Saturday, January 16, 2010

Now and Later

Learning paradigms... When I worked as the arts and crafts director at Porter-Leath Children's Center in Memphis, in the early 1970's the neighborhood children had a favorite candy called Now and Later. They could be purchased in a variety of flavors and came four wrapped candies in a small package for a nickel. The idea was that you could eat one and save the rest for later, or as I learned, I could eat one myself and share the rest with friends.

David N. Perkins, in the foreword to the book, Studio Thinking, by Hetland, Winner, Veenema and Sheridan, describes two "learning paradigms," import and export. The idea of the export paradigm is that you learn things with the possibility or probability that you will need them later. Learning algebra is one of those things that fit the export paradigm. A student is told, you might need this some day. In fact, as pointed out by Perkins, most of modern education is based on the export paradigm as educators teach what they've been told, based on what curriculum designers and text book publishers think will be needed some day. The idea of the import paradigm is that you learn things that you need right now rather than someday or later. What Hetland, et al. have described as studio thinking, and what you do through the arts, involves learning that is required by the task immediately at hand, but that also may be useful later. In other words, Studio Thinking is the "now and later" of education. It offers something right now that may also be useful later. It illustrates the difference between pushing and pulling a rope. Actually doing something is the sweet that lures the children onward in education.

So exactly how many things have you forgotten that you learned in school? There is that old saying, "use it or lose it." The truth is that in most cases if you don't use it, you just won't get it in the first place. Comprehension involves two things, gaining memory of the subject, and establishing the neural pathways through which that memory can be easily and usefully retrieved. Those important neural pathways of interconnected thoughts are less likely to develop through the export learning paradigm. For that reason, schools in order to be effective, must become laboratories and workshops to find greatest success. The crafts and art are the Now and Laters of education. They give you something for now and something for later, or you can open a pack, eat one yourself and pass the rest out to friends. My favorite is watermelon.

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