Welcome back. Here we are in our seventh session of our ED 615 Foundations class. Last day we looked at the way the scientific management and the efficiency narratives influenced our schooling practices. And, we have some idea as to the impact these narratives have had. We can see the control mechanisms that have deliberately controlled the body on the one hand; and, interestingly, we can sense how the body has been diminished on the other hand.
Today, let us develop greater understanding the way our bodies experience our environments and see what a bodily perspective might offer us in terms of how we understanding schooling and education. By doing this, we might become more aware of how the body plays a crucial role in the educational process. We might become increasingly aware of narratives that neglect or even suppress the human body.
Ultimately an understanding of the importance of focusing on the body might help us not only understand a bit more about Smith’s Classic Theory but might also help us develop more appropriate narratives when it comes to our own interpretations of education.
I will today’s examination Bodily Considerations in Five Parts.
Bodily Consideration Part I
Back in the Day
In the 80s and 90s I was working a lot with music recording.
Not this far back.
About this far back:
Cedar and colorful carpets were the rage — as were 24 track tape recorders and lots of outboard gear.
And then this happened:
For those of you too young to know what this is, it is an Apple II computer. What a beauty. Look at it sitting there, with its big old 5 1/2 in floppy disk drives.
For someone like me, who grew up with typewriters and “Lost in Space” this beauty was a blast into the future.
Oh yes — the computer. Digital computer-based technology. The promise of the future.
It was an especially exciting time because of the new computer technologies being developed. Editing recordings by splicing analog tape and hiring musicians to record different acoustic instruments was giving way to electronic editing and multi timbral multi track sequencing. Now anyone could have access to the marvelous digital music technology.
Finally I could create music tracks with sampled sounds that replicated brass instruments, string instruments and percussion. More amazingly, from a teacher’s perspective, I could have my students orchestrating songs—as young as elementary—and that’s what I did—I created one of the first music keyboard labs in the Province of Alberta. I received a rather prestigious award for my work. And, I was getting just enough praise from others to cloud my judgment. Feeling confident in what I was having my students do, I published an article in a music journal detailing my (or should I say my students’) accomplishments.
And then it happened—a turning point in my understanding of learning and schooling. You see, upon publication of my article, I got some quick critique from other musicians. “These children should be in band and orchestra, not playing keyboards,” was the typical response.
Here it was, the first challenge I had received to my work. Darn, maybe I wasn’t so smart after all. (I wasn’t)
None of the critiques said exactly what children were missing. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely clear at the time. Perhaps at the time it was more of an intuition. But according to many other musicians, something did seem amiss. At first I tried to convince myself that what I was doing was in the best interest of the students. By looking at the school system’s music goals and standards, my students were achieving more music knowledge faster than other traditionally taught students. I could argue that conceptually my students were learning more. I suppose I could have left it at that.
Now, from our current perspective, it might be immediately obvious to you just how clouded my judgement was. But keep in mind, this was the wave of the future at that time. Things always look a little different when we look back.
It took me a long time to realize that what I was doing to my students was actually a disservice. You see, I didn’t take into account that my students had bodies.
Bodies, you don’t say!
Yes, bodies! I didn’t take into consideration that learning and understanding begins with the body and becomes conceptual later. This seems so obvious now that it almost seems hardly worth mentioning. But when you are living in a language discourse that privileges one form of thinking and action over another, it is easy to overlook what should otherwise be obvious.
How could I have overlooked the obvious? Well you see, I was an experienced musician using computer-based digital technologies to replicate what I had already experienced. Every time we perceive something we are actually re-firing (so to speak) established neuronal cell assemblies (to put it simply).
One more time–that is actually an important statement: Every time we perceive something we are actually re-firing (so to speak) established neuronal cell assemblies.
I already knew how to play percussion instruments, brass instruments and string instruments. I knew what playing these instruments felt like. I had neuronal cell assemblies already established in my brain that re-fired when I heard a particular sound.
