Embracing Diversity in Learning and Teaching
[all the posts about the opening session program: 1 2 3 4 5]
For this second day of opening faculty meetings we wanted to set the tone for what would follow, which was two sets of 45 minute workshops. Keeping in mind that just about everyone was still in a summer mindset, gradually making the transition from summer mode to a fixed schedule, with far less time for being active, and we knew what we had to do. Engagement was the name of the game!
As folks entered the auditorium they were greeted with upbeat music and a continuously looping slide show displaying some 40 people – many of them well known, including students at our school – who have learning differences. We could detect definite “I didn’t know…” comments in response to seeing some of the better known faces on the screen.
Below are our introductory remarks. I invite you to pick up a pencil and piece of paper, and join along!
INTRODUCTION TO THE SIMULATIONS
Good morning and Welcome back!
You will now need a piece of paper and a pencil. If you do not have one, please raise a hand.
We are going to take a moment and do a little sketching. Please turn to look at a colleague sitting next to you. You will have 30 seconds to draw each other. Begin now! [If you click the image of the person's face, you will be taken to Tim Brown's TED Talk on creativity and play, from where the drawing idea was taken.]
[30 seconds later…] Okay, pencils down! Hear that laughter? That is the sound of serotonin and dopamine being released in your brains, two of the “feel good” neurotransmitters, which are generated in your affective network and prime you to pay attention. You remember those three neural networks we talked about yesterday – the recognition or sensory network, the affective aka emotional network, and the strategic network, the all-important executive functioning area of your brain that some say is more important than IQ.
By the way, please hold on to the paper and pencil, as you will be using them again.
As a community we read Kristi’s book this summer, and it was part of our inspiration for yesterday’s and today’s activities. As Candy and I met regularly with Kristi throughout the last school year, we couldn’t help but think about the variety of learners amongst us, both the students AND the adults.
Robert Fulghum, the very author who wrote “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”, summed it up quite nicely when he wrote the following [which comes from It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It]:
image comes from Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight TED Talk
[the brain] I have one of these things between my ears. It is made up entirely of raw meat at the moment. It is fueled by yesterday’s baloney sandwich, potato chips, and chocolate milk. And everything I am doing at the moment-everything I have ever done or will do-passes through this lump. I made it; I own it. And it is the most mysterious thing on earth. Now I can kind of understand the mechanical work of the brain – stimulating breathing, moving blood, directing protein traffic. It’s all about chemistry and electricity. A motor. I know about motors.
But this three-pound raw-meat motor also contains all the limericks I know, a recipe for how to cook a turkey, the remembered smell of my junior high locker room, all my sorrows, the ability to double clutch a pickup truck, the face of my wife when she was young, the formulas for E=MC squared, and A2 + B2 = C2, the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the sound of the first cry of my firstborn son, the cure for hiccups, the words to the fight song of St. Olaf’s College, fifty years worth of dreams, how to tie my shoes, the taste of cod-liver oil, an image of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and a working understanding of the Dewey Decimal System. It’s all there in the MEAT.
One cubic centimeter of brain contains ten billion bits of information and it processes five thousand bits a second. And somehow it evolved over a zillion years from a molten ball of rock, Earth. ….The Mystery of Mysteries is present and it includes us.
The single most powerful statement to come out of brain research in the last 25 years is this: We are as different from one another on the inside of our heads as we appear to be different from one another on the outside of our heads.
Look around and see the infinite variety of human heads – skin, hair, age, ethnic characteristics, size, color and shape. And know that on the inside such differences are even greater – what we know, how we learn, how we process information, what we remember and forget, our strategies for functioning and coping.
Add to that the understanding that the “world out there” is as much a projection from inside our heads as it is a perception, and pretty soon you are up against the realization that it is a miracle that we communicate at all.
It is almost unbelievable that we are dealing with the same reality. We operate on a kind of loose consensus about existence, at best.
From a practical point of view, day by day, this kind of information makes me a little more patient with the people I live with. I am less inclined to protest “Why don’t you see it the way I do?” and more inclined to say “You see it that way? Holy cow, how amazing!”
Our goal for this morning is for all of us to look deeply into the learning process for our own sake and for the sake of the people with whom we work. As learners, we are all on a continuum, intelligence is not fixed. Science has proved that intelligence is incremental and the more you learn beyond your formal schooling, the healthier your brain will be later in life. Armed with this understanding, our affective networks become willing partners in the learning process. Carol Dweck is going to expand upon this.
Each of us has strengths and struggles that are unique to ourselves. When we acknowledge that in ourselves and others, we can move forward to collaboratively help each other be the best that we can be. We are going to take a few minutes now and do some simulations to get us thinking about a few types of struggles that learners – be they kids OR adults – can have.
[stay tuned for the simulations in the upcoming posts]