INNOVATION EDUCATION WITH COLLABORATIVE LEARNING
Allen Green www.greenplanning.org
1. Liberating Learning: Hole In The Wall
2. Learning for AHA! (Alpha Climbs)
3. Feeling Flow and Aesthetic Resonance
4. Tapping General Genius
5. Escaping The Cave
6. Using Multiple Intelligence
7. Teaching The Whole Brain
8. Learning with Constructivism
9. Observing by Drawing
10. Thinking With Visuals
11. Grasping Seven Graphics
12. Making Mind Maps
13. Adapting Attitudes To Free Creativity
14. Busting Conceptual Blocks
15. Being Creative In Successive Stages
16. Seeding Brainstorms
17. Sky Bridging Ideas
18. Applying 9 Kinds of Learning
19. Innovating by Collaborating
20. Spring Boarding with Synectics
21. Designing with Magic Logic
22. Writing: From Deep To Done
LIBERATING LEARNING: HOLE IN THE WALL
What happens when educational access is totally freeform and open to improvisation?
What do students do without teachers telling that what to learn and how to proceed? In New
Delhi, computer scientist, Dr. Sugata Mitra provided children free access to computers and the
Internet with what has come to be known as the "Hole in the Wall Experiment." Inside a hole in
the wall between his air-conditioned space and the surrounding slum, he placed a computer
linked with the Internet. Curious kids quickly explored the novelty and asked, "Can we touch
it?'" Mitra said, "It's on your side of the wall."
Within minutes, they figured out how to point and click. By the end of the day they
were browsing. One boy became a computer celebrity locally. His teacher says he's a much
better student now. When asked to define the Internet, he replied, "That with which you can
do anything." Mitra replicated this experiment in other settings with the same results. Within
hours and without instruction, children were surfing cyberspace. Next, Mitra and his colleagues
set up computer kiosks in an effort to recruit girls in a society where only one in three females
read. Girls rushed to the computers. "I feel great!" said a beaming girl in New Delhi. Her family
is a bit baffled. Her sister-in-law is a stay-at-home housewife who has never seen a computer.
But she is thrilled that Anjana has access to new technology that opens up new horizons. "It
increases her knowledge...and it will be a big help when she looks for a job."
Indian children, without instruction, invent their own computer terms and icons. They
call a cursor a "sui" - which is Hindi for needle. The hourglass symbol is called "damru" which
means Shiva's drum, since it looks like one. Mitra told FRONTLINE/World, "I think the hole in
the wall gives us a method to create a door, if you like, through which large numbers of children
can rush into this new arena. When that happens, it will have changed our society forever."
LEARNING FOR AHA! (ALPHA CLIMBS)
Just as a nation, state, city, community, and company needs a unifying purpose to attain
excellence, individuals excel by realizing their highest aims. This is true of schools too, and it is
the most profound purpose that education can play in our lives. “Education's highest purpose
is to help people understand the meaning of their lives, and become more sensitive to the
meaning of other peoples' live and relate to them more fully. Education increases the range
and complexity of relationships that make sense to us, to which we can contribute, and on
which we can bring to bear competent ethical judgment. If we are to transcend our own
immediate environment, we must have access to the record of past and present, learn the skills
needed to interpret it, and learn to tell good data from poor, whether it be the empirical data
of the sciences or the moral and aesthetic data of the humanities." (Edgar Friedenberg, in
Education of Vision, by Gyorgy Kepes, ed.)
With an empowering method for achieving this high calling, Seymore Papert said: “I am
convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge…The role of the
teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”
But too often, schooling is done to dole out stale facts, like a bad cafeteria.
George Lucas said: "I had to find my own way to learn topics I was passionate about, as
my school days were filled with memorizing isolated names and facts. It’s imperative that we
create new kinds of schools, freed from an educational system deeply rooted in the distant
past. Business and community groups are developing new partnerships with schools. Teachers
are taking on different learning roles, and students are learning to teach each other (in) schools
leading the way to this new future."
To educe means to "draw out" (not put in). Teachers elicit learners’ initiative with
"student centered" dialogue, as advocated passionately by Paolo Friere. Students learn from
each other, rather than competing to outdo or eliminate each others. Although collaborative
learning is considered "cheating" in some educational settings that emphasize conformity and
competition, a whole new worldview has been emerging. For example, when Dr. Oppenheimer
founded the Exploratorium, is was designed to provide a context for learning to flow freely,
without interference from authority figures assigning uniform “grades” for anyone’s
experience. His insistence on free wheeling learning over monitored instruction flies in the face
of the institution that education has become. But with drop out rates of thirty-to-fifty percent
in many U.S. cities, isn’t a more engaging educational process preferable?
Is the goal to include people or eliminate them from educational opportunities?
Shouldn’t everyone be included in education, for lifelong access for personal growth and
societal progress? Who pays when people are denied access to education?
Alpha Climbs - Peak Experiential Education
"When you are completely absorbed or caught up in something, you become oblivious
to things around you, or to the passage of time. It is this absorption in what you are doing that
frees your unconscious and releases your creative imagination." Rollo May
Many courses I've taught blurred boundaries between the classroom and community life.
A rock climber who was a student in a course I taught at U.C. Davis named our class an “Alpha
Climb.” This was intended to mean that each learner is free to choose their own adventure by
picking the peak they want to climb (as a subject they want to learn) and the path(s) they
choose to use in getting to that apex. We all learned much more this way than the usual
approach to learning, based on predetermined assignments that don’t demand much ethical
imagination, interpersonal innovation, heartfelt communication, or reflective action in real
world contexts where students freely choose to root collaborative learning.
Learning should flow from intrinsic motives that connect with community life. Creating
strategies that make teamwork fun, productive and meaningful begins by listening intently to
each other's hopes. Sitting in a circle outside (whenever possible) helps set the tone of a
sacramental experience. In our circle of support, each person gets to:
Pick an educational adventure they choose to pursue by expressing what you care most
about, in terms of what you wish to do to with your life
Explore ways to record their learning as a journey, and the lessons gained - using new
media to leverage learning (focusing on content than polished packaging) to teach
classmates what you learn, using media records of your adventure
Invest resources beyond the classroom, especially local elders, unusual people, and
pioneering professionals - discover others who are doing good work related to your aim
and offer to help them, or devise your own approach to serving your cause
To design and enact your own alpha climb means choosing your own peak, going farther
with teamwork, falling forward from let downs, and reaching new heights of insight. Some
memorable apex treks include:
Butterfly Man – A big rugby athlete created a super hero identity (for himself) to build butterfly
habitats in people's yards until they all form one huge habitat (through Sacramento) during the
course of his lifetime.
Incognito Immigrants – A group of students lived as homeless immigrants in California’s capital,
using multimedia to document the “pattern language of oppression” that vulnerable people are
forced to endure. They presented their documentary to civic leaders to earn support for
improved social services.
No Man’s Land Art – A team composed of students from around the world got together to
invade “no man's lands” scattered across our urban environments. Like secret agents, they
brought media to record quick performances they staged in response to the feelings these
landscapes evoked. Their work was honored as a traveling art exhibit, nationally.
Public Vision Research - A small team joined me in doing design-on-the spot in downtown
farmers' markets. By setting up a booth with aerial photos and street scene shots, we engaged
all comers in open dialog with rapid designs doodled over site photos. Our videos were given to
the local Redevelopment Agency as public vision research for future planning.
True News Pioneer – A woman grieved by ethical unease with injustices going on in Jerusalem,
boldly made her own video journal, with laptop and recording gear to create a prototype for a
radio show that is now on KPFA (Flashpoints).
Deathbed Songbird – A woman who said she wasn’t creative revealed that she sings to dying
strangers by their bedsides at local hospitals, intuiting what they want to hear. Even though
she is partially disabled, she is on call for them. This is her art.
Commuter Explorer – A gentleman with a long daily commute turned his routine into an
adventure. By adding a bit more time to fit in side routes, he got to know about places he had
been passing through. With photography, he enriched his everyday experience using time to
Ears for Tears – A woman told classmates about something troubling her. Recently her young
son’s grandmother died, and he was crying often. Mom had been raised to not show weakness,
especially by crying. She felt conflicted about comforting her son’s pain. As a new approach,
she invited him to draw his tears as illustrated stories. He responded with amazing images.
Their relationship bloomed. This activity became their time to be together, with TV off. When
she shared their art in class, many shed tears of joy. In Peak Learning, Ronald Gross advocates
realization of passions, rather than reliance on standardized instruction to pass minimum
norms. Compare peak learning characteristics with those associated with emphasis on meeting
Healing Force – In one course where our emphasis was on listening to each other, with minimal
structure and maximum spontaneity, one man revealed at the end of an especially enriched
session (where we stayed past midnight) that he had healed himself from AIDS after being
diagnosed on a trip to Mexico. Without recourse to modern medicine of any sort, he turned
inward to embrace his own healing powers in ways I cannot convey here. But I can say he was
entirely healed and fully truthful as he blessed us all with his personal story of the healing
power of love.
Innovation education begins by respecting student’s intrinsic motivation to learn and
connects education with real world contexts. Related traits of innovation education include:
• Intrinsic Motivation - students select meaningful topics for sustained study
• Direct Experience - learners experience the subject in its context, directly
• Personal Practice - students build skills by persistent practice, free from fear
• Mutual Reviews - learners share results and support each other's growth
• Diverse Interpretations - peers pool perceptions on work in progress
• Self Evaluations - students define educational aims and assess personal growth with self-
selected criteria defined in open dialogue
• Open Ended-ness - learners surpass limits by following personal passion
• Cooperation - students support each other's growth instead of competing or cheating
• Unification - education becomes a unifying process rather disjointed topics
Instead of forcing consumption of second hand information, education for innovation
encourages proactive participation in setting goals, exploring methods, and evaluating
outcomes. As Edutopia founder George Lucas says: "It’s imperative that we create new kinds of
schools, freed from an educational system deeply rooted in the distant past. Business and
community groups are developing new partnerships with schools. Teachers are taking on
different learning roles, and students are learning to teach each other (in) schools leading the
way to this new future." In Peak Learning, Ronald Gross advocates realization of people’s
passions for maximum results, rather standardized instruction to pass minimum norms.
Compare peak learning with emphasis on meeting minimums.
Characteristics of Peak Learning Characteristics of Minimum Standards
• Excitement and love of learning • Memorization and repetition
• Diversity and personal esteem • Conformity to a mono-culture
• Creative thinking and intuition • Static and rigid processes
• Process mastery • Content memorization
• Teachers as learning facilitators • Teachers as data banks
• Inter-disciplinary learning • Departmentalized learning
• Cultural diversity • Uniformity and conformity
• Collaborative learning sites • Isolated teaching settings
• Technology as an integral tool • Technology as add on
• Flexible use of facilities • Restrictive use of facilities
• Involvement with community • Detachment from community
FEELING FLOW AND AESTHETIC RESONANCE
In Peak Learning, Ronald Gross describes an optimal mental state called FLOW. "Flow is
the state in which learning and happiness are most completely merged…action flows
effortlessly…you feel strong, alert and unselfconscious…in command of the present and
performing at the peak of your ability…(with) a profound focus on what you're doing that
leaves no room to worry about what anyone else will think…intense concentration on what is
relevant develops the ability to merge unselfconscious action with awareness and to alter the
experience of time…Flow experiences arise from intrinsic motivation, not from concerns with
external rewards or goals."
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (“chick-sent-me-high”) offers a way for this state to spread
amongst people, in Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience: "It is possible to find a unifying
purpose that...like a magnetic field attracts...psychic energy, a goal upon which all lesser goals
depend. This goal will define the challenges...to face in order to transform...life into a flow
activity." As confirmation that flow can be a shared state of mind, Stephen Hawken’s The
Magic of Findhorn recalls: "A new sense of sublimation to the greater whole and of being
'attuned' to people. The Magic of Findhorn is the actual, palpable experience of one's own
consciousness merging with a group consciousness...one individual after another describing the
experience of oneness, the joy that this unfolding of consciousness bestows, and the lightness
of mental gait when the load of being 'someone' is cast away and the dance of simply being
A special state of sensitivity, associated with the arts, is aesthetic awareness that
engages all of our senses. Beyond the conventional set of senses - sight, hearing, touch, taste,
and smell – our experience of motion, gravity, pressure, humidity, temperature and balance
may also be activated. This holistic state of mind contrasts with pragmatic, emotional, and
scientific modes of awareness by being expansive, multi-sensory, plus intuitive – as when we
get flashes of insight and travel forward in time with hints of ESP.
To grasp this state's special nature, consider different ways of perceiving an on-coming
train. A train whistle, heard with a practical attitude, alerts us to be careful. This same train
sound, heard with scientific dispassion, offers an opportunity to analyze sound waves as
mathematical abstractions. An affective response to the train whistle may arouse fear or
longing…or other associations that stir emotions stored in our memories. But aesthetic
awareness means acutely hearing every nuance of the whistle with vivid detail, while reflecting
rich associations with other experiences and their potential for expressing symbolic values.