When I play a trumpet sound on a keyboard, I feel the experiences that I had experienced at an earlier time—the tightening of the embouchure, the pursing of the lips, the breathing, the other musicians beside me, the down beats represented by the arm movements of the conductor. One keyboard trumpet sound re-fires all these cell assemblies so that my experience is very rich in comparison to a novice (a child) who had not had similar bodily experiences. Conceptually a child can know and play a high G trumpet sound on a keyboard. But as far as bodily understanding, the child’s experience is barren. His/her understanding is stunted. A child, or novice, lacks the corporeal understanding (the re-firing of neurons that make the body feel something that it has experienced before) that gives “life” meaning. The understanding that a child, or novice, might achieve from playing the trumpet on the keyboard is reduced to bodiless information–nothing that could be said to represent a trumpeter’s body.
If you are a trumpet player, you will re-feel what it feels like to play high notes when you hear this. You will feel in your hands what it feels like to hold the trumpet. You will feel the breathing, the way the left hand wraps around the valves and the tips of the right hand press the keys down. You will feel what it feels like because you will re-fire neurons in your brain that you wired together when you initially learned how to play the trumpet. If you don’t play the trumpet, sorry to say, you will not have the same experience–even if you wanted to.
Since you probably listened to this a couple of times let me repeat: If you don’t play the trumpet, sorry to say, you will not have the same experience–even if you wanted to.
This seems so obvious in hind sight. It is not difficult to understand. It astounds me now why, as a professional teacher (as we are deemed to be once we are licensed), I had overlooked something that seems so blatantly obvious. But I suppose, in my defense, I was encouraged to focus on the conceptual, on the abstract, on information and efficiency. Schooling goals, standards, and objectives toward those rather abstract concepts, encourage an obscuration of the body.
Rock Climbing Anyone?
I have never climbed a rock climbing wall. I see lots of people doing it. My children have done it. But not me. So when I see someone climb a rock climbing wall, I can imagine what it ‘might’ feel like. But I do not have neuronal cell assemblies re-firing from my past experience. I don’t have the same ‘grasping neurons’ re-firing when I see someone grasp one of those colorful holders. I try to imagine what it might feel like, but it is only in comparison to other things I have grasped that look similar to that.
If you have ever climbed one of those walls, you will experience this next video differently than I do.
If you have climbed one of these walls you probably had many bodily sensations as you watched this that I didn’t have. As soon as I clicked play on the rock climbing video, I felt myself playing my old DX7 synth, tapping out the chords.
I’ve never bungee jumped either. I can try to imagine what this feels like, but it won’t be the same feeling that those of you who have bungee jumped will feel. I didn’t really feel too much of anything. It looked as though it might be a bit frightening, but I can’t say I really felt it 🙂
Why don’t we all experience watching something the same way?
What we see is not simply a visual image. When we see something, we re-experience touching it, feeling it, holding it, being moved by it.
Let’s use an apple example — I mean a real apple–the fruit.
Consider all the experiences you have had with apples–the contexts in which you have experienced them, felt them, tasted them, the weight, fresh, rotten, color, in store bins, on tress, cut up in your lunch, in salads, etc. In a recent undergraduate class of mine, we brain-stormed different experiences we all had with apples and in four minutes we came up with over 120 completely different experiences with apples. Students came up with ways they understood apples. Every single experience was something we could all relate to. Apple sauce, candy apple, sliced apples in lunch, apples with cheese and on and on and on. Now consider this: what could you learn about and understand about apples if your only access to them were the experiences you could have with the iPad? It is easy to realize the limiting nature of the two-dimensional visual medium. But, and this is interesting, how many of curricular standards could ostensibly be met by interacting with a two dimensional screen? Notice I said ostensibly.
How many of curricular standards could ostensibly be met by interacting with a two dimensional screen?
For those of you have have a horse, what would your understanding of horses be if your only contact with horses was limited to an iPad? Or for those of you who swim, or play a sport, or camp, or hike, or love. To what extent could someone, without any previous experience with any of these activities understand the activity the way you do having had experiences with these activities?
And yet people will still argue all the benefits of incorporating iPads or computers into young children’s lives. Just think of all the standards students can meet if only we had them using iPads. Is there a problem with this? As a true novice, what can you re-experience on a two dimensional screen when you lack experience?
