What does it mean to be a mindful learner? If you’d asked me this as a child, I’d have told you it meant listening very intently to what my teacher was saying then being able to recall what what said at a later date . My teachers would likely argue this wasn’t something I practiced, but that’s something I’ll touch on a little later on in this post. As I progressed on my academic journey, I came to believe mindful learning meant taking what was being taught and applying it contextually to solve problems in the world around me vs. just being able to regurgitate the information when prompted. Now, as an aspiring educator taking this GEDI course, the definition of mindful learning is becoming increasingly more complex than what my younger self could even conceive.
First, I want to touch on what I learned about mindful learning this week. According to Ellen Langer in Mindful Learning, mindfulness is defined as “as a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things, and sensitive to context”. Similarly, in her book on mindful learning, Langer lists three characteristics to mindfulness: the continuous creation of new categories, openness to new information, and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective”. These three characteristics all seem to support the “new method” of teaching proposed by Langer, whom suggests teaching should be based on “…an appreciation of both the conditional, or context-dependent, nature of the world and the value of uncertainty”.
This new method of teaching really resonates with me. Whether it’s due to my INTJ personality, the sign I was born under (Pisces), or the fact I’m a scientist, I have always described my perceptions of the world as “fluid”. To me, pretty much everything is a shade of grey-there are very few things I consider black or white. As knowledge evolves, so do my opinions. To me, it seems only natural that learning should follow a similar pattern. With new knowledge should come new ideas, new context, and new approaches to how things were done previously. Personally, it seems that being a mindful learner means being actively aware of knowledge as it becomes available while critically evaluating its potential to be applied in a variety of present and future contexts.
Remember when I said I’d touch on my (perceived) lack of ability to mindfully learn? Well Ken Robinson’s How To Escape Education’s Death Valley is the perfect “segway” into that topic. In Robinson’s video, he briefly mentioned Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder(ADHD), how a growing number of people are being diagnosed with it, and how he believes it is a symptom of our educational system. Now, I’m not going to delve into whether or not ADHD is a manifestation of the education system. However, I am going to discuss my experience with ADHD as it pertains to mindful learning.
Though bright, I was a considered an average student. I didn’t perform well on tests, homework, or anything that our current educational system uses as a measure of a students’ learning capacity. I will say I excelled in reading and English classes where I found myself incredibly engaged by the material, but I did poorly in mathematics-a class I found horribly boring. As it turns out, I was diagnosed with ADHD midway through my master’s program. In order to validate the diagnosis, I was required to go through a full battery of psychological, intelligence, and achievement testing. Going into the testing, I was under the impression these tests would be similar to those I took in school-they’d be used to see if I met a benchmark for my capacity to learn. In this context, however, the tests were used diagnostically to assess where I was at rather than tell me I didn’t meet a certain “bench mark”. Robinson discussed this subject and how our present educational system uses tests as a benchmark rather than as a diagnostic tool. He made a very valid point about education: it is not a mechanical system, it’s a human system. Testing appears to be one of the many paths leading to the “Educational Death Valley”. Unfortunately, our current educational system seems to be riddled with paths that lead students to this valley-a place where effective learning no longer occurs.
To this day, I firmly believe my educational experience would have been drastically improved had I 1) been diagnosed with ADHD earlier and 2) had a path out of the Educational Death Valley. I think that if we, as educators, can be more cognizant of the pitfalls within the educational system, then we will better recognize when students journey down the path into “Death Valley” and we can be ready to engage them in mindful learning to show them the path out.