We see learning as a joyful, embodied, process that is incorporated within an individualized emergent system that we construct with each student.
Our process is built upon two fundamental ideas:
- awareness practices, including embodied learning through the Alexander Technique, so that students can identify and track their interests and needs.
- Artist inspired reflection practices entail bridging multiple interests, enabling students to select, curate and track the most pertinent information to help them succeed.
Awareness and reflective practices are the framework of an emergent learning system: woven into the fabric of all we do is the love of learning through awareness of interests/needs and building upon past successes within each iteration to create self-sustained learning.
Teaching Philosophies Explained
The bodyLITERATE is composed of practicing artists and educators who share a love of learning. We are dedicated to researching embodiment and emergence in learning and we offer services that support an engaged, sustainable, individualized education for all people. As learning specialists, our goal is not to replicate the traditional, rote structures of the education system (there are thousands of tutors/companies that do exactly that—and are amazing at it!), our interest, rather, is to illuminate and re-awaken a holistic, intrinsic learning approach that many children have “un-learned” through years of schooling. In fact, these students have been learning since birth, utilizing an inquiry-based model that is fueled by joy, curiosity and play. It is our deep desire to re-awaken this powerful, intrinsic aspect of learning and show our students how much agency and power they can have as they unleash it into their lives. We understand that people learn most sustainably and efficiently when they are engaged, embodied and creating; from this understanding, we teach (or rather, re-awaken) an embodied, emergent learning system.
Embodied, emergent learning begins with inquiry: we teach people how to ask the questions that directly address their learning needs and interests. This process entails developing embodied awareness through the Alexander Technique. Additionally, students learn to select/curate information that directly addresses their questions; they learn to track patterns and a structure emerges that is unique to their particular learning needs. Emergence is woven into each segment of this process. We show the student that their is no end to learning; the student continues to build on each successive iteration, refining their emergent learning system. Our task is to share a love of learning and to make the process of learning conscious, engaging and efficient.
We work with students from the third grade into adulthood. Even at age 8, children have been in school more than half of their lives and often their education has contributed to their feelings of unconfidence and viewpoint that learning is hard and “boring.” In many ways, their academic environment, has failed them. Instead of supporting the intrinsic, pleasurable skill of learning, many children view education as a repetitive, rote, exercise driven activity, void of joy. When these unhappy children come to us, our first goal is to listen and show them that we are listening and we are, with giant elephant ears! Next, we help them understand what they LOVE to learn—for example, are they experts at video games, at Legos, at re-telling stories? We show them that they have already learned a ton in their lives (they can walk, run, dance, play sports, share stories etc.) and we work with them to bring awareness to HOW they have learned these wonderful skills and that the process was actually fun, engaging and unique to their personal learning styles. We then teach them how they can apply their intrinsic and joyful learning abilities to academic work, and (while, the current educational system is not always conducive to efficient, sustainable learning) we make sure that the child has a game-plan to continue to grow successfully within their academic environment. Throughout this process we also work with the students to bring awareness to their bodies; how the body plays a key role in engaged learning.
Our methods are derived from over a decade of research, teaching and arts-making. Below is a description of the four main elements of our methodology, as well as how we bring it all together through a mediation inspired process.
Students learn to ask questions and develop skills to understand their particular interests and what information is needed to problem solve. Rather than being passive receptors of education, students actively construct the path they will take to obtain information. The inquiry-based model that we guide students through begins with identifying interests/needs, creating inquiry to address these interests/needs and utilizing the student’s education environment to obtain/curate relevant information.
For example, if a student is learning about graphs in school, yet is confused about how to read a graph, she can utilize an inquiry based learning model to identify what exactly she does not understand and then communicate her questions to an educator, classmate or use the question as a guide to research the answer online or via textbook. Not only does the student understand more about her interests/relationship to her academic work (ie. her specific confusion), the student also learns the anatomy of an effective question and how to communicate their inquiry to the outside world. As an educator, I often hear the phrase, “I don’t get it!” It’s great that a student communicates that he has reached an impasse, however, it would be even better if the student was able to rephrase “it” into a particular (“I don’t get what the x axis shows” or “I don’t understand how to create a thesis for this essay”). We help students define the “it” and the student can construct a question that communicates their need, “what type of data goes into the x axis of the graph?” or “how do you create a thesis for an essay?” Now, the student has directed herself towards an appropriate research topic and can actively seek the help of an expert, online resource, textbook, etc. This type of question formulation is central to developing inquiry-based learning skills.
Learning is an instinctual process that children employ naturally as means for both survival and fun. I’ve watched many young people, bright-eyed with excitement, playing video games and becoming masters of complex gaming worlds (Pokemon, Minecraft, Sim City etc.) within a matter of weeks. How can learning be so fluid, fun and organic? The children are going through a process of inquiry based learning—they are asking themselves questions about the challenges they are facing within the game and through an emergent trial and error process, they uncover information and select what works. This is an efficient learning process that is inquiry-based and organic. This inquiry based model of learning is what the bodyLITERATE seeks to encourage. It is something intrinsic in the development of children and we work with people to re-awaken and add consciousness to their intrinsic inquiry-based learning abilities.
Embodiment is the idea that the mind and body are linked in action. At the bodyLITERATE we see learning as a holistic, process that includes active engagement of both the mind and body. One type of embodiment training that our organization intertwines within its work is the Alexander Technique (AT), a re-education method that brings awareness, ease and connectivity to everyday movement. Not only does the AT improve posture and physical efficiency, the technique is a powerful learning tool to maximize one’s ability for awareness and reflection for adaptive, self-sufficiency in learning.
For example, a “bored” student, who is collapse and getting more exhausted by the minute, may find that she can utilize principles of the Alexander Technique to sit efficiently and increase her energy level. Another example is an over-tense student, may find that the technique teaches him to breathe regularly and release tension. By being mindful of how the body contributes to focus and attention, one has more agency (consciousness) to prevent states that can inhibit learning such as exhaustion and tension. Over the course of studying the technique, students develop a deep awareness of how efficient utilization of the body maximizes potential in any daily activity.
John Dewey and the Alexander Technique
John Dewey, known as the father of the American Education system, was a regular student of F.M. Alexander(the founder of the Alexander Technique). He frequently wrote about the benefits of the Alexander Technique. Dewey saw that becoming embodied, ie. developing more awareness of the unity between mind and body will increase one’s potential for learning. He describes that the Alexander Technique “bears the same relation to education that education itself bears to all other human activities” (Introduction to “The Use of the Self”). John Dewey understood that the process of learning begins with how one utilizes their mind and body in action. The Alexander Technique enables people to maximize potential through increasing overall awareness of how the mind and body work together. In Dewey’s introduction to one of Alexander’s books, he states that “the hardest thing to attend to is that which is closest to ourselves, that which is most constant and familiar. And this closest “something” is, precisely, ourselves, our own habits and ways of doing things as agencies in conditioning what is tried or done by us.” (Introduction to “Constructive Conscious Control”). All of us have multiple talents and are doing many different activities in a day. What is constant is “ourselves, our own habits” that dictates how well and efficiently we do each activity. The Alexander Technique teaches us to to maximize our potential, because we learn to be aware of our inefficient patterns in how we do things. The key here is “how” we do things. Dewey goes on to explain the focus of the Alexander Technique is on “the actual functioning of the body, with the organism in operation, and in operation under the ordinary conditions of living–rising, sitting, walking, standing, using arms, hands, voice, tools, instruments of all kinds” (Introduction to “Constructive Conscious Control”). The Alexander Technique is a re-educational method to develop awareness of how we use our bodies in everyday activities. By understanding how we do the most simple elemental actions of human activity (sitting, standing,talking, lying down etc.), we can bring a greater deal of consciousness and expertise into complex actions (speeches, classroom learning, tackling homework, playing sports, dancing, working at a computer, etc.).
Is the process of connecting two or more forms and through this fusion, a new form emerges. Finding relationships between different modalities requires that a student understand both the root of their interest in each modality and how they will combine these interests. Bridging is essential for sustainable learning, because the student must explore the fundamentals of an idea and then recreate their own interpretation by fusing the elements of multiple modalities. In addition, bridging can serve as a way to engage students in different modalities; they learn how a current interest can connect to various subjects outside of their field of expertise. This is an excellent way to help students develop engagement in academic learning.
