Have you ever zoomed in on a camera lens to take a picture? Zoomed out? Was it a different picture or was it the same?
Zooming in or out can give us a new, fresh perspective. For most of us, our days are spent in the same way. Waking up, eating breakfast, going to work, coming home for dinner, spending time with family and then going to sleep. This cycle may repeat day after day. But what happens when you take a step back and look at those repeated day to day activities from a new point of view.
Déjà vu means “the feeling that you have already experienced something that is actually happening for the first time” (Merriam Webster). This concept is something I experience all the time. “I’ve been here before.” “This looks too familiar.” “This happened in my dream.” “Déjà vu.”
Without taking a new perspective, our lives become déjà vu. So when we flip flop that concept to make the familiar seem strange; we create a concept called véjà du. As defined by Punya Mishra, “véjà du experience is about looking at a familiar situation but with fresh eyes, as if you’ve never seen it before” (2008).
Here’s a panoramic picture taken at the top of Mount Masada in Israel at sunrise. Looking at the whole thing you see a dynamic view of the Dead Sea and the sun rising over Jordan. What happens when you only look at one small part of that picture? You don’t see the sunrise anymore, you may see adults taking photos of something, but you might not be able to tell what it is. I know this photo, I took this photo. But when you only allow me to look at one piece of it; it becomes unfamiliar.
“Sutton has argued that if we train ourselves to look at the world around us through a vuja de lens, it can open up a range of new possibilities–fresh questions to ask, ideas to pursue, challenges to tackle, all previously unnoticed because they were camouflaged in overly familiar surroundings” (Berger 2014).
That’s what we have to do with education.
We, as educators, must sometimes be unfamiliar with things. We have to take a risk and take a step back to look at ideas and concepts like it is the first time. Perhaps like our students do. In turn, this will allow us to grab the attention of our students and engage them in a new way. Allow them to be creative and embrace inquiry.
We might be holding our students back if we don’t have them look at things from a different angle or someone else’s shoes.
During the Explorers unit this year, my 5th graders had a passport. We did different activities to research specific explorers, we created a scavenger hunt around the school and looked at things from a new perspective. One of the activities was to draw the object I had chosen from their point of view and write what they saw. My students thought this was absurd. For 10 minutes, they had to look at my Camelbak waterbottle. But when the timer went off, each 5th grader noticed something different. Those students know I don’t go anywhere in the school without that water bottle; they know it’s dark blue and they know it’s a Camelbak. But they didn’t realize the details because they never had to.
With this lesson, I showed my students how it’s important to look at the small things in life because it can change your viewpoint. Now, maybe a water bottle isn’t the best example; however, they did realize things aren’t always as they seem.
“The trick is to be able to see them [beautiful questions], which may require stepping back, shifting perspective, exercising your powers of vuja de” (Berger 2014). Berger suggests to come up with beautiful questions. It might not be clear at first, but we don’t have to search for them. They are often right in front of us. This is the same as finding a new way to teach a lesson, innovate a product or changing the way you brush your teeth.
The answers are there for us, we just have to take a step back, zoom out and look at something with veja du.
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
Déjà vu [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved July 13, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/d%C3%A9j%C3%A0%20vu
Mishra, P. (2008, August 4). Véjà du for the first time ever! Retrieved from http://punya.educ.msu.edu/2008/08/04/veja-du-for-the-first-time-ever/