Sunday, May 10, 2015

Thinking Upon Thinking

Constructive Dialogue

In our second podcast journey, Dr. Aaron Kuntz explained how he and a young group of researchers created the disruptive dialogue project.  After intense video conference calls with the group they dictated their conversations, then continued the dialogue online - reflections upon reflections.  In the momentum of conversation we fly over topics that often deserve a deeper explanation.  In this case, screen casting with students on iPads, tapping into the psychology of private speech, engaging the marginalized learner, simulations, and fantasy narratives all merge to create a powerful tool set in addressing a broader range of student cognitive architecture. 

FOMO and Private Speech

Interacting with text by isolating segments, exploring multiple perspectives, role playing through private speech,  - these are the playful, gamification elements leveraged in the first sample that enabled the student to try on different hats and walk around the topic of race, class, oppression, cultural baggage, and historical distance.  This is not easy for fifth graders, but we came across a method part by chance, by experimenting with a new tool, the iPad, and part by intent, by applying what we know of child psychology and project design.  

Fifth grade is an age when most individuals experience a heightened sense of self as perceived by the group.  There is a lot less risk taking as clicks form, less publicly transparent creativity as students see themselves not just through others’ eyes, but through the perception of “the group” - FOMO raises affective filters.  How could deep thinking into a dead poet’s work possibly compete with not getting an invitation to someone’s paintball birthday party?  They need imaginative play, simulation, and creative expression more than ever, and they need it integrated into their learning processes.  This is where iPads can provide a medium of expression, a means of capturing thought that the socially charged classroom environment often misses.  The two should go hand in hand, radically collaborative space teaching to this heightened sense of other, and encapsulation space to process one’s thoughts in one’s own time, using the strengths of private speech.

Private Speech as Tool

Psychologist Charles Fernyhough carries this idea of private talk back to the greeks - when asked by Theaetetus to define thought, Socrates replied, "The talk which the soul has with itself."  The Greeks were incredible observers of human nature, their gods seem designed to catalogue the human emotional experience (as well as provide explanations for all unexplainable phenomenon).  However, educators seem to need to turn everything into a scientific method in which the only valued measurements are that which data, especially rubricked numeric data, can produce - but I’m diverging into another podcast in which we create a fantasy discussion between Gadamer, Skinner, and Thorndike - or better yet a Google Hangout (Who wants to be Skinner?).

Blogging should be about capturing tangential thought, but back to the topic, what does brain research say about private speech?

Scanning the cerebral cortex and the amygdala as individuals speak to themselves in the third person, or speak outside of the self in a fantasy narrative, shows that a shift in activity takes place.   Dr. Laura Berk at the University of Southern Illinois believes her research shows that private speech not only greatly improves executive function but it enables imagination.

"Pretending to be James Bond requires complexities of coordination—arranging your “spy equipment,” finding a hideout in Barcelona (under the staircase), foiling your enemy on her boat (the bathtub), and getting your fake identity documents ready for the plane (your bed). All hinge on, and in turn nurture, executive functions of the brain: controlling attention, suppressing impulses in favor of situation-appropriate responses, and combining various types of information in long-term memory, as well as planning, organizing, and thinking flexibly—the very skills that underlie later academic success."

Vygotsky confirms a correlated phenomenon, that just as tools such as hammers and screwdrivers change the force and efficiency of assembling constructed objects, words form internal thought, sublimated out of “mentalese”.  When verbally expressed, words become more tangible and easier to use.  As children grow out of their stream of consciousness, a constant verbalization of their processes, the dialogue becomes internal.  Bringing that process out by recording private talk lowers the affective filter and makes a thinking process visible and explicit.  

Escaping the Ego

Jason Moser at Michigan State University has studied how people overcome life challenges by utilizing self talk.  The distance one creates from the ego is real, allowing a larger perspective on difficult problems.  Apply this to a fifth grader nervous about public shame, and there is a window back to the playful spirit of the kindergartener who lived life transparently, when most kids preferred to see the world go by at a running pace, and falling down didn’t hurt so bad.  Layering the tools of verbal production, private speech, and speaking from beyond the ego, leverage a mode of expression often difficult to prompt from teachers or peers.

Simplicity of Tool / Complexity of Objective

The tools seem simple but the objective is complex, much like the “thinking routines” developed by Project Zero in Making Thinking Visible.  Looking at one of the most accessible routines, see-think-wonder, students must metacognitively separate observational thought from interpretive thought, and by doing so isolate describable properties that can come into play for later explanations of what they think.  Then both seeing and thinking push their wondering, a kind of visual sliding scale from what is explicitly evident in the object of study to what they think makes sense, to the grey area of wonder.  So simple, but incredibly powerful as tool for immersion into focused thought.  

In the thinking routine designed for empathy for four perspectives, the tools are simple - isolate yourself and record your reflections on this poem from alternate viewpoints.  But the objective is complex - 

1. pretend you are a house owner that is consciously or unconsciously a part of an oppressive system based on racism.  
2. Express your views as the maid who has reached a point in her awareness of the oppressive situation that she is telling her boss what she thinks.  
3. Delve into the design intent of the poem from the perspective of the creator.  
4. Think about the acceptable or the absurdity of this scenario in the modern day (being fully aware that everyone in the classroom has a maid).  

By utilizing private speech and third person fantasy, by recording using Explain Everything on iPads, and by sharing using digital management systems like Google Classroom, students collected a roomful of careful, metacognitive reflections.  By asynchronously sharing reviews of everyone’s work online, the next day the discussion was primed (note: here the real application was the critical discussion or Book Club).  

Going Beyond

Since then we have gone on to experiment with fourth graders changing into insects and video journaling their perceptual changes of the world through their daily metamorphosis.  Fifth graders have journeyed into the human body on an expedition to save Dr. Smalls, and third graders gave narrative tours of Muisca Minecraft villages they constructed, all through the voice of a Muisca artifact they discovered through see-think-wonder routines at the Gold Museum.  Use of the simulation, private speech, fantasy narrative are becoming powerful tools leveraging cognitive and linguistic development.

To drive the focus of the intent of these activities, they cannot just be for the sake of doing, they must be part of the application and transference and product of knowledge, part of the driving essential question or provocative statement - all to reach an understanding by design.


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