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Posts Tagged ‘learning

Specific Ideas for Intentional Creativity

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Recently I wrote a blog post about Intentional Creativity. Here is the graphic created for that post. Below the graphic are specific ideas I am using with my gifted elementary students this school year.


What follows are the activities I am using this school year to be intentional with sparking creativity in my gifted education classrooms. The titles are links for these activities.

Destination Imagination Instant Challenges


Goal: To spark creative divergent thinking for STEM, STEAM, and science based learning.

Description: Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless!


Write About

Goal: To get learners’ primed to do some creative writing.

Description: Don’t look at Write About as another thing to add. It’s a platform for writing and a community for publishing writing…regardless of the genre, purpose, length or audience. We believe a balance between digital and physical is a healthy thing, and support your pencil/paper writer’s notebooks whole heartedly! But when you want students to transition their writing skills into a digital space…when you want to empower them with choice and visual inspiration for creative sparks…when you want them to have an authentic audience for their writing…when you want them to leverage multi modal tools like audio and images…that’s where we come in!

Minute Mysteries

Goal: To help learners to think outside of the box; to develop alternative perspectives of perceived reality.

Description:  Minute mysteries are riddles where students ask yes or no questions to try and solve the riddle. They are called minute mysteries because they are usually a bit more complex than your average riddle.

Rebus Puzzles

Goal: To help learners playful interact with the symbolic nature of language.

Description: Rebus Puzzles are essentially little pictures or riddles, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase, or saying.

Classroom Icebreakers

Goal: To build community; help create a classroom climate with a sense of fun and whimsy.

Description: Useful for the beginning of a class period or toward the beginning of a semester when students don’t know each other well, Introduction and Breaking-the-Ice games can dramatically transform the dynamics of your classroom. More ideas can be found at:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 2, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Intentional Creativity

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Torrence, whose focus was on creativity, developed the Torrence Incubation Model of Creative Thinking (TIM) model.

As emphasized in this video, embedding creativity into the curriculum can and should be a strong component of content area teaching and learning. In other words, educators don’t need to plan to teach creativity as another part of curriculum.  Creativity is often an integral part of the practices of professionals including scientists, mathematicians, business people, artists, writers, and is an important part of their content area expertise. It follow, then, that learners should be taught in ways that help them think like a scientist . . . like an artist . . .  like a writer . . .  like a business person.

E. Paul Torrance, perhaps one of the most prominent scholars of creativity, conducted a variety of studies exploring the teaching and learning of creativity. His studies identified specific skills associated with creativity, and demonstrated success in the teaching of creativity through the Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning. The Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning can be applied to a lesson, unit or project. The application of TIM and the identification of a specific creativity skill is an effective way to teach creativity, without impacting the teaching of core objectives or curriculum content. TIM, has three stages: Stage One, Heighten Anticipation, is designed to adequately and mentally prepare the student (or students) for the project ahead. Torrance describes this as a ʻWarming Up Periodʼ with the following six functions, (1) Create the Desire to Know, (2) Heighten Anticipation and Expectation, (3) Get Attention, (4) Arouse Curiosity, (5) Tickle the Imagination, and (6) Give Purpose and Motivation. (Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning (TIM))

Specific active methods for heightening anticipation include:

The benefits of educators being intentional with heightening anticipation include:

  • Increased engagement in and motivation for the learning activities.
  • Increased interest in content area learning; possibly stimulating new learner passions.
  • Deeper learning.
  • More generalizable skills related to creativity.

So just with a little planning, the educator can set up conditions that can significantly motivate learners and create an energized learning environment climate.



Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 20, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Freedom to Learn

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I was painfully bored during my K-12 education. I looked forward to college anticipating that it would be different – more engaging, more interesting, more innovative. I was wrong. My undergraduate education, except for a few bright spots, was just an extension of my K-12 education including more grill and drill with sages on the stages (literally since I went to such a large university); taking notes and taking lots of multiple choice tests. During my freshman year, I thought that if I had one wish, it would be to change the educational system (which has stayed with me ever since). One of those bright spots was being asked to read Carl Rogers, Freedom to Learn, which was published 1969 in an upper level Educational Psychology course. The big aha for me was that school systems should be focused on helping learners develop the skills for how to learn not what to learn, one that was sorely lacking in most of my K-graduate-level education and a concept and goal that as an educator I’ve held onto ever since.

