Mindful Learning

The piece this week that resonated most with me was Ellen Langer’s Mindful Learning. Having been an education reporter at a daily newspaper, I am well aware of the recent arguments in favor of not teaching the “same old way” it’s always been done.

Especially with the advent of No Child Left Behind, grade and high school teachers are trying to find new ways of teaching that still make sure students learn what they need to know for the state tests. Teachers in younger grades know that one size does not fit all for students – some students like to wiggle more than others, some are content to listen and remain quiet – and the teachers work to reach all their students.

Why then, when students come to college, do we as instructors rely on our old PowerPoint and lecture methods to present information? (Why also, do we have 200-person intro classes? But that’s another story). If it didn’t work for 12th graders, why do we think it will work for “13th graders?”

It hadn’t really dawned on me that I was maybe taking the easy way out with my lectures and discussion. Why not try and think about new ways and try new strategies to deliver material to my students that might work better?

Having never taught before, I was relying on how I was taught in undergrad forgetting that the reason I’m in graduate school is because I liked going above and beyond on my assignments. I could make just about any subject interesting without much prompting and could learn something from even the most god-awful boring professor. Not all of my students are like me.

This week made me pause and truly think about ways I might make my teaching more interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing what my classmates have to say!


10 thoughts on “Mindful Learning

  1. Hi,

    I have struggled with this as well. Do you happen to have any idea for how we could all try to start engaging our students individually even if we have a large scale class?

    Architecture is a funny animal. It has classes that are large lecture classes, but it also has smaller studios where students are directly engaged in the process of designing. Sometimes the direct comparison is made to other disciplines’ lab sections, though I think the two are unique.

    However I think there is something there that might help us. The general task of project based learning which can be used in changing our lecture-based classes. Keep this in mind when you are working on things later in the semester as it will help in crafting your particular type of project for your students. When they see that things are crafted specifically for them, it makes all the difference.


    1. Ken, I often hear about putting students in groups for projects or even for quick 5 minute discussions to try and get them engaged with each other. My classes are small enough that (if my room is big enough) I can put them in a circle for class so they can discuss with each other. It won’t work for a lecture-size room, but I think in those cases the smaller discussion sections or studio times can be helpful in making that personal connection.


  2. It’s truly a special challenge to teach higher level college courses where classes are 100’s in size. Similar to what Ken mentions above, my advisor teaches an Introduction to Civil Engineering class of 150, which is then broken up into smaller discussion sections of about 20. Something that he tries in the large group lecture is to pass around a mike and ask students for their intuitive answers to the topics he brings up. He also sometimes invites students to pair up in groups of 3 and discuss a particular question that he poses beforehand. All of this helps to keep the class engaged.

    My ideal space in a lecture hall of this size would be a more open setting that I can travel in and out of and where the students can see each other, instead of everybody staring forward at the podium, but that of course isn’t easy to find in our university classrooms that haven’t changed in decades.

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  3. Even as an undergraduate, I sometimes felt like I was being taught to prepare for a standardized test rather than being taught for actual understanding. The first test required for Engineering liscensure, the “Fundamentals of Engineering” exam, is an elaborate multiple choice exam. I had several undergraduate courses that gave all exams in the format of multiple choice questions rather than problems that really deeply required students to demonstrate their knowledge.


    1. It’s rough, I know. I took a Conflict Resolution class with 10 students in the first year of my MA and a woman there said it was the first time in her college career she felt like she could speak openly. She was coming from an engineering or science field and it made so grateful that I was in Women’s and Gender Studies BA and MA programs that gave me a voice to speak.
      I take that reminder with me each time I teach. I never want a student to feel like I don’t hear them, either in class or in their writing assignments.


  4. Leaving aside the large class issue for the moment, I just want to say that you’ve already taken the first and most important step to becoming a good teacher for today’s students: You’ve realized that most of your students aren’t like you (have different priorities and interests), and that we aren’t obligated to keep inflicting the good/bad old ways on the new generation just because that’s what we grew up with. You have great instincts — keep following them!

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  5. So just like Ken’s video, education should be based on different students’ characteristics, personal interests and their own way of study. Teachers should pay more attention to the diverse of their student than before to get out the educating death valley. However, it is absolutly a new chanllege for teachers: they need to learn their students’ personality before they learn, they have to keep improving their way of teaching to meet student’s need rather than just presenting PPT, and they also keep in mind how to stimulate students’ interests and help them to learn mindfully.

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  6. I love when your wrote the phrase: “Why not try .. ?”. This is great, that moment when we start to question all we are thinking and making – a little bit of crisis, ok, but a great amount of potential. I think it is like a spark, a creative spark. For me, this is exactly what a course like GRAD5114 aims to foster in us. Thanks so much for your input!

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  7. Great point! The Ken Robinson video resonated for me and prompted me to think more into the advent of No Child Left Behind, because in reality children are being left behind. Teachers are teaching to a test and to some extent assessing for the sake of assessing. It’s almost as if teachers realize they are required to do some form of assessment, but once the assessment has concluded, they do nothing with the data collected from students. It’s as if it ‘s a check mark on a long list of requirements.

    I’m appreciative that you shared your sentiments on “Not all students are like me”, which is awesome to recognize, because SOLs is the same test for every student and your comment made me think that if administration, policy makers or teachers realized that notion would we be administering the same assessment (SOLs) for every student? Every student is unique in the way they learn and not everything is multiple choice or a given, which is where I think the waters get muddy, especially when students are transitioning into college.


    1. “Every student is unique in the way they learn and not everything is multiple choice or a given, which is where I think the waters get muddy, especially when students are transitioning into college.”
      YES! So much this!!!


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