Now this is not to say we shouldn’t ever use computer-based technologies. Many of us use sophisticated music software regularly, or graphics software, or architectural software often. But we have already established neuronal cell assemblies so that we re-live a rich past experience when we use the technological artifact. And, as far as my electronic music students — playing a trumpet sound on a keyboard to compose music is great, but only after the student has had bodily (physical) experience with brass instruments.
Let’s use another Apple example — this time I mean the iPad.
Here is a child about to learn about cinnamon buns by entering into this technology-rich environment. Do you hear that many school districts have been very excited about this?
We sometimes hear the phrase “technology rich.” In reality, for novices (notice I say novices here), doesn’t the use of computer-based two dimensional screens lead to “technology barren” experience? Only when one has already had a rich corporeal experience that the technology can re-enliven the richness of experience (in other words, through your experiences you have wired together neurons that then re-fire when you perceive or think about the experience again). I only have to say, think of the last time you have a soft warm cinnamon bun, warm out of the oven, and if you have been lucky enough to have experienced this in the past, the neurons that were wired together when you experienced this in the past are re-firing now. For those of you who have only experienced cinnamon buns by seeing them on a computer screen, I am afraid your experience will be rather barren in comparison. So much for technology-rich.
The Glorious Cinnamon Bun
You probably have some memory of the cinnamon bun. As soon as you read the words “cinnamon bun” your brain is firing neuronal cell assemblies that allow you to not only perceive cinnamon buns, but to also re-experience some of what you know about cinnamon buns. Your brain does that quite naturally. Cinnamon-bun-sight-neurons are wired to cinnamon-bun-taste-neurons are wired to cinnamon-bun-touch-neurons are wired to cinnamon-bun-kitchen-neurons etc. etc.. (These, by the way, are not the scientific terms:) As soon as these neurons are firing you perceiving cinnamon buns and are ready to learn something new as long as we can fire neurons that will connect to your already established cinnamon bun neurons. Consider this:
The first cinnamon bun was created in the 1920’s just after the First World War. Because Sweden was a neutral territory during the war, there were heavy restrictions on the import of goods including sugar, eggs and butter. By the time the 1950’s rolled around, the average Swedish household was pulling in more money, meaning they were able to purchase the pricey ingredients necessary to make a cinnamon bun. It was around this time that the pastry began to really become more popular.
If you happen to be Swedish, or you have been to Sweden and have neuronal cell assemblies already created, or if you have First World War neuronal cell assemblies, or if you have sugar-eggs-butter neuronal cell assemblies already wired, you will quite likely fire these along with the cinnamon bun neurons. And, given adequate time and strength of neuronal firing, your neurons will wire together. It is something that happens quite naturally. Your brain does it without you even having to work at it. But if you have no experiences with sugar, eggs, and butter, you have not had the opportunity to learn about the First World War and have no neuronal cell assemblies developed, and you haven’t even seen a cinnamon bun, you won’t be wiring together any neuronal cell assemblies.Furthermore, it is unlikely you will remember, or have any interest in, the history of the cinnamon bun.
Whenever I see cinnamon buns like this I have neuronal cell assemblies fire that have me re-live my childhood experiences of laying on my back on the floor with my feet pressed up against the window of the oven door while my mom baked cinnamon buns. You see, growing up in Canada, we would play outside in the winter cold until it felt like our feet were frozen. So it was common to warm up standing on heater vents or pressed up against the oven.
The cinnamon bun doesn’t exist as an object. It exists within a social setting, with multiple bodily experiences being reactivated. I learned about cinnamon buns effortlessly, without any testing, without memorizing. My understanding couldn’t have been as rich as it is if I had only experienced cinnamon buns in a technologically-barren environment.
That which you experience is not discrete information that can be acquired by sight alone, or by being told. Even if you learned about cinnamon buns in a classroom using flash cards, you will have that classroom-flashcard-experience wired to your understanding of cinnamon bun and not a real cinnamon bun.
