Emergent Pedagogy, the Brain, Conflict, and Social Dynamics

The Brain and Open-Ended Transactional Inquiry:
A Story of Three Loops, and of Conflict

Paul Grobstein

Inquiry Institute

30 July 2009

with Alice Lesnick, Barath Vallabha

 

Background

Three loops

  • inside/outside - differences with the world
  • unconscious-conscious - differences within the individual
  • interpersonal/cultural - differences between the individual and others
  • difference is the route to new understandings, the key to education 
  • Understanding as absence of conflict and learning as conflict resolution

"So what does resistance tell us?"

"The way people seem to work is that when there are a bunch of people in a room, each immediately starts identifying with some, disagreeing with others, liking some, being annoyed and affronted by others, etc."

"the teacher and the students becomes more like colleagues, more like friends, and more like fellow people engaged in a common pursuit of knowledge and a good life."

"the task is to have experiences that enhance the ability of individuals to recognize that they are responsible not only for their own stories but for the emergence of collective ones as well"

"there are questions of mystery here ... , of risk and not-knowing, of time (more risk), and change (more risk)"

Open-ended transactional inquiry, using all three loops,  both personal and group story development, and difference/risk?  Creating some new observations ...

A lesson plan - learning sudoku

  • Play it yourself several times at whatever level you're comfortable with, record your times
  • Share stories about how you figure it out, in small groups, in large group
  • Play it again several times yourself, record your times

(variants: color sudoku, ken-ken)

Metacognition

  • Am I different from other people?
  • Can I get less wrong?
  • Can I contribute to other people getting less wrong?
  • Is it better to be analytical or intutive?
  • Are differences valuable?
  • Is there a "right" way to play sudoku?

Broader issues

"What new understandings might come from taking this particular conflict seriously, rather than taking it simply as a barrier or irritant in doing what we might be more inclined to do based on our own understandings?"

A teachable moment

Your thoughts in forum below ...

 


 

Comments

Paul Grobstein's picture

Conflict and education, con.

For further conversation/thoughts growing out of this session, see

Teaching Shamanism ...

Paul Grobstein's picture

lesson critique (PG)

We all have crisper and less crisp days, right?  Thanks for finding the crisper parts (and apologies, Kathy, for making it more obscure than it needed to be)

"I saw the soduku puzzle as a form if inquiry, in that we had to develop our own strategies to solve the puzzle. I took from this lesson, that students can't always be taught one way, that many paths must be presented to allow them to find an outcome. "

"It's not about Soduko anyone.  Actually it was torture for me doing those puzzles.  I guess I find it crazy that I am saying this since I want my students to think critically and logically and be able to cogently express their thoughts."

"Today's discussion had me thinking about how frustrating learning can be.  I was able to understand my frustration and I've concluded that I put to much emphasis on completing the task successfully and when I did not accomplish this I was even more dismayed.  Looking at the story and the conversation after the story is the story."

"I thought that the lesson was a good introduction to inquiry and conflict."

"What struck me in the conversation was creating classrooms of collaborators instead of  competitors ... In my school there is little collaboration. I think this is because teachers aren't willing to have conflict among the school community and within their classroom. It is safe to discourage discourse."

"I always tell my students "You don't need to be friends, you just need to be friendly."  Students and parents are very appreciative of this statement as nobody wants to be friends with everybody.  Now I wonder if I need to add something about the importance of conflict in friendliness.  Otherwise people will be polite, but no real "group story" will develop."

"We need to be more nurturing with our students as well as our peers. We need to share, and listen. Listening is something we are failing at...why do we stop listening to other people-our students...this is where we fail ourselves as educators. Inquiry needs listening in order to be successful..."

I agree with all the following.  Mea culpa

The post-Sudoku discussion helped, but it still seemed more a 'piece of' rather than a connected link."

"I wish we had spent more time looking at the article ..."

"I wish we had spent more time discussing the article and I think we could have learned  more by listening to the author's thoughts!"

"I loved this article, it addressed my biggest concern... at the beginning of this institure, I was interpreting some people's comments in this class as being PRO-"Infinite Stories."  I did my best to articulate the concerns I had with this.  Vallabha's article does an excellent job summarizing the deficiencies of this model.  He goes on to answer my question "What IS the balance between flexibility and structure?"  It effectively addressed the need for structure while students pursue their interests in order to acheive success."

