Teaching & Learning: Entry Points to Learning

One way to start thinking about a learning item is to consider various entry points to learning: narrative, foundational, experiential, aesthetic and logical. In this video Marian McCarthy (UCC) gives an overview of the various entry points whereas in this video Marian and her colleagues focus solely on the narrational entry point.

For this discussion I was asked to discuss three of the five entry points in relation to the following picture Room in New York by Edward Hopper. I chose: aesthetic, narrative and logical.


Edward Hopper. Room in New York. Held in Sheldon Museum of Art. http://www.sheldonartgallery.org/hopper-room

1. Aesthetic
Look at the colours in this work of art, which one did you see first? Was colour the first thing that you noticed? What else caught your eye?
The white of the guy’s shirt caught my eye first. It’s so bright and balanced by the solid black of his waistcoat and the smudgy black & white of the newspaper he holds. The next thing I saw were the block shapes of the door & table. They’re nearly the same colour but because the table is closer to me it felt like the colour and the shape was 3D and jumping out of the painting. I didn’t see the orange/red of the woman’s dress til much later.

Does this work of art express and idea or an emotion? Do the colours, lines, shapes and movement help make that happen? How?
The way the people are sitting with the table and door between them makes me think there’s a separation. The man’s newspaper blocks him from the woman and she’s turned away from him anyway pretending to play the piano.

Do you see movement in this work of art or does it seem still? Do the colours, lines, and shapes make it seem that way? How?
It seems still. They’re not caught mid-action like a skating or dancing scene but it’s not a restful scene as if both were putting their feet up and doing a favoured activity: reading or playing the piano. The blocks of colour are very definite and imposing.

2. Narrative
What is the story that you see in this work of art? How do the colours help to tell the story?
An argument of some sort has happened and neither are in a forgiving mood yet. He’s staring at his newspaper and it partly shields him from her. She’s turned away playing somewhat half-heartedly, one finger only, and half-turned with her body away from him but wholly turned with her head. She has a rich bright colour in her dress but this colour is matched in the lightshade and the colour of the armchair.

Is he sitting in her chair? Does he normally play the piano (black & white)? In the story that you see, who or what do you think is the most important figure, shape, or object? What makes you think so?
I think the continued block shape of the table & door is the most important. It currently acts a divider between the two but is also a source of possibility. Two people can sit around a table and look at each other. Two people can go through the door to somewhere else. In
terms of colour both table and door are a half-way colour between the dark black of the man and the bright orange/red of the woman. While the door and table currently divide the pair they can unite them as well.

What do you think will happen next in this work of art?
How long can one person read a newspaper even if they’ve read it already? Can she continue to play with one finger? Will that eventually annoy him? Will his continued reading eventually annoy her more? Is there another room that one of them can go into? Why hasn’t one left already?

3. Logical
Look at what is happening in this work of art. Are things moving quickly or slowly? How can you tell?
Things seem to be moving slowly now but they may have moved faster before the work was painted. Both figures are looking downward and not maintaining eye contact with each other; nor are they looking in the same direction even if they’re not looking at each other.

Which object or shape did you see first in this work of art? Why do you think this is the first thing that you noticed?
The rectangle of the door was the first shape that I noticed followed quickly by the round oval of the table. They’re both the same colour and both act as dividers between the two people.

Take a look at the title of this work of art. Does knowing the title change the understanding or appreciation of this work of art? How?
It says it’s “New York” but it could be a room anywhere. I’ve seen other Edward Hopper paintings and they’re great everyman or everywoman works. There’s nothing wholly New Yorky about this paining – no Empire State building, no Chrysler building.

What do the perspective emerging from the various entry points tell you about your own learning? What might be the implication for your students’ learning?
I need to think about things more fully and more actively. It takes a long time to write out all that I’ve perceived. Whereas some of it I’d have realised straight away it’s only through writing about it that some of the other responses came to the fore. If we take some time to observe before we speak or take some time to observe before we expect others to speak we may get more rich, more full and more nuanced reactions, contemplations and answers.

What are the implications for planning your teaching?
If I ask questions, then I should give a longer lead-in time? Processing a situation can take a while. Giving cold questions may not be the way either. I could present guiding questions to allow students to fully respond which in combination with a longer time for responses could give a better learning environment.

One person in my group that it fascinating that I thought the couple had had an argument. The other person thought it looked like they were waiting to go on a night out, she looked bored and was strumming on the piano while her partner read the newspaper to pass the time. We both thought this painting was a good way to remind us that everyone: interprets differently, not just paintings which turn out to be like Rorschach tests; has varying thoughts and opinions and this makes life and learning more interesting. We should observe all so that we can learn to discount what is irrelevant but learn to have the wisdom on what is meaningful. I’m sure there’s a Sherlock quote for that but I can’t think of it! For now I’ll consider how Sherlock analysed a fictitous Vermeer and how real scientists used a similar methodology to analyse this painting.