On Anti-Teaching and Mindful Learning: Keeping an open mind

My first reaction to this week’s topics was not very promising. The term “anti-teaching” elicited an unspoken “What?” in my head. The phrase “mindful learning” was also confusing to me – can one really learn anything mindlessly? Of course I had not done any reading at this point, and I had to remind myself to keep an open mind.

After all was said and done, I have to admit that there were still ideas and pronouncements that I found difficult to wrap my head around, but at the same time, I appreciate the passion and advocacy of Michael Wesch and Ellen Langer, because I share the same commitment to fostering student success. If anything, I found that their heart is in the right place, and their ideas provide great starting points for reflection and discourse.

I agree with Michael Wesch that it is important for students to “find meaning and significance in their education.” As someone who was also a student at one point in time, I can certainly see how it can be easy to fall into a cycle of merely trying to “survive,” of, for example, desperately trying to remember which formulas to use for what type of problem – at least until after the test is done. It is when one finds the “so what?” and sees what role today will play in the future that deep and meaningful learning can occur.

That being said, I found it difficult to relate to the notion that “teaching can be a hindrance to learning.” While I do see where Wesch is coming from, I found myself arguing that maybe there is only a certain context ascribed to teaching that may end up detrimental to student learning. Maybe if we thought of teaching as more of an act of facilitating learning as opposed to talking at students, it would not be such a hindrance to the learning process, at least when hindrance is taken in the context of what Michael Wesch was talking about. For this concept, I find Barr and Tagg’s (1995) article on the shift to the Learning Paradigm particularly interesting and informative.

I also found it hard to read that learning “the basics” so that they become “second nature” as a “myth.” When I read Langer’s Mindful Learning, I began to associate the concept with intentional learning as discussed by Jeanne Ormrod (2012) in her book Human Learning. While I also see where Langer is coming from, I believe that there is value in learning certain things to automaticity, to a point where they become second nature; if anything, it is because we have learned some things to automaticity that we are able to learn in a mindful and intentional manner, because it is at that point where we have the luxury of focusing on what truly matters.

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4 Responses to On Anti-Teaching and Mindful Learning: Keeping an open mind

  1. Jariah says:

    I believe we had the same first reactions to this week’s reading without reading it yet, “anti-teaching what?”. I found the article very interesting as well, you mentioned that teaching should be looked at as “an act of facilitating learning” instead of talking at or lecturing at students I completely agree. It clicked for me when Wesch or maybe Dr. Nelson mentioned the phrase “School isn’t for everyone” now lets replace the ‘school’ word with ‘learning’ it is like saying learning isn’t for everyone. I used to say “school isn’t for everyone” all the time until next week, it is not that learning is not for everyone it is the way in which ‘school’ brings forth the content. Sorry to go off on a rant but long story short I agree with you. Thanks for sharing!

  2. mnorris says:

    I completely agree about automaticity. The more of your processing power you spend on rote tasks,the less you have for discovering patterns and relationships. You have to have basics to work with–be they facts or skills. The problem is when school becomes only rote learning.

  3. Jyotsana says:

    Thank you for your post Michelle. I believe I understand mindful learning by Langer a little differently than you did in your post. While I do understand that it may be comfortable and appropriate at times to learn things as “second nature”, the fact that Langer proposes the concept of “unconditional teaching and learning” makes it impossible to learn anything for rote learning purposes, i.e., if one believes that there is no absolute truth or one correct answer then how would one stay comfortable in learning a few things for automaticity?!

  4. Kyriakos Tsoukalas says:

    I agree with you that learning automatically is essential to surviving. There is multi-dimentionality in learning, because the context within which we learn is ever-changing. Thus I agree with you “that we are able to learn in a mindful and intentional manner,” because these are not the only ways that we can learn and other ways support such learning. There is no conflict between different ways of learning other than our linguistic classifications. “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman comes into mind, it classifies two systems to discuss the ways of one system, the human mind.

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