other areas or activities might this be relevant?
• What senses were you using in your investigation of your group’s object? How can engaging the senses in exploration and learning enhance understanding?
• In what ways is guarding against bias important in your subject area and courses? How can we make sure that we remain objective in our analysis of data, of sources, or of objects?
• In what ways do we or can we create opportunities for students to engage in pa- tience and deep attention? Why is this important?
• How can the focused observation required to read these objects lead to increased mindfulness in our daily lives?

Activity Background and Credit

"Using Sustained Attention to Read Objects: A LAM Collaborative" was created by the Phillips Academy LAMs in the fall of 2014. It was presented in Boston, Massachusetts at the 2014 New England Museum Association (NEMA) Conference and the 94th National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Annual Conference.