Life class lives again

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 06 September 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:507
  1. H V Wyatt, visiting lecturer in philosophy, University of Leeds, Leeds (nurhvw{at}

    The teachers at Homerton School of Art were worried that their students could draw still life, but not movement. They made a film with five nude models, always on the move, while the students made drawings on paper arranged on the floor. As a visiting lecturer at Bradford College of Art, I was invited to see the film, and my thoughts turned to my own students—making one or two drawings in a two hour practical and completing them from a textbook at home.

    Next practical I gave my students paper, pencils, and a board to draw on—and released 13 frogs from a box. The rules were simple: each student had to choose a frog and follow it, making as many drawings as possible in the next 20 minutes, and then return the frog to me. It was fun and noisy, frogs and students crawled under and over the benches. Colleagues, attracted by the noise looked in from the corridor. One student made 19 drawings in 23 minutes. Seven showed marked improvement. The students had the last laugh—watching me trying to put 13 very active frogs back in their small box, with frogs jumping out again as I put in the last ones. I published a short paper showing the improvements in students' drawing: “The running, jumping and standing still game.”

    Next year we visited Moscow for a microbiological conference, taking a translation of his book to Kornei Chukovsky, the great Russian man of letters. Only on the last afternoon did we manage to reach his house in the writers' village. Sitting with him on a tree trunk in his children's garden theatre, my wife told him of my frogs. Turning to me, he said, “They don't let you teach that anymore, do they?”

    “No,” I said, “but how did you know ?”

    “It's the same everywhere,” he replied.

    Several years later, at dinner at a conference on teaching, I remarked that in science one received requests for reprints and other scientists cited one's work, but no one had ever written to me for a paper about teaching. “Did anyone ever read what I had written?” I asked, citing my frog paper.

    Someone further down the table answered, “Yes, that paper changed my life.”

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