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

No Cheese Fondue, but What About Wheat Fields, North Dakota, and a Small Town Girl’s Guided Inquiry Story?

My name is Buffy Edwards and I am the Library Information Specialist for Norman Public Schools, the most awesome school district in the state of Oklahoma (and country!). I also have the privilege of being the Teacher Librarian at Dimensions Academy Alternative School here in Norman. Thank you Leslie for this awesome opportunity of sharing.  Thank you also to Kelsey, your compliment was so kind and I appreciate it.  I want you all to know that Kelsey’s pretty amazing in her own right and she won’t tell you that she was just awarded the Outstanding New Librarian Award by the Oklahoma Library Association.  You rock!Buffy

Here’s a little background on me. I’m originally from Wimbledon, North Dakota, population 211 counting dogs, cats, and goldfish. Lots of people are afraid of the winter up there and rightfully so — it can be brutal.

I don't see anything to be concerned about!!! Ha ha!

Main street in the blizzard of 1966. I don’t see anything to be concerned about!!! Ha ha!

I would argue that there is nothing more beautiful than a fresh snowfall in winter or a field of wheat waving in the wind in the summer.  The area where I grew up is prime farming country. If you’ve never experienced it, the sound of the wheat dancing back and forth almost sounds like water washing on the shores of a beach. I am the youngest of seven children. My hard working mother, widowed at 38 with seven children and a 10th grade education, instilled in me that adversity wasn’t an excuse and I could anything if I set my mind to it.  

My dream was to teach music in a rural K-12 school in ND.  WHAT?  Yep, but that didn’t happen because as I was earning my music degree, my work study ‘stuck’ me in the library. Of all places, the library! What it turned out to be was something wonderful and I became so interested in the behind the scenes working of a library that my life course changed completely and I found myself in Norman, Oklahoma pursuing my MLIS. Now, you are probably wondering how the leap was made to school libraries and I would be too. Newly married to a wheat harvester — wheat harvest is a hard work, gypsy lifestyle where you travel from Texas to Canada harvesting grains, milo, corn etc. — we decided a school year coincided more closely to the harvest trail so I used my education background with my MLIS and found myself in a perfect fit landing in an elementary school library. I was home and it was in that first job I experienced how school libraries change lives. A passion for teaching and learning, a love for working with young, creative minds and a drive that is as fierce as the Oklahoma winds, I am still going strong. Now I have K-12 experience and still love them all! Oh yes, along the way I earned my PhD in Instructional Psychology and Technology – NEVER stop learning. This is now my 28th year in public education (25 of those years in Norman) working in school libraries and I LOVE my profession.  Did I mention I love what I do?   I guess that’s what happens when you are doing something that doesn’t seem like work. Transforming the learning and lives of children through school libraries is truly a blessing and I value each and every day.

And now on to Guided Inquiry and Dr. Leslie Maniotes.  As Kelsey shared yesterday, we lucky folks in Norman had the opportunity to learn about Guided Inquiry from the master herself. Thank you @Normanps!  I think I’ve been a Leslie ‘groupie’ long before she came to Norman though – I read (no, devoured) her professional writing and one year I was at AASL, fought to get in a room where she was presenting, squeezed into a packed row of chairs with almost no space between them to learn about Guided Inquiry. I couldn’t breathe! It was so hot in the room, I was seeing someone whose work I had read, believed in what she said, but …… could not stand to stay in the room because I thought I was going to be sick. Are you kidding me? Yes, I had to leave.  I was sooooooo mad but little did I know I would be able to tell her my story face-to-face one day.  We had a good laugh!  

Buffy discussing Choice Board project formats with English IV students.

Buffy discussing Choice Board project formats with English IV students.

 

So here we are to today and now I must get more serious in my writing. As a Teacher Librarian at Dimensions Academy, a K-12 alternative school, we have started implementing Guided Inquiry and it has been challenging but rewarding. Challenging because students are content with a prescriptive education model –teachers tell them topics, teachers tell them questions, teachers tell them format, it’s just the way it’s been done for a long, long time.  GI makes them step way outside that comfort zone and really think for themselves (that’s beautiful thing when that happens BTW).   Our school has been traditionally more packet/worksheet driven due to the nature of academic needs of students so the idea of a GI unit was very new and different. Following the GI institute with Leslie last October, where our English IV teacher, science teacher, social studies teacher and myself planned the unit, we took a leap of faith to implement it and did it ever pay off!  The instructional unit planned was done primarily through English IV where students were given the opportunity to earn credits in multiple content areas. So for example, a student who needed to recover credits in social studies, could focus their project with more emphasis in the subject content area while still meeting English IV standards.  It was amazing – students were really motivated to earn those multiple credits. I will share a little more about this unit later in my posts BUT there is a whole chapter about  this unit, written by yours truly, in Leslie’s new GI book for high school. This project required students to learn to trust in themselves and the process. When they were able to open their hearts to learning, great things happened for them.  Students who were initially in the class only in body became really involved in their own learning. Once we helped them understand it would all come together, they let go of the anxiety and replaced it with drive for their own learning.

 

Africa Mission Trip Feedback Carousel (1)

Feedback Carousel using Vis-a-Vis pens on the desk. (Kids Loved writing on the desks!)

Kelsey mentioned that we are on the same team developing a very cool Guided Inquiry unit for 5th grade science and we will share details about the unit through our back and forth blog over the next two weeks.  

It’s been a pleasure sharing with you today.   Oh yes, and I forgot to say that I visit my home state of North Dakota as often as I can (during the decent weather months) and it is still as beautiful as ever.  I never, ever forget my upbringing and really wouldn’t change it I guess because it made me who am I.  The message I want kids to learn by my actions is that by all measures, I probably should have been a failure but nobody told me that so I just went ahead and carved my own path and continue to work for success.  

Buffy Edwards

Teacher Librarian/Guided Inquiry Groupie  

Norman Public Schools

Norman, Oklahoma