Why blog? An undergraduate professor of mine frequently told his students, “You don’t know what you think until you try to write it down.” I’ve started this new blog to catalog my thoughts, clarify my thinking, explore new perspectives, and participate in broader conversations on that topics interest me.
This is the third blog that’s worked on, and it has been many years since my last entry. We all know, life just has a way of intervening and new projects become priorities, and before you know it, a year or two has gone by.
But isn’t that the dilemma for most leaders? For most of us involved in technology? Finding time to do those projects that speak to our passions, that support our initiatives, and that give back to our own community often get inadvertently pushed to the back burner. Then one day, we realize our lack of time has affected our intention: an important project. It is then, and only then, that we rediscover our project and commit to giving it our full attention and time. That’s where I am with this blog, and I plan to make a concerted effort to utilize it to reflect on a variety of topics . This leads me to the topic of this blog entry, “Mindful Learning.”
The Power of Mindful Learning by Ellen Langer. In her book, Langer puts forth what could be a new paradigm for learning. Ellen argues that traditional methods of learning often produce what she’s calls mindless learning. Mindless learning by students does not allow them to learn facts and skills conditionally. She calls upon us, teachers and leaders to set the stage for students to engage in mindful learning.
According to Langer there are seven pervasive myths or mindsets that interfere with learning. The book lays out the myths and then demonstrates how to avoid becoming trapped by these myths.
The seven myths are:
- The basics must be learned so well that they become second nature
- Paying attention means staying focused on one things at a time
- Delaying gratification is important
- Rote memorization is necessary in education
- Forgetting is a problem
- Intelligence is knowing “what’s out there.”
- There are right and wrong answers.
Falling prey to one or many of these myths can stifle our creativity, deaden our questions, and lower our self-esteem.
The challenge for today’s educations is to recognize and understand that these old paradigms have invaded our classrooms and produced generations of students who are, in effect, mindless learners.
Perhaps by overturning these myths we can set a new paradigm—one that allows us to overhaul an ineffective education system and design a system that encourages both leaders and students to be mindful learners.
In the past, Langer notes, we have tried changing the curricula, creating and changing the standards for leaders, teachers, and students, improving parent and community involvement in the learning process, and both increasing and decreasing the budget for education. However, these actions have had limited and sometimes unsuccessful effects. Langer believes that the previous stated interventions alone cannot make a difference unless students have an opportunity to learn more mindfully.
After reading her book, I must say that she makes a good case. I first encountered her book over a ten years ago. And I have to say that ten years later I find myself using many of her strategies and I am pleased with the results.
I have been able to develop new solutions to problems and help others see what’s possible. It was through my regular journal reflections that I rediscovered her book again as I saw that I was actually becoming a “myth buster.” Now I am imagining what an impact these same approaches could make for student learning.
According to Langer, the process of defeating these old myths, in and of itself causes us to question what intelligence really is. A particular question that comes to my mind is, “Does our view of intelligence support inhibiting mindsets?”
In her book, The Power of Mindful Learning, book Langer notes that not only do we as people get locked into single-minded views, but we also reinforce these views for each other until the culture itself suffers the same mindlessness.
So, what exactly is, The Power of Mindful Learning,?
Mindful learning is an approach to learning. It has three characteristics:
- the continuous creation of new categories;
- openness to new information; and
- an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.
By contrast, Mindless learning is entrapment in old categories. It is automatic behavior without any thought. It limits our ability to see new perspectives, signals. According to Langer, it’s like being on automatic pilot.
How do we escape from mindless learning? We must learn to question beliefs–everything is the same until it is not.
One simple way to escape mindless learning is by changing how we ask the questions. Instead of asking Is it possible or Can we do it? We should be asking: How is it possible, or how can we do it.
This simple change in perspective allows us to shift from finding an answer to thinking about how to get from a to b. This simple change shifts our way of thinking and it leads us back to our question, what is intelligence.
I recently came across a brief article comparing the differences between bright children and gifted children. The bright child knows the answers to the question, and the gifted child asks the questions.
I’ll end this brief introduction to Ellen Langer’s book Mindful Learning with these questions that Langer raises: throughout a student’s career, they have learned to delay gratification. They have learned that they have to do their studies before they can play a game or talk on the phone. They have learned that schoolwork is a chore. Why is study itself not gratifying for students? How could it be? If rote memory is a tedious way to prepare for an exam, is there a more effective and more gratifying way? Ah….we are on our way to experiencing mindful learning.