Back, but not in the saddle

I’ve been trying to write this post for about a week now.  A friend told me some time ago that blogging is a “use it or lose it” venture.  One of the things I took off my plate during Track & Field season (girls 12-2, boys 13-1, thanks for asking) was this blog.  Unfortunately, during my absence, some wonderful things have happened with the Spanish PLT and in my own reading that I’m dying to share.  So hopefully they will come to light in the next few posts.

Another thing that I realized as I fired up my Google Reader for the first time in ages (although not before marking as “read” the thousands of Fast Company posts) it occurred to me just how sorely I missed my PLN and how much I have to tell you (all…three of you is it?).  Let me summarize:

The PLT has been blazing away at essential learnings and learning targets.  We have become proficient with the rubric that we wrote during the first semester, and we are currently knee-deep in a conversation about “what and why are we assessing.”  Fortunately, my good friend and co-facilitator @professeurb2 is there to feed me oxygen.  You see, she relishes these conversations while I stress out about the “to do’s” on our list.  We make a good team.

I’ve been gobbling up some fantastic books lately (which somewhat undoes my “why I abandoned my blog during track season” thesis, but oh well) and I can’t wait to explore those here as well.  In the last two + months I finished Mindset, reconnected with Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, was charmed by Ken Robinson’s The Element, met and immediately became enamored of Steven Johnson with his Invention of Air, and am now about half-way through Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer.  Although I’m a bit weak on data points, I’ve developed a theory that buying a Kindle makes one a psychotically voracious reader.  And poor.

Some questions milling about:

Can I adjust my language in the classroom in such a way as to promote Dweck’s “growth mindset”?  Is it going to require dozens of sticky notes reminding me to undo my 30 years of quality, fixed mindset programming?

Robinson alludes to Robert Sternberg’s three types of intelligence: analytic, creative, and practical intelligence.  Based on Robinson’s distillation of these three modalities, there are, as I see it, direct applications to the foreign language classroom?  How can I make available to my students opportunities to demonstrate these very different types of intelligence?  Please send your ideas, lesson plans, and assessments to teds@westminster.net.  Times Roman font 11 is preferred.

This one stings a little.  Joshua Foer spent some significant amounts of time with so-called “memory champs” and after a few months of tutelage, himself became a competitive memory athlete.  In the process he writes an entertaining and insightful, if sometimes aimless, account of brain research; practical application of memory training and altogether impractical uses for memory (hint: costumes and beer are involved).  This book, so far, has led me to question why memory devices are not taught in schools.  Despite the full frontal assault on rote memorization by the educational world in recent decades, we still ask students to memorize an astounding amount of stuff.  Why not equip them with the tools to do so?  If a student employs Simonides’ 2500 year old “memory palace” technique would that not open up a significant amount of time for him to pursue more sought-after “21st century skills?”  And if the so-called “art of memory” was a major component of a classical education back in the pre-Dewey era, is there any reason that it should not be reintroduced?

My most recent question came to me on my ride home this afternoon.  In his keynote at GISA 2010, Sir Ken Robinson mentioned that remembering is an act of imagination.  Would it not follow then that the type of radical remembering achieved by Foer’s memory athletes is, in a sense, a formed of fine-tuned imagination?  Does memorization of facts preclude creativity in the classroom?  Or do we need to take a second look at memorization as a creative process, one very utilitarian in its end?

Foer punctuates this point by mentioning that the mother of the Muses in Greek mythology is none other than Mnemosyne, Greek goddess of memory.  That one’s been gnawing at me for a day and a half.

I’m glad to be back.  I hope to hear from all three of you soon.

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4 Responses to Back, but not in the saddle

  1. Ted,
    Foer’s book is one of the next ones on my reading list, and you’ve made me more excited to read it. I do think you are right that we should be teaching students techniques like the memory palace memorization to make better use of their brains, but I wouldn’t stop there. Why not have a whole course on understanding your brain, and use it introduce students to some of the latest findings in brain research and its implications for learning, and their daily lives. Dweck has done this to some degree with her brainology curriculum. Could this be a way to revamp the traditionally boring “study skills” class offered at many schools?

    • tsadtler says:

      A few days ago I daydreamed about teaching a “you and your brain” course to 6th graders. I say daydream because I’m wholly unqualified to teach such a class.

      • Megan Howard says:

        I am happy to serve as you fully unqualified co-lead for this class, Ted. I have a “human learning” textbook from my Klingenstein days which may or may not sit on my bedside table!

  2. Bo Adams says:

    Glad to have you back in the blogosphere. You push my thinking in wonderful ways.

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