"I wished in today's session that Alice and Barath were more involved."

A few additional things from this moring I want to think more about

The personal story/group story interaction is really a 4th loop and ought to be presented as such.  Distinguishing personal and group stories can be an important way to reduce peoples' discomfort with interpersonal conflict.

The sudoku exercise was successful in bringing out peoples' tendency to be made uncomfortable by the inclination to evaluate oneself in comparison to others and others in comparison to oneself.  Probably too successful.  It was successful as well in drawing attention to the need to somehow bring into o.-e.c.i. conversation issues of enhancing the ability to think/communicate "critically, logically, cogently."  One of my mistakes was to think we could handle both of these issues in the same relatively short time. 

The idea that there should be in classrooms more explicit attention to group projects, so as to encourage everybody to recognize individual skills as opposed to deficiencies, seems to me a very important one. 

Thanks all for both thoughts and tolerance of my deficiencies.  I'm still learning ....

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Reaction to your comments

Paul, I think what you did was to create conflict/confusion and allow the teachers to experience it.  Didn't you say that conflict/confusion is learning!!!  Good job!

RecycleJack Marine's picture

Suduku? No, you?

Even when I first clicked on the Suduku icon at the Inquiry Institute site, I already had feelings of nervous anxiousness. I know I don't like to play games and this was going to be an intense game for me. So, when I saw it online, I knew I was in for an experience. When I first started, it was so frustrating that I was near to tears- really! I think I have pushed myself into a mental corner... so I didn't even consider that I could succeed at such a challenge.

But after calming down, and seeing that my "play pals" had also been frustrated, I gave in to a slight surge of confidence, and I finished my first suduku in under ten minutes!

The ongoing looping process that Paul talks about is a reasonable explanation for the way in which our brains help us to sort out the world and I think I am finally beginning to understand some of this theory. I remember Joyce said that she "had no idea" what paul was talking about after her first Brain and Behavior Institute. So, the fact that I am starting to get it after just 25 days, is good news!

Your unconscious comes up with new meaning while you consciously make observations. If students are going to learn then there must be conflict. Yes, the brain will not accept knowledge if everything is on an  even keel: Things must be rocky to get inside!

Finally, I did want to add my unlikely football team to
the Mind Over Matter Football League: The Taoist Cowboys.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Even keel or waves aplenty

Jill mentioned a phrase that we have all heard growing up, "don't make waves."

We seem to be asking a lot of our central nervous systems. First, we expect them to react with a fight or flight model when under stress (we do want to live to see another day). We and our students experience the perception of stress when in conflict--behind any of the three doors that Paul describes.

Paul asks us to find the conflict useful---but we are still left with a whole lot of what Joyce has been calling "visceral reaction."

Maybe, you've hit on an important bridge Jack. Maybe there would be benefit in teaching mindful meditation practice alongside, "can we find the conflict useful."

Edward Bujak's picture

meta-cognate on Soduko

It's not about Soduko anyone.  Actually it was torture for me doing those puzzles.  I guess I find it crazy that I am saying this since I want my students to think critically and logically and be able to cogently express their thoughts. 

I felt a union with some frustrated students in our classrooms.  I was amazed how different our success was and how varied our times were even after we reflected, talked about strategies, and iterated for another loop and more observations.

 I enjoyed Paul going around the room for our individual feedback about what we fealt about the lesson being inquiry-based or not.  Even at this point in this Inquiry Institute our interpretation, application, and observations about inquiry-based were different although some common threads emersed.

Deborah Hazen's picture

I'm not a Soduko fan either

I'm a crossword puzzle fiend and will do a Suduko that I find in the paper infrequently and only if it's all I've got. My anxiety about completing the activity came from two areas---first, I suffer from some rather serious auditory distractability--it leaves me fairly unable to concentrate and pretty exhausted at the end of days that don't include some "quiet time." The need for quiet, reflective, wait or down time is why I frequently don't post until the evening or morning after a session.

The second anxiety prompter for me is working a puzzle on a computer screen--I don't really like reading off of a screen and even though I do crosswords everyday---don't choose to do them on the computer.

It is pretty amazing when you think about how many people were unsettled by the activity. We were actually agreeing on that point--though I wonder how many of us felt "in agreement" as we were discussing the experience. Maybe it was the adreline that was pumping? I wasn't hearing all of that----I was better able to "hear it" as I gained a little distance and read the posts.