So now when I read about new “pedagogies” and instructional strategies based on self-directed learning, learning how to learn, self-determined learning, I kind of laugh to myself. Solid, valid, and student-focused pedagogy has been proposed ever since the beginnings of institutionalized education – think John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Kurt Hahn, and in this case, Carl Rogers.

The following text provides a summary of Rogers’ major themes  about learning and education from Freedom to Learn and comes from Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved from

freedom to learn

Rogers (1969) listed five defining elements of significant or experiential learning:

  1. It has a quality of personal involvement – Significant learning has a quality of personal involvement in which “the whole person in both his feeling and cognitive aspects [is] in the learning event” (p. 5).
  2. It is self-initiated – “Even when the impetus or stimulus comes from the outside, the sense of discovery, of reaching out, of grasping and comprehending, comes from within” (p. 5).
  3. It is pervasive – Significant learning “makes a difference in the behavior, the attitudes, perhaps even the personality of the learner” (p. 5).
  4. It is evaluated by the learner – The learner knows “whether it is meeting his need, whether it leads toward what he wants to know, whether it illuminates the dark area of ignorance he is experiencing” (p. 5).
  5. Its essence is meaning – “When such learning takes place, the element of meaning to the learner is built into the whole experience” (p. 5).

As an example of significant learning—the kind that illustrates his theory of freedom to learn—Rogers cited the informal notes kept by Barbara J. Shiel, a teacher, who out of despair and frustration decided to try a drastic experiment in promoting experiential learning in her sixth grade class. In the experiment Mrs. Shiel introduced the concept of work contracts. These were ditto sheets that contained a list of all of the subjects the class was to study, along with a list of suggestions for study under each, and a space for students to write their plans in each area.

“Because I was not free to discard the state-devised curriculum time schedule, I explained the weekly time-subject blocks to the children—this was to be a consideration in their planning. We also discussed sequential learning, especially in math, mastering a skill before proceeding to the next level of learning. They discovered the text provided an introduction to a skill, demonstrated the skill, and provided exercises to master it and tests to check achievement. When they felt they were ready to go on, they were free to do so. They set their own pace, began at their own level, and went as far as they were able or self-motivated to go.” (Rogers, 1969, pp. 17-18)

Since evaluation was self-initiated and respected by the teacher, there was no need for cheating to achieve success. “We discovered that “failure” is only a word, that there is a difference between “failure” and making a mistake, and that mistakes are a part of the learning process.” (Rogers, 1969, p. 18)

One cannot measure the difference in attitude, the increased interest, the growing pride in self-improvement, but one is aware that they exist. (Rogers, 1969, p. 19)

The experience of Mrs. Shiel’s experiment is illustrative of the principles of learning that Rogers (1969, pp. 157-164) abstracted from his own experience:

Human beings have a natural potentiality for learning. “They are curious about their world, until and unless this curiosity is blunted by their experience in our educational system” (p. 157).

Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is perceived by the student as having relevance for his or her own purposes. “A somewhat more formal way of stating this is that a person learns significantly only those things which he perceives as being involved in the maintenance of or the enhancement of his own self” (p. 158).

When threat to the self is low, experience can be perceived in differentiated fashion and learning can proceed. When [the learner] is in an environment in which he is assured of personal security and when he becomes convinced that there is no threat to his ego, he is once more free to…move forward in the process of learning. (p. 161)

Much significant learning is acquired through doing. “Placing the student in direct experiential confrontation with practical problems, social problems, ethical and philosophical problems, personal issues, and research problems, is one of the most effective modes of promoting learning” (p. 162).

Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process. “When he chooses his own directions, helps to discover his own learning resources, formulates his own problems, decides his own course of action, lives with the consequences of these choices, then significant learning is maximized” (p. 162).

Self-initiated learning which involves the whole person of the learner—feelings as wells as intellect—is the most lasting and pervasive. This is not the learning which takes place “only from the neck up.” It is a “gut level” type of learning which is profound and pervasive. It can also occur in the tentative discovery of a new self-generated idea or in the learning of a difficult skill, or in the act of artistic creation—a painting, a poem, a sculpture. It is the whole person who “let’s himself go” in these creative learnings. An important element in these situations is that the learner knows it is his own learning and thus can hold to it or relinquish it in the face of a more profound learning without having to turn to some authority for corroboration of his judgment. (pp. 162-163)

Independence, creativity, and self-reliance are all facilitated when self-criticism and self-evaluation are basic and evaluation by others is of secondary importance. If a child is to grow up to be independent and self reliant he must be given opportunities at an early age not only to make his own judgments and his own mistakes but to evaluate the consequences of these judgments and choices. (p. 163).