A caveat here: the question about ease of learning needs some clarification. We do have neuronal cell assemblies that have strong connections and others with weak connections. The strong ones activate and are not easily changed. The weaker ones will re-wire (learning). Recall the children in Minds of Our Own who refused to accept that it was impossible to see in complete darkness. They had neuronal cell assemblies that were strong that told them otherwise. The right environment has to be created so that they can wire new understandings to what they have already developed.
Is it possible that some of our teaching models are wrong? Isn’t part of our teaching narrative suggesting that we can simply tell students something new and they will be able to learn it? Does our teaching narrative suggest that communication is linear –- passing ‘information’ back and forth as if through a pipeline? Do our narratives suggest that children can learn without much interaction with their body. What if that is all wrong? And, does this suggest that there is something right with outdoor schools and adventure playgrounds?
What if we believed children could learn about cinnamon buns on an iPad? No, we wouldn’t believe that, would we? How could then wire all those wonderful neurons together that would let them know how cinnamon buns taste, smell, feel? They would have a sort of blindness toward cinnamon buns. No taste, smell, or feel.
Marge: I don’t know why Dana can’t seem to learn about cinnamon buns. He has been doing worksheets all day, and I have tested him four times.
Jack: Perhaps he has cinnamon bun blindness.
Bodily Consideration Part II:
Let’s take a quick look at neurons
What is a neuronal cell assembly? A web of neurons. Neurons form webs as a result of bodily experience. These webs are distributed throughout the brain.
What is learning?
Neurons and Memory Formation
The experiences we have with our bodies helps create our neuronal cell assemblies
I remember being taught how the brain moves the body. Signals move from the brain to move the legs, the hands, the arms, etc. There almost seemed to be an emphasis on the brain controlling the body. Everything started in the brain, and then moved out to the body. It was as if the body was of secondary importance. I don’t remember much emphasis on how the body movements helped establish the wiring in the brain. I don’t remember much discussion as to the importance of how movement of the limbs strengthened the neuronal cell assemblies in the brain so that the brain could then move the body more adeptly. I don’t remember ever being asked to consider how the body’s actions give meaning to what we perceive. It is almost as if the peripheral motor system takes second place to the central nervous system. It is almost as if the assumption is made that we don’t really need the body to weave together the cell assemblies that will, in turn, help us make sense of the world around us.
Bodily Consideration Part III
A Grasp at Grasping Neurons
If you will, please look at each of the following photographs. Look at each one, individually. After a couple of seconds, move on to the next image.
You have an understanding of each image. You have a familiarity with each object. But, you don’t simply have a picture of the image in your brain. Your understanding of the object is created in your brain, or woven throughout your brain. In very simple terms, when you look at each object, shape neurons fire in one part of the brain, color neurons fire in another part of the brain, texture neurons fire, and (the topic for the beginning part of this lecture) grasping neurons fire. All of these different neuronal cell assemblies fire to allow you to make sense of what you just saw.
When you looked at each image there were grasping neurons in your brain that fired. As soon as we see the mug we have neurons fire that trigger our previous experiences of grasping mugs of this shape. Our wrist neurons fire to indicate a particular twist of the wrist, our finger neurons fire in such a way as to indicate wrapping around the handle, and our arm neurons fire so that we recognize the weight of the object. All of this, just by looking. It is as if our brain fires the same neurons that previously experienced objects like this.
As soon as we see the tea cup our finger neurons trigger in a very different way from when we look at the mug. Our finger neurons recognize the different grasp. The use of the forefinger and thumb. A slightly different wrist action. We experience the object in a very different way than when we look at the mug.
When we see other objects, our neurons fire as if reaching for a hammer, a tennis ball, or a pencil even though we just look at the object on the screen. To see the object meaningfully, all sorts of different neurons all fire together to bring meaning to the object.
But what about this next object. ( I picked an object that you likely have not experienced before. If you have, your observation will be just as rich as the former images. If you haven’t experienced this next object, your experience will be shallow in comparison).
