Thursday, February 5, 2009

We Can All Be Genies of the Lamp

I was watching an old Twilight Zone episode, the one where a troubled man finds the famed Aladdin’s lamp. He rubs it and out pops the Genie, offering him one wish (people have been abusing three wishes, says the Genie, so they only offer one now!). The story continues as the man imagines wishing for his wildest dreams and inevitably, he winds up unhappy with each fulfilled wish since his own self-limiting behaviors and poor image of himself and his abilities sabotages him every time. Finally, he decides on his wish – to become the Genie himself, gaining power and self-esteem through helping others.

It was a profound reminder to me that as educators, we can all become Genies in the Lamp for all those who come under our care. But so many students of all ages carry with them self-limiting behaviors and assumptions. Teaching them facts and equations alone is not enough – not nearly enough. We have to come up with ways to give them the tools to think critically, reason rationally, challenge the assumptions that riddle our lives, and to deal with the extreme information overload that plagues us all since the proliferation of the Internet.

Otherwise, the same self-limiting ideas and beliefs that hold so many back will continue to dominate their lives.

Fortunately, a wealth of techniques exist to help us accomplish these goals. Teaching in this way is what I call “deep teaching.”

Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in the early 1970s spoke of a distinction between a "shallow" and a "deep" ecology. The view that humans are separate from and above the natural world is considered a shallow, human-centered view. Deep ecology recognizes humans as just one of many strands in the web of life and views the earth as a complex collection of interdependencies. Similarly, I define a "shallow" and a "deep" teaching.

Shallow teaching is anthropocentric, striving to create in students a sense of superiority and control over the natural world, whatever the field of study. Teaching human power relationships as defined by modern Western culture is the foundational principle of shallow teaching. Shallow teaching also emphasizes the separation of fields of study, physical laws as the sole basis for all life, the perception that there are unchanging truths in our world, and that knowledge is gained by those who memorize the most raw data. Shallow teaching emphasizes the importance of the individual and reinforces the concept of rigid boundaries in the individual and in society.

Deep teaching redefines our notion of power, restructuring our relationship with the natural world by teaching that one gets the most power by sharing all that they have. Strength comes from sharing, not from taking. [See more on this in my Ed Week interview at http://www.ednews.org/articles/15727/1/An-Interview-with-Jackie-Alan-Giuliano-PhD-About-Deep-Teaching-and-Speed-Learning/Page1.html]

In this new paradigm, for me to be strong, you do not have to be weak; for me to have all that I need, someone else does not have to go without; for me to be safe, I do not have to build high walls; for me to be secure, I do not have to have large amounts of money. The notions of power, strength, safety, and security are redefined in terms of sustainability, not the attainment of personal isolation and wealth.

In this blog, I will explore the principles of deep teaching and present exciting examples of how teachers around the world are inspiring students to break free of the assumptions that rule their lives and hold them back.

There is much competition for the intellectual attention of everyone today, especially students. Television and print media news teach our children to be satisfied with 30 second soundbites of information and to make global, far reaching conclusions after hearing only a few seconds about a situation. Possibly most damaging is that they teach that after 30 seconds to a minute, the story is over and we don't have to concern ourselves with it any more.

By the time a typical TV viewing child has graduated high school, he or she will have seen over 500,000 commercial advertisements, tens of thousands of violent acts including murder, and thousands of confusing and contradictory sexual messages. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that children who are developmentally under the age of eight are not able to understand the intent of advertisements and, in fact, accept advertising claims as true.

Look at the results: 31 percent of nine year old girls think they are too fat and 11 percent of eighth grade girls are on diets! TV has contributed in a major way to obesity and diabetes because it is the principle cause of inactivity in kids and adults.

The average 15-year old has viewed over 13,000 television killings by that age.

Studies have also shown that heavy television viewers express more racially prejudiced attitudes, overestimate the number of people employed as physicians, lawyers, and athletes, perceive women as having more limited abilities and interests than men, hold exaggerated views about the prevalence of violence in society, and believe that old people are fewer in umber and less healthy today than they were 20 years ago even though the opposite is true. (Aronson, Elliot, The Social Animal, W.H.
Freeman and Co., Eighth Edition, 1999.)

The AAP recommends that, "Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of two years. Although certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant caregivers for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills."

For kids older than two, the AAP recommends no more than one to two hours a day of developmentally appropriate, nonviolent television programming.