I guess my take away is to spend more time thinking about Geneva's presentation--specifically the need to be heard and practice better listening. I know that there is nothing I find more annoying than when people are pigeon-holed, what I think are off-base assumptions are made, or folks attribute motives that couldn't be farther from the truth. I struggle equally with painting things with a broad brush. It is so much easier to be aware of and influence these things in my classroom, and to a certain degree, my school community. But walk outside of that self-selected culture and it gets hard. Joyce---we need to explore culture some more!

Syreeta Bennett's picture

Collaboration and conflict

I wished in today's session that Alice and Barath were more involved. I wanted to discuss the article more. What struck me in the conversation was creating classrooms of collaborators instead of  competiors.  Even in fifth grade they are competing for the best grade.  In my classroom i tried to have alot of collaboration. I encourage them to work together in Math, Science, Social Studies, and Literacy.  I've noticed though that even in this arena of collaboration their is still a level of competition.  This competition works for them and that is ok. They push each other. I also thoguht about Paul's statement revising curriculum as a share product. I like this idea that the class comes up with what is produced and determine what is valued. Another strand that touched me is collaboration is a community enabling conflict.  To often, various viewpoints are lost. In my school there is little collaboration. I think this is because teachers aren't willing to have conflict among the school community and within their classroom. It is safe to discourage discourse.

Deborah Hazen's picture

On collaboration and conflict

Syreeta, I would love to pick your brain about your experiences with and hopes for collaboration and conflict in the school community. At a Quaker school we use a lot of collaboration between students--and I've always embraced that model. Recently, I've been thinking about how difficult collaboration is among staff. I agree with you in thinking that teachers want to avoid conflict---we negotiate conflict with our students, we stave off conflict with parents, we manage conflict with administration-----so when we come together we seem to expect/ask for a "wall of chalk" ---a code that says, we are "comrades in arms" so no conflict here!

I came to classroom teaching after other kinds of work---so I was unused to the classroom isolation. I keep trying to find a way to create for myself a little of what I've read happens in Japan----teachers there will write lessons and meet with colleagues to comb through their lessons--getting feedback and fine tuning the lesson many times before it is ever delivered in the classroom. None of our schools, big/little, public/private/charter seem to make ready space for this kind of practice. Gee--I'd just like the time to go watch someone else teach once in a while.

Kathy Swahn's picture

i leave feeling more confused then I came...

I thought I knew what inquiry was but now I don't know.

After spending 4 weeks on Brain and Behavior and Inquiry.

I thought I felt confident in my abilities but after weeks of being questioned I feel beaten down and honestly tired to the point that I no longer feel confident.

Some things I thought I knew - I don't anymore.

I thought I'd feel better when I left here but I kind of feel like a boat set adrift - just weaving and bobbing wondering where the lighthouse is.

I am tired and need the lighthouse and the island and if the is an "answer" then so be it.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Looking for an answer

Kathy---in the institute sessions I wallow---even luxuriate---in the unknown and imagining what is possible. it isn't that I don't have constraints at my school, or even that I think that I can change the world this year--for me, it is about using the institute as a way of imagining all of the possibilities --- the time will come for me when I will return to my school and have to take my imaginings and trim them to fit the situation.

When I return to my school, I will return to my self-selected community--and there are answers there. Some of those answers/philosophies resonate with me and I hope to nurture them and pass them into the next generation. Some of those answers/philosophies are questionable to me---and one way I test my truth is by participating in summer work with people who can offer unique experiences that I can ask questions about, and test my own story against.

I want to thank you for offering perspectives that have enabled me to test my story---over and over again. I would love for us to continue the dialogue and hope to "run into you" often on the Serendip page.

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

The Article on Reflections

I wish we had spent more time looking at the article because I felt that one thing that Bharath doesn't spend time on is the fact that in order to do this we must have good classroom management skills.  In order to enact the best scenario, no matter what level of teaching we are at we need this!   The aim of education is to get people to learn and communicate and learn and create and communicate and the ideal model would be to do this!  I hope we can revisit this in the future!  I would like to try this model with my class!

Deborah Hazen's picture

Social engineering in the classroom and group process

I was thinking the same thing--it is so much easier for me to make this happen in the classroom--because I am the social engineer in the room. And if I have a student who is not on-board, I work with them until they too embrace and fully participate in the classroom culture.

I think that Paul is a social engineer in his sessions as well---maybe because he knows exactly where he is going---what he will share with us----the material, the nature of his material and his clearly articulated story make it possible to keep the train moving toward a common destination.

Wil tried something really radical to my mind---he wanted us to discover a way to describe inquiry---but he didn't bring his story about what inquiry is to the table--instead, he tried for 100% emergence---with no overarching story on his part to point N, S, E or W.  I don't think that he failed---rather, I think that the kind of emergence that he was allowing space for in the group just needs more time--my guess is that if we had another week or two we would have come together as a group and been more productive the longer we were together.

Wil was also handicapped to a certain extent. When a group forms, an identity emerges--in org design you say that the group has gone from the form to norm stage----add new people, take original members away and the group goes through a storm phase before it can re-norm. I think that our first week of II2009 was that storm phase--perfectly normal, but again something that needs space to shake out.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Classroom management and group process

I was thinking the same thing--it is so much easier for me to make this happen in the classroom--because I am the social engineer in the room. And if I have a student who is not on-board, I work with them until they too embrace and fully participate in the classroom culture.

I think that Paul is a social engineer in his sessions as well---maybe because he knows exactly where he is going---what he will share with us----the material, the nature of his material and his clearly articulated story make it possible to keep the train moving toward a common destination.

Wil tried something really radical to my mind---he wanted us to discover a way to describe inquiry---but he didn't bring his story about what inquiry is to the table--instead, he tried for 100% emergence---with no overarching story on his part to point N, S, E or W.  I don't think that he failed---rather, I think that the kind of emergence that he was allowing space for in the group just needs more time--my guess is that if we had another week or two we would have come together as a group and been more productive the longer we were together.

Wil was also handicapped to a certain extent. When a group forms, an identity emerges--in org design you say that the group has gone from the form to norm stage----add new people, take original members away and the group goes through a storm phase before it can re-norm. I think that our first week of II2009 was that storm phase--perfectly normal, but again something that needs space to shake out.

GShoshana's picture

today's lesson by Paul

 Today we played the game sodoku. Through this game we were able to understand how the student feels when he doesn’t understand something.  My job as a teacher is to give the most support and help to the student and try to reach any student and teach  him by the way that he is learning. The teacher needs to teach, challenge, and enrich the student.

Rachel Roberts's picture

Re: I've been thinking...

This morning's discussion regarding Sudoku was very enlightening for me. It's been interesting listening to comments and different thoughts from various types of people in our class. There are obviously different teaching styles in this class, just as there are varying students. We are from different classrooms- some are larger than others-30+students, some have less than 20 students, and some of us have 120 students. Because of these different teaching circumstances, it has been interesting to see the varying thoughts as well as opinions. We cannot fill eachothers shoes unless we truly understand the circumstances.  I think people as well as teachers learn differently and think differently. We need to be more nurturing with our students as well as our peers. We need to share, and listen. Listening is something we are failing at...why do we stop listening to other people-our students...this is where we fail ourselves as educators. Inquiry needs listening in order to be successful...

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Nurturing Thoughts

I agree, we need to be more nurturing especially to our peers.  I think, if we take time to listen great things will be accomplished!  Thanks for your comment

Deborah Hazen's picture

Nurturing

I want to understand more...could you both describe the nurturing...what it looks like, what it sounds like...how Paul's conflict model fits or doesn't fit with it.

Is it about tone, intent? How do we control other people's perceptions of tone or intent? What about cultural/societal perceptions of communication patterns (I'm thinking about the differences between how men and women are perceived by many when communicating.)

Diedre Bennett's picture

I truly enjoyed today's

I truly enjoyed today's lesson.  I saw the soduku puzzle as a form if inquiry, in that we had to develop our own strategies to solve the puzzle. I took from this lesson, that students can't always be taught one way, that many paths must be presented to allow them to find an outcome. 

 

Deidre

Deborah Hazen's picture

Yes and the fastest way is not necessarily the goal

Just because Jill completed many more puzzles than anyone else, does not mean that we should each try to do it her way---that part of the conversation made me realize that there is a caution we must include when we invite kids to share their approach----we have to be careful not to allow students to think that the fastest, most accurate student's approach is the way to go----because given some more time, each student might find their own best way. That's a tightrope walk for kids who just want to succeed---listen to each other's approach--but don't jump to trying to adopt any one strategy.