The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change. If our present culture survives, it will be because we have been able to develop individuals for whom change is the central fact of life and who have been able to live comfortably with this central fact. They will instead have the comfortable expectation that it will be continuously necessary to incorporate new and challenging learnings about ever-changing situations. (pp. 163-164)

Rogers’ theory of learning also included principles that define the role of the teacher as a facilitator of learning. Rogers (1983) summarized this role by stating that “the primary task of the teacher is to permit the student to learn, to feed his or her own curiosity” (p. 18). Rogers’ principles of facilitation are complementary to his ten principles of learning. Together they form a human learning theory that emphasizes learner agency, growth, and affect. These ten principles are as follows (summarized from Rogers, 1969, pp. 164-166)):

  1. The educator has much to do with setting the initial mood or climate of the class experience. “If his own basic philosophy is one of trust in the group and in the individuals who compose the group, then this point of view will be communicated in many subtle ways” (p. 164).
  2. The educator helps to elicit and clarify the purposes of the individuals in the class.
  3. The educator relies upon the desire of each student to implement those purposes which have meaning for him or her, as the motivational force behind significant learning.
  4. The educator endeavors to organize and make easily available the widest possible range of resources for learning.
  5. The educator regards him/herself as a flexible resource to be utilized by the group.
  6. In responding to expressions in the classroom group, the educator accepts both the intellectual content and the emotionalized attitudes, endeavoring to give each aspect the approximate degree of emphasis which it has for the individual or group.
  7. As the acceptant classroom climate becomes established, the educator is able increasingly to become a participant learner, a member of the group, expressing his views as those of one individual only.
  8. The educator takes the initiative in sharing him/herself with the group—his/her feelings as well as thoughts—in ways which do not demand nor impose but represent simply a personal sharing which students may take or leave.
  9. As a facilitator of learning, the educator endeavors to recognize and accept his/her own limitations. “S/he realizes that s/he can only grant freedom to his/her students to the extent that s/he is comfortable in giving such freedom” (p. 166).

(For this final section, I took the liberty to change “facilitator” to “educator.”)

The following graphic developed by the Freedom to Learn Project, is based on Rogers’ ideas and exemplifies their manifesto.


So the push towards self-directed learning – helping learners develop skills for directing their own learning really isn’t new BUT the Internet, social media, and open-source content just make it easier for the educator actually implement these practices especially when working with groups of students.

Online learning opportunities, pedagogical shifts and easy accessibility of Internet through multiple devices offer attractive opportunities for learners to assume greater responsibility and initiative in their own learning. In fact, it may not be hyperbole to state that self-directed learning is now a mandatory skill rather than optional in order to impart both work readiness and the development of global citizenry (diversified, culturally sensitive and fully contributing social citizens) among the growing generation of digital [savvy learners]. (Is Learning Increasingly Self-Directed in the Digital Era?)


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 12, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Helping Learners Move Beyond “I Can’t Do This”

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I work part-time with elementary learners – with gifted learners during the school year and teaching maker education camps during the summer. The one thing almost all of them have in common is yelling out, “I can’t do this” when the tasks aren’t completed upon first attempts or get a little too difficult for them. I partially blame this on the way most school curriculum is structured. Too much school curriculum is based on paper for quick and one shot learning experiences (or the comparable online worksheets). Students are asked to do worksheets on paper, answer end-of-chapter questions on paper, write essays on paper, do math problems on paper, fill in the blanks on paper, and pick the correct answer out of a multiple choice set of answers on paper. These tasks are then graded as to the percentage correct and then the teacher moves onto the next task.

So it is no wonder that when learners are given hands-on tasks such as those common to maker education, STEM, and STEAM, they sometimes struggle with their completion. Struggles are good. Struggles with authentic tasks mimics real life so much more than completing those types of tasks and assessments done at most schools.

Problems like yelling out, “I can’t do this” arise when the tasks get a little too difficult (but ultimately are manageable). I used to work with at-risk kids within Outward Bound-type programs. Most at-risk kids have some self-defeating behaviors including those that result in personal failure. The model for these types of programs is that helping participants push past their self-perceived limitations results in the beginnings of a success rather than a failure orientation. This leads into a success building upon success behavioral cycle.