So what are the effects of all this subtle and not-so-subtle indoctrination? I can’t help but think it affects our students’ attention span, priorities, and beliefs about how the world works, both socially, environmentally, and physically. Deep teaching may be needed now more than ever.

Transforming our teaching from shallow to deep starts with transforming the way we teach by remodeling our lesson plans. Here is a way to start the process.

First, select a lesson plan for remodeling. Start with what you plan to teach tomorrow. Then, write down the fundamental question you hope to have the students answer through the lesson. Then come up with “fundamental and powerful concepts, insights, understandings, and knowledge” that you want students to leave with after the lesson and choose two or three of them. Don’t think you have to accomplish them all in one session.

Now come up with experiential, participatory, discovery-based activities that will allow the students to discover those principles.

For example, supposed you planned to teach a session about why it seems so hard to attain world peace. Here’s an example of how the remodeling process works.

LESSON PLAN REMODELING EXAMPLE

TOPIC
World Peace and Justice

FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION TO BE ANSWERED
Why is it a “fight” to attain world peace?

WRITE DOWN THE FUNDAMENTAL AND POWERFUL CONCEPTS, INSIGHTS, UNDERSTANDINGS, AND KNOWLEDGE YOU WANT STUDENTS TO DISCOVER - CHOOSE 2 or 3 (no more) FOR THIS LESSON
1. Achieving “world peace” means different things to different people.
2. When you consider the social, economic, political, and personal points of view, there are many artificial barriers to world peace.
3. Not everyone may want world peace.
4. World peace can only be obtained through the attitudes of people, not laws, technology or other superficialities.
5. To take the student out of their own ego-centered world and think on a broader scale.
6. To demonstrate the importance of the individual’s views and actions.

SOCRATIC QUESTIONING OF THE TEXT OR HANDOUTS
What is the point of the paragraph?
What do you think about it?
What do you think about her interpretation?

CREATE EXPERENTIAL, PARTICIPATORY, DISCOVERY-BASED LEARNING ACTIVITIES
Example: Role play
1. Count off 4 or 5roups of 4 or 5 students each, depending on how many are in class
2. Assign roles in group: a) Congressperson, b) lawyer, c) professor, d) military general, e) mother from a developing country, f) whatever you can think of.
3. Each group has a facilitator/moderator (if you have enough students, the moderator does not participate in the discussion).
4. Each group has a recorder who takes notes and reports on their work.

VARIATION
Instead of spreading around the roles in each group, you can have a whole group represent just one role and point of view.

GROUP ASSIGNMENT/TASK
Taking on your assigned role and point of view, work together to come up with a plan for world peace.

TIME
Use any time slot you have. I have done this in just 15 minutes or for 2 hours.

THE PRODUCT
Can be a written group report or just having the recorder stand up and give their report orally.

FOLLOWUP
Students write a couple of paragraphs on what you learned from this exercise.

OUTCOME
Trying to create a plan for world peace while assuming the roles of the assignment quickly bring to light the various obstacles that exist when people advocate their own agendas in any group situation.

This deceptively simple exercise is a good example of how you can remodel your lessons to allow for self discovery – the best way for students to learn. It will take some time to switch to this approach, especially if your curriculum has been based on imparting large amounts of data. But it will be well worth your efforts to embrace the classic tenant of critical thinking teaching: Teach less so that students learn more.

Check out the resources below for more help on transitioning to discovery-based teaching strategies and please send me the exciting, discovery-based lesson ideas you use that I can share in this column.


RESOURCES

The Center for Critical Thinking
http://www.criticalthinking.org/
A wealth of some of the best resources for teachers in critical thinking, this site blends the work of Richard Paul at the Center for Critical Thinking at Sonoma State University in California with critical thinking resources around the world. A great resource for remodeling your lessons.

The National Institute on Media and the Family
http://www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_tvandobchild.shtml
Lots of statistics on the impact of TV watching on our children – and adults – to give you ideas about how to compensate in your teaching.

The Neil Postman Information Page
http://www.neilpostman.org/
A consummate educator and critic of the influence of media on education, Neil Postman (1931 — 2003) wrote over 30 books and countless articles. His classic work, “Teaching as a Subversive Activity,” will influence your teaching for all time.


Jackie A. Giuliano Ph.D. is the President of the Center for Lifelong Learning
(http://www.speedlearning100.org), providing workshops that at least triple reading speed and double memory. He has been teaching critical thinking-based courses for 15 years. He can be reached at jackie@speedlearning100.org.

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