Don’t Go for the Presliced Experience

“A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continuous creation of new categories; openness to new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective. Mindlessness, in contrast, is characterized by an entrapment in old categories; by automatic behavior that precludes attending to new signals; and by action that operates from a single perspective. Being mindless, colloquially speaking, is like being on automatic pilot.”

Ellen Langer, “The Power of Mindful Learning”

Promoting mindfulness in learning is a concept that I think is extremely important in providing students with real tools that they can use instead of just checking the boxes of a curriculum. After reading the first chapter in the book, “The Power of Mindful Learning,” by Ellen Langer, I was really struck by how prevalent rote learning really is and how ineffective it can be. I also really enjoyed the many musical examples that she used.

It was very interesting/alarming to see how creativity is stifled when people are taught using traditional techniques. Throughout my educational experience, the majority of the classes I have taken relied primarily on the ideas of memorization and repetitive practice to master concepts. I think that this culture of teaching and learning is especially prevalent in the field of mechanical engineering, which I find ironic because one of the main duties of an engineer will be to solve problems in creative ways. It is essential that engineers can adapt the skills that they learn to novel situations that often do not have well defined constraints. Adopting a mindful approach would be a much better method for educating engineers, and really all students.

I also connected with the idea of “Sideways Learning” and how the methods we use to partition skills actually prevents true mastery of the information.

“Mindfulness creates a rich awareness of discriminatory detail. Theories that suggest that we learn best when we break a task down into discrete parts do not really make possible the sort of learning that is accomplished through mindful awareness of distinctions. Getting our experience presliced undermines the opportunity to reach mindful awareness. Sideways learning, however, involves attending to multiple ways of carving up the same domain.”

Ellen Langer, “The Power of Mindful Learning”

It is so important to real understanding that we are not just taking our “presliced” knowledge. To truly understand, you must look at the whole and dissect it for yourself; discovering the different parts and having the freedom to explore it from all points of reference. Learning in a mindful environment promotes this type of thinking.

I also really appreciated the discussion that Langer included about pianists and the idea that a truly amazing performance requires not only mastery of the technical parts of the music, but also the ability to convey the emotion and the performers individual adaptation of the music to create a unique performance. I thought this was a great demonstration of how important mindfulness can be.

“If a pianist is preoccupied with the voluntary, manipulable end of the spectrum of neurological possibilities, this preoccupation resounds in the music. The performance sounds calculated, not shaped from a spontaneous response. Hence critics often comment on virtuosos who, for all their technical brilliance, are unfeeling, or mechanical, or characterless, and so on.”

Ellen Langer, “The Power of Mindful Learning”

Teachers must change their material to be more mindful, but they can also incorporate the lesson of the pianist into their pedagogy by not just being a master of the material but also learning how to convey it in a mindful way.

The best part is that Langer found that students actually liked the experience of mindful learning more than traditional memorization techniques. This makes sense to me. Students want to succeed and they also want to be able to express their creative and unique ideas.

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2 Responses to Don’t Go for the Presliced Experience

  1. Jyotsana says:

    Thank you for your post Abram! I like the way you processed through the reading and synthesized that in this blog post. The idea of holistic learning is not new, it has been floating around for a long time…just that educators have not been paying attention. I’m thinking of some of the discussion we had in class about some professors wanting the classes to remain the same and not put in much effort into recreating over and over…but you see how a shift in perspective can result in an entirely different trajectory, right?! And the cool thing is that we, the educators of tomorrow can play a part in shaping the future of higher education.

    • abramds says:

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that its all about being willing to shift our perspective. I also feel fortunate to be in a classroom with so many people who are so knowledgable and passionate about teaching.

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