Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Life-Changing Dance

I'm currently working on a revision of the Architecture of Learning Basic Course. In an apparently analogy-minded moment, I wrote the following Introduction to the Course Book:
Why is effective teaching such a challenge?

On its surface, teaching seems like a simple activity. The teacher teaches, explaining or demonstrating some new concept or skill, and the student learns, absorbing and remembering the new material.

Watch what happens when we apply that same perspective to a different profession. On its surface, performing surgery seems like a simple activity. The surgeon operates, opening a human body and repairing or removing some internal malady, and the patient cooperates, showing up in the operating room and healing nicely when all is said and done.

Reduced to this level anything appears deceptively simple. However, every surgeon knows that operating is far more complex than this description suggests. Likewise, every teacher knows that fostering learning requires more than an explanation or demonstration provides.

Why? Because the human brain is not a computer; input≠output. On its way to becoming a recallable memory, new data passes through an embodied brain—a world of dazzling networks and constant activity. This world provides the setting for learning’s dance. The ballet begins, and dancers enter and exit as concepts blend and patterns emerge. Past experiences come out of storage to mingle with new data entering the stage via the senses. If the dance continues, the new data transforms into meaningful memories that can be called out of storage for future performances. This improvisational movement is learning. The teacher’s task is to provide the music that sparks this neuronal dance.

Now teaching does not seem so simple, does it?

In addition to the complexity of students’ inner worlds, external elements further complicate our work. Technology offers us an immense and ever-growing collection of tools—many of which feature enough bells and whistles to qualify as computerized cacophony if not used effectively. How do we design teaching that uses the best tools at optimal points in learning’s unplanned choreography?

Kevin Kelly, a writer and observer of “cyberculture,” offers a helpful insight: “Complexity that works is built up out of modules that work perfectly, layered one over the other.” This quote works well as an explanation of Architecture of Learning. Strands that possess an inner consistency are layered according to focus. As the focus shifts from one “layer” to another, students engage in the mental activities that compose learning’s dance. The Architecture of Learning Blueprints help the teacher select and sequence “music” that awakens students’ neurons.

You are invited to join learning’s dance. As you move through this course, think deeply about the ideas you encounter. Have the courage to try new approaches. Permit yourself to become a learner—a student—as you enrich your professional capacity to design instruction.

Then return to teaching, recognizing the challenge, but eager to invite your students to the life-changing dance that is learning.

Hoping you've invited your students to the dance today!

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