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:
- Paying attention means staying focused on one thing at a time.
- Rote memorization is necessary in education.
- Forgetting is a problem.
- 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.