Just Draw A Horse…


I did a little lesson today which pulled the specialist literacy group away from the teeth-lulling tedium of tasks related to grammar and punctuation. I never became an English teacher for the absolutes of a comma, a semi-colon, or the ‘e’ before ‘i’ or vice-versa rule. We have lessons led by Powerpoints called SPAG sessions (spelling, punctuation, and teaching your barely literate grammar to suck eggs).

My students, like me, thrive during these hourly sessions which are the closest thing to copying from the book or off the board that I ever wish to get.

I have tried to engage them with Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. It’s a fairly straightforward text told from a Black Beauty point of view about the First World War. Anyway, I have been able to use the text as a basis for the learning of the wonderful SPAG but wanted something a little different for today’s session.

Although the group can be a little lively, I wanted (needed) to do something with them that came out of right-field, so I decided to print off some instructions about how to draw a horse using basic shapes rather than regarding the whole thing. I wanted to see if they could follow the instructions and produce a recognisable equine. I had a feeling that results would be mixed.

Tuesday, last lesson of the day, it was raining, the session before was Physical Education.

I was expecting a wet dog-blanket of a class that was both uncomfortable to be so damp so late in the day and irritated that they had me for English SPAG. Unsurprisingly, the girls turned-up first. The boys needed to do another three circuits of the school before they found my classroom. What was surprising was how quickly the class settled to the task. In actuality I had several linked tasks, but the one that I was most interested in was the horse-drawing activity.

One bright boy raced into an early lead only to be disqualified and made to start again; he had traced the final drawing of the horse without following any of the steps. The girls were leading in terms of engagement whilst the boys took the opportunity to experiment with a plethora of failed processes that they hoped would speed up the final outcome. Lads like to get to the end of a task without consciously following the advocated route.

I must admit that this has always tended to be my preferred way of doing things. When asked to perform simple DIY tasks, let’s say putting  self-assembly into some semblance of the finished product, I ignore instructions and study the picture. Usually things don’t go so well and I have to start again with my wife tutting and shaking her head. And so it was with the boys in the group.

The ones who had some artistic talent set about drawing horses. They had a reasonable memory and were able to produce a stable of acceptable attempts. Their final horses ranged from unicorns to rhinos to giraffes and a number of other beasts that would have certainly been denied access to the Ark. My attempt was also a little floored as I did not quite trust the instructions, believing that I could draw a reasonable thoroughbred on my own.

What resulted was what I expected; we draw from vague memory that always ignores details, patterns, and rules. Our representation of reality is a subjective appreciation that often refuses to resemble what is out there and in front of our very eyes.


 From Pacific Standard  

By Nathan Collins


Why do we do that? According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologists Michael Cohen and Nancy Kanwisher and Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett, we build visual experiences out of individual objects as well as “ensemble representations,” quick mental summaries of the overall structure of a scene. To see what they’re talking about, imagine you’re in the crowd at an outdoor concert. You’re probably paying closest attention to the band, so you perceive them in highest resolution. At the same time, it’s not tunnel vision. You also see the crowd around you, just not the same way. What you see is the crowd as a whole, not the faces it comprises—the forest for the trees.

There are countless experiments that demonstrate what we see is not the same as what’s in front of us. There’s inattentional blindness, in which we fail to even register usual objects passing through a scene. There’s also the fact that, shown a picture of a picket fence with the points cut off and then asked to draw what was in the picture, most people will still draw in the points. Somehow, our brains remove some things from our conscious perception, while filling absent details in others.

Sometimes I find myself sleepwalking through minutes, hours, days, weeks, years… You get my drift. I have seen countless things but have failed to see countless more things. In fact, what I am seeing is what I expect to see. I see the same things and make different pictures out of them…in the same way that I have always seen them.


Is what I am seeing really what I think it is?

Do you see what I mean?

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