Tuesday, July 05, 2016

CEST, Cognitive-Experiential Self Theory.

 In about 1964, I was a sophomore in high school biology, and was surprised when my teacher announced to the whole class that I had scored in the 99th percentile on a standardized test on comprehension. I felt just a bit embarrassed at being called out in front of the class, and somewhat mystified that not a single question on the test had been covered in class. How could I have possibly gotten right answers for questions about which I knew so little?

Of course part of the answer to that would be that most of the other people taking the test knew almost nothing either. That's how standardized tests tend to work. On the other hand, how else could my success be explained?

First, it should be remembered that I'm the son of a Kindergarten teacher, and such teachers were at that time, interested in learning through play and were trained first and foremost in experiential learning. By the time I was in high school I had become a tinkerer and inventor, and made my own skateboards from laminated wood. I was an avid reader of Popular Science magazine and poured over each issue the day it arrived in the mail.

In education, you can cover all the bases, and force feed students a regular diet of the materials stuffed into text books, and make them cover all of it and test them on it daily to the point that they rebel, and many do. By the time their senses have been dulled by boredom, they will have little interest in the subject,  (or any subject) and little ability to discern or intuit right or wrong answers.

Or, on the other hand, you can engage them experientially, asking them to do real things that are in sympathy with their own interests, and thereby challenge and encourage their intellectual growth.
In the 1970s, University of Massachusetts psychologist Seymour Epstein, PhD, developed his "cognitive experiential self theory." In it, he points out that human beings process information through two systems: Just as we learn things consciously all the time--the cognitive part of the theory--we also learn things experientially, without realizing we've learned them.

"Intuition is just the things we've learned without realizing we've learned them. And sometimes they're useful. Sometimes they're maladaptive," Epstein says. (link to source article)
The following is from Wikipedia:
Cognitive-experiential Self Theory (CEST) is based around the idea that people operate using two separate systems for information processing: analytical-rational and intuitive-experiential. The analytical-rational system is deliberate, slow, and logical. The intuitive-experiential system is fast, automatic, and emotionally driven. These are independent systems that operate in parallel and interact to produce behavior and conscious thought. (Link to article)
The point to note is that the kind of intellect intuition offers represents has two factors: being emotionally driven and activated by experience. In order for intuition to come into play, emotional engagement in the subject is a must, and some level of actual experience is required for its activation.

Why is any of this important to a discussion of hands-on learning? It helps to explain why students going deep (hands-on) in the subjects of science, history, music, the arts, and wood shop, have an advantage in subject specific standardized testing over those who have been lectured to ad nauseum. We are actually smarter when we do real stuff and care about it. Surprisingly, that might come as a surprise to educational policy makers who seem to care only about test results and not about how children are damaged in the process.

I have a brief article about teaching wood shop in the current issue of Wood Magazine. In the meantime, we've set up a hog trap on our property to begin the removal of feral pigs from our area. Wish us luck on this endeavor. The trap is shown above.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others learning that comes likewise.

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