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

It’s October! – The role of RELAX in Learning how to learn…

Well, all US educators know… October is that CRAZY month where you get rolling in the school year and everything is so busy.  The whole month is an orange blur of meetings, and parent conferences, and planning, and more meetings and functions.  Exhausting!  Well, it shows because everyone, including me has been waaay too busy to write for our wonderful blog. It’s OK because I think everyone has been way too busy to read anything but their planner anyway!  Educators work so darn hard!!

I’m just coming up for air, myself,  from launching our website, WOOHOO! Have you seen it?  guidedinquirydesign.com I’ve also been doing some PD around the country, leading our sixth, (yeah, you read that right SIXTH) GID Institute in Norman, Oklahoma. I’ve also been to Alexandria, Virginia working with some dedicated librarians there. Then back in Colorado, I have been designing an awesome webinar that I’m presenting tomorrow. (Who’s joining me?) Oh, and I’ve been completing the final edits and getting the Guided Inquiry Design in Action: High School ready for production so it WILL come out at the end of December 2016!  Phew… And that’s the short list.  So, lots of Action in our Guided Inquiry this month!

I love presenting to new audiences, because I have to go through the inquiry process myself while researching for my presentation.  It’s so energizing to create. I sometimes find resources that make me think of people with whom I have worked and send them a shout out on twitter or and email.  I always find something interesting and new.

This time I found a few things that are worthy of mention for more than just a few folks in shout out form. You all know that Guided Inquiry Design has a huge component of learning how to learn. As GID practitioners, we help our students to reflect not only on WHAT they are learning but HOW they learned it.

Students reflect in Inquiry Journals and in conversation with one another. So a major part learning through inquiry is learning about the process that they are going through.  The inquiry process. The other part of learning how to learn is becoming aware of the strategies students used that helped them, like the Inquiry Tools. This goes beyond naming the tools, but students are expected to express the way the Inquiry Tool helped them to learn. Learning how to learn in these two ways are key aspects of teaching inquiry-based learning through Guided Inquiry Design. (For some more info, here’s a free webinar on the inquiry tools and learning how to learn. :D)

Our basic thinking about learning how to learn through inquiry is really important to student learning, but when I found the Ted Talk by Barbara Oakley, a engineering professor at Oakland University on “Learning How to Learn”, I was intrigued and wanted to watch to expand my own thinking and make connections from her ideas to GID.  After I watched. I was glad that I had.  There are some really fun new ideas and some that are clearly linked to the components of GID.

Here’s the Ted Talk so you can watch for yourself.

Barbara Oakley TEDTALK

Barbara Oakley TEDTALK  

First of all, Barbara about 8 minutes in makes the point that Dali and Edison two very creative people who had strategies that helped them when they got stuck in the creative process. Their strategy was similar. They both, when feeling stuck, stopped what they were doing, sat in a relaxing chair and did something relaxing with their hands – one played with keys (Dali) or the other with ball bearings (Edison) until they nearly fell asleep. So they each took time out of their creating to relax and reflect. Their strategy is a lot like what we talk about in GID – “read, relax, and reflect”  or “pause and ponder”!  What we are saying is that relaxation and creativity have a relationship, and in schools we can foster that relationship and help students to learn to relax as a strategy for persevering through a creative process, like inquiry just like Edison and Salvador Dali! How inspirational!

Sometimes a simple thing can do a whole lot.  How can you set up a relaxing environment where kids can take a thinking break in inquiry even during class.  Makes me think of the flexible classroom seating that’s all the rage this year.  In those flexible spaces in classrooms and libraries there would be a lot of different seating arrangements so kids could walk away from a project and purposely take a few minutes maybe 5-10 to just chill out and relax in a chair more conducive to relaxation rather than focused attention.  Maybe headphones would help remove them from the room in a way that could facilitate their relaxation.

You could do a whole class relaxation exercise as well.  A visual thinking or brain break with some music that has no lyrics.  But I think having students know when they need a break is important, so the flexible brain break like Dali and Edison would be good to implement.

Implementing some relaxation within inquiry might really improve the creativity and show kids it’s ok to take a break sometimes.

More connections on this TED Talk and learning how to learn tomorrow!

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author of GID