From Another Angle: Children's Strengths and School Standards: The Prospect Center's Descriptive Review of the Child
reviewed by Lisa M. Stooksberry - 2003
Title: From Another Angle: Children's Strengths and School Standards: The Prospect Center's Descriptive Review of the Child
Author(s): Margaret Himley and Patricia F. Carini (Editors)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807739316, Pages: 240, Year: 2000
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Initially, the reader of From Another Angle: Children’s Strengths and School Standards (The Prospect Center’s Descriptive Review of the Child) is invited into the lives of three children; by the end, the reader is invited also into the lives of the teachers who influence and are influenced by these three children. The purpose of this book is to provide a rich description of and promote understanding of a process designed to better know children as people. This process is defined by the authors as the “Descriptive Review of the Child.”
The book is edited by Margaret Himley with Patricia F. Carini. The chapters are authored by teachers who use the descriptive process with the children they teach. Collectively, the authors have a variety of experiences, from novice to veteran, in engaging in the Descriptive Review of the Child. As defined by Himley, “The purpose of the Descriptive Review of the Child . . . is not to fix or explain that child, but to make the child more visible by coming to understand him or her more fully and complexly as a particular thinker and learner” (p. 127). The authors approach the writing through discussion of the descriptive review process; however, the fabric of the book is woven by the threads of teachers’ lives, thinking, and practices. It is through the teachers’ self and peer analysis that the book supports the work of teaching.
The book is part of a practitioner series from Teachers College Press and is appropriate for practicing teachers, prospective teachers, and teacher educators. The authors consider teachers’ challenges in meeting the needs of individual children. This book offers one approach worthy of consideration in thinking about children as individuals.
The chapters, by different authors, offer a seamless whole – the editors take care in preparing the volume for maximum benefit to the reader. The book is presented in three sections. In each section, the reader is introduced to a child, whose descriptive review reflects the purpose of the section. For example in the first section, “Learning the Discipline of Description,” the reader is introduced to Gabriel. In writing that clearly follows the nature of description as purported by the authors, the reader is engaged in the Descriptive Review of Gabriel, yet the authors’ purpose is to educate the reader in using description to know more fully a child as a complex and unique person.
The second section, “Taking a Descriptive Stance,” provides the reader insight into the scope of using descriptive processes in teaching and learning. The authors demonstrate a large range of issues within practice and opportunities for practice that grow from the descriptive review of one child, Victoria. In this section, Himley discusses the philosophical approach of phenomology as it applies to the process of the Descriptive Review of the Child. In arguing for what is collectively defined as the Prospect processes, she identifies the goal of descriptive inquiry as seeking “the value of the person” (p. 131). She grounds the descriptive processes of the Prospect Center in the early work of Patricia F. Carini (e.g., Carini, 1975; Carini 1979).
In the final section, the authors expand to a broader arena of inquiry than the Descriptive Review of the Child. Always keeping the descriptive review at the forefront, the authors support their work through arguing for inquiry into teaching, learning, and knowing students. The authors frequently remind the reader that the descriptive process is not about trying to solve problems related to a child; instead, the purpose is to better know a child and thus build upon the child’s opportunities to grow and succeed.
The process of Descriptive Review of the Child is specific. Elements of the process are:
1. Physical presence and gesture
2. Disposition and temperment
3. Connections with other people
4. Strong interests and preferences
5. Modes of thinking and learning
The reader cannot take a categorical approach to this process. As Wise indicates in Chapter 4, the Descriptive Review of the Child is a form of “disciplined conversation” (p. 65). Multiple times in the book the authors caution the reader that this work is not about categorizing and interpreting but about observing and describing, which serve to open the door to ideas and dialogue.
The authors promote “the stance of careful observation and description [so that] teachers and parents become … disciplined students of childhood” (p. 127). This is a qualitative process of thinking and planning that supports teachers’ thinking about their practice. It is an opportunity to engage in self-analysis. Another layer to this book is the authenticity of the writing. The authors engage in the forms of writing they advocate; they model for the reader, descriptively and narratively.
Embedded in the stories of the students and the teachers is the collaboration and collegiality around this form of inquiry. The teachers engage in an experience dependent upon trust of one another and a shared desire to know children. Expect to take time with the process, as the authors take the reader on this journey through thoroughly descriptive and narrative writing. The book reflects teachers as writers, thinkers, speakers, and activists for children.
In reading, I find myself thinking of former students, one in particular. How would he have benefited from this form of inquiry into his life and his humanity? The authors leave little to imagine in terms of their purpose, framework, and outcomes. What is left to the imagination are the possibilities for students who are reviewed and for teachers who engage in the descriptive review process. Teachers in settings seemingly different from what is portrayed here may struggle with how to accomplish the methods of thinking, writing, and engaging in dialogue. Conversely, they may hunger enough to know a child to overcome the struggle.
Carini, P. F. (1975). Observation and description: An alternative methodology for the investigation of human phenomena. Grand Forks, ND: North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation.
Carini, P. F. (1979). The art of seeing and the visibility of the person. Grand Forks, ND: North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation.