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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Jedi Training: Developing Habits of Perception in Our Disciplines | Faculty Focus - Teaching and Learning

Photo: Gillian Parrish
"As longtime practitioners in our disciplines, we develop implicit skills that can be the source of some of the deepest learning for our students" says Gillian Parrish, MFA, inveterate teaching-geek and an assistant professor in the MFA Writing Program at Lindenwood University.

Photo: Faculty Focus

In his book Experience and Education, John Dewey describes habit as “the formation of attitudes, attitudes that are emotional and intellectual…our basic sensitivities and ways of responding to all the conditions we meet in living” (35). Experiencing implies the sensing body, embodied learning, and Dewey does not shy away from the emotional dimensions of learning—both of which are often where the deepest learning happens, where students’ passion for a discipline ignites, and where experts’ best ideas originate. These often-overlooked dimensions of learning are also where empathy lives, and so it is there that knowledge might blossom not only into expertise but into wisdom.

To facilitate this kind of development in our students, we need to 1) identify the habitual, underlying modes of sensing in our disciplines, and 2) design assignments for practicing these modes in whole-person ways that engage our students not only intellectually, but in their embodied, emotional everyday lives.

Jedi training
An example of a quick and simple-to-implement course component that can integrate whole-person learning is something I call “jedi training”: weekly experiential exercises crafted to cultivate essential habits of mind in my discipline. These low-stakes exercises yield big benefits by moving students away from their desks, toward new perspectives and deeper learning.

For instance, many seasoned writers have a habit of pausing to listen to what’s around them. Listening encourages an admission of not knowing and the pursuit of odd hunches (a preverbal, embodied, affective mode of thought). These are some of the core skills we could expect to find in the creative processes of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. And so, some of my jedi trainings give students a chance to practice listening-oriented skills requisite for good creative work. I might have them dip into an ethnographic mode and transcribe the heart of a conversation, foregrounding the pauses. Or I might ask them to sit and listen for the qualities of silence in different settings.

One student recently remarked that while graded weekly assignments would sometimes “put me in completion mode, tackling it like a computer,” the jedi trainings “allowed me to move past [that]” so he could encounter the week’s concepts in a more process-oriented, immersive way.

“A way of seeing the world”
In my courses, a polished piece of writing is not the point of the jedi-training exercises. Developing habits of a writer—sharpening a novice writer’s senses and seeing oblique connections, getting a feel for the textures of words—is what I’m after. It is notable that in more than 10 years of implementing these exercises, students have often remarked that some of their favorite pieces of writing happen through these jedi-training exercises. And it is there that I often see them arriving at new ideas and strategies and their best work. Key to this is how the exercise is presented—free of the weight of being the “official” high-stakes weekly assignment, but rather a chance to try something new.
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Source: Faculty Focus


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