Super Bowl Teams are the Best Mindful Football Players

The irony is not lost on me that I am reading about mindful learning, and attempting to blog on the topic while also watching Super Bowl LII. Although, Ellen J. Langer (2000) suggests the idea of constant focus on something does not equate to paying attention to it. Indeed, paying attention while playing football requires mindful learning.

In the past decade or so, mindfulness as a meditative practice has become an increasingly popular trend. When practiced appropriately (a topic for another time), mindfulness has incredible health and relational benefits. It is no surprise that mindfulness has now been connected to teaching and learning.

Langer (1997; 2000) discusses several myths regarding our ideas of traditional learning. Traditional learning, or mindless learning, she posits, is a focus on old categories, one perspective, and automatic behavior. The myths she discusses that I found the most interesting are:

  1. Paying attention means staying focused on one thing at a time.
  2. Rote memorization is necessary in education.
  3. Forgetting is a problem.
  4. There are right and wrong answers.

Each of these myths connect to me either personally or professionally. The automatic responses we have as learners to memorize facts as they are given to us, without question, is clearly problematic. We do not learn through this process- more specifically we do not learn how the facts present in “real” life and across all contexts. Personally, I am thankful that forgetting is not really a problem after all!

As I was reading Langer discuss mindful learning, I realized that it is similar to, or perhaps the same, as critical thinking. In the online class I teach on Family Relationships, I heavily stress the importance of students demonstrating critical thinking and attention to context in their discussion posts. In fact, critical thinking is a large portion of the grading rubric. I have found that many of my students struggle with this aspect of the discussion posts and often repeat the facts that are presented in the textbook, even with scaffolding. I realize now, that these students are on auto-pilot in their learning. They are mindlessly learning, even though the topics are so close to home for them.

I am beginning to think about the idea of transparency in my teaching. How might students respond if I told them what my approach is and why I believe it is important for their learning? Would this impact their ability to engage in critical thinking? In attending to contextual issues? In learning in my class and beyond? I am interested in giving this a try in the future.

3 thoughts on “Super Bowl Teams are the Best Mindful Football Players

  1. Thanks for your post! I really appreciate your idea of being transparent in your teaching and telling your students the importance of being mindful and thinking critically. I have found that students are very receptive when they understand why they are doing something. Sometimes we just need to tell students that we are not wanting them to give “the right answer.” We want them to engage with the ideas and explore multiple perspectives and connect information and see it from new angles. I will be interested to hear how trying this out in your classroom goes! Thanks for the post!

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  2. I think that being transparent is a good quality to have, because it allows for students to feel more involved in the class (I think) if they understand where you as the instructor are coming from and why you are doing the things you do. I think it also helps combat this banking model concept of teaching, if students felt they were able to understand better what the approach to the class.

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  3. Good post. I would highly recommend working in some type of transparency exercises if you can, but you may not have to be explicit. There are advantages to telling them why certain ideas, approaches, or tactics matter, but you can also ask them and see if they come across the same advantages and disadvantages or if they develop new ones on their own. Telling them what matters or asking them are not independently perfect in reaching those sorts of outcomes, but both have their place and are helpful.

    In regards to staying mindful, I think its important to recognize that multitasking is a skill in itself, just as memorization and narrow focus are. I am not sure that a wholesale exchange of these skills is what is needed. Rather, we should concern ourselves and our students with what skills are more valuable for a variety of desires and see which pedagogical methods appeal to those skills individually or collectively.

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