The Search is On!

Updated: Feb 7

Of the three categories within Observation, this would seem to be the most obvious. It's simply a matter of finding something, surely?


Not quite! At Got-A-Head®? we stress the importance of active Observation. We marry keen Observation to Thinking to make it as effective and streamlined as possible. We don't want the Learner just to stumble across whatever s/he is looking for, but to be looking for it in the right place.


The Learner has to identify things such as Key Features of an item. Supposing they were looking for a cat... what are the main characteristics that they should keep an eye out for, bearing in mind that they might not see the whole animal? This is what we call 'Priming': they are more likely to spot things, if they have considered or identified them beforehand.

Which parts belong to a cat and which don't?

They need to use Forget-Me-Nots such as Anticipation to help them consider the most likely places where an object might be found - this includes elements of Memory (where did you last see it?) as well as considering who might have put it in that place (which could influence likely places a great deal).


When we were doing Observation sessions with youngsters, we used 'Spot the Difference' exercises as a starting point for discussion. Life, and the world around us, is much more than a 'Spot the Difference' cartoon but it gave us plenty of things to draw to their attention:

  • ‘busy’ places - items are more likely to be lost or overlooked when there are a lot of things around it. They might blend in, or be obscured by, lots of other things. Items in 'open' or uncluttered places are quicker to spot.

  • parts of the body (ears, whiskers, tail etc.) - in the activity, we told the Learners to look for parts of the body that could be missing in the second image, but in the real world this links to what we said above about identifying key attributes of an item, to make finding it easier. You might not see the 'whole' object, so you need to prime your memory, by thinking about what it would look like if part of it were missing.

  • multiples – things you can count (e.g. flowers, plants, clouds, whiskers etc.) - again, a specific thing to look for in the activity, but valid in the real environment, too - particularly in relation to working out whether things 'fit' or stand out because they don't.

  • patterns (e.g. butterfly, water, trees) - once you identify a pattern you can decide on what 'fits' and what doesn't. This is just as true in your surroundings as in a Spot the Difference cartoon.

  • constructions (e.g. buildings, fences, ladders etc.) - in the real world, this gives you places to look for things or hazards to avoid.

  • clothing (e.g. buttons, pockets, cuffs, jewellery) - this area probably relates more to the 'Awareness' aspect of Observation, that we discuss in a separate blog. What are items made from, what special trims or decoration do they have? Is there anything missing? Why?

Search patterns are important - once the Learner has identified what they are looking for and where, they need to consider the best means of looking for it. How they would look for an landmark in a distant landscape is very different from the method they would use for a close-up search.


Choose your search pattern wisely

There are other things to consider and other Forget-Me-Nots to help our Learners think about them. For instance: ADDA (Alternative Directions, Different Angles). This technique helps Learners consider options or theories from a different perspective in Thinking activities, where it is quite abstract or metaphysical. Not so with Observation, where it is a very literal instruction - change your viewing point and you might discover something that was previously hidden or unclear. Look OUT - Over, Under and Through reminds the Learner not to let obstacles hinder them - if they can't see something by looking over, under or through a problem object, they could try looking behind it.


Of course, it's often not enough just to find something. We need to be able to tell others how to find it, too. Only if we can be clear in describing a location (e.g. by using a grid, co-ordinates or a very specific description) will someone else be able to find that item easily.