Without previous experience with this object our experience is shallow. Fewer neuronal cell assemblies are firing than if you had had experience with this object. When you look at this object you don’t feel the rich sensations that you feel with the other objects. Not knowing the size or weight, how do we pick this up? Is it heavy? Our arm muscle neurons don’t fire. We have not established neuronal cell assemblies to give this meaning.
We have neurons that fire that help us understand the shape and possibly the texture. But is it made of plastic, metal, ceramic? Does it feel smooth, rough? Is it flexible, stiff?
We might say, “Objects move us.” In other words, when we see an object, we are moved (even though our bodies don’t actually move) to re-experience the way we are with the objects. Visual objects–that are familiar–move us.
Do you know the story about grasping neurons? This is so interesting.
In 2005 Giacomo Rizzolatti (2006) and some of his graduate students were working in a laboratory in Italy. In their midst was a Macaque monkey, strapped to a chair with fMRI electrodes glued to its head. The researchers were looking for specific neurons that would fire when the monkey performed a specific task. After some time the researchers were able to pinpoint neurons that would fire when the monkey grasped an object. While this was an interesting discovery, a more notable phenomenon occurred when one of the graduate students reached for, and grabbed, an item from a table within the monkey’s sight. The monkey’s grasping neurons fired again even though this time the monkey had not moved. This set off a series of experiments that have suggested that understanding is, in part, related to having action neurons re-fire when witnessing other’s actions. In addition, further research has found that hearing words will trigger the firing of action neurons. If this is the case, we might well be convinced that not only do the sight of objects move us, but words speak us as well.
We learn more about grasping neurons here. You will notice that the talk is about mirror neurons. I should mention that there is dispute whether or not “mirror” neurons exist. “Mirror” may be the wrong term. Perhaps we should stick to thinking about re-firing established neurons that were assembled during past experiences.
NOVA scienceNOW : 1 – Mirror Neurons
Giacomo Rizzolatti on the discovery of canonical motor neurons
Giacomo Rizzolatti – Mirror neurons: from monkey to human
Bodily Consideration Part IV
Mrs. Jones has a particular way about her. She is, what we might say, very proper. She never leans on the table in front of her. When she writes on the white board, she holds the marker delicately, but her strokes are quick and precise. She has a particular way of speaking, enunciating each syllable of her words. Her ‘p’s are slightly plosive. And she seems to hang on to the endings of words–especially the end of Billllllllll. Her hands waive about as she talks, as if she were pointing out objects, and molding shapes right in front of her. And joke! She loves to joke! Along with each joke comes a little chuckle, that delicately shakes her body with each sound.
Bill, is quick to laugh. And he seems to hold on to what seems to be a perpetual smile. His back is straight–though not supple. When he turns to look at something behind him he twists from the waist, as if his head were fastened to his shoulders.
Ah, those two.
Here is a picture of Mrs. Jones, and a picture of Bill (or at least a neuronal representation).
If only we thought of this as our brain. If only we hadn’t gotten caught up in Descarte’s discourse of the separation of body and brain. We might have a better realization of how our perceptions rely on our bodily experiences.
Let’s cut the head off this neuronal body. Not so easy. Even this cropped image shows the mass of neurons that connect the face to the brain.
When you read about Mrs. Jones and Bill, you could feel them as I described them–assuming you tried to twist from the waist or puff your p’s. You could feel their actions if you have picked up a marker, or laughed both a delicate and deep laugh. But you need your entire body to know the way those movements feel.
Would our schooling be different if we really believed that what students learned was learned by their whole body?
Did you know there were some researchers in Sweden who suggested children were becoming finger blind because of their decreased use of their hands and fingers in exploring the natural world around them. In other words, children were thought to be overly engaged in technology-barren environments (environments that did not sufficiently develop bodily neuronal cell assemblies. Did these researchers recognize the importance of touch in the formation of neuronal cell assemblies? Perhaps.
Has our schooling discourse somehow lost sight of the fact that our bodies and brains are connected? Have we inadvertently obscured the fact that our body is instrumental in the development of our neuronal cell assemblies? Have we lost the realization that learning happens with the body and not just the brain? Have we neglected the fact that the body is covered with neurons (our nervous system) that sends signals to the neurons in our brain? Are these signals not instrumental in the formation of our neuronal cell assemblies?