For example, co-founder of the bodyLITERATE, Cori Olinghouse, has been a dance choreographer for over ten years and has also been fascinated with early silent films as well as surrealism. Recently, she collaborated with experimental filmaker Shona Masarin to bring to life a unique, surreal ghost character through an experimental silent film. This project bridges multiple modalities: dance, film, surrealism, to name a few, and creates a whole new form: “surrealist, silent dance film” or something along that road. Cori has described this project as enlightening, because it has deepened her understanding of dance, film and surrealism. Resultingly, her creative process has evolved to reflect her new knowledge garnered through the filmmaking process.
Bridging is an effective learning vehicle, because students are self-reflecting, selecting, and building. An effective bridge requires a firm root in at least two disciplines (the root is based on the individual’s unique interests within each field). Students select how the two fields relate (how might an effective bridge be constructed?) and from this connection a student builds something wholly unique.
Is the complex patterns and behaviors that arise out of simple interactions. An emergent learning practice is a systematic approach that uses prior knowledge to build new skills as well as to develop wholly new forms through bridging modalities. Emergence takes place in education when students identify and explore their interests through a creative process, find connections between interests (bridging), selecting what works and a new form emerges, individualized to the student’s unique neuronal learning pathways. The process that leads to emergence moves from simple to complex. Students learn to identify the simplest interactions: the elements of a system. Next, students understand how these elements interact and finally, students create their own versions “re-mixing” the elements, bridging them, to build a new form. What emerges is a unique creation that is complex, yet it’s “DNA” (how it was built from interests, into elements, into systems, into bridging) can be traced. Students select what works and what is less effective and continue with the cycle, albeit, now, with additional information from the previous iteration.
Emergence is often left out of the education process:
In today’s accelerated learning environments, emergence is often left out of the academic process, because students do not have the time to create the necessary bridges (connections) for emergence to take place. Emergence comes from an organic process, where patterns emerge from the interactions of established systems. A student who is being rushed through advanced academic material, without first establishing the fundamental systems that formulate the advanced ideas as well as their personal interest in the subject matter, will often not be able to integrate information in a lasting way.
Young learners are often at conflict with their education. This can range from the expectations placed on them at home (and by themselves), time management, how material is disseminated, teacher-student interactions etc. At the bodyLITERATE, we work with students and their academic team (parents, teachers etc.), to create executable goals and realistic expectations. As trained mediators,we focus on what is alive in the student (there strengths and interests) and how they can become flexible learners, able to utilize their unique assets to explore and develop their interests through inquiry and embodiment. Our goal is to partner with our students to create a wonderful learning game-plan and to ensure that they maximize their learning potential. In order to design a program that meets the student’s learning needs, we utilize a mediation inspired process to guide and construct an individualized model utilizing the previously explained methodologies (inquiry-based learning, awareness through embodiment, bridging modalities and enabling an emergent process to blossom).
While traditional mediation is a method that involves two conficted parties, academic mediation utilizes the structure and techniques of mediation and reflects them back at the student who is at conflict with his/her education. Academic mediation may involve having a facilitated conversation between guardian(s) and child; it also entails ongoing one-on-one work utilizing the methods of the bodyLITERATE. Through one-on-one work, we help students identify/communicate their interests and needs to their learning team, including other teachers, mental health experts and parents. Our hope is that everyone can be heard and together we design an academic game-plan. The process entails:
- inquiry-based information gathering: to understand interests and areas of conflict
- embodiment practice: so that students can develop a deeper sense of awareness
- bridging interests: selecting/curating information that is most relevant to the student’s needs
- emergence: collaborating with the students environment (teachers, parents etc.) so the a realistic plan emerges that enables a sustainable and enjoyable academic experience.
Most important to us, is that the student is heard and comes away from lessons, embodied, with a sense of agency in his or her education and an understanding of how to develop a sustainable, enjoyable and efficient learning plan.