A Mind Full

Sir Ken Robinson, in his TED talk proposes that there are three principles that are crucial for the human mind to flourish and how we can see the opposite of these principles in our current education system:

  • Human beings are naturally different and diverse (No Child Left Behind policy is based upon conformity)*

*I find it interesting that the current undergraduate students are products of the former No Child Left Behind policies and that I see a lot of Robinson’s comments on this policy in the classroom.

  • Curiosity (the point of teaching is to facilitate learning; testing should not be the dominant culture)
  • Human life is inherently creative (culture of standardization)


Ellen Langer echoes Robinson’s principles in her explanation of mindful and mindlessness learning. She states, “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” (1997, p. 4).


So what does this mean to me as an instructor? It actually means a lot. When I started being an instructor of record, I thought back to my own experiences as an undergraduate student and my attitude towards learning. I had not been given any pedagogical instruction, only past syllabi to assist in planning my course. I needed ideas. What was it that excited me? What did professors do to engage me? I realized that they made me feel as if I was an intricate part of the learning process. They were willing to field my questions and listen to my ideas. They helped me express my creativity and go beyond my comfort zone when it came to choosing topics for class presentations or final projects. I was never told outright that I was wrong or that I just didn’t get it. I was usually given a “clue” and asked to retrace my steps to find a different outcome on my own.

“Look! A clue!”

My next thought was how to incorporate these things into my classroom. First I thought about the physical space and I would agree with Mike Wesch, “The physical structure of the classrooms in which I work simply does not inspire dialogue and critical thinking. They are physical manifestations of the pervasive narrow and naïve assumption that learning is simple information gathering, built for teachers to effectively carry out the relatively simple task of conveying information” (Wesch, 6). I wanted to convey information but not as the typical “sage on the stage.” Again, this semester I am trying the no electronic device approach to conveying information. I felt that electronic devices, while connecting students virtually, hindered their connections in the physical realm. In my experience, students seemed more apt to take notes on their laptops when I spoke, but were reluctant to see the possible learning in the questions and comments of their peers. So far, there has been success. Students are attentive. They are asking questions of each other and me. Discussion is lively and thoughtful. Is this the answer? I don’t think so. I know I have to be flexible and adaptable. Each semester has been and will be a new experience and experiment with my “teaching style.”