When we think of the importance of having our bodies experience our surroundings so that our brain can develop neuronal cell assemblies, perhaps a bit more time outdoors is important. It might alleviate some of that “finger blindness.”
Remember this? We have seen this before. But the more we think about our bodies, the less reasonable this seems. Finger blindness doesn’t seem so far out there.
A child developing finger blindness because he is no longer allowed to play outside. The institutional requirement is that all children should be able to connect two shapes. Fortunately we have the technology to help this child achieve these educational goals.
Here is that same child I showed you a picture of earlier — you know the one using the iPad to learn all about cinnamon buns. Look at the dexterity in those fingers while he connects those dots!
Of course putting a child on an iPad is a good instructional practice if we are trying to see how many dots the child can connect in a certain amount of time.
Teacher: “I am very proud of your child Mrs. Smith. His dot connecting ability increased four fold over the span of two weeks.”
Mrs. Smith: “Well he takes after his father you know.”
Easy to research, easy to count, easy to observe, and easy to relate to district, state, and parents. The narrative calls for such. But isn’t this a big part of the problem? If we are asking questions and developing instruction around things we can quantify, are we actually doing our students a disservice? It is not easy to know exactly what students are learning outdoors. So just eliminate it. In fact, good schools are eliminating recess altogether I have been told.
Here is a big part of the argument Smith is making in the section Here Come The Testers. Reducing questions and testing to quantitively observable behaviors can even lead people to believe that all students should be spending a substantial part of the school day on a typewriter.
(Here is a funny thought. When computers were just making there way into schools I was teaching a computer class to graduate students. Part of the evening class was devoted to using the mouse. One of my students said she was having a lot of difficulty because every time she moved the mouse to the left, the pointer moved to the right and vice versa). Ah, the good old days.
In hindsight technology-rich might not be so technology-rich.
The technology seems so amazing, doesn’t it. It is the wave of the future, just like the typewriter was. Oh, I should remember that some of you might be too young to really remember the typewriter. I remember it well. I even took a typing class in high school. “Sit up straight. Feet on the floor. Fingers on the home row. F, F, F, H, H, H, fox, fox, fox.” And so the class would go. Mr. Pobada shouting above the clacking of the typewriter keys.
Ever hear about the typewriter study? Did you know that research showed that typewriter-based instruction had various advantages over traditional instructional methods? That’s true. The research said it was true. And yes, I am talking about a typewriter. You know:
That’s me in the back. Wandering around looking at the interesting pictures rather than actually doing any work 🙂
From 1929 to 1931 Wood and Freeman (1932) conducted an extensive investigation on the “educational effects of the use of typewriters in schools.” The main purpose of the investigation, which was funded by four manufacturers of portable typewriters, was to study the nature and extent of the educational influences of the portable typewriter when used as a part of the regular classroom equipment in the kindergarten and elementary school grades. The magnitude of the investigation can be estimated from the fact that during the first year nearly fifteen thousand children and over four hundred teachers were involved in the study. The findings indicated that typewriter-based instruction had various advantages over traditional instructional methods. The conclusion was that the typewriter was a valuable educational tool that could be used effectively in most subjects.
The contemporary reader of this report is likely to be struck by at least two things: first, by the high expectations associated with the use of the portable typewriter in schools in the early thirties, particularly when we consider that fifty-eight years later, the typewriter is used primarily in experimental classrooms in the early grades; and secondly, by the striking similarities between these early expectations and contemporary expectations surrounding the use of computer technology in schools. In fact, the similarities are much stronger than the previous account suggests. In the Wood and Freeman study the reader is shown pictures of children working in small groups on the typewriter, “drawing” pictures with “X”s , and pictures of poems composed by children directly on the typewriter, strikingly similar to what we find today in books on the use of computers in schools. It seems that if we exchange the word “computer” for “typewriter” in this fifty-eight year old study, we would have a credible research study on the “educational effects of the use of microcomputers in schools.”
