Tag Archives: philosophy of education

My Brain Is Too Small

A second grader recently warned me that he didn’t think he was a very good reader. When I probed the reason for his conclusion he told me in very adult terms, “I do fine at home but when I get to school… my brain is too small! There are just too many words and things to learn!”

I wanted to reply, “I know how you feel.”

Later I stumbled onto this article:

How much of learning time is spent NOT learning, do you suppose?

In order to learn, people need time to think, to process, to question and explore. Great companies like Google know this to be true and give their workers permission simply to think or explore 20% of the time. Thanks to this 20% time, Gmail and Google News were created.

What if we allowed 20% time in our learning environments? For every hour of learning time, we allot 12 minutes for our learners to work with the topic on their own? They might go to a quiet meditative room to review their notes. They might go out on the floor and see concepts in action. They might do further research on the topic such as what industries are already using it (whatever it might be). Whatever they choose, it would not be prescribed. It would  simply be reflective, processing time… When it comes to learning, less is more is an adage that holds true.

(c) 2011 The Training Doctor, LLC  http://www.trainingdr.com

An interesting suggestion… but it’s not just about training. Thanks to technology we can multitask. How many times have you carried on a conversation with someone who’s punching the screen of their smart phone?  If it’s safe to do so, count how many drivers you encounter who are NOT talking on a cell phone. 

Next time I read with my second grade buddy I may suggest that the problem is not that his brain is too small. Perhaps it’s just that his brain is too busy. (During our reading time I suggested we’d take it slow–one word at a time if necessary– and discovered that he’s actually a pretty good reader.)

Whether we are learning or living,  a little “down time” isn’t such a bad idea. Take time to process  and explore. One of my favorite brain/thinking researchers was Ned Hermann. He used to describe sitting in his recliner and approaching a “theta”  rhythm characterized by a drowsy, meditative, or sleeping state. If his wife called out to him to take out the trash or perform some other task he’d reply, “Not now, dear. I’m working.”

Reflection, exploration… these are activities with at least as much value as writing or talking or punching the screen of your smart phone. Allow yourself time to do them and you may discover that your brain is bigger than you thought.

 

But Do I Have To?

Do we have to learn this?

When I’m teaching real estate courses one of the questions I get asked frequently is “Are we going to have to do this in practice/real life?”  (It might not be a surprise that it most often comes up during math exercises.)

It’s a good question, of course. It’s also a hard one to answer honestly because sometimes “it depends.” So I will often put my tongue in my cheek and reply “Yes, at least once–when you take the final exam at the end of the course.”

I recently finished reading a series of articles on student engagement and motivation that I thought created several important perspectives in relation to that frequently asked question. I was attracted to the series based on a teaser suggesting it’s important to “teach your students how to fail.” Now that’s an interesting concept–and one I’m still exploring.

But what followed was  the suggestion to “teach students to value learning, not performance.” That statement forced me to wheel my chair back and stare at the screen for a while. I admire the simple elegance of that suggestion.

For years we’ve met at the altar of an adult learning model that suggested we (educators/trainers) only have value when we are involved in “performance-based” training. Our lesson plans have to have “action words” in those behavioral objectives.  “At the completion of this course, the student will be able to…”

I remember having my cage rattled quite a few years ago by an instructor who suggested “writing behavioral learning objectives is arrogant and presumptuous–what right do you have to decide what students are going to learn in your classes?” It’s probably fair to label him an extremist, but he makes an interesting point. As if to reinforce his point, I’ve had a number of occasions when a former student has contacted me and thanked me for something he or she learned in my class–and I don’t remember teaching it.

Our obsession with performance (including how students perform on tests) may have some unintended results. I listened to a student at the start of a recent class introduce herself with the observation she “was tired of taking classes and learning.” I thought it was a very sad statement. But I also think she’s wrong. She’s not tired of learning. I think she’s tired of being taught.

Too often our systems of education remove the joy of learning. If we can’t figure out how to put it back in, we ought to at least look at some ways to allow it!

 


 

To read the articles mentioned visit Teachers Training International.

Don’t Blame The Teacher!

Here’s a link to an interesting article in the Bangor Daily News:

Moving Beyond ‘Blame The Teacher’

Much as I enjoyed the article, I also ended up frustrated because–try as I might–I could not post a comment! Reading the comments already there made me want to add:

One caution is that we not move from blaming the teachers to blaming the parents. To do so would be to miss the point of the article. You can bet that the schools cited here did far more than is reported in this article. Ultimately, the ENTIRE system was affected. The article perhaps didn’t go quite far enough in describing this. One sentence that needs changing:

“In education as in industry, progress toward quality will require collaboration among administrators, teachers and their unions, the parents and the students themselves.”

Of course Demings wasn’t the only “guru” promoting this thinking, but there was a simple elegance to his approach. The approach forced us to stop finding people to blame and look at the systems those people are working under. Very often those systems punish the very behavior and outcomes being sought and reward the undesired ones.

I was a practicing systems organization development consultant during those years and can attest to the success of the approach. Organizations with red bottom lines were in crisis and desperate for a fix. Those who saw beyond blaming often achieved incredible turnarounds. The need to make a profit can be incredibly motivating.

We might start wondering when we face a similar crisis and the need to teach and develop our kids becomes similarly motivating.