Aesthetic awareness feeds our creative imaginations. As reported by artists, athletes,
leaders, seers, and scientists, this heightened state of sensitivity is the opposite of “tunnel
vision” because it includes peripheral vision, hearing silences between sounds, field awareness
and acute sensitivity subtle energies, such as practitioners of feng shui cultivate through
systematic approaches for opening sensitivity to living systems. This is the ultimate aim of
Jiddu Krishnamurti described a special state of perceptive openness. "The attention
which is generally advocated, practiced and indulged in is a narrowing-down of the mind to a
point, which is a process of exclusion. But there is a different kind of attention, a state of mind
which is not exclusive, which does not shut out anything; and because there is not resistance,
the mind is capable of much greater attention. But attention without resistance does not mean
the attention of absorption. If you are aware of every movement of the mind from moment to
moment then there is no such thing as distraction at any time and the energy of the mind is not
wasted in resisting something. When someone is speaking, attention is the giving of your mind
not only to the words but also to the silence between the words. If you experiment with this
you will find that your mind can pay complete attention without distraction and without
resistance. Apart from the attention of absorption, these two states are all we know. Either we
try to discipline the mind so tightly that it cannot deviate, or we just let it wander from one
thing to another. Now, what I am describing is not a compromise between the two; on the
contrary, it has nothing to do with either. It is an entirely different approach; it is to be totally
aware so that your mind is all the time attentive without being caught in the process of
A group may experience intuitive unity, too. The Magic of Findhorn describes: "(A) new
sense of sublimation to the greater whole and of being 'attuned' to people. The Magic of
Findhorn is the actual, palpable experience of one's own consciousness merging with a group
consciousness...one individual after another describing the experience of oneness, the joy that
this unfolding of consciousness bestows, and the lightness of mental gait when the load of
being 'someone' is cast away and the dance of simply being 'one' begins." (Paul Hawken)
TAPPING GENERAL GENIUS
"If the current fever to redesign education were to be informed by an appreciation for the
role of anxiety in the child’s development, it would be possible to multiply the thinking skills
developed in school. What is needed is not new curricula and new buildings and equipment,
but a new relationship between teacher and student in which the adult focuses on nurturing,
above all, a realistic self–appreciation. Treated properly, those selves have all the talent
required to become outstanding thinkers. If we adults in the teaching system can become clear,
within our selves about how to create, first internally and then for our charges, a discount–free
process and goal–oriented way of relating and learning, we may be able to provide children and
parents with a new more humane and growth friendly model for relating to themselves and
each other." George Prince
In my experience in green planning and design with people of all ages, I’ve found that
children, and people in general, come up with livelier designs than the world they’ve actually
experienced. Teens will envision futures far more beautiful than anything they’ve known in
their hometowns or seen in movies, not to mention video games. What’s feeding their ethical
imaginations…beyond the influence of experience and media impressions? Consider an
example of how this happens.
On a recommendation from a colleague at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis sociologist John
Sanfield kindly invited me to join with him in working with a dozen Sacramento teens to see
what kind of ideas they would envision for their community by doing design together. We
spent serious time together to make sure we were in full agreement about the purpose of our
partnership. We would have weeks to analyze community contexts; survey public interests;
feed their imaginations; experience great places; form an ethical vision; and convey their
concepts. That's was a lot to do in three weeks.
They (we) hadn't done anything like this before. But my experience in working with
diverse groups in pressured packed projects gave me confidence. I expressed faith in the kids,
and they took it to heart. The experiment we set out to do was intended to show that teens
have much to contribute, when given opportunities to serve public interests. Rather than take
their "input" and make plans FOR them, my role was to facilitate expression of their own values
and visions. My role ranged from championing a spirit of adventurous learning to transferring
We held our first meetings in a new Police Headquarters for an air of authority that let
everyone know we were serious and authorized for action. I showed slides of fascinating places
to stir thinking and open up conversations. We exchanged facts and ideas fast. I invited each
to describe the best places they had ever experienced. With this, I learned that many had not
been very far from their local scene, except for amusement parks like Disneyland.
So, I knew we would need field trips to feed their imaginations. For this, Dr. Sanfield
assigned several helpful college interns to work with me to help organize (what I call) a
“learning spree” of enjoyable experiences in enriching contexts, ranging from urban centers to
shopping districts, campuses and the State Fair. With camcorders, tape measures, and
conversations on the spot, we discovered and defined details connected into the social-spatial
designs of “great good places.”
Friendships quickly formed. Tensions over race, gender and age were minimal. Our
interns helped bridge generations and serve as role models. They were great partners, with a
huge hearts. Our daily field trips to “great good places” ranged from the State Fair to San
Francisco’s waterfront, plazas and urban parks, plus Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley’s Fourth
Street, a Waldorf campus, and Cal State Sacramento University campus and garden. We
absorbed lasting lessons from these powerful places. Everyone was an anthropologist, artist,
detective, journalist and researcher rolled into one.
Exposure to enriching environments was a breath of fresh air. They clearly loved
documenting sites and interviewing folks on the fly. We explored a rich array of social issues
and planning concepts, blending experience with continuous reflection that helped lessons
“stick.” To poll public interests, we developed questionnaires, with Dr. Sanfield’s considerable
help. We ran surveys passing people, enhanced by questionnaires that also used at home, in
neighborhoods, and with community groups. Absorbing environmental qualities while
gathering public interests set the stage for them to represent their community’s potential. We
found people cared deeply about affordable housing, public transportation, meaningful
recreation, lifelong education, clean energy, inclusive economy, restorative ecology, and more.
Words that local folks used varied, but the gist of their ideas was very, very green.
For our final two days together, we set up a big drawing table with base plans, aerial
photos, and drawing tools. In a flurry of activity, they created their plan with instant
cooperation. They superimposed ideas onto images of local contexts, with confidence from
their direct connection to people’s expressed interests. They drew decisions without fussing
over who thought of what.
We invited the local press to cover our daily workshops as we videotaped planning in
progress. In mobile exhibits, we combined their concepts for public presentations (that we
would do next). To garner feedback from local elders, experts, and peers, we hosted a
presentation in their community center. The teens overcame natural shyness once they
realized their purpose was to present plans that reflected facts and aspirations that lifted focus
from self-image to community identity. Their experience of being fully heard and appreciated
for representing community’s interests left a lasting lesson in how democracy can work in civic
The plan they made was completely free of conventional sprawl and economic
segregation. It was extremely green and sensitively sized with healthy human proportions.
Pedestrian paths were woven through the entire urban scene. Ascending walkways connected
terraced buildings that mixed ground floor stores with overhead lofts, shops, studios, and a rich
array of affordable lifestyles. Localized enterprises served folks of all ages. Ready access to
open spaces, street trees, urban gardens and well planted buildings formed a refreshing
framework of living landscapes as the common ground for public life. Clean energy powered
compact building clusters oriented for solar exposure and generous views. I believe their plan
proved that people are born with (what I call) a “general genius for fast forward learning.”
Having worked with many groups of all ages, I’ve come to believe we have an inborn genius for
designing greener futures and that cultivating this intelligence is an ethical imperative. It is our
secret ingredient for creating cities with soul.
ESCAPING THE CAVE
Making Schools Into Open Systems
Imagine a hillbilly with a laptop under his arm…entering an outhouse. He emerges
minutes later, jumping for joy over his final grade for a college course he took on line. With
easier access to lifelong learning and tools that make commutes to campuses obsolete, is the
evolution of education is leading toward liberation of human potential, in wider circles?
I taught a college student who had come to America to fulfill his family’s faith and justify
the years of their saving meager money from hard labor, so he could have a better life. But, by
the middle of the school year, he had missed so many classes that teachers were considering
flunking him. When we crossed paths one day in a college hall, I asked him what was going on
in his life to make him miss so many classes. Exhausted, he explained he was working several
part-time jobs to afford all the costs involved in staying in school. Work hours were mounting
up as bosses wanted more from him. At school, he hoped he could catch up with extra effort
near the end of the term, the same way the many students “cram” for final exams. I alerted
him to show up more often, and let other teachers know of his dilemma, so they could extend
empathy, rather than judge him for being lazy, uncommitted, disrespectful, and other negative
assumptions that can pop up fast and stick around long. Even though his attendance wasn’t
perfect, he found a way to get assignments done. Once teachers knew of his situation, they
gave him wiggle room when he snuck in late to class or missed sometimes.
But now, we can ask a more fundamental question: why is punctuality and compliance
to timeframes given so much emphasis? With the advent of new technology for distance
learning and asynchronous self-pacing, it seems regressive and obsessive to insist on everyone
obeying the same schedule. If this same principle is applied to work schedules, imagine how
easily we could reduce traffic gridlock, if employees could self-manage teamwork without being
forced to commute to central locations with inflexible routines.
When I was commuting to college and working full-time, a math teacher gave me the
greatest gift I could hope for, at that time. Noticing I was worn out at night, but solving
problems quickly and correctly, he made me an offer I jumped at. He invited me to take the
final test and skip coming to class. When I came to take the test in his office, he handed me
two questions. That meant I couldn’t pass without solving both. I would get an A or an F. With
high stakes in play, I scribed formulae fast. After about an hour I was done with the first one,
and knew my solution was sound. Then, solving the second one problem stretched out over an
hour…as I tried every angle I could think of to solve it. Finally, I walked to his desk and handed
my test in, confessing that the second problem’s solution had eluded me. Like a sage, he
looked up with a slight grin and said: “Oh…it’s an impossible problem. You did a good job of
trying to solve it.” Then, he marked an “A” grade on my paper. I cannot tell you how much it
mattered to me to get this experience of freedom from grueling commutes. From my
experiences as a student and an educator, I strongly believe that education should focus on
facilitating learning rather than imposing routines that have minimal relevance to the subjects
While many local school programs are currently being cut, Peter Drucker predicted at
the turn of the century that schools will increasingly become "open systems" overall, to allow
access at any age and produce outcomes that improve life in local communities. Partnership
between schools and employing organizations will become more common. Open education will
link learning with community service projects for learning-by-doing. As this takes place,
education will transition from didactic training to heuristic learning - from a knowing to a
searching approach. The teacher's evolving role will be to help students become self-directed,
lifelong learners. Obedience, punctuality, and rote work will give way to student-centered,
lasting learning. We are shifting from past-oriented curricula to past/present/future curricula
and from a fixed reality to a dynamic reality (of ambiguities and emerging potentials). We're
also in transition from fragmentation-of-knowledge to integration-of-knowledge.
With this, we are also going from book-bound curricula to internet-based research, where
teams teach each other by researching diverse topics concurrently. As gathering facts gets
easier, the more important work of making meaning from diverse sources will rise. As learners
pursue genuine interests with pure curiosity, lasting learning will come from their shared fresh
discoveries. When people work autonomously and in self-chosen teams – authority comes with
responsibility. Assignments become self-directed. This is the kind of education that could uplift
citizen participation in civic life, as well as build character, and give rise to innovative leaders
across the whole spectrum of professions.
When I grew up in L.A., my elementary school let us learn at our own pace and had
teachers write personal reflections about our progress, rather than assign grades. When my
family moved to San Diego County, my new school tested me for proper placement. At age ten,
they found out I was already doing college level work, but their definition of education was
different than the one that had worked for me. Their rules were more like military and prison
management. We had to ask for permission to stand up, get in line, talk, open a book, get a
Cruelty ran rampant there, as kids vented their frustrations during recess. Both school
systems had been designed to win the Cold War. Each one had their plan for pushing the
brightest minds to the top. Between bomb drills and math tests, our minds were labs for
testing their theories. By the time I got to high school, I became a “disturbing influence” - after
beaten in front of leering mobs for being “the brain.” I pumped up by lifting weights and
formed a rock band with tough guys who could handle trouble with glee. We were fierce. I
carried an emotional charge that had built up from being bullied and being bored - like millions
of kids today.
In Education for Critical Consciousness, Paolo Friere advocates democratic dialog as the
source of real learning. Making an analogy with banking, he decries conventional schools for
enforcing practices that put students in the role of withdrawing knowledge from teachers, as
though lessons are commodities and students are consumers. Instead, education should raise
awareness by coaxing students to question all they are exposed to, in order to make learning
meaningful. Teachers’ relationships with students should be respect plus awareness of real
world conditions that influence them. Without this, teachers act in ignorance of what students
know and how they think.
Friere states knowledge does not exist in an absolute state, but develops as a social
construct. Knowing involves feeling. Curiosity naturally extends beyond single topics to larger
sets of inter-related associations. Beliefs become knowledge by discussion and critical
reflection on direct experiences, rather than rote memorization of second hand information,
presented with limited media, expressing a singular perspective.
Freire saw an absurd authoritarianism in the assumption that knowledge belongs to
educational authorities, teachers, and institutions, instead of seeing that intelligence resides
inside all. Socially sanctioned, illegitimate powers are granted to an elite class who pretend to
be more knowledgeable than others. They claim indigenous people’s knowledge is inferior and
vulgar, even if it has served natives for centuries.
Real learning is a participatory exchange where knowledge is presented, then shaped
through association, discussion, and reflection. Teaching must be democratic to avoid fostering
dependency. Democratic teachers teach by demonstrating how learners can learn by simply
listening, deeply. Rather than harping on how others should listen, teachers listen, with
genuine interest in other’s perspectives. Authoritarianism will spur some students to rebel in
defiance. For other learners, it will engender apathy, resignation, obedience, mindless
conformity, non-resistance, self-denial, and fear of freedom – the ultimate anti-democratic
tragedies of oppressive education.