What does this tell us? Are we to conclude that educators in the early thirties were naïve and even blinded by this new machine and that they uncritically interpreted technical possibilities as educational possibilities? Or are we to conclude that the fate of typewriters in the curriculum reveals how educators have failed to take advantage of the pedagogic potential of the typewriter in areas such as reading, writing, visual arts, social studies, and even mathematics? Or should we perhaps take this story as an illustration of educators’ quests for patent solutions to educational problems. This story should draw our attention to the similarities between the plans of implementing typewriters into the curriculum in the early forties and plans of implementing computers into the curriculum today. In both cases educational theorists respond by applying scientific knowledge and research methods to measure the effectiveness of the new instrument compared to traditional instructional methods.
You see, if you ask the right questions you will get the answers you want — just like the typewriter company.
Beware of the questions that we ask.
Bodily Consideration Part V
Let’s talk efficiency
If our questions revolve around institutional efficiency, then “a good” classroom is one where students are very controlled and presumably efficient in what they are doing. “Oh look Marge, I have my students able to stack four colored blocks. That means they understand stacking, and it only took three hours.” Or, from an administration point of view: “Your classroom is very quite, orderly, controlled, and I see you have timed intervals where your students are stacking colored blocks. Great work Marge! Please ensure you record your students’ scores and times and submit those into our database by 5:00 on Friday.”
Do you hear the voice of Gatto past here? One way to ensure compliance is to control the body with bells, rewards, etc.
But what happens to the narratives if?
But what happens if we look at our students’ learning and the environments we create from the perspective of the body? What happens if we concern ourselves with how well we can help students wire together neuronal cell assemblies–assemblies derived from bodily experience? Then the efficiency, information, factory model no longer makes sense. I can’t expect learning to take place simply because I have students do a task. Each student has different neuronal wiring and I have to be very sensitive to what they already understand and how they understand it. I can’t follow any predetermined timeline moving on just because it is Wednesday. Furthermore, how could I possibly even say what they understand? Another point Smith makes.
Perhaps we should always give consideration as to how the brain doesn’t develop when it is prevented from having bodily experience.
When we think of the importance of having the body experience it’s surroundings so that the brain can develop neuronal cell assemblies, perhaps a bit more time outdoors is important. It might alleviate some of that “finger blindness.”
Should we be asking, how are we using the peripheral nervous system to develop neuronal cell assemblies?
Forest Kindergartens Video
If we think very seriously about the way the body experiences the environment, with touch, movement, thought, sound, smell, etc. can we begin to sense how one environment might be better suited to develop neuronal cell assemblies?
Example One: Modern play ground picture.
The Land Video: A really modern playground (just like the good old days).
Motor neurons (efferent neurons): impulse moves from the central nervous system to the rest of the body.
Our sensory neurons (afferent neurons) transmit impulses from the sensory receptors toward the central nervous system.
We might ask
Has the organization of schooling deemed the central nervous system to be more important than the peripheral nervous system?
Have we forgotten that learning new things is highly dependent on the sensory receptors? Has an emphasis on cognitive tasks obscured the importance of sensory neurons when learning?
Have the early representations theories of knowledge, theories that privilege the idea of visual representations (remember Locke and the camera obscura), obscured the importance of sensory understanding? There is enough evidence now to convince us that we can’t understand something through sight alone (Think of Mike May, the blind man given sight. Sight wasn’t enough to make complete sense of the world around him).
Today’s Response Question.
We often hear about Learning Styles. Some students will say, “I am a visual learner” or “I am an auditory learner” or “I am a kinesthetic learner.” You may have even been told to address students’ learning styles at one point or another. But the idea of learning styles came out of some poorly designed research, and it was an easy product to sell.
Given what you know about whole body learning, and the necessity of the peripheral nervous system, can you explain why the idea of teaching to learning styles would be a bad idea? (Just think about the cinnamon bun.)
Want to know more about the problems with Learning Styles? The Problem with Learning Styles
This will be the first of your final set of responses due on Monday, December 7th.
Until next time!