A similar approach can be used with learners when they take on a “I can’t do this” attitude. Some of the strategies to offset “I can’t do this” include:

  • Help learners focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”
  • Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.
  • Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.
  • Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.
  • Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.
  • Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.
  • Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.
  • Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.
  • Avoid the urge to rescue them.
  • May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.
  • Build reflection into the learning process.
  • Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

moving beyond i can't

Focus on “I can’t do this . . .  YET.”

The use of “YET” was drawn from Carol Dweck’s work with growth mindsets.

Just the words “yet” or “not yet,” we’re finding give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence. And we can actually change students’ mindsets. In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections,and over time, they can get smarter. (Carol Dweck TED Talk: The power of believing that you can improve)

By asking learners to add “yet” to the end of their “I can’t do this” comments, possibilities are opened up for success in future attempts and iterations. It changes their fixed or failure mindsets to growth and possibility ones.

Teach learners strategies for dealing with frustration.

What often precedes learners yelling out, “I can’t do this” is that learners’ frustration levels have gotten a bit too high for them. Helping learners deal with their frustrations is a core skill related to their social-emotional development and helps with being successful with the given tasks.

The basic approach to helping a [student] deal with frustrating feelings is (a) to help them build the capability to observe themselves while they’re in the midst of experiencing the feeling, (b) to help them form a story or narrative about their experience of the feeling and the situation, and then (c) to help them make conscious choices about their behavior and the ways they express their feelings. (Tips for Parents: Managing Frustration and Difficult Feelings in Gifted Children)

You can help your [student] recognize that learning involves trial and error. Mastering a new skill takes patience, perseverance, practice, and the confidence that success will come. Instead of recognizing that failure is temporary, a [student] often concludes, “I’ll never succeed.” That is why encouragement is by far the most important gift you can give your frustrated [student]. Take her dejection seriously, but help her look at her challenge differently: “Never,” you might reply, “is an awfully long time.” Eventually, she’ll learn from your encouraging words to talk herself out of giving up. (Fight Frustration)

Encourage learners to ask for help from their peers.

I must tell both my gifted students and my summer campers several times a day to ask one of their classmates for help when they are stuck. I have a three before me policy in my classrooms, but sometimes when I tell them to ask for help, they look at me like I am speaking another language.  It makes sense, though, as they often have been socialized via school procedures to ask the teacher when they get stuck.

The following poster is going up in my classroom this coming year to remind them of the different possibilities for getting help if and when they get stuck on a learning task:


The bottom line becomes facilitating learner self-reliance knowing that these are skills learners can transfer to outside of school activities where there often is not a teacher to provide assistance.

Emphasize the processes of learning rather than its product.

School curriculum often focuses on the whats of learning – the products – rather than the hows of learning – the processes. When the focus changes to the process of learning, learners are less apt to feel the pressure to create quality products. “Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills and promotes meaningful learning experiences” (Engaging students in learning).

The biggest step an educator can take to implement a process-oriented learning environment is to let go of expectations about what a product should be. Expectations can and should be around learning processes such as: following through to the task completion, finding help when needed, trying new things, taking risks, creating and innovating, tolerating frustration, and attempting alternative routes when one route isn’t working.

Reframe mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for learning.

I’ve blogged about normalizing failure and mistake making in The Over Promotion of Failure: 

I reframe the idea of failure, that oftentimes occur within open-ended, ill-defined projects, as things didn’t go as originally planned. It is just a part of the learning process. I explain to my learners that they will experience setbacks, mistakes, struggles. It is just a natural part of real world learning. Struggles, setbacks, and mistakes are not discussed as failure but as parts of a process that need improving.


Contrary to what many of us might guess, making a mistake with high confidence and then being corrected is one of the most powerful ways to absorb something and retain it. Learning about what is wrong may hasten understanding of why the correct procedures are appropriate but errors may also be interpreted as failure. And Americans … strive to avoid situations where this might happen. (To Err Is Human: And A Powerful Prelude To Learning)

Scaffold learning; provide multiple opportunities to learn and build upon previous learning.

Many maker education, STEM, and STEAM activities require a skill set in order to complete them. For example, many of the learning activities I do with my students require the use of scissors, tape, putting together things. Even though some of the learners are as old as 6th grade, many lack these skills. As such, I do multiple activities that require their use. Learners are more likely to enjoy, engage in, and achieve success in these activities if related skills are scaffolded, repeated, and built upon.