(Paulo Friere: Pedagogy of the Oppressed, The Politics of Education - Culture, Power, and
Getting Out of Gatto’s Cave
In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, he asks us to imagine clans who have spent their whole
lives in a cave, facing a blank wall where shadows are cast by things passing in front of them,
from the light of a fire their chains prevent them from facing. Shadows become their accepted
“reality.” Plato defines a philosopher as one who is freed from The Cave by knowing eternally
true forms of reality, rather than believing in passing shadows.
As a reflective practitioner, award winning New York public school teacher, John Taylor
Gatto, shines a giant miner’s helmet light into a cavern of concepts that have led us the wrong
way in public schools. In Dumbing Us Down - The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling,
John Taylor Gatto unearths myths and realities of modern schooling, learned from his years in
the cave, as one of New York’s most acclaimed educators. This is what he bravely told New
York State legislators, upon receiving their award as the state’s top teacher.
“I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-
segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national
curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children
from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior.”
The gist of his critique is that in the past century, social engineers have designed
American life for tight central control. Compulsory schooling is a deliberate effort to establish
intellectual, economic, and political conformity - so society can be run efficiently by
technocratic elites. "School…is an artifice that makes... a pyramidal social order seem
inevitable…(which is) a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution.”
Gatto sees social pathologies, like drug abuse and violence, as natural reactions of youth
subjected to mechanical, abstract discipline. He implores us to reconnect learning with
community life by rejecting social engineering by experts and institutions. At the global level,
he states that the patriotic thrust is actually an anti-life mythology “alienated from common
Gatto affirms that lasting, meaningful, enriching learning is found “in families, in friends,
in the passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity, generosity,
compassion, and service to others, in a decent in-dependence and privacy, in all the free and
inexpensive things out of which real families, real friends, and real communities are built.”
An empire building class at the helm of modern culture has smothered human virtues.
What could be more sinister? If we agree, and reject obedience to pyramidal power, then we
turn toward localized, circular power relations for bringing out people’s potential and tending
social ills at ground zero. This opens up another risk.
Small mindedness can dominate insular groups, like clans, witch-hunters, and terrorists.
In economics, belief in Adam Smith's “invisible hand” has proven to be more like a stone fist
than a warm palm for spreading gregarious generosity. Trickle down’s legacy is legions of vets
begging for scraps in the wake of boom-bust surges. Just as democracy depends on informed
citizens of good will, a free market rises from solid facts plus high mindedness that guides
society away from gluttony toward grace. Seven dirty tricks that Gatto has dug up for us to
solve are (quoting him):
1. Confusion. “Everything I teach is out of context. I teach the un-relating of everything.”
Solution: Take care to keep topics connected; help grow a “group gestalt” by blending visual
thinking with verbal communication, hands-on activities, and more.
2. Class position. “That's the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to
know your place.”
Solution: Practice empathy by rotating roles, changing hats, teaming up and being like a “one
room school without walls.”
3. Indifference. “The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply
Solution: Engage in serial sessions that grow knowledge by investing attention in themes; keep
running records for exhibiting learning as an organic process.
4. Emotional dependency. “By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors, and
disgraces, I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestined chain of command.”
Solution: Respect each person as having a sacred intrinsic purpose in life by making education a
means for expressing everyone’s calling.
5. Intellectual dependency. “Of the millions of things of value…I decide what few we have time
for, or actually it is decided by my faceless employers...Curiosity has no important place in my
work, only conformity…the most important lesson (is) that we must wait for other people,
better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives.”
Solution: Listen to learner’s aspirations and encourage curiosity to energize ethical imagination,
in one and all.
6. Provisional self-esteem. “The lesson of report cards, grades and tests is that children should
not trust themselves or their parents but should rely on the evaluation of certified officials.
People need to be told what they are worth.”
Solution: Collaborate in developing scoring systems for students to use, like athletes measure
their mastery of skills by keeping track and raising new norms.
7. One can't hide. “Surveillance is an ancient imperative, espoused by certain influential
thinkers (such as Plato, Augustine, Calvin, Bacon, and Hobbes). All these childless men...
discovered the same thing: children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society
under tight central control.”
Solution: Instead of giving in to the “Panopticon” (Big Brother is watching), where common
folks are spied like subjects under a one-way mirror, engage in producing diverse perspectives
in myriad media projects.
Educating with Ends and Means
Educational ends can be totally predetermined or relatively open-ended. For instance, a
lower level math class may have a goal of conveying correct steps for getting the right answers
to a prescribed set of problems. But advanced learning involves “heuristics” for discovering
optimum answers to complex challenges, where the answer is not known in advance, and the
methods must be tried “on the fly.” In such cases, failure is useful rather than punishable. Like
Edison’s experiments, each failed attempt provides another step toward the ultimate answer.
In creative arts, pure research and genuine invention, handling uncertainties is integral to
learning. Teaching methods must differ according to the ends addressed and the means
applied in guiding learning.
Closed Ends Closed Means
Closed Ends Open Means
Open Ends Closed Means
Open Ends Open Means
Students and teachers need a shared sense of mission. Then, the means to ends can be
designed through dialog. To guide progress and assess outcomes, criteria need to be clarified,
by all involved. Quick feedback and lasting learning may involve different measures of
guidance and assessment. Some of our most meaningful educational experiences "sink in" over
time and stir insights that elude easy measurement. The core point to consider is learner
motivation. Students conditioned to seeking rewards and avoiding punishments are externally
motivated and may (probably) find the switch to inner motivation discomforting, at first. They
will need a safe haven with time to explore options without coercion or threat of failure.
Patience is worthwhile in aiding the change from dependency on external authorities to inner
motivation. Research shows what common sense knows - inner motivation is the key to lasting
Applying Dialogue with Case Studies
If the purpose of education is to encourage initiative and prepare people for leadership,
then moving away from the “dumbing down” of students, as illumined by John Taylor Gatto,
should lead to learning enriched by more open, egalitarian dialogue. For example, the case
system of instruction at Harvard Business School involves students in discussing real situations
to exercise critical reasoning that’s essential for leadership. By dissecting examples of real
world problems, especially ones that are prevalent in working environments, discussions of
problems, causes, and solutions are describe the executives involved, the contingencies at
hand, and the cultural conditioning exerted by opinions and prejudices embedded in each
context. Specific cases are examined through individual analysis, followed by open discussion,
leading to final decisions about recommended actions. Knowledge grows from analyzing cases
to form general principles elicited during discussion.
Participation is essential for the case study method to develop the capacity that is
essential for leadership: the formation of sound judgments based on incomplete evidence.
Discussion develops decision-making ability, in the absence of perfectly complete facts. Instead
of dishing out information or repeating a single solution for everyone to memorize, instructors
assign cases to study and facilitate dialogue. Discourse can rise to the boiling point sometimes,
in competitive sparring between peers. But more often, dialogue generates a collaborative
spirit as participants experience the power of pooling varied perspectives in reaching well-
rounded conclusions. (Cragg, Charles. Because Wisdom Can’t be Told. Harvard Business School
451-005. Nov. 1982)
The most meaningful and creative college course I ever took came from a simple
assignment by a really challenging teacher, who said: “Your assignment this term is to reinvent
college.” Then, he strode from the amphitheater with a promise to return at the end of the
semester. Until then, we were on our own - to invent what to do and how to do it – without
knowing what he would like or what the factors for getting a good grade would be. Chaos
erupted as people flurried to find prospective partners and topics to pursue. I got in so many
heated exchanges that I bolted out of the room to cool off my mind. Outside, I found a guy
sitting on the lawn, holding his head.
I quietly asked if he was okay. As we talked, we found out that we had many interests in
common. We decided to try and make a project together to “reinvent college.”
By listening to each other and exchanging ideas, we spent countless hours in flowing
interplay. At the end of the term, we put posters up around campus and prepared the
planetarium for our performance. To our surprise, hundreds of students (of all ages) showed
up. We did two shows in a row, to a full house. As the lights came back up at the end, people
were crying with tears of joy. We had tapped something deep. Our audio-visual artwork
became an annual public event, as he was hired by the college (a few years later) and worked
there for most of his career.
Our professor peered at us, with a grin: “Who are you guys?” Without his assignment,
we would never have had a chance to find out. Unlike conventional courses that have inflexible
tasks, air tight schedules, and compliance to a single authority, every project student’s did was
different, people worked at their own paces, and each of use added something worthwhile to
the overall goal of learning – as co-producers rather than consumers of instructions controlled
USING MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCE
The definition of intelligence has been completely revolutionized from a simplistic model
to a more complex “multiple intelligence” model by Harvard’s Howard Gardner, plus others
who are adding more nuances to the new framework. The “multiple intelligence” theory
defines human potential better than reductive measures, like I.Q. tests. He defined seven
forms of intelligence. Others have added an eighth (ecological) intelligence. You can assess
your own preferences for these varieties of intelligence and appreciate others abilities.
1) Logic: solve problems, devise strategies, and form logical steps
2) Verbal: read, talk about things, and form phrases to aid understanding
3) Visual: draw, envision solutions, and visualize answers to questions
4) Music: perform, seek harmony, and memorize rhymes and rhythms
5) Motion: play sports, act out ideas, and make a first move to get things done
6) Inter-personal: socialize, mediate conflicts and work well in teams
7) Intra-personal: enjoy quietude, avoid strife, and learn by reflection
8) Ecological: tend plants, compare things, and study relationships
With this perspective, learning should be designed to integrate all varieties intelligence
by connecting lessons with each form of expression to let students explore their full range of
mind-body capacities for enjoying learning. As President of American Federation of Teachers,
Adam Urbanski says: “We know, based on research, that people remember about 10% of what
they hear, 20% of what they see and 90% of what they do, but we still largely use one teaching
style: ‘I talk, you listen and learn.’” We can do better.
In Seven Kinds of Smart, Thomas Armstrong shares seven ways to learn anything,
drawing on Gardeners seminal synthesis of seven types of intelligence (to which an eighth has
been added and more are being considered):
1. Talk, read, and write about it (verbal-linear intelligence) L
2. Draw, sketch, or visualize it (visual-spatial intelligence) R
3. Dance it, build a model of it, or find some other hands-on activity related to it (kinetic-body
4. Sing it, chant it, find music that illustrates it, or put on background music while learning
(musical intelligence) R
5. Relate learning to personal feelings or inner experience (emotional-intuitive-introspective
intrapersonal intelligence) R
6. Conceptualize abstract ideas, use quantification to mathematically depict things-in-
relationships (logical-mathematical “gestalt” intelligence) R
7. Work with others to learn together, make plans, and organize cooperation
TEACHING THE WHOLE BRAIN
Western emphasis on individual excellence stems from faith in solitary genius as the
force that drives progress by breaking free from herd mentality. Yet, students are confined by
teaching that enforces conformity through controlled consumption of abstract information
metered by authorities. Conventional education too often inhibits right-brain learning by
controlling the ends and means of instruction too narrowly. This sacrifices development of
innovative thinking. To advance learning that fits the purpose of a self-governing society with
an entrepreneurial economy, understanding of how our brains work is an essential step
forward. Brain-based education forwards several essential precepts:
1) The brain runs many activities at once while processing wholes and parts simultaneously
2) Learning involves focused attention and peripheral perception with conscious and
3) Learning engages the whole physiology, so we understand best when facts are embedded
in spatial memory rather than rote memory
4) Search for meaning is an innate motive that works through pattern recognition that is
5) Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat
In her talk at the TED conference, neuroscientist Jill Taylor describes the construction of
the brain and division of its functions in the context of left hemisphere and right hemisphere.
Our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor while our left hemisphere functions like
a serial processor. They communicate with one another through the corpus colossus, a
structure in the lower hindbrain that contains three hundred million axonal fibers. Because
they process information differently, these two hemispheres think about different things, care
about different things and, she suggests, have very different personalities.
Characteristics of the right hemisphere:
It’s all about the present moment, right here, right now
Thinks in pictures
Learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies
Characteristics of the left hemisphere:
Thinks methodically and linearly
Is all about the past and the future
Designed to take the collage of the present moment and pick out details and more details
about details, categorizes and organizes that information and associates it with anything in
the past that we have ever learned and projects into the future all of our possibilities
Thinks in language
On-going brain chatter that connects me in my internal world to my external world
Calculating intelligence that reminds me to do things
Most importantly, it says: “I am.” As soon as this happens, I become separate from the
consciousness around me and separate from you
In Writing the Natural Way, Dr. Gabriele Ri confirms related points: “It's the right brain
that processes all novel stimuli, whereas the left brain simply tunes it out. Any idea or exciting
thought…has to come through the right brain, because the left-brain recognizes only what it
has already learned. Risking an analogy, your (right) mind attends to the melody of life,
whereas your (left) mind attends to the notes that compose the melody. And here is the key to
natural writing: The melodies must come first…Consider your own writing sessions. Isn't it much
easier to focus while listening to instrumental music? That's because song lyrics tap into the
same left-brain language center you're trying to use for your novel or poem, and jam up the
As long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes, learning occurs
naturally. Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat. Traditional schooling
often inhibits learning by discouraging, ignoring, or punishing the brain's natural learning
processes. The brain does many activities at once (like tasting and smelling) that engage the
whole physiology. The search for meaning is innate and comes through patter finding.
Emotions are critical to perceiving patterns. The brain processes wholes and parts
simultaneously, involving focused attention and peripheral perception. Learning involves both
conscious and unconscious processes. Memory includes two different types storage and recall:
spatial and rote. We understand best when facts are embedded in spatial memory.
Instructional techniques associated with brain-based learning are:
Immersive Instruction with Relevant Curriculum - Teachers should design learning around
students’ interests and make learning contextual, rather than detached from real world
issues and personal interests. Creating learning environments that fully immerse students
in an educational experience to take advantage of the brain's ability to process complex,
interactive experiences that are both rich and real. Teachers should structure learning
around real problems, encouraging students to also learn in settings outside the classroom
and the school. Educators should let students learn in teams and use peripheral learning by
drawing knowledge from diverse sources.
Relaxed Alertness (Flow) in a Safe Haven – The learning environment should reduce fear
and raise confidence in learners, while maintaining a highly challenging, playful, enriching
environment. Quelling fear while offering challenges that encourage students to pursue
personally meaningful learning that stimulates a state of “flow.” The best problem solvers
are those who laugh!
Personalized Participatory Assessment - Allowing learners to consolidate and internalize
information by actively assessing progress toward goals that matter to them. Their
assessment should help them understand their own learning styles and preferences. This
way, students can enhance their own learning process by understanding their learning
styles and connecting learning with feedback from reality, rather than an increasing
dependency on authority figures. In order for students to gain insight about a problem,
there should be intensive analysis of different ways to approach it, and about learning in
general. This is what's known as the "active processing of experience." Because every brain
is different, educators should allow learners to customize their own environments and try
diverse tactics for learning by doing.
Finally, designers of educational tools must be artistic in their creation of brain-friendly
environments. Instructors need to realize that the best way to learn is not through lecture, but
by participation in realistic environments that let learners try new things safely and making
gains from set backs, rather than insisting on constant correctness and punishing learners for
engaging in trial and error that advances innovation. In total, we see the direction that brain
based learning leads – which is liberation of learning - freed from dependency on external
authority and empowered from intrinsic motives to reach new levels of understanding through
continuous lifelong learning that flows as naturally as child’s play.
LEARNING WITH CONSTRUCTIVISM
“Constructivism” is a theoretical structure for collaborative learning. It is a philosophy
of learning founded on the premise that we construct our own mental model(s) of the world.
By reflecting, each of us generates our own beliefs and rules of life, which we use to make
sense of our experiences and guide our interplay with others. Learning means adjusting our
mental models to accommodate new experiences as we venture from familiar environments to
more exotic and diverse contexts.
Constructivist theorist Seymore Papert said: “I am convinced that the best learning takes
place when the learner takes charge. The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for
invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.” Students prevent overload by taking a
stronger role in gaining lasting learning by setting their own agendas and adjusting their own
intake of information. Teachers step out of the role of being information dispensers to being
adventure guides by sprinkling in facts, ideas, and inspirations along pathways picked by
learners. With fluidity, teachers-as-adventure-guides serve student’s best interests, with
minimum hovering, smothering, or negative pressure. “Student-centered” teaching let learners
try their wings without fear of falling.
Discovery is the larger intention. In constructivism, learning takes place through the
interplay of multiple minds engaging in mutual learning through discovery driven teamwork.
The premise of constructivism is that we learn more by doing (constructing) that by absorbing
second hand facts from others, no matter how what their expertise is. Also, constructivism
reduces reliance on external expertise by asserting that “reality” is culturally constructed from
agreements between people, rather than being an absolute steady state that can be defined by
a singular perspective. In collaborative learning, teams learn through mutual exchange by
doing collaborative projects, as in the “jigsaw cooperative” method where each group advances
a different set research applied to a common topic; then each teaches the whole group what
their team discovers. Students become teachers by learning lasting lessons through proactive
partnership. This approach is best suited for future oriented subjects that involve real life
uncertainties and complexities.
Guiding principles of constructivism
1. Learning is a search for meaning. Therefore, learning must start with the issues around
which students are actively trying to construct meaning.
2. Meaning requires understanding wholes as well as parts. And parts must be understood in
the context of wholes. Therefore, the learning process focuses on primary concepts, not
3. In order to teach well, we must understand the mental models that students use to
perceive the world and the assumptions they make to support those models.
4. The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just
memorize the "right" answers and regurgitate someone else's meaning. Since education is
inherently interdisciplinary, the only valuable way to measure learning is to make the
assessment part of the learning process, ensuring it provides students with information on
the quality of their learning.
How Constructivism Impacts Learning
Curriculum - Constructivism calls for the elimination of a standardized curriculum. Instead, it
promotes using curricula customized to the students' prior knowledge. Also, it emphasizes
hands-on problem solving.
Instruction - Under the theory of constructivism, educators focus on making connections
between facts and fostering new understanding in students. Instructors tailor their teaching
strategies to student responses and encourage students to analyze, interpret, and predict
information. Teachers also rely heavily on open-ended questions and promote extensive
dialogue among students.
Assessment - Constructivism calls for the elimination of grades and standardized testing.
Instead, assessment becomes part of the learning process so that students play a larger role in
judging their own progress.
Learning As Teaching
Constructivist theorist Seymour Papert said constructionism means "Giving children
good things to do so that they can learn by doing much better than they could before.” The
responsibility of learning should reside increasingly with the learner with the learner being
actively involved in the learning process, unlike previous educational viewpoints where the
responsibility rested with the instructor to teach and where the learner played a passive,
receptive role. Sustaining motivation to learn is strongly dependent on the learner's confidence
in his or her potential for learning. These feelings of competence and belief in potential to solve
new problems, are derived from first-hand experience of mastery of problems in the past and
are much more powerful than any external acknowledgement and motivation. By experiencing
the successful completion of challenging tasks, learners gain confidence and motivation to
embark on more complex challenges.
Constructivism advances learning theories of Jean Piaget, such as accommodation - the
process of reframing one's mental representation of the external world to fit new experiences.
In this approach, failure leads to learning. When we act on an expectation that the world
operates in a certain way and it violates our expectations, we often fail; but by accommodating
this new experience and reframing our model of the way the world works, we learn from the
experience of failure, or others' failure. Constructivism does not suggest a single pedagogy; but
as a description of human cognition, it is often associated with active learning learning-by-
doing. Most approaches that have grown from constructivism suggest that learning is
accomplished best using a hands-on approach. Learners learn by experimentation, and not by
being told what will happen. They are left to make their own inferences, discoveries and
conclusions. Learning is not an "all or nothing" process - students learn new information
presented to them by building upon knowledge that they already possess.
Social constructivism views each learner as a unique, complex and multidimensional
individual. This perspective encourages the learner to arrive at his or her own version of the
truth - influenced by his or her background, culture, or embedded worldview. From this
viewpoint, it is vital to take into account the background and culture of the learner throughout
the learning process, as this background helps shape the knowledge and truth that the learner
creates, discovers and attains in the learning process. Without the social interaction with other
more knowledgeable people, it is impossible to acquire social meaning of important symbol
systems and learn how to utilize them.
Teaching As Facilitating
According to the social constructivist approach, instructors have to adapt to the role of
facilitators rather than teachers. Where a teacher gives a didactic lecture which covers the
subject matter, a facilitator helps the learner to get to his or her own understanding of the
content. This dramatic change of role implies that a facilitator needs to display a totally
different set of skills than a teacher. A teacher tells, a facilitator asks; a teacher lectures from
the front, a facilitator supports from the back; a teacher gives answers according to a set
curriculum, a facilitator provides guidelines and creates the environment for the learner to
arrive at his or her own conclusions; a teacher mostly gives a monologue, a facilitator is in
continuous dialogue with the learners. A facilitator should also be able to adapt the learning
experience 'in mid-air' by using his or her own initiative in order to steer the learning
experience to where the learners want to create value.
A further characteristic of the role of the facilitator in the social constructivist viewpoint
is that the instructor and the learners are equally involved in learning from each other. This
means that the learning experience is both subjective and objective and requires that the
instructor's culture, values and background become an essential part of the interplay between
learners and tasks in the shaping of meaning. Learners compare their version of the truth with
that of the instructor and fellow learners in order to get to a socially tested version of truth.
This creates a dynamic interaction between task, instructor and learner. This entails that
learners and instructors should develop an awareness of each other's viewpoints and then look
to own beliefs, standards and values, thus being both subjective and objective at the same
time. Approaches for interactive learning include reciprocal teaching, peer collaboration,
cognitive apprenticeship, problem-based instruction, web quests, anchored instruction and
other approaches that involve learning with others. While it is advocated to give the learner
ownership of the problem and solution process, it is not the case that any activity or any
solution is adequate. The critical goal is to support the learner in becoming an effective thinker.
This can be achieved by assuming multiple roles, such as consultant and coach.
Social constructivist scholars view learning as an active process where learners should
learn to discover principles, concepts and facts for themselves, hence the importance of
encouraging guesswork and intuitive thinking in learners. In fact, for the social constructivist,
reality is not something that we can discover because it does not pre-exist prior to our social
invention of it. Learning is not a process that only takes place inside our minds, nor is it a
passive development of behaviors shaped by external forces. Meaningful learning occurs when
individuals are engaged in social activities.
Learning As Collaborating
Learners with different skills and backgrounds should collaborate in tasks and
discussions in order to arrive at a shared understanding of the truth in a specific field. Most
social constructivist models stress the need for collaboration among learners, in direct
contradiction to traditional competitive approaches. If students get to present and train new
contents with their classmates, a non-linear process of collective knowledge-construction will
be set up.
The social constructivist paradigm views the context in which the learning occurs as
central to the learning itself. The learning environment should also be designed to support and
challenge the learner's thinking. One social constructivist notion is that of authentic or situated
learning, where the student takes part in activities that are directly relevant to the application
of learning and which take place within a culture similar to the applied setting. Cognitive
apprenticeship has been proposed as an effective constructivist model of learning to
enculturate students into authentic practices through activity and social interaction in a way
similar to craft apprenticeship.
Evaluating By Collaborating
In constructivism, dynamic assessment is a way of assessing the true potential of
learners that differs significantly from conventional tests. Here the essentially interactive
nature of learning is extended to the process of assessment. Rather than viewing assessment
as a process carried out by one person, such as an instructor, it is seen as a two-way process
involving interaction between both instructor and learner. The role of the assessor becomes
one of entering into dialogue with the persons being assessed to find out their current level of
performance on any task and sharing with them possible ways in which that performance might
be improved on a subsequent occasion. Thus, assessment and learning are seen as inextricably
linked rather than separate processes. According to this viewpoint instructors should see
assessment as a continuous and interactive process that measures the achievement of the
learner, the quality of the learning experience and courseware. The feedback created by the
assessment process serves as a direct foundation for further development.
It is therefore important that teachers constantly assess the knowledge their students
have gained to make sure that the students' perceptions of the new knowledge are what the
teacher had intended. Teachers will find that since the students build upon already existing
knowledge, when they are called upon to retrieve the new information, they may make errors.
It is known as reconstruction error when we fill in the gaps of our understanding with logical,
though incorrect, thoughts. Teachers need to catch and try to correct these errors, though it is
inevitable that some reconstruction error will continue to occur because of our innate retrieval
Knowledge should not be divided into different subjects or compartments, but should
be discovered as an integrated whole. The world in which the learner needs to operate does
not approach one in the form of different subjects, but as a complex myriad of facts, problems,
dimensions and perceptions.
Where the sequencing of subject matter is concerned, it is the constructivist viewpoint
that the foundations of any subject may be taught to anybody at any stage in some form. This
means that instructors should introduce the basic ideas that give life and form to any topic or
subject area, and then revisit and build upon these repeatedly. This notion has been
extensively used in curricula. It is also important for instructors to realize that although a
curriculum may be set down for them, it inevitably becomes shaped by them into something
personal which reflects their own belief systems, their thoughts and feelings about both the
content of their instruction and their learners. Thus, the learning experience becomes a shared
enterprise. The emotions and life contexts of those involved in the learning process must
therefore be considered as an integral part of learning. The goal of the learner is central in
considering what is learned.
It is important to achieve the right balance between the degree of structure and
flexibility that is built into the learning process. The more structured the learning environment,
the harder it is for the learners to construct meaning based on their conceptual understandings.
A facilitator should structure the learning experience just enough to make sure that the
students get clear guidance and parameters within which to achieve the learning objectives, yet
the learning experience should be open and free enough to allow for the learners to discover,
enjoy, interact and arrive at their own, socially verified version of truth.
In most pedagogies based on constructivism, the teacher's role is not only to observe
and assess but to also engage with the students while they are completing activities, wondering
aloud and posing questions to the students for promotion of reasoning. (e.g. “I wonder why the
water does not spill over the edge of the full cup?”) Teachers also intervene when conflicts
arise; however, they simply facilitate the students' resolutions and self-regulation, with an
emphasis on the conflict being the students' and that they must figure things out for
themselves. For example, promotion of literacy is accomplished by integrating the need to read
and write throughout individual activities within print-rich classrooms. The teacher, after
reading a story, encourages the students to write or draw stories of their own, or by having the
students reenact a story that they may know well. Both activities encourage the students to
conceive themselves as reader and writers.
