Sunday, September 4, 2011

Teaching Insights

Jim Schaefer

With the deep ongoing interest in creativity and creative writing in both non-fiction and fiction, I thought that it would be interesting to mention Robert S. and Michele M. Root-Bernstein (2001), who characterize creative thinking as essentially pre-verbal, intuitive, and emotional. In addition, I thought that I’d mention Segin Lukose, a student of mine from India, who wrote about a story that beautifully demonstrated how it is possible to teach that kind of thinking without being stuffy.
Segin said that his grandparents raised him as a child. During those years, one time his grandfather, whom Segin called, Papa, asked Segin if he’d like to play a new game (they played these games all the time). When Segin said, yes, his Papa went with him to find some Neam leaves. After they found the leaves, Papa made a puzzle out of a few leaves by intertwining them together. Then Papa told Segin to solve the puzzle by disentangling the leaves.

As much as he tried and struggled, Segin could not solve the puzzle, especially after Papa said, “Don’t tear the leaves, you will lose.” Segin said that he tried tirelessly to disentangle the leaves, but finally had to admit that he couldn’t. Then, in a few seconds, Papa disentangled the leaves. When Mama, Segin’s grandmother, called Segin and Papa in for evening tea, Papa told Segin, as they walked in the house, “Tomorrow we will play another game, but this time you must think hard.” Segin said that Papa always practiced this “art of the challenge for the mind” with him and that there was never any boredom, just constant challenge.
Because of their thoughtful love, Segin said that his grandparents are very precious to him. They are like friends. He always talks about everything with them.
This story can offer at least five insights about teaching for us. First, the quality of a caring, even loving, relationship between teacher and student is a crucial element. Second, the components of the lesson can come from the environment of the teacher and the student. They don’t necessarily have to be made. Third, teaching involves a constant learning process of working with a student on ways to encounter and resolve a challenge successfully. Fourth, the nature of the lesson depends on what the student needs and the level of the student’s awareness and skill development. Fifth, the teacher needs to watch a student closely and intervene before the student becomes too frustrated.

Root-Bernstein, R., and Root-Bernstein, M. (2001). Sparks of genius: The thirteen thinking tools of the world’s most creative people. New York, NY: Mariner Books.

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