In the process of scaffolding, the teacher helps the student master a task or concept that the student is initially unable to grasp independently. The teacher offers assistance with only those skills that are beyond the student’s capability. Of great importance is allowing the student to complete as much of the task as possible, unassisted. The teacher only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond his current capability. Student errors are expected, but, with teacher feedback and prompting, the student is able to achieve the task or goal. (Scaffolding)

 By allowing students to learn from their mistakes, or circling back through the curriculum will allow more students to access your instruction and for you to have a better understanding of where they are at with their learning.  Let’s face it, learning can be messy and if you try to put it into a simple box or say a single class period and then move on, it isn’t always effective.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Focus on mastery of learning; mastery of skills.

Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame has a philosophy that focuses on mastery of learning and skills that is applicable for all types of learning:

A problem, Khan says, is the next block of material builds on what the student was supposed to learn in the last lesson, and it’s usually more difficult to pick up. So a student learns only 75% of the material, we can’t expect that student to master the next section.

When students master concepts and learn at their own pace — all sorts of neat things happen. The students can actually master the concepts, but they’re also building their growth mindset, they’re building perseverance, they’re taking agency over their learning. And all sorts of beautiful things can start to happen in the actual classroom. (Sal Khan TED Talk Urges Mastery, Not Test Scores In Classroom)

This approach puts forward the notion that students should not be rushed through to more complex concepts without having the foundational knowledge needed to successfully transition to the next level.

Khan believes we should be teaching students to master the material before moving on, ensuring that students are given as much time and support as they need to tackle each new concept before trying to build upon it. As Khan says, you wouldn’t build the second floor of a house on a shaky foundation, otherwise it will collapse.

Mastery learning:

  • Reframes a student’s sense of responsibility, where performance is viewed as the product of instruction and practice, rather than a lack of ability.
  • Encourages a student to persevere and grasp knowledge they previously didn’t understand.
  • Gives students the time and opportunity as they need to master each step, instead of teaching to fixed time constraints.
  • Provides feedback and assessment throughout the learning process, not just after a major assessment. (Teaching for mastery)


Give learners tasks a little above their ability levels.

Giving learners tasks a little above their ability levels is actually a definition for differentiated instruction. It also helps to insure that new learning will occur; that learners will be challenged to go beyond their self-perceived limitations. ‘People can’t grow if they are constantly doing what they have always done. Let them develop new skills by giving challenging tasks” (15 effective ways to motivate your team). As learners overcome challenges, they will be more likely to take on new, even more challenging tasks.

Avoid the urge to rescue them.

I’ve had learners cry (even as old as 6th grade), get angry, sit down in frustration. Educators, by nature, are helpers. The tendency is for them to rescue learners from the stress and frustration of reaching seemingly unsurmountable challenges. But, and this is a big but, if educators do rescue them, then they are taking away learning opportunities, the possibility of the learner achieving success on his or her own.

May need to push learners beyond self-perceived limits.

This is the next step after not rescuing learners. The educator may have to push, encourage, cajole, coax, persuade, wheedle learners to go beyond what they thought possible. It is similar to a coach who really pushes her or his athletes. Sometimes it appears mean or callous. The big caveat to being successful with this strategy is that the educator must first have a good relationship with the leaners; that learners really understand that the educator has their best interests at heart.

Build reflection into the learning process.

Time needs to be built into the day or class period where students reflect on what they’ve learning and make meaning of it.  This helps with processing information as they reconcile it with their prior knowledge and work to make the information stick.  This is a great opportunity for thinking to be clarified, questions to be sought, or learning to be extended.  (Strategies and Practices That Can Help All Students Overcome Barriers)

Help learners accept an “it’s okay” when a task really is too hard (only as a last resort).

Yep – this is absolutely the last resort.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 24, 2017 at 11:47 pm

The Over Promotion of Failure

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Almost daily I see posts on social media by educators promoting the benefits of failure. It often seems that there is a push to intentional embed failure into instructional activities. This always rubs me the wrong way. Failure has almost universal negative connotations. It doesn’t feel good and sometimes it is extremely difficult, if impossible, to recover from big failures.

For the past several years we’ve been bombarded with advice about the “wisdom of failure.” Books by business giants and self-help gurus tout the importance of learning from mistakes. The problem with the focus on failure is that failure is a weak process when put up directly against its counterpart: success.

