Fish is Fish

As a social studies teacher, I can trace my love of history back to two things: my grandfather and his amazing stories of the history of our family and my sophomore high school teacher who taught history as a series of stories versus a series of lectures punctuated with answering questions at the end of the chapter. After several detours, when I finally entered teaching I vowed to instill that love of history into my students loudly proclaiming "This is not your father's social studies class."

I am not sure that I was entirely successful with all students but what I was trying to instill in my students was that history is not about memorization but about reasoned thinking using what it is that we know and the assumptions that we make. I wanted my students to think like historians - not just regurgitate things back to me. And my hope was that they would carry these skills over into life - where it was so much more important to understand things than worry about a grade.

Years later, as I lament about how I could have been a much better teacher if I only knew then what I know now, I have been reading and thinking about adaptive expertise. This podcast will help to explain the notion (and the title of this post) a bit better.

Some important thoughts from the podcast:
1. Students are not blank slates - new understandings are constructed on a foundation of existing understandings and experiences. We use what we have already learned to shape new understandings - sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly.

2. Learning with understanding is critical!! It can guide our actions and requires a deep foundation of factual knowledge.

3. Students must become meta-cognitive - that is, we must teach them to monitor and take control of their own learning.

If we want our students to develop adaptive expertise in order to meet the as-yet-unknown demands of the future they will graduate into, won't we have to change the delivery methods of our classrooms? I am not just talking about integrating technology (although that is something I feel strongly about) but about reframing how we teach. Consider this example (complete source found here):

The topic for science class is the human body, in particular veins and arteries. Which class would you rather be in:
a) Stand and Deliver, Mnemonics, Recall
b) Challenge question : How do we design an artificial artery? (understanding/context)

Of course the answer appears obvious - but how many of us actually learned in that type of environment? How many of us can honestly say we teach on a regular basis in that type of environment?

If our students need to develop adaptive expertise - what about us? What about the teachers? How can we develop the adaptive expertise of teachers?

Think Pink!

I recently finished reading Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future. The premise is relatively simple: the "left brain" jobs that people aspired to in the past (lawyer, accountant, software engineer) will fall by the wayside as a new kind of mind (the right brain thinkers) will emerge as a force for the future. The good news is - teachers are considered right brainers!!

More than laying out a different type of plan for future, the book actually contains a very nice "portfolio" piece after each of the six essential R-Directed aptitudes. This book had a high Post-It note quotient, which makes it a really good read. But as I began to digest some of what I was reading, I realized that writers are really right-brained as well and if we develop some of these six aptitudes, well - writers will rule the future!!

Design: Described as a whole minded aptitude, the focus is on an combination of utility and significance. Granted, most elements of design have to do with the aesthetic and the visual. Being useful without words. But with writing, it also has to do with how the work is presented. What type face is used. Cursive or print. The break of lines in a poem. There can be design in writing, to enhance writing, thereby increasing the significance of the words.

Story: This one is obvious - I thought. But what really struck home is the following passage; "When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact." What more powerful reason to create rather than cut-and-paste?

Symphony: The ability to put together all the pieces - to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields - to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair. Metaphors are a piece of symphony, as is every great novel that kept you reading because of the unexpected.

Empathy: The ability to imagine yourself in someone else's shoes and to intuit what that person is feeling. Good writers are able to capture that in their writing - great writers help others to feel it tool.

Play: There is great research in this section about the power of joy and laughter and play. The connection to writing for me was that writing has not become something of joy and laughter and play. It has become something that we make kids "do." Think of how many times a student has been punished by having to write something multiple times (including test corrections.) How can we add more play into writing?

Meaning: According to Pink, it is the search for meaning that drives us all. What better way to do that than thru writing? I think about all the problems I have solved by getting them out on paper, how journaling has helped me to think through what I am feeling, how creating a story has helped me to see the path that I must take. This is the power of writing.

My apologies to Mr. Pink if this is not how he intended his book to be used but I have not been able to stop thinking about the connections to writing and what we can do to inspire and grow these six aptitudes in our students through writing. Any thoughts??

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.