OBSERVING BY DRAWING
We learn a lot by looking. Observation is one of the five most powerful ways to
understand our world, along with conversations (interviews and surveys), reading, and
constructive collaboration. Drawing realistically depends on seeing faithfully. Many people
think they can’t draw; but what is stunting development of their ability is that they aren’t fully
engaged in seeing. Instead, they are jumping from perception to labeling things - as a short cut
for knowing “what’s out there.” And, they are judging their drawings too much to let
expression of perception flow. To really see things, the mind needs time to linger and absorb
impressions more completely. Jumping too quickly from perception to conceptualization can
be counteracted with educational exercises designed to engage observation and connect
perception with drawing. With practice, almost anyone can improve their ability to draw
realistically…and add an animated sensibility that seems to breath with life.
In The Natural Way to Draw, Simon Nicolaides taught a form of observational drawing
called “contour drawing.” With this tactic, you begin drawing by looking at any point along the
edge of a subject (a live model, for example). “Imagine that your marker point is touching the
model instead of the paper. Without taking your eyes off the model, wait until you are
convinced that the marker is touching that point on the model upon which your eyes are
fastened. Then move slowly along the contour of the model and move the marker slowly along
the paper. As you do this, keep the conviction that the marker point is actually touching the
contour. Be guided more by the sense of touch than by sight. This means that you must draw
without looking at the paper, continuously looking at the model. Exactly coordinate the marker
with the eye. The eye may be tempted to move faster than your marker, but do not let it get
ahead. Consider only the point that you are working on at the moment with no regard for any
other part of the figure. Not all of the contours lie along the outer edge of the
figure…draw…’inside contours’ exactly as you draw the outside ones…Develop the absolute
conviction that you are touching the model. Draw…slowly, searching, sensitively. Take your
In an advanced version of this observational activity, an art class I enjoyed at U.C. San
Diego involved us in all-day drawings of animals in motion at San Diego’s Wild Animal Park.
Amazingly, everyone got past the initial resistance to prolonged perception to do the seemingly
impossible task of illustrating animals on the fly. As time went by, the exercise became
meditative. Time pressure eased off. Drawings got better. By the end of the day, when we
showed each other our sketches, it was obvious that the liveliness of illustrations had taken on
powerful presence over the course of the day.
An opposite approach to observational drawing that is also effective is to do quick
sketches from fast paced glimpses. A situation can be mentally photographed by blinking both
eyes after absorbing the scene for a short spell, such as five seconds. Then, the absorbed
impression can be sketched from memory, immediately. Slide shows can be used for this
exercise, applied individually and in groups. The point is to quicken perception and connect
seeing with drawing. To further affirm the integral relationship between seeing and drawing,
Dr. Betty Edwards has expanded on the contour drawing process with a proven set of methods
that tap right brain (“R-mode”) talent for drawing realistically. Her books illustrate how
students have made startling leaps by following simple (mental) re-orientations. The key to
artistry is looking more fully at “what is” while quelling mental chatter and counteracting habits
of labeling things without looking more attentively. Her methods make drawing an exercise in
perception, like an active mediation. Her basic set of simple yet powerful steps for better
Draw familiar faces and things from upside down photos (to see things freshly)
Draw edges without pause (aka “contours” to preclude interruption from judgment)
Draw spaces between things (to perceive what is often ignored)
Draw only shadows (to draw what can’t be named)
Check drawing in a mirror (to see symmetry and proportions)
Betty Edwards, Robert McKim, Michael Lin and other teachers advocate the use of a
perspective framework for improving drawing by perceiving proportions more finely. For this,
you make (or buy) a portable frame with a clear pane that has a vertical-horizontal grid
superimposed. By looking through the frame and lining things up with the grid’s repeated
boxes, size relationships and angles of different parts of a scene are more readily discernable by
using the frame for orientation. Framing can also quicken learning to do perspective drawing
by making it easier to see the horizon line in a composition and notice how the scale of things
diminishes as objects recede in space, toward (imaginary) vanishing points on the horizon line.
A less formal, yet effective alternative is to use one’s thumb or drawing tool as a vertical pole,
like a builder uses a plumb bob to find an exact vertical angle. Simply lining up a vertical (and
horizontal) reference of any sort helps keep angles and proportions in mind when drawing.
In contrast, purposely distorting the sizes, shapes and angular relationships of people
and things is a way to convey ideas by exaggeration, as in the art of caricature. By stretching
facts, caricatures reveal truths and elicit emotions ranging from healthy humor to scathing
wrath (as in political satire). They add the comic touch. Another graphic tactic for tapping
emotions is quick gesture sketches. This method isn’t meant to represent something seen.
Instead, a feeling is directly drawn as a tactile expression to convey rage, fear, excitement, joy,
and so on. This is a good activity for introducing people to expressing themselves visually. It
can help folks loosen up, by bypassing the habit of judging whether a drawing “looks right.”
Like audiences who watch dancers express emotions, people are quickly able to get the gist of
each other’s gestural graphics. Feeling-as-meaning can be further articulated by adding color,
shades of light, and so forth. But gestural graphics can be surprisingly potent as a singular
element. By carrying the intent of this exercise into other kinds of drawing, visualization
integrates emotional resonance into representational illustrations and imaginary depictions.
Visualization ability flourishes when given the right conditions and good guidance. Betty
Edwards describes the “R-mode” mental state involved in realistic drawing: “In that…subjective
state, artists speak of feeling…’at one with the work,’ able to grasp relationships that they
ordinarily cannot grasp…they feel alert and aware yet are relaxed and free of anxiety. The
psychologist Julian Jaynes used the term ‘voices of the gods’ to describe the magic feeling that
often accompanies this state of mind, which is echoed by architect Louis Kahn, who said: “You
cannot make a building unless you are joyously engaged.”
A final caution about doing drawing that is engaging to the audience as well as the artist
is given by Dr. Edwards. Graphically, there is a point where the image is just right, and any
additions will make it “over worked.” To help us grasp this, she advises leaving details out, to
let the incomplete-yet-just-right image activate viewer completion. Viewers enjoy being drawn
into forming the “gestalt” (whole) image from the parts presented. Just as artists enjoy doing a
drawing, viewers like seeing graphics that turn on their (right brain) powers of imagination by
providing just enough visual information to spark participation.
For this, Dr. Edwards points to the power of depicting shades of light, and reducing to
drawing shadows only (picture an image that only shows shadows – and you are still able to
recognize the form). “The right brain seems undeterred by missing pieces of information and
appeats to delight in ‘getting’ the picture, despite its incompleteness…By suggesting a form
with light/shadow shapes, you cause the viewer to see something that is not actually there.”
Here’s how she teaches drawing that activates viewer involvement. “As you are
drawing, constantly squint your eyes to see if you can yet ‘se’ the form you intend. And when
you ‘see’ it – that is, the envisioned image is there – stop!” For added subtlety, she proceeds
from drawing pure black shadows as the only information to using “crosshatching” as a way to
add tonal variety in the depth of darkness depicted. The next approach for varying darkness is
“continuous tone” drawing that blends marks by rubbing (to smooth) and erasing (to lighten)
areas or points to heighten interest. With any of these techniques, knowing the exact moment
to stop is the art of the art.
THINKING WITH VISUALS
Grasping Seven Graphics
Seven types of graphics identified by the illustrative facilitator David Sibbet support
various ways we focus our attention.
1. Posters focus attention on one point.
2. Lists support attention onto a series of points.
3. Clusters prompt interest in forming comparison between multiple points.
4. Grids structure combinations into sets of points.
5. Diagrams depict cause-and-effect relationships and time sequences that connect many
6. Drawings of metaphors and analogies extend understanding from familiar things to new
areas of knowledge, as we find similarities between different things.
7. Mandalas organize myriad points into a unified system.
In Visual Thinking, Robert McKim advises keeping a visual journal to practice
observation by sketching things and developing ideas. This improves perceptiveness, which
enhances imagination. Observing actual situations feeds ability to envision potential
improvements. For design, the process of developing ideas is a cyclical one that involves doing
a series of drawings as quick sketches to explore different versions of a concept. Getting an
idea out into graphic form supports the crystallization of embryonic images that grow from
fuzzy to focused, through rounds of (iterative) drawings and reviews, done in quick visualization
cycles. McKim writes: “Visual thinkers who use drawings to explore and develop ideas make
many drawings; idea-finding and formation is not a static, ‘one-picture’ procedure. They also
draw quickly (ideas rarely hold still; they readily change form and even disappear). In both the
exploratory and the developmental mode, graphic ideators also use many graphic idioms.” He
gives examples of various idioms that can be kept in notebooks, on index cards, and paper rolls
to stretch out thinking:
5. Orthographic projections (plans)
7. Decision trees
MAKING MIND MAPS
We need ways to express lots of information and ideas rapidly, instead of getting stuck
on considerations of perfect wording or linear logic that constrict the free flow of playfully
productive thinking. Brainstorming has been widely applied for this purpose. In addition, mind
mapping is a powerful method for organizing thinking and spawning innovation. For this, mind
mapping integrates visual and verbal intelligence, in unison. Plus, it includes emotional
overtones, as color is added to different symbols and words, along with gestural emphasis (by
thickening lines, enhancing key words, sketching related symbols) to enhance different aspects.
Because innovation involves finding new associations, mind mapping aids in linking associations
in branching patterns that form a coherent image of many points at once, to reveal a rich array
of relationships in a powerful pattern.
An overall goal is to see several sides of any issue and activate adaptive thinking. To
assure flexibility, words should be singled out rather than placed in phrases that have only one
interpretation. Each word should serve as a node that can branch in different directions.
Making a mind map with a tree-like branching hierarchy from a central topic to finer and finer
subsets is the graphic method recommended by the originator of this visual thinking process,
Tony Buzan. Consider the points depicted in successively finer branches as clusters of fruits
(grapes). Scan the whole tree to see if points in different clusters can be recombined in new
pods of odd combinations that have fertile potential.
To make a mind map is fairly easy. First, note a central idea in the middle of an empty
paper or wall chart (white board, or other medium). Draw a branch off that central idea to a
new node for noting a related point…and branch from that node to related sets of subtopics.
Start a new branch to continue with another topic node and its subtopics. Fill in more topics in
the same way, and add more points to each one by hopping from topic to topic, as ideas occur.
Add images, color, and graphic emphasis to enhance meanings to create a memorable mind
map with emotional resonance as a graphic with gestural vigor. (Note: using sticky notes is
another method for adding notes to clusters of topics, to retain adaptability, more like a
collage, rather than writing notes in permanent positions.)
To explain why mind mapping works, he says: "Our brains tend to look for pattern and
completion…The Mind Map allows an infinite sequence of associative 'probes' which
comprehensively investigate any idea or question with which you are concerned…we have
taken the word, the sentence, logic and number as the foundation stones of our civilization,
forcing our brains to use limiting modes of expression…we know that the brain contains vast
power waiting to be unleashed…(with) a fuller range of associative outputting and Radiant
Thinking capabilities…Notes…by Leonardo da Vinci demonstrate the point. He used words,
symbols, sequence, listing, linearity, analysis, association, visual rhythm, numbers, imagery,
dimension and gestalt - an example of a complete mind expressing itself completely…We could
all utilize the same inherent mental power…We have a staggeringly complex cortex, with a wide
range of advanced mental skills, an infinite associative capacity, a virtually limitless storage
capacity, and a similarly limitless ability to generate new ideas and associations…(but) in
attempting to gain access to (these)…vast mental capabilities…(we) are squeezing
(our)…intelligences…through the incredibly narrow and restrictive channel of language."
Mind maps can be used to support decision-making by adding numerical values to each
topical area drawn. By defining the importance of each set of topics, criteria for making choices
can be clarified for easier assessment of complex, overlapping considerations. The uses of mind
maps are multifold. They support self-analysis, problem solving, and action scheduling. They
aid idea generation, systemic analysis, memory retention and retrieval, and can serve instead of
an outline for organizing a free flowing presentation. Alternative communications that
emphasize different points for audiences with contrasting perspectives can also be organized by
making maps with alternative central points and branches, to feed into the central premise the
points that are most appropriate for each audience. As a study aid, mind maps can be used to
sum up (one person or a group’s) response to a book, movie, or other source of information –
by quickly integrating key words in branching patterns that can serve as the basis for organizing
subsequent communications, in the form of reports, stories, slide shows, videos, etc. As a
scheduling aid, mind maps can have a central time keeping symbol, defined by any temporal
division, from hours to seasons to years.
Plus, by making mind maps in successive cycles, with time for incubation to access
deeper levels of dream-thought in between active mapping, visual thinking can be enriched by
adding in details that emerge over time. The whole goal is to symbolize rich sets of associations
all at once, to spark awareness that generates inventiveness. Groups can use mind maps to
connect collective knowledge, upgrade decision making, and streamline teamwork to the
degree that everyone is engaged in producing and perceiving all the parts that create the
company or community that each person energizes. One method for group use is to have small
teams (of 3 or 4 people) begin mind maps, then ask each team to pass their map to another
small team, for them to add more branches of new associations. This adds perspectives that
can yield more fruitful combinations of ideas. Like harvest festivals, mind maps pack a lot of
interrelationships into an organic package.
In Thinkertoys, Michael Mihalko gives an example (calling his version of mind mapping a
“Think Bubble”) for solving the challenge of marketing consulting services:
“I write the essence of the challenge, ‘marketing consulting services,’ in the center of
the page and draw a bubble around it. Then, I free-associate another thought about the
challenge. I write it. I draw a bubble around it and draw a line connecting it to the original. I
continue to write whatever comes to mind, drawing bubbles and connecting related think
bubbles with lines…The clusters of bubbles stimulate…ideas to help…market consulting
1. Marketing through referrals: Involving former clients and non-clients, such as bankers and
trade association executives.
2. Personal marketing: Cold-calling, writing personal letters, and joining professional
3. Non-personal marketing: Direct mail, public relations, publishing, and advertising.
4. Targets of influence: Including other professionals who serve the same clients, decision
makers in client organizations, managers and directors of trade and professional
associations, and leaders of industry.
5. Target of opportunity: Including former clients with new needs, potential clients, and
targeted market niches.
Tony Buzan suggests the following guidelines for creating Mind Maps:
1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.
2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your Mind Map.
3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
4. Each word/image is best alone and sitting on its own line.
5. The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker,
organic and thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image they support.
7. Use multiple colors throughout the Mind Map, for visual stimulation and also to encode or
8. Develop your own personal style of Mind Mapping.
9. Use emphasis and show associations in your Mind Map.
10. Keep the Mind Map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace
This list is itself more concise than a prose version of the same information and the
Mind Map of these guidelines is itself intended to be more memorable and quicker to scan than
either the prose or the list.
BUSTING CONCEPTUAL BLOCKS
Sometimes, we get stuck in trying to solve a big, sticky problem. In such cases, solutions
come from breaking problems down into more manageable parts, and defining incremental
interventions that are within reach, with an emphasis on step one. Once we define a first step
in the right direction, we can imagine how to grow momentum by organizing successive steps.
The goal of making incremental improvements is to grow momentum toward complete solution
of the original problem.
In Conceptual Blockbusting, James Adams sums up prevalent obstacles to effective
Difficulty Isolating The Real Problem (as an end to attain)
Delimiting The Problem Area Too Narrowly
Inability to See The Problem from Various Viewpoints
Seeing Only What Is Already Expected (Stereotyping)
Ignoring The Most Familiar and Obvious
Failure To Utilize All Sensory Inputs (Over Reliance on Abstract Concepts)
Fears: Risk Aversion
Distaste for Chaotic Messiness
Habitual Critical Judgment and
Inability To Incubate
Lack of Challenge
Undervalue of Fantasy
INTELLECTUAL and EXPRESSIVE BLOCKS
Incorrect Symbol Language (misplacing verbal, visual, and numerical “languages”)
Inadequate Symbolic Language Skills
Inflexible or Inadequate Intellectual Strategies
Incorrect or Absent Information
CULTURAL and ENVIRONMENTAL BLOCKS
Autocratic, Authoritarian Leadership
Lack of a Support System To Actualize Ideas
Distrust Amongst Colleagues, Lack of Cooperation, Unhelpful Criticism
Distractions, Intrusions, Interruptions, etc.
Taboos against: Humor; Intuition; Imagination; Playfulness; Change from Tradition
To overcome conceptual blocks, Adams recommends a variety of cognitive tactics:
Questioning Attitude - Example: “constructive discontent” described in The Universal
Traveler. A Soft-Systems Guide to Creativity, Problem-Solving, and the Process of Design by
Jim Bagnall and Don Koberg
Fluency and Flexibility of Thinking
Thinking Aids - Example: Check Lists for New Ideas - Understanding The Problem - Devising
The Plan - Carrying Out The Plan - Examining The Solution Obtained
Alternative Thinking Languages: Visual Thinking; Other Sensory Languages
Unconscious Blockbusting: Brainstorming; Synectics
BEING CREATIVE IN SUCCESSIVE STAGES
In Maps of The Mind, Charles Hampden-Turner depicts creativity as being like a
breathing process of expansion and contraction: "Creative thinking is conceived as involving
two sequential stages of processing information, divergent thinking followed by convergent
thinking. Divergence is the making of the many from the one. Convergence is the making of
one from many. Mind is conceived as constantly branching out. Before narrowing to a point of
decision, creative persons will typically reformulate and elaborate the problem as presented,
teasing out alternative strands and possibilities to generate an 'excess' of materials, symbolized
by 'a branching tree.' At the mid-point between divergence and convergence, they intuit that
the new necessary ingredients of a new synthesis. The humanities are idealized as divergent,
the sciences as convergent."
Creativity grows through phases like breathing: expanding and contracting…stretching
and squeezing. These phases have been called “inspiration” and “perspiration” to denote the
joy of discovery and endurance needed to bring ideas to fruition. Maslow also defined
“primary" creativity as the formative phase where ideas arise, followed by "secondary"
creativity where realization of concepts takes a different perspective, with patient
perserverance. Edward de Bono defined these polar phases of creativity "vertical" and "lateral"
thinking. Lateral thinking generates seminal concepts. Vertical thinking distills them into final
In Thinkertoys, Michael Michalko shares a story about how Walt Disney cultivated
creativity by rotating through three perspectives. “Walt Disney allowed his vivid imagination to
produce fantastical ideas, uncritically and unrestrained. Later, he engineered these fantasies
into feasible ideas and then evaluated. To evaluate them, he would shift his perspective three
times by playing three separate and distinct roles: the dream, the realist, and the critic.”
Building momentum with flights of imagination before practical thinking enabled Disney to tap
ADAPTING ATTITUDES TO FREE CREATIVITY
“Positive change depends on developing the collective self-confidence to overcome
messages that would have us believe we are powerless.” (Frances Moore Lappe, Food First,
Beyond The Myth of Scarcity).
Having the right attitude is essential for being creative. In fact, a dynamic perspective
comes from pairing opposing perspectives, especially optimism and discontent. Optimistic
discontent breeds creativity by providing both aggravation and hope as motivators. As long as
the dominant sense is one of faith in positive prospects, discontent and optimism can act like a
dynamo to generate creativity. In Whack On The Side of The Head, by Roger von Oech,
creativity consultant Roger von Oech summed up attitude shifts that help groups generate
LIMITING ATTITUDES CREATIVE ATTITUDES
Insist on one correct answer Combine elements of several solutions
Be totally logical Diverge + converge (magic before logic)
Set inflexible rules Make rules serve reasoning
Restrict playfulness Encourage interplay
Specialize Mix disciplines to spread knowledge
Avoid ambiguities See gaps, paradoxes, fuzzy beginnings
Never appear foolish Fool around to lighten up
Avoid or hide failure Learn from mistakes
To lift the likelihood that lightning will strike when groups gather, it helps to “seed” the
brainstorm by tipping mates off about what the topic(s) for brainstorming will be. Giving
partners time to incubate ideas adds time for tapping deeper psychological reserves of
everyone’s dreaming minds.
In generative thinking (brainstorming) there are no scoreboards, critics or censors. In
this phase, unlike decision-making, the point is to expand options, spot opportunities, and
invent wild hybrids. Cheer on wilder ideas. Make up more. Blend them together. Build on
others. Go for the moon. Don’t listen to doubters. Forget nit picking. Let ideas fly. Tend one
topic at a time. Stretch each other’s minds. Think the unthinkable.
Alex Osborn's Applied Imagination popularized brainstorming by pointing out that
creativity comes from a blend of individual and collective ideation. In Lateral Thinking, Edward
de Bono added:
Use brainstorming to blend and extend ideas, not just collect them
Create a safe place to share, blend, and extend diverse knowledge
Omit those who are too fearful to be productive
Let people who are too afraid of saying something "dumb" work alone
Add preparation time before and after group sessions
Dr. de Bono also pointed out that the way a subject is stated affects outcomes. Overly
broad statements, such as “better traffic control” tend to spawn too widely divergent results.
Overly narrow goal statements, such as “improved traffic lights” tend to elicit narrowed
responses. He suggests a good starting statement is like: “Methods of improving traffic flow
given the present arrangement of roads.” This defines what is open to change, along with what
is fixed (not flexible).
Any team size between 5 and 15 works. People should choose their own groups, unless
breaking up cliques is needed for cross-pollinating diverse perspectives. If assigning teams
seems too controlling, use randomizing. “Pick a number between one and four…' is an example
of a randomizing (to form four groups). Then, “All ones join other ones, all twos join other
twos…” (etc.). Drawing numbers from a bag (or hat) is another method for randomizing team
In teams, people should build on each other's ideas and fill in gaps. Rules of thumb for
Say anything - no matter how wild, crazy or seemingly wrong
Do not criticize or evaluate during brainstorming
Sum up points (don’t make speeches to prove points)
Let the recorder stay in sync
Let the facilitator guide the group
To guide the group without controlling outcomes:
Keep criticism and evaluation mum during brainstorming
Let each person speak without being cut off
Let ideas pop up like popcorn, without controlling “turns”
Invite silent members to speak without pressure
Make accurate notes openly as brainstorming progresses
Note gaps by reviewing points in progress
Offer ways to re-think issues and invite others to suggest approaches
Keep focus on central purpose as ideas expand
End session at agreed time; end earlier if group agrees; or call for a vote on extending time
Tell how the brainstorm's outcomes will be evaluated
Take time out between brainstorming before evaluating outcomes. Assessment can be
by one person, a small team, or the entire team…as long as it is a separate activity. For this
phase, sorting items helps identify:
Immediately useful ideas – proven in similar contexts
Points for more exploration - insights found in wild ideas and concepts to test
Approaches to take further – appealing ideas for further examination
Discards – items that fail to elicit interest or confidence
To spot main themes, de Bono observes: “A dominant idea is the organizing theme in a
way of looking at a situation. Unless one can convert a vague awareness to a definite pattern it
is…difficult to generate alternative patterns, alternative ways of looking at the situation. In a
defining situation one picks out the dominant idea not in order to be frozen by that idea but in
order to be able to generate alternative ideas. One of the main purposes of picking out the
dominant idea is to be able to escape from it. One can more easily escape from something
definite than from something vague. Liberation from rigid patterns and the generation of
alternative patterns are the aims of lateral thinking. Both processes are made much easier if
one can pick out the dominant idea.”
“The dominant idea may include the whole subject or only one aspect of it. A crucial
factor is some element of the situation that must always be included no matter how one looks
at the situation. The crucial factor is a tethering point. Like a dominant idea a crucial factor can
immobilize a situation and make it impossible to shift a point of view. Like a dominant idea a
crucial factor may exert a powerful influence without ever being consciously recognized. The
dominant idea organizes the situation. The crucial factor tethers it and though some mobility is
allowed this is restricted.” Example: In designing a way to pick apples, compare a child’s
perspective with an engineer’s: for engineers – it’s the advantage over manual labor; for
children – it’s getting the apples.
“Very often a crucial factor is an assumption. Crucial factors restrict the way the
problem could be looked at. As with finding the dominant idea what matters is that one
identifies what seems to be a crucial factor in one’s own view of the problem. Whether it is
really crucial or whether other people would think so does not matter for one picks it out only
to challenge its necessity. In looking for the dominant idea one wants to know, ‘why are we
always looking at this thing in the same way. In looking for the crucial factor one wants to
know, ‘what is holding us up, what is keeping us to this old approach?’”
SKY BRIDGING IDEAS
In Jump Start Your Brain, Doug Hall shares a method of innovation he calls Skybridging.
Like reverse engineering, it begins by stating a desired end goal and a current state, to create a
sense of here and there – between the actual and potential situation. Then, drawing line
segments to interim points between the two states, current and future, plot a variety of routes
– beginning with the most obvious ideas at the lowest (bridge) level…layering successively
higher (bridge) levels with more an more outlandish ideas. Hall recommends bridging in both
directions, starting at the future end and working backwards, and starting at the beginning
state and working onward. Making a graphic to depict the most conventional (seemingly safe)
routes from here to there, along with progressively “crazier” approaches helps identify and
compare options. Going back and forth aids thinking, also, by avoiding spending too much time
at sticking points. Just jump to a different bridge to prompt more memories of details and
mental pictures of sequential steps to keep strategic thinking fluid.
APPLYING 9 KINDS OF LEARNING
Dr. Dawna Markova has proven that “unteachable” students flourish when given ways
to learn that connect visual, verbal and tactile-kinetic perceptions with conscious, subconscious
and unconscious mental powers. In this test, paraphrased from How Your Child Is Smart, you
can briefly assess preferred modes of learning.
1. Conscious Mind x 3 Perceptual Modes
If your conscious mind uses the kinesthetic channel, you:
Learn and remember physical things easily
Enjoy athletic competition
Are more alert when moving or using hands.
If your conscious mind uses the auditory channel, you:
Easily learn and remember things that are heard.
Feel naturally comfortable speaking in front of people.
Are most alert when speaking.
If your conscious mind uses the visual channel, you:
Easily learn things that are seen.
Are naturally comfortable being seen, writing, and showing ideas?
Organize visually by making lists, writing things down, making things look neat.
2. Sub-Conscious Mind x 3 Perceptual Modes
If your subconscious mind uses the kinesthetic channel, you:
Sort things out by trying options or exploring different approaches.
Pay attention outwardly by moving, and inwardly by feeling.
Sometimes feel pulled in opposite directions.
If your subconscious mind uses the auditory channel, you:
Sort things out by talking out loud.
Pay attention outwardly by speaking and inwardly by listening.
Can talk and listen simultaneously, and process both sides of discussion.
If your subconscious mind uses the visual channel, you:
Sort things out by writing, drawing, and visualizing options.
See outward things and inward images simultaneously.
See things from multiple perspectives at the same time.
3. Un-Conscious Mind x 3 Perceptual Modes
If your unconscious mind uses the kinesthetic channel, you:
"Space out" when touched or in motion.
Feel shy about expressing self through movement or touch.
Find it easier to express overall feelings than pinpoint specific sensations.
Easily forget how to do physical things.
If your unconscious mind uses the auditory channel, you:
"Space out" when listening to too many words.
Are shy and/or private when talking, especially to strangers or groups.
Can easily forget what was said, fail to recall names, but remember tone of voice.
If your unconscious mind uses the visual channel, you:
"Space out" when looking at something for too long.
Can be shy when expressing self in writing or drawing.
Find it easier to recall the big picture than details.
Easily forget what has been seen or read
Dr. Markova’s methods are confirmed by Neuro-Linguistic Programming methods. By
observing eye motions of a person being questioned, we can see what type of thinking they are
using, from six core types:
VISUAL CONSTRUCTION – upward to their VISUAL RECALL – upward to their left means
right means the mind’s eyes is activated, memories stored as images are being scanned
AUDITORY CONSTRUCTION – sideways to their AUDITORY RECALL – sideways to their left
right means making up an imagined sound means remembering an experienced sound
KINESTHETIC CONSTRUCTION – downward to INTERNAL DIALOG – downward to their left
their right means imagining a physical feelings means assembling a narrative
Dr. Markova advises: “Information is most easily retained and retrieved when the process
follows a certain sequence – when information is first received by our conscious minds, then
sorted by our subconscious minds, and finally integrated by our unconscious minds. What
make one instrument different from another is the way each of the three states of
consciousness is linked to the three channels of though (visual, auditory, kinesthetic). There are
six different combinations possible. These six are what I call personal thinking patterns, ways of
moving thought, of metabolizing, digesting, processing experience.”
CONSCIOUS SUBCONSCIOUS UNCONSCIOUS
Visual Auditory Kinesthetic VAK
Visual Kinesthetic Auditory VKA
Auditory Kinesthetic Visual AKV
Auditory Visual Kinesthetic AVK
Kinesthetic Visual Auditory KVA
Kinesthetic Auditory Visual KAV
“It is these patterns that are reflected in our different ways of doing things. It is these
patterns that determine the most comfortable and effective way for each of us to learn
something…A some point in a child’s life, usually by first grade, one particular track becomes his
or her preferred way of digesting experience…Changing back and forth would be as confusing
for us as it might be if we were right-handed and left-handed every other day.”
While no one exactly fits the general framework Dr. Markova offers, it is still helpful to
use her theory and methodology to identify overall tendencies in yourself and others, to discern
different ways we process information.
AKV AVK KVA KAV VAK VKA
Language Speaks with Similar to AKV, Soft spoken, Talks with Speaks with Mostly quiet,
Characteristics feeling and with more long silences, hands, feeling, tells uses hands,
rhythm with logic and less concise teaches stories, sorts speaks from
a big rhyme statements activities, ideas, likes to experience in
vocabulary tells stories persuade circling way
Visual Eye shy, Steady eye Steady eyes - Eye shy, gets Likes eye Likes eye
Characteristics messy contact, messy may blink and big picture in contact, contact, keeps
writing, writing, ability flutter. Sees a glance, keeps lists lists and visual
simple to flex mental big picture makes piles and visual notes with
drawings, images and details to organize, notes with neat
sees big and many messy neat handwriting
picture angles handwriting handwriting
Physical Pent up Sketchy sense Interacts Interacts Sketchy body Pent up
Characteristics energy, good of body; likes easily, easily, sense, shy to energy, good
athlete, likes free activities athletic, likes athletic, like touch, athlete, likes
sports over sports sports, likes sports, likes prefers free sports, shy to
touching touching activities touch
Learning Learns by Learns by ear Hands on Hands on Avid reader, Good reading
Strengths and ear, likes and reading, learning-by- learning-by- top writing by sight (not
Challenges hands-on, finds hands-on doing, doing, skills, phonics),
written difficult struggles struggles struggles learns by
instruction is with lectures with reading, with hands- watching,
hardest and writing, on learning & struggles with
discussions spelling new skills listening
Spaces Out Too much Touch and Long verbal Too much Touch and Long verbal
visual input questioning explanations, visual input questioning explanations
feelings questions feelings and questions
Typical Interrupts, Interrupts, Can get Can be Can be a Can be whiner
Troubles wisecracks, monopolizes, sullen and hyper-active show off, too or just go with
fools around asks “why” withdrawn and fidgety helpful groupthink
Frustrations Turning Putting Wording Needs Estimating Thinking
visions into feelings into feelings is outlets for time is independently
reality words difficult energy difficult is hard
Talents Visionary Great Nature lover, Great doer – Great Great partner,
with many communicator, with many loves action, teacher – networker,
great ideas, exchanging dissimilar wants to be loves show cooperator
wants to ideas, being interests they useful to and tell
inspire helpful like to unite others
INNOVATING BY COLLABORATING
“Beware of the man with one book” is a saying intended to warn us of trusting those
(including ourselves) who look at life too narrowly, without considering the legitimacy of
others’ perspectives. “To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” is meant to
remind us that we need many tools to solve varied problems, and that using the tools we are
most familiar with may limit outcomes or make things worse. For example, reliance on high-
tech medicine distributed in high-priced (hospital) centers for crisis intervention is considered a
sign of progress, since the tools are sophisticated. But their use may be dumb. How can smart
tools be used stupidly? In the case of health care, the effectiveness of costly conventions is
suspect, since healthcare-system-induced deaths are the third leading cause of the death in the
U.S. - after heart disease and cancer, according the World Health Education Initiative.
Ultimately, we have to question the motives for using smart tools to produce dumb outcomes.
Syndromes of social ills may be traceable to an ultimate source with a singular trait, like a gene
that spawns a syndrome of ills. In the realm of ideas, the equivalent of genes are memes.
in The Ten Faces of Innovation, IDEO's Tom Kelly has defined ten types of innovators
who create value in organizations by cross fertilizing their company’s collective capacity
through ingenious collaboration.
Anthropologist Learns by empathic immersion into others' lives and contexts
Experimenter Tries new ideas making prototypes and rough drafts for fast feedback
Cross-Pollinator Blends diverse cultures and expertise to spot potential and spark ideas
Hurdler Overcomes barriers by learning-from-let-downs to invent new means
Collaborator Blends with eclectic experts and diverse groups, to lead from inside out
Director Forms talented teams to fast track raised results by sparking interplay
Experience Architect Connects with deep common interests in creating a "buzz"
Set Designer Makes contexts that support smart teamwork (applying ergonomics)
Caregiver Anticipates needs that include intangibles beyond simplistic services
Storyteller Links legends, values, ethos, pathos, credos, logos to grow social bonds
SPRING BOARDING WITH SYNECTICS
To get new ideas by remixing old ones is the purpose of Synectics. The name derives
from the Greek word ‘synektiktein’ – meaning the joining of different things. Four kinds of
metaphors are applied to remix different things for discovering new ideas:
Personal Analogy – identify yourself with part or all of the problem and its solution
Direct Analogy – solve the problem by applying parallel facts, knowledge, technology, or
Symbolic Analogy – identify part or all of the problem and its solution with an impersonal
object or image
Fantasy Analogy – solve the problem by applying fantasy
1. Describe A Topic: Select a topic then describe it, either in small group discussions or
individually writing a brief paragraph.
2. Create Direct Analogies: Select another topic and make a list of same/similar characteristics
as the first one (using direct analogy to make comparisons). To enrich (whole brain)
thinking, generate vivid images.
3. Describe Personal Analogies: Select one of the direct analogies and create personal
analogies, i.e., “become it” and describe what it feels like to be that object.
4. Identify Compressed Conflicts: Pair words from the lists that seem to fight each other.
Explain why. Choose a compressed couple to work on further (by a quick vote).
5. Create a New Direct Analogy: With the compressed conflict pair chosen, create a different
direct analogy by selecting something that is described by the paired words.
6. Reexamine the Original Topic: Return to the original point to produce a outcome (product,
service, strategy, etc.) that utilizes ideas generated in the process, from the final analogy or
For the best results, after each step, let the results rest for awhile; then do the next
step. This gives time for ideas to incubate and form deeper associations.
Springboarding is a way of prompting other’s thinking by wording of ideas with prefix
statements like: “I wish” or “How can” and “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” Wishing prefixes are used
for speculative ideas. “How to” prefixes are used for solving specific problems. Springboard
statements invite addition (for completion) by listeners, to help the presenter. Saying “I
wish…” invites people to think about how another’s wish might be realized. Wording ideas as
springboards helps attract support for ideas like “I wish the mail delivered itself” rather than
flatly saying “The mail should deliver itself” – which elicits little interest or involvement.
One tactic is to use trigger questions for prompting analysis and synthesis. How? When
beginning to think about a subject, list words that relate to it, as physical aspects, processes,
emotional associations, or anything else. To come up with trigger questions, consider
modifying characteristics, such as: compare, subtract, add, transfer, superimpose, change,
scale, substitute, fragment, isolate, distort, disguise, contradict, parody, hybridize,
metamorphose, symbolize, repeat, combine…and so forth. The results of transformative
thinking can be captured on paper, whiteboard, or software.
Headlining and In-Out Listening
When sharing an idea, we tend to start with justification about the need for the idea,
then give the idea, then add more justification. What are listeners doing during all this? Once
they get the gist of the idea, they are thinking about other ideas…instead of paying attention to
our extensive pitch. To handle this, ‘headlining’ means giving the idea up-front, and adding
clarification only if requested (similar to Seymour Papert’s statement that educators should put
“logic on tap, not on top”). ‘In-Out Listening’ is for listeners to write down ideas as they occur,
then quickly return to paying full attention, rather than rehearsing their thoughts and trying to
find a time to interrupt with their contribution.
To prevent the stifling effect of judgmental evaluation, appointing a single problem
owner and asking all others to help that person solve their problem is helpful. People can take
turns being the problem owner to overcome being blinkered by biased views of the situation,
through investing many perspectives. This encourages ideas which may seem ridiculous, but
spark discoveries of smart solutions.
When ideas have dried up, yet more ideas could still be found, if we could get unstuck,
“Excursions” are exercises for going off the beaten track into entirely different domains to find
ideas that can be brought back and used.
The co-inventor of Synectics, George Prince, emphasized reduction of inhibitions for
release of creativity, with practices for assuring that supportive intentions are integral to the
experience. His “Creative Behaviour” tools extended to situations beyond invention sessions
(e.g. conflict resolution). Co-inventor William Gordon emphasized metaphors “to make the
familiar strange and the strange familiar" in his tenet: "Trust things that are alien, and alienate
things that are trusted." Both encouraged thorough problem-analysis for generation of
surprising solutions. Synectics is more complex (needing more time and effort) than
brainstorming; but is better for turning ideas into actions, with more commitment for
DESIGNING WITH MAGIC LOGIC (HEURISTICS)
Unlike doing math problems (and other algorithms) with just one right answer produced
by following a proven set of steps, innovation applied the magic logic of “heuristics” for
discovery new solutions by mixing existing elements in fresh combinations. Because (right-
brain) intuition, empathic emotion, and ethical imagination are involved, collaborative
innovation that serves common causes develops community capacity for creativity, resilience,
wisdom, peacefulness, playfulness, and more.
Like good journalism and pure research, doing design starts by questioning how things
work. By exploring how things work, ideas arrive, as if by magic. Images bubble up from a
veiled wellspring. By foregoing the comfort of accepting old conclusions – in clichés, childhood
beliefs, emotionalized judgments, divisive ideologies, and so forth – the “beginner’s mind”
invites fresh insight. Sometimes, ideas arrive in full flower, having grown in a veiled realm
before being revealed fully formed, like Mozart’s music. Other times, ideas evolve from fuzzy
to focused forms, by adding and subtracting elements until the best blend is found. Like
Beethoven’s scribbled scores, some designs develop through conscious revisions.
Doing design explores many ways to achieve intended outcomes. Doing design
develops ability to assess set backs, find what’s working, and make corrective changes. By
perceiving influences, finding facts, generating ideas, assessing alternatives, and testing
successive tactics, design is an adventure of exploring possibilities that eventually lead to new
solutions (in the form of products, services, scientific advances, creative arts, etc.)
The benefits of doing design can't be replaced by reliance on outside experts, because
creative abilities develop by doing design. Doing design develops personal character along with
creativity. Courage and creativity are entwined. When practiced in teams, companies, and
communities, groups can achieve a state of synergy. Personal and collective capacity grow by
the exercising the kind of mindfulness applied by doing design: spotting opportunities; asking
key questions; generating varied ideas; blending facts and ideas into optimum solutions.
Creativity comes from exploring alternative scenarios, overcoming blind spots, and inventing
adaptive strategies. Inspiration spreads as dialog deepens. By hearing each other and investing
the perspectives of all involved, designing spreads wisdom. Patience and mutual appreciation
grows by generating ideas and forming wise decisions through dialogue.
Collaborative design multiplies the power of many minds working in unison, without
sacrificing anyone’s uniqueness, values, knowledge or vision. Unlike “groupthink” - creative
collaboration focuses the power of diverse perspectives on common aims. Doing design
expresses ethical imagination by envisioning ways to make our world better. Doing design
integrates values, beliefs, assumptions, and theories. Doing design means forming ideas to
explain what is, plus predict what’s coming, and envision the kind of world we should
participate in making. By testing beliefs and assumptions from varied perspectives, doing
design confirms truths and avoids traps. By airing aspirations and anxieties, doing design
identifies what matters most. Hearing each other's wildest ideas sparks new solutions in fresh
combinations that would not have been discovered otherwise.
Design-by-dialog pools facts from everyone’s perspective to enrich collective
knowledge. A facilitator can help everyone participate by paraphrasing what’s said, to sum up
and connect comments as they emerge through dialog. But everyone should agree to keep
communication open, direct and constructive. All involved should encourage, validate, reflect,
and clarify each other's interests - by asking open-ended questions to elicit facts, feelings,
attitudes, aspirations, etc. All this comes from listening to each person’s perspective without
interruption, to let thoughts organically emerge with the power of soulfulness.
The goal of good discussion is to hear everyone’s experiences and expectations instead
of assuming they're already known. For this, invite everyone involved to share stories that
enrich each other’s perspectives. By listening actively, look for areas of agreement to build on.
Use disagreements as opportunities to learn. Avoid forcing agreement or defending positions.
Practice patience in the face of ambiguities, dissonance, and embryonic notions. Ponder
ambiguities without rushing to easy answers. Examine assumptions to encourage constructive,
critical thinking. Cultivate openness by airing anxieties and graduating discourse to higher
levels of harmony. Develop a purpose (common cause, mutual mission, shared aim) to inspire
cooperation by uniting diverse interests toward highest intentions.
Everyone is enriched on many levels from this kind of discourse. Collective knowledge
grows by exchanging examples, sharing insights about trends and innovations. Knowledge gaps
are filled in faster with facts pooled by groups. Further research flows naturally from people
forming affinity teams to organize information gathering that fits their shared interests. As
teams report back to each other in on-going communication forums and media networks,
collective knowledge continues to develop the total capacity of everyone involved.
WRITING: FROM DEEP TO DONE
Keeping Morning Papers
Julia Cameron teaches that writing Morning Pages has purposes unlike writing done in
school or work. She says the purpose is to be a “brain drain.” The goal is to pour out
superficial thoughts to clear the way for deeper revelation.
They are done daily, regardless of mood. “Morning pages will teach you that your mood
doesn’t really matter. Some of the best creative work gets done on the days when you feel that
everything you’re doing is just plain junk. The morning pages will teach you to stop judging and
just let yourself write.”
Write three pages each day upon arising to express whatever is on you mind, including
petty worries, anxieties, and chores to do. “Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too
weird to be included.” Nobody reads them except you. You don’t read them either, for the
first two months or so; stick them in an envelope, or keep a binder without reading your
“All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between
you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the
weird look in your lover’s eye – this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our
days. Get it on the page. The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery. As
blocked artists, we tend to criticize ourselves mercilessly…We are victims of our own
internalized perfectionist, a nasty internal and eternal critic, the Censor, who reside in our (left)
brain and keeps up a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the
“Because there is no wrong way to write the morning pages, the Censor’s option doesn’t
count. Let your Censor rattle on. (And it will.) Just keep your hand moving across the page.
Write down the Censor’s thoughts if you want to. Note how it loves to aim you’re your
creative jugular. Make no mistake: the Censor is out to get you. It’s a cunning foe. Every time
you get smarter, so does it...Think of your Censor as a cartoon serpent, slithering around your
creative Eden, hissing vile things to keep you off guard…you might want to find a good cartoon
image of your Censor...and put an X through it...Just making the Censor into the nasty, clever
little character that it is begins to pry loose some of its power over you and your creativity.
She says: “When people ask, ‘Why do we write morning pages?’ I joke, ‘To get to the
other side.’’ …Morning pages do get us to the other side: the other side of our fear, of our
negativity, of our moods. Above all, they get us beyond our Censor. Beyond the reach of the
Censor’s babble we find our own quiet center, the place where we hear the still, small voice
that is at once our creator’s and our own.
As others have recognized, Cameron cites the polar roles of right and left-brain
operations, in relation to creativity. “Logic brain is our Censor, our second (and third and
fourth) thought. Faced with an original sentence, phrase, paint squiggle, it says, ‘What the hell
is that? That’s not right!’”
“Artist brain is our inventor, our child, and our very own personal absent-minded
professor. Artist brain says, ‘Hey! That is so neat!’ It puts odd things together …Artist brain is
our creative, holistic brain. It thinks in patterns and shading.
“Any original thought can look pretty dangerous to our Censor...The only
sentences/paintings/sculptures/photographs it like are ones that it has seen many times
before. Safe sentences. Safe paintings. Not exploratory blurts, squiggles, or jottings. Listen to
your Censor and it will tell you that everything original is wrong/dangerous/rotten. The
morning pages will teach you to stop listening to that ridicule. They will allow you to detach
from your negative Censor.”
“It may be useful for you to think of the morning pages as meditation. It may not be the
practice of meditation you are accustomed to…but they are a valid form of meditation that
gives us insight and helps us affect change in our lives.”
The purpose of meditation goes beyond its healthy effects of reducing stress and gaining
insights to enabling experience of true identity and “our right place in the scheme of the
universe. Through meditation, we acquire and eventually acknowledge our connection to an
inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world. “
“Insight in and of itself is an intellectual comfort. Power in and of itself is a blind force
that can destroy as easily as build. It is only when we consciously learn to link power and light
that we begin to feel our rightful identities as creative beings. The morning pages allow us to
forge thins link. They provide us with a spiritual ham-radio set to contact the Creator Within.
For this reason, the morning pages are a spiritual practice.”
“It is impossible to write morning pages for any extended period of time without coming
into contact with an unexpected inner power…Morning pages map our own interior. Without
them, our dream may remain terra incognita…It is very difficult to complain about a situation
morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action The
pages lead us out of despair and into undreamed –of solution.”
“Anyone who faithfully writes morning pages will be led to a connection with a source
of wisdom within. When I am stuck with a painful situation or problem that I don’t think I
know how to handle, I will go to the pages and ask for guidance. …The morning pages will work
for painters, for sculptors, for poets, for actors, for lawyers, for housewives -0 for anyone who
wants to try anything creative.“
Enjoying Artist Dates
The two practices of writing your Morning Pages and enjoying your Artist Date act as an
energizing polar pair of activities for recharging your creativity and keeping access to it clear.
“Think of this combination of tools in terms of a radio receiver and transmitter. It is a two-step,
two-directional process: out and then in. Doing your morning pages, you are sending –
notifying yourself and the universe of your dreams, dissatisfactions, hopes. Doing your artist
date, you are receiving – opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.”
“An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and
committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In it most primary form,
the artist date is an excursion, a play date that your preplan and defend against all interlopers.
You do not take anyone on this artist date but your and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative
ch8ild. That means no lovers, friends, spouses, children – no taggers-on of any stripe.”
“Your artist is a child. Time with a parent matters more than monies spent. A visit to a
great junk store, a solo trip to the beach, an old movie seen alone together, a visit to an
aquarium or an art gallery – these cost time, not money. Remember, it is the time commitment
that is sacred.”
“Spending time in solitude with your artist child is essential to self-nurturing. A long
country walk, a solitary expedition to the beach for a sunrise or a sunset, a sortie out to a
strange church to hear gospel music, to an ethnic neighborhood to taste foreign sights and
sounds – your artist might enjoy any of these. Or, your artist might like bowling.”
She warns: “You are likely to find yourself avoiding your artist dates. Recognize this
resistance as a fear of intimacy – self-intimacy. Often in troubled relationships, we settle into
an avoidance pattern with our significant others. We don’t want to hear what they are thinking
because it just might hurt. So we avoid them…It is possible they will want an answer we don
not have and can’t give them. It is equally possible we might do the same to them and that
then the two of us will stare at each other in astonishment, say, ‘But I never knew you felt like
“It is probable that these self-disclosures, frightening though they are, will lead to the
building of a real relationship, one in which the participants are free to be who they are and to
become what they wish.”
“The morning pages acquaint us with what we think and what we think we need. We
identify problem areas and concerns. We complain, enumerate, identify, isolate, fret. This is
step one, analogous to prayer. In the course of the release engendered by our artist date, step
two, we begin to hear solutions. Perhaps equally important, we begin to find the creative
reserves we will draw on in fulfilling our artistry.”
Fishing The Well and Stocking The Pond
“Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This
inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond…As artists, we must
realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t give some attention to
upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked.”
“Any extended period or piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well. Overtapping
the well, like overfishing the pond, leaves us with diminished resources. We fish in vain for the
images we require. Our work dries up and we wonder why…The truth is that work can dry up
because it is going to well.”
“As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to
consciously replenishing our creative resources as we draw on them…I call this process filling
“Filling the well involves the active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs.
Art is born in attention. Its midwife is detail. Art may seem to spring from pain, but perhaps
that is because pain serves to focus our attention onto detail…Art may seem to involve broad
strokes, grand schemes, great plans. But it is the attention to detail that stay with us; the
singular image is what haunts us and becomes art.”
“The language of art is image, symbol. It is a wordless language even when our very art
is to chase it with words. The artists’ language is a sensual one, a language of felt experience.
When we work at our art, we dip into the well of our experience and scoop out images.
Because we do this, we need to learn how to put images back. How do we fill the well?”
“We feed it images…The artist brain is our image brain, home and haven to our best
creative impulses. The artist brain cannot be reached – or triggered – effectively by words
along. The artist brain is the sensory brain: sight and sound, smell and taste, touch. These are
the elements of magic, and magic is the elemental stuff of art.”
“In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do
what you should do – spiritual sit-ups like reading a dull but recommended critical text. Do
what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery.”
“A mystery draws us in, leads us on, lures on…A mystery can be very simple: if I drive
this road, not my usual road, what will I see? Changing a known route throws us into the now.
We become refocused on the visible, visual world. Sight leads to insight.”
She writes of the magic of scents, sounds, and movement, such as dancing to drum
music…then reminds us to enjoy everyday experiences.
“Filling the well needn’t be all novelty. Cooking can fill the well. When we chop and
pare vegetables, we do so with our thoughts as well. Remember, art is an artist-brain pursuit.
This brain is reached through rhythm – through rhyme, not reason…Any regular, repetitive
action primes the well...Showering, swimming, scrubbing, shaving, steering a car…all of these
are regular, repetitive activities that may tip us over from our logic brain into our more creative
artist brain. Solutions to sticky creative problems may bubble up through the dishwater,
emerge on the freeway just as we are executing a tricky merge…Learn which of these works
best for you and use it.”
Exchanging Mutual Reviews
Writers can help each other by to hearing each other’s writing read aloud to give each
other constructive feedback. The goal is to upgrade everyone’s writing by asking fertile
questions. This core process, adapted from Peter Elbow’s Writing With Power, can be adapted
to other forms of teamwork, including community design.
What is the core concern? Is the main idea vivid and relevant? Is the topic universally crucial?
Does the writing depict whole systems? Does it venture outside the box of stereotypes, blind
faith, and clichés?
What are the root causes? Does the writing give supportive examples and relevant evidence
for assertions about causal factors? Are complex interrelationships fully explored, or is a
hidden bias seemingly blocking well-rounded analysis of inter-relations? What facts have been
gathered to support assertions? Are other conclusions possible but missed, if the same facts
were interpreted other ways? What counter arguments have been encountered and
overcome? Is contradiction handled with a healthy attitude, in the way opposing perspectives
What are the most memorable phrases? What stays in mind from reading this writing (as an
afterimage)? Has a highlight (mental) movie set in - connecting key points in cause-and-effect
scenarios? Does the work ebb and flow with intriguing rhythms?
What are the effects on me? Does the writing move me, make me think, and cause a response
that adds meaning? Would I accept the author as an authority on the topic, based on the
research and experience displayed in the writing? If not, what's missing? Are any beliefs or
assumptions blinding the writing? Or, does it reveal a holistic worldview that is inclusive, fair,
What can be enhanced, and what can be reduced? Are there points that deserve further
development? Are there issues that tend to detract from the main point(s)? Can some
statements be weeded out without weakening the overall message? Can some statements be
given greater dimension to enrich the work's highest purpose?