I want to be clear that I’m not against learning from failure. It’s certainly useful that humans have the rare biological luxury of being able to learn, non-lethally, from our failures — we can remember them, share stories about them, even laugh about them. And all the stories and lessons about what you can learn from failure represent real opportunities to do better. The problem is that none of the advice and literature on failure fairly compares learning from failure to learning from success.

We have to ask how abundant or common are useful failures compared to useful successes? If opportunities for learning are rare, it’s hard to make a practice out of them. Unfortunately, truly useful failures that change our thinking (as opposed to merely stupid failures that just confirm what we already should have known) are relatively rare. (

Focusing on success in practice does not translate in attempting to craft learning experiences into ones whereby learners have no struggles; achieve success or desired results on first attempts and iterations. In fact, I believe that authentic learning experiences should require multiple iterations prior to their successfully completion. This mimics real life learning.

The expectation then becomes that learners will struggle with their tasks, that they will focus from what went right and build upon these elements to have increasingly successful iterations within their process of learning the given task. I reframe the idea of failure, that oftentimes occur within open-ended, ill-defined projects, as things didn’t go as originally planned. It is just a part of the learning process. I explain to my learners that they will experience setbacks, mistakes, struggles. It is just a natural part of real world learning. Struggles, setbacks, and mistakes are not discussed as failure but as parts of a process that need improving. The focus becomes on what went right and on how learners can increase those aspects that were successful. The underlying learning principle becomes success breeds more success.

Learning from success is an active process that needs to become part of an organization’s culture. You just need to ensure that at least some of your “after action” reporting is dedicated to what went right. Even an event that was largely a failure probably has some small successes that need to be shared. (

Within this framework, learners then reflect on their learning experiences coming from a place of success with questions such as:

  • What specific actions did you take that were successful within your learning task?
  • What did you do to decrease your liabilities during your learning task?
  • What personal and social resources did you draw upon if and when you reached an impasse with your learning task?
  • What strategies did you use to self-regulate your setbacks and frustrations if and when they occurred during  your learning task?
  • What did you see as your major strengths during the learning task?
  • What aspects of your learning will you take into future learning experiences in order to increase your chances of being successful with similar tasks?


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 30, 2017 at 9:06 pm

Alternative Reality: The Propensity for Learning Rather Than the Potential for Learning

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I had the opportunity the learn about Dr. Reuven Feuerstein through Dr. Yvette Jackson at a National Urban Alliance conference almost 20 years ago. The biggest thing I took from the conference, that remains with me today, is that student potential assumes there is a limit, cap, or ceiling as to what can be learned. If students are perceived as having a propensity for learning, there is no cap. The apropos cliche becomes the sky is the limit.

Feuerstein is known for his groundbreaking work in cognitive modifiability; rejecting the idea that intelligence is fixed, he established the principle that all children can learn how to learn. (

Dr. Feuerstein’s beliefs can be summed up in the following quotes:

Human beings have the unique characteristic of being able to modify themselves no matter how they start out. Even in born barriers and traumas can be overcome with belief and the right mediation.

What if, instead of measuring a child’s acquired knowledge and intellectual skills, the ability to learn was evaluated first? And what if intelligence was not a fixed attributed, measurable once and for all?  What if intelligence can be taught and was in fact the ability to learn?” (

Most school settings focus on students’ deficiencies. If educators take the perspective that their students have a propensity for learning, then their focus becomes identifying and working with their strengths and prior knowledge. It is through accessing prior knowledge and student strengths that deficiencies can be addressed.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 22, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Education

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The Imperative of Experiential and Hands-On Learning

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For the past several decades, I have had my feet in both elementary education and teacher training and development. Regardless of age, grade level, and setting, I include hands-on and experiential learning as a integral part of my instruction. It is learning by doing with a reflective element which, in turn, creates conditions for deeply engaged learning.

Experiential education is a philosophy in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities. Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning. (What is EE)

One of my favorite expressions is “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  There’s lots of lip service about closing the achievement gap, serving marginalized populations, helping students gain 21st century skills, and preparing students for STEM-related careers. The problem is that the school systems working toward these changes are using a factory model of education prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries to do so. The changes that are being sought are not coming into fruition as different outcomes are expected out of doing more of the same thing. This is why I titled this post, The Imperative of Experiential and Hands On Learning. I believe that current instructional strategies need to be turned on their heads to achieve desired results and outcomes. Hands-on and experiential learning is used in some elementary schools but this diminishes as students get older. In too many high schools and colleges, instruction seems to occur through engaging the ears and sometimes the eyes (through visuals such as with slide presentations). Interestingly, though, a Study Finds 52% of U.S. Adults Say No. 1 Way to Learn is Through Active Participation, Followed by Visual Demonstration.

Some benefits of experiential and hands-on learning include:

  • Increases motivation and engagement.
  • Engages most of the senses.
  • Builds social emotional skills.
  • More likely to engage emotions.
  • Lots of brain activation.
  • Increases retention of learning.
  • Making mistakes becomes a natural part of the learning process.
  • Expands critical thinking skills.
  • Preparation for real life.


Increases motivation and engagement.

Hands-on learning is often lots of fun; and having fun increases engagement and motivation.

Hands-on activities encourage a lifelong love of learning and motivate students to explore and discover new things (Bass, et al.).(Case for Hands-On Learning)

Learning by doing allows students to become personally invested in their own learning process. Becoming actively engaged in their education builds confidence, as the lessons require students to rely on their own abilities to obtain knowledge. That confidence and self-reliance inspires students to embrace the learning process and enthusiastically seek out additional knowledge.   (Importance of a Hands-On Experience in the Elementary Classroom)

Engages the senses.

Hands-on and experiential learning often is multi-sensory learning often engaging sight, hearing, tactile kinesthetic senses as learners participate in the educational activities.

By definition, hands-on learning requires students to engage in the education process using multiple senses, including sight, hearing and touch. Known as multisensory learning, the hands-on teaching strategy engages the senses in a way that promotes learning comprehension on multiple levels.  (Importance of a Hands-On Experience in the Elementary Classroom)

More likely to engage emotions.

The personal nature of experiential learning engages the students’ emotions as well as enhancing their knowledge and skills. When students see the concrete fruits of their labor, they experience greater gratification and pride, thus enhancing their enthusiasm for continued learning.  (The Benefits of Experiential Learning)

Lots of brain activation.

When you combine activities that require movement, talking, and listening, it activates multiple areas of the brain. “The more parts of your brain you use, the more likely you are to retain information,” says Judy Dodge, author of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom (Scholastic, 2009). “If you’re only listening, you’re only activating one part of the brain,” she says, “but if you’re drawing and explaining to a peer, then you’re making connections in the brain.”(Hands-On is Minds-On)

Builds social-emotional skills.

Lots of social-emotional skills are addressed with hands-on, experiential learning.  Some of the specific skills that hands-on learning address are:

  • Goal-setting
  • Tolerance for frustration
  • Persistence
  • Asking for help
  • Working with others

Increases retention of learning.

When it comes to what learning methods work best, everyone is different, but the survey clearly demonstrates that hands-on training is favored by most Americans. Students who practice what they’re learning in a hands-on environment can often retain much more information when compared with sitting passively in a lecture room, so it’s not a surprise that hands-on training is the overwhelming favorite. (Majority of Americans Prefer Hands-On Training in Educational Settings, Survey Finds)

There is a huge increase in the amount of information that is retained by students who are given the opportunity to practice what they are learning in the form of hands-on training. When students sit and listen passively in a lecture-style environment, they retain 20 percent of the information. When they are given the chance to practice what they have just learned, that percentage increases to 75 percent. (What Are the Benefits of Hands-on Training?)

Making mistakes becomes a natural part of the learning process.

Experiential learning involves trial by error. As students engage in hands-on tasks, they find that some approaches work better than others. They discard the methods that don’t work, but the act of trying something and then abandoning it – ordinarily considered a “mistake” – actually becomes a valuable part of the learning process. Thus, students learn not to fear mistakes, but to value them. (The Benefits of Experiential Learning)

Expands critical thinking skills.

The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the “process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication.”  Hands-on learning allows students to experience a problem or task and make adjustments to improve outcomes. This “trial and error” exploration develops critical thinking and improves an understanding of abstract concepts that can be applied to real-life experience. (Improve Learning with Hands-on Activities)

Preparation for real life.

Experiential learning takes data and concepts and makes them “real” by applying them to hands-on tasks, with real results. As the student interacts with the information, it becomes real to them.

Many experiential learning projects are career-oriented, because they are, by nature, grounded in “real-world” activities. Through these activities, students start to discover and develop their own skills, aptitudes and passions. This discovery in turn sets them on a more defined path to college and careers. (The Benefits of Experiential Learning)


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 23, 2016 at 12:20 am

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