The things we have to learn before we do them, we learn by doing them. Aristotle
Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results. John Dewey
My training as an educator occurred through experiential education rather than the traditional route. Experiential Education is based on the following principles as articulated by the Association for Experiential Education:
- Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
- Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
- Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner2 is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
- Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
- The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
- Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
- The educator and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
- Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
- The educator’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
- The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
- Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the learner.
- The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes. (http://www.aee.org/what-is-ee)
I know no other way of teaching. Knowing the powerful results of experiential education, it confuses me as to why more (if not all) educators don’t teach this way. In the graphic below, the images in the left column are learners from my own classrooms, the images on the right symbolize more traditional approaches in educational institutions. As “A picture says a 1000 words,” the expressions of the learners say engagement, interest, joy, and learning. Which do you want your students, your children to experience at school?
I had the privilege of hearing two Native American women, Rina Swentzell and Tessie Naranjo, talk about their mission to “save” the Tewa language from extinction. What was profound about their talk was their discussion of the power that language has to influence how we think and what we do; and that language is culturally determined.
Rina Swentzell posed the following questions during her talk:
- What is our relationship to words?
- How does language connect us?
- How does language become representative of our hearts?
Dr. Swentzell went on to contrast Tewa to the English language. Tewa language is softer, European languages harsher and harder. Tewa language focuses on verbs; as a doing-ness. European language emphasizes noun – the things. Tewa is inclusive, European languages often are not. She also discussed how very similar words have different meanings, For example, the Tewa words for to teach and to learn are closely related to “to breath”. She also wondered, “How does English affect our thinking and change us?”
Guy Deutscher author of “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages” notes:
When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world.
As an educational reformer, this lead me to give more thought about the language used for educational culture in the United States and how this language affects teaching and learning practices. Some common educational terminology includes (a sampling):
- High Stakes Tests
- “Class” room
This words, as analyzed in relation to Dr. Swentzell’s comments, are nouns, do not focus on the doing-ness or actions that can/should be taken by administrators, teachers, and students, are non-nurturing, and do not emphasize relationship.
So maybe, as in line with the language of the Tewa, the discussions surrounding education could/should focus on the verbs, on the doing-ness of administrators, educators, and learners with each other, the content, and the world-at-large. A sampling of action verbs for education include:
Such intentional use of language would, as research suggests, change the way we think about and ultimately DO education.
Math teacher, Jason Faulkner , How We Talk About Education Shows What It Means To Us reflects on how his thinking about education affects his teaching practices.
As I reflect on how this narrative is told in my own classroom, Parker Palmer’s words weigh heavily on my heart. As the teacher, one who Palmer calls “the mediator between the knower and the known, the living link in the epistemological chain,” do I not surreptitiously perpetuate an “epistemological error” in my classroom whenever I present knowledge as something to possess or control or master, rather than as a gift to love?
Those serious about educational reform based at putting the learner at the center, need to take a long, critical, dissecting examination at the terminology we use to explain teaching and learning.
The slide presentation and participant photos from a professional development workshop for educators:
Here are some graphics, Thinglinks, and the slideshow I created for my Mindset of the Maker Educator Workshop: