Just what is Mindful Learning?
Outline of Mindful Learning
Where there is pressure in classrooms to make ‘progress’ and have ‘pace’ sometimes the question and answer technique used by teachers limits creative engagement in the lesson and therefore the learning. I believe it is also behind some of the engagement issues, and therefore behaviour problems, we can experience as teachers.
There can be a tendency to have very closed and limiting questioning sessions. This is not questioning for understanding but instead a check that students can say back to you what you told them. There is no application of learning being asked for. This “tell me what I told you” style is made even more ineffective when the teacher waits for the shortest of times before either giving the answer or re phrasing the question. In such circumstances I can tell you that students learn to wait rather than offer an answer they are unsure of.
We can so easily enter the world of mindless learning where there are only right and wrong answers, only those answers that satisfy the assessment criteria and memorising facts without understanding the context.
To ensure we promote mindful learning requires only a small change to both the manner of questioning and how we respond to the answers we as teachers are given.
Let me provide an example:
Question: What are the three states matter can exist in?
Here we have a very limiting question, it focus not on understanding or the context but purely on recall. It excludes creative thought so powerful in providing anchors for long term memory and aiding understanding.
An analysis of the question itself tells us a number of things. The children in the class are being told there are only three states and being asked to name all of them at once.
- What if they can think of only one or two, should they attempt an answer?
- What if they think they can suggest four?
In this example there is a right or wrong learning atmosphere with high stakes. No one likes to be thought of as foolish or wrong!
Silence will often greet such questions with the teacher providing the answer after the shortest of pauses or asking the same question in yet another mindless way by giving clues turning it into a guessing game.
Question: In what states can matter exist that we know of? or In what states do we think matter exists? (Both are examples of questions that promote mindful learning.)
Like the question from teacher A, an analysis of the question itself tells us a number of things. This time the children in the class are being asked to contribute what they know or believe to be part or all of the answer.
There is no right or wrong, no limiting number and all contributions are openly encouraged. The child that can think of one or four can contribute and the resulting discussion can help to reinforce the learning. Depending on how the answers are responded to we can have inclusive discussion and avoid a high stakes situation. The teacher can learn more about how the class are responding to their teaching and the degree of understanding of the material. Follow up questions are easily added, such as ‘Why do you think that?’, “Who agrees/disagrees with the list we have so far?”
Instead of silence I have found students are eager to contribute what they know when questioning is presented in a mindful way.
Changing the way we teach
It is my belief we can bring about great improvements in teaching and learning through the adoption of a mindful approach. As David Brailsford, UK cycling and now Team Sky cycling coach (1), would say it’s down to ‘marginal gains’.
If you want to challenge me then send me a question and I will ensure it can be asked in a mindful way.
1) David Brailsford on marginal gains interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBY3q8TqoXY