Stephen Cooney's picture

Comment on Paul G’s lesson #2

I am committed to success in sharing with my students the 3 loops for learning.  While it may, in theory, be easier because I teach in a science classroom, it will still be a challenge.  Transparency and a solid introduction to the how and why of the approach will be essential to its success.  Today's lesson had me struggling, in the later stages, to make the connection to the loops.  The post-Sudoku discussion helped, but it still seemed more a 'piece of' rather than a connected link. 

Bharath’s ‘Balanced Stories Model” seems to be a good approach.  Both the loops and the balanced story will require a ‘redesign’ of the attitude and community in my classroom.  The last two week’s dialogue and instruction have convinced me that it will be worth the effort.  Fortunately, I will be given the leeway that I need to take time to ‘re-train’ my students with this learning model in mind.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, when we add to our curriculum we need to take something away.  So while there may be a little bit less physics in my room this year, the students should leave with a whole lot more in the way of universal learning skills.

 

I hope to be able to convince my department, and then the bigger school community as a whole, of the validity of this approach.

Dalia Gorham's picture

I thought that the lesson

I thought that the lesson was a good introduction to inquiry and conflict.  I would have liked to discuss "Reflections on openness  and structure in education".  I thought the article had many great, useful points when trying to insert inquiry into classrooms. I can appreciate how conflict leads to learning, therefore, it would have been great to share viewpoints on the reading.

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

The Article

I agree, I wish we had spent more time discussing the article and I think we could have learned  more by listening to the author's thoughts! You spark a question for me thanks!

Deborah Hazen's picture

Me too

We could go to the page where the article is posted and continue the discussion there...anyone game?

Reflections on Openness and Structure in Education

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Changing the Way We Think

Today's discussion with Paul had me thinking about how frustrating learning can be.  I was able to understand my frustration and I've concluded that I put to much emphasis on completing the task successfully and when I did not accomplish this I was even more dismayed.  Looking at the story and the conversation after the story is the story.  It is easy to monitor and influence young minds with a sense that is acceptable but how can this be done with our peers?  I think that we need to reflect and think about another' s person beliefs but where do we draw the line?  Are all stories to be excepted?  I need to do further thought!

Moira Messick's picture

Sudoku, Me?

Instead of blogging about the joy of finally getting the Sudoku puzzle, I would like to focus on conflict and group dynamics.  I always tell my students "You don't need to be friends, you just need to be friendly."  Students and parents are very appreciative of this statement as nobody wants to be friends with everybody.  Now I wonder if I need to add something about the importance of conflict in friendliness.  Otherwise people will be polite, but no real "group story" will develop.

If "agreeing to disagree" is denying conflict and we need to insist upon conflict to develop understanding than there needs to be some team building activities at the beginning of a class.  Working in collaboration over a seemingly meaningless task builds a trust among the individuals in the class.  Setting this stage is vital to good group dynamics.  Building that trust helps people understand how to interpret people's questions and trust their motives.  There would be more understanding of peoples communication styles and less feelings of being under attack. 

It is human nature, unfortunately when people's ideas are threatened, they tend to gravitate toward people with similar ideas.  This is how cliques begin in our schools, neighborhoods, and even graduate classes.  Anyone who agrees "hey, that person was too aggressive or that person was too sensitive" - they are welcome in the respective groups.   What is most unfortunate is that these groups can devolve into  pointing out irrelevant deficiencies the person who is viewed as "too sensitive" or "the aggressor" has.  This leads to prickly conversations, no trust, and an seemingly impossible environment to achieve a "group story."  Setting up some team building activities at the beginning, can be a proactive approach to avoiding this problem.

Diane Balanovich's picture

Suprise

I agree with Moira, I believe people do gravitate toward people with similar ideas. Even though their ideas are similiar, you can still learn more from that person. I don't think that I am closed minded to other's ideas, however, if it doesn't make a connection with me, I don't look into it further. If what is stated makes sense to me, then I definately want them to continue enlightening me.  I think that people can agree to disagree. Also, I think that some people need to have a more nuturing facilitator and other enjoy the open endedness of exploring without direction.

RecycleJack Marine's picture

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