Race Cars, Mental Agility, and Hikers – Strategies for Slow Thinking in Inquiry

Yesterday I wrote about the role of relaxation in learning.  Educators across the globe are working to help our students to embody Carol Dweck’s  growth mindset.  Educators are also talking and thinking about mindfulness in education. Well, in Guided Inquiry these two things are occurring in practice while students are learning.

Daniel Kahneman (2011) in his book Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow talks about two different kinds of thinking.

  • System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious
  • System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious source

When we engage students in an extended study, such as inquiry, where we are seeking longer term learning and deeper learning, we strive for the learning of System 2.

In Guided Inquiry Design, we recognize the importance of slowing down the thinking especially in the Explore and Identify phases.  In our book, we describe the strategy of “Read, Relax, and Reflect” on (page 79) and highlight the action of “Pause and Ponder” in Identify phase (page 95), but there’s even more than that!

Barbara Oakley in her TED talk spoke of the Pomodoro Technique that provides frequent brain breaks between concentrated work times.  These brain breaks help learners to practice the ability to have focused attention and can enhance mental agility going from focused to relaxed.

As a classroom strategy, from a teacher effectiveness perspective, it seems like not only a technique that would enhance the overall tenor in the classroom, but also teach students an internal lesson about how breaks help their mental processing!  I also find it interesting that the Pomodoro Technique is being sold as a way to have a better “work life balance”.  This is a 21st Century skill as work is changing because we are always “on” with the use of technology.  So, mental breaks are worth implementing in a deep learning environment where students are working on ideas over an extended period of time. Focused attention mixed with short breaks facilitates deeper learning and connection.  It also might make us happier.

Barbara continues to compare learners to race car drivers or hikers when she describes slow thinking. When we hike, we look around.  In a car, we zoom by and can’t capture the details.  I love this analogy because I love to hike and I love the natural beauty of our world so I often take photos of nature. Here’s a photo I took while in a car.  Beautiful shot of the Flatirons, right?

Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado

Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado

And here are two photos I took while hiking.  Notice the difference in detail that I could capture. My experience hiking was deeper and more sensory and perhaps even profound!

img_1238 img_1240

Let’s relate this slow thinking of a hiker to inquiry-based learning. Looking at a page and looking away to see what you can recall is a strategy Barbara describes as an effective technique that “builds profound neural hooks that help to increase your understanding of the material”.  This is exactly what we describe the simple strategy of “Recall, Summarize, Paraphrase, and Extend” (p. 85) to reflect in Inquiry Journals in the Explore phase. Physically looking away from the text or experience and having to recall is a mental skill worth developing. We also describe the “Stop and Jot” while reading in Explore. Looking away from the text and jotting some ideas that you recall has a deeper effect than the typical highlighting of the page and leaving the highlights there.  The highlighter creates that false confidence in learning.

As teachers highlighting is an easy evidence based assessment of what students read and thought was important. And we can do it at a glance.  But the journal response of their recall would be a better indicator of knowledge development.

Learning how to learn in inquiry requires us to facilitate that learning by helping our students slow way down.  The strategies seem simple, and they are, but the challenge for us is making the time to implement them in our daily practice in the tempo of schools that seems to be racing along like a race car round the track.

Be a hiker. SLOW down and enjoy the experience and learning that results.

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author Guided Inquiry

Rutgers University the Birthplace of Guided Inquiry Design

It is going to be a very exciting, challenging and transforming week for Guided Inquiry. This week, the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CiSSL) will host the 4th Fourth Residential 
CiSSL Summer Institute: “Guided Inquiry for Student Learning” to take place on the Rutgers Campus from Tuesday evening 19th July to Friday 22nd July.

CiSSL Anticipation

It is exciting for several reasons. First, Rutgers University is the birth-place of Guided Inquiry! Rutgers Distinguished Professor Emerita Carol Kuhlthau’s groundbreaking research over several decades generated the highly cited and acclaimed “Information Search Process” model. This model has shaped a considerable number of research agendas around the world, and is the research-validated basis for “Guided Inquiry Design”, the constructivist approach to empowering and enabling students to engage with information in all its forms and formats, to develop their own deep knowledge and understanding, to think critically, creatively and reflectively, and to be innovative thinkers that empower global, social and cultural wellbeing and change.

Second, Distinguished Professor Emerita Carol Kuhlthau, together with Dr. Leslie Maniotes, who are co-authors and developers of Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century and Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in your School will be the Institute leaders! Participating teams will have a wonderful opportunity to engage directly with the experts! Get right to the source, so to speak. It simply does not get better than that!

Third, the Guided Inquiry Institute will be design in action. Participating teams will engage in active, design-based thinking, sharing and critiquing ideas together, reflecting and reporting, shaping and reshaping, building and rebuilding. Having attended previous Institutes through CiSSL, this will be a thrilling and empowering process. I know. Participants will engage directly with the design process as they develop an inquiry unit for their schools. The professional development cycle, for each participating team, will be directly experiencing the process in a richly personalized, attentive and collaborative way.

Fourth, participating teams in this year’s Guided Inquiry Institute will be part of history making at Rutgers University. This year, Rutgers University is celebrating its 250th anniversary, and its theme is “Rutgers. Revolutionary for 250 Years.” On November 10th, 1766, William Franklin, the last colonial Governor of New Jersey, signed the charter establishing Queen’s College, the predecessor of Rutgers University, and New Brunswick was chosen as the place. The first classes were held in a tavern in the city! The first graduation was held in 1774, and the title of the graduation address, given by Rusten Hardenbergh, was titled “The advantages of education”. It wasn’t until 1825 that Queens College was renamed Rutgers University, in honor of Colonel Henry Rutgers a Revolutionary War hero.

This is probably a long winded way to say that Rutgers’ tradition of revolutionary teaching, research, and service has endured for nearly 250 years. Guided Inquiry is up there with the best of Rutgers has offered for 250 years. You are experiencing the best.

Fifth, participants will experience a game-changing pedagogical process. One of the great and unforgettable experiences for me during this Rutgers year of celebration was to be part of the university’s graduation where President Barak Obama was the graduation speaker. For me, it was a truly remarkable day. I have to say I was excited to be there to hear him in person, and to cheer on as he was awarded a Doctor of Laws honoris causa. Regardless of his (and your) politics, his words from his Rutgers address are the spirit of inquiry: “In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not keeping it real or telling it like it is”. (Full speech is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQ9jJm_q5Jo).

Guided Inquiry is revolutionary. It is visionary. It is a powerful approach to learning for breaking down intellectual walls, opening windows and doors to the world of ideas, and making a very real contribution to the development of a thinking nation. Be part of this journey. It will be game-changing.

Dr Ross J Todd

Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Library and Information Science

Director, Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL)

School of Communication & Information

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey