A portrait of Harriet

Harriet was a Grade 6 girl who chose to investigate the question of “How does hair grow?” Table 4.1 contains the transcripts of Harriet’s three videos.


Table 4.1

Harriet’s video transcripts for “How does hair grow?”

Prior knowledge video

My topic is how hair grows and I don't really know much about it except that it's from your skull and there's a tiny stem inside your skull and it grows from there.

Completed explanatory animation

"Is hair dead or alive?"  A lot  of people ask that but the truth is…hair is dead and that's why it doesn't hurt when you cut it.  But the reason it does hurt when you pull it is because you’re also pulling the stem and that’s where the hair grows from.

There are many different components that make up the hair.

    • the skin around the skull which is also known as the scalp
    • the hair string
    • the sebaceous glands
    • the dermal papillae and
    • the hair shaft.

So the hair grows on and on so slowly that you don’t even notice it.

It grows and falls out at the same time but because it grows so fast, people can choose to have long hair.

Now the reason that people have different coloured hair and different types of hair like curly, straight or wavy is because of a little something called…genes.

Director's commentary

The reason I chose this topic is because I’m interested in how hair grows and I’ve always seen these ads about hair animations and they look sort of fun and interesting and I’ve always sort of wondered [about] that.

Brendan asked me questions to keep me learning and I added that in my animation.

I liked the way how the labels worked.  I think it makes more sense when you have labels and just to show where they are and where it is.  That’s why I put it there.

The lines, when they fall out I thought was a good animation too.

Genes was my answer to different colours and curly, straight and wavy but I didn’t really get into any of the details because that’s not my topic.


Introducing Harriet and her topic

Harriet’s rationale for her choice of topic was stated in her director’s commentary about being “interested in how hair grows”. In retrospect, the cyclical nature of Harriet’s topic escaped both Harriet and myself. This issue will be revisited after discussing Harriet’s experiences within the ZPD.


Creating the ZPD with Harriet

Harriet was the most independent child out of all of the eight participants. She noted in her director's commentary that I asked her questions to keep her learning. These questions helped create the ZPD for Harriet as she begun to seek more detail about the structure of hair. One of my suggestions was that Harriet should create some cross-sectional imagery. Figure 4.3 is a screen shot from a labelling sequence where various components of the scalp and hair shaft were introduced.

Screen shot from "How does hair grow" animation

Figure 4.3. Screen shot from “How does hair grow” animation.

Harriet had encountered some information that I had never heard of such as “sebaceous glands”. She appeared to be engaged and eager to research new terminology. As such, Harriet essentially directed her own progress. I was grateful for Harriet’s self-motivation, as there was always at least one of the other children with their hand up, wanting help.


Harriet’s conceptual journey

In many ways Harriet was the model student as she was diligent, focused, engaged and making steady progress. She only sought my assistance for technical animation advice rather that specific content knowledge. Figure 4.4 is an example of how we applied the attributes of various hair types to the text itself as a creative way to augment meaning through the enhanced use of on-screen text.

Concluding screen shot from "How does hair grow" animation

Figure 4.4. Concluding screen shot from “How does hair grow?” animation.

Harriet was wise to have noted the limitations of her topic by including the word “genes” without attempting any explanation:

Genes was my answer to different colours and curly, straight and wavy but I didn’t really get into any of the details because that’s not my topic (“How does hair grow?” director’s commentary).

I have continued to reflect on Harriet’s work over the past few years. My most recent reflection is that the topic that Harriet presented could have been more accurately described as “What is hair made of?” To further explore the system qualities of hair growth, we should have looked into the variables that affect the hair growth cycle. I soon learned that there are three distinct stages of the hair growth cycle which is significant because Harriet and I never encountered any of these terms during the project. The absence of this key information accounts for our failure to identify the system qualities of hair growth. These three stages could also be called phases as the Oxford English Dictionary defines a phase as “a particular stage in recurring sequence of movements or changes”. The three phases of hair growth are:

  1. Anagen (active phase lasting between 2 - 6 years)

  2. Catagen (transitional phase lasting around 2 weeks)

  3. Telogen (resting phase lasting between 1 - 4 months)

Harriet’s portrait was unlike any of the other seven children as her animation could be characterised as an animated poster with annotated diagrams and corresponding narration, rather than an explanatory narrative. This is because Harriet’s voice-over script described elements rather than explaining relationships between them. My own understanding of Harriet’s topic and my assessment of her animation have changed dramatically since Harriet completed her work in 2011. Table 4.2 is Harriet’s conceptual consolidation rubric with my 2011 assessments shaded in grey and my updated, 2014 assessments shaded in orange.


Table 4.2

Harriet’s final conceptual consolidation rubric

Uses correct terminology With assistance Simplified terminology Some correct terminology Actual terminology

Identifies relevant variables

Not apparent With assistance Basic understanding

Deep understanding

Identifies relationships between variables Not apparent With assistance Basic understanding Deep understanding

Self-assessment scale (1-10). Does the student think that they understand their topic?



The reason why my original assessments (in grey) were not higher is that Harriet didn't discuss any factors that influence hair growth or health. Harriet’s new orange shading in Table 4.2 indicates that she hadn’t identified these key phases as neither Harriet nor I had encountered any of these words during the construction of her animation. I’m confident that we would have discovered these phases if we had amended the title to be “The hair growth cycle”. Possible metaphors to generate discussion could have been grass growing, or finger nails growing. The hair growth cycle would have lent itself to animation as the duration of the anagen stage explains why some people can grow longer hair than other people.

The ZPD diagram presented at the start of this chapter as Figure 4.1 (with the overlapping red spikes where the child’s development surpasses the helper) was inspired by my work with Harriet, particularly near the beginning of the project where she started using terminology that I had never heard of. I would have quickly discovered these terms if I had done any of my own research but this was the one case where a child did all of their own research. This further caused me to reflect on my role as a teacher working in a primary school. The old adage the squeaky wheel gets the grease is characteristic of the way that the most demanding children usually receive the most assistance from their teacher. In future I will seek to create opportunities to extend the learning of the competent, independent children with suitable questions and challenges. Harriet’s failure to identify the three phases of hair growth was really my own failure to ask her the right questions such as “What is the hair growth cycle?” A summary of Harriet’s conceptual journey is presented in Table 4.3.


Table 4.3

Summary of Harriet’s conceptual journey

Harriet's summary table


Proceed to the next Portrait of Sunny


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