Sunday, November 12, 2006

Learning and Thinking

Eric Jensen has a great book titled, "Brain Based Learning" published in 2000. I'm going back to his book this afternoon in thinking about some experiences over the last few months. In Chapter 21 of the book, Jensen discusses lesson planning "with the brain in mind." He points out that, "We learn best by immersion; by jumping into the fray, then thinking our way out of it."

We've been working with a curriculum consultant who has spent many hours with our teachers talking about a schema for lesson planning that's based on brain research. But, over time, it has seemed to some that we've been covering the same material over and over again with a few different twists each time. As I listened to each presentation, I kept picking up on the "twists" that trigger new thinking while others were saying that they'd heard this information already.

This summer, we returned once again, to a discussion of the lesson schema but this time something different happened. We went back to what we had learned previously, then began to talk about the lesson schema as a "system" and what would happen if any part of that system broke down or didn't happen. This was a whole new way of thinking...this was "thinking our way out of" the wealth of information that we had been gathering over time. The conversation among the teachers was amazing and very insightful!

In talking to the consultant later and in reflecting on the presentation, I was brought back to Eric Jensen's point: these teachers needed the time and the exposure to lots of information before they could think their way out of it and it wasn't until this past summer that this could happen.

What about our students? There has been a lot written about how we should encourage and teach critical thinking skills but not much mention about how much information we need in order to "think our way out of it." How many teachers continue to rely on the readily accessible textbook as their sole source of information and is it enough information to truly "think" about? What makes it so difficult for them to use alternate resources so that students are learning from a variety of sources?

As we talk about the use of such tools as blogs, wikis, podcasts and others, I think it will be especially important to keep in mind our pedagogy, and the amount of time for our students to access and gather information before they blog, before they contribute to a wiki, before they create a podcast so that they can "think" their way to better uses of those tools. Eric Jensen reminds us that we need to ask, "What is there to learn and, how can it best be learned?"

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