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Embodied Learning and Things that Don't Have Names

|Posted originally on Dreams of Education on March 26, 2013|

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk about education. How we prove that learning has taken place. Inevitably we talk about standards, measures, awards, grades, success. Anastasis has given me the freedom to completely redefine education. There are no limits, except of my own making. I get to decide how to talk about education. This would be easy if I was doing all of this in a vacuum, but I’m not. There are stakeholders who care about how I talk about education. Parents, teachers, students, higher education.

The problem, I’m discovering, is that when we talk about education, we talk about it too narrowly. It is possible to be very committed, data driven, tech savvy, “21st century,” and yet be working against the kind of learning that is transformative. We can have all the right tools, the measures, the awards and test score evidence and still not really see. We can miss the thing we care most about, because we are so focused on trying to define it.

I’ve been learning about embodied energy, this is the sum of all energy required to produce goods or services. It is the energy that can’t be seen because it isn’t obvious. The measures, the awards and test score evidence…they aren’t really the learning. They are poor representations of learning. I’m more interested in the embodied learning. I want to know about all of the little moments, the prior learning, the assumptions that led up to the light bulb moment for a student.

Because novels are more than just words.

Songs are more than just notes.

Paintings are more than just color.

When you separate out the words, notes or colors they don’t do anything. They cease to tell a story. They cease to move us. It is when the words come together, in very specific orders, that a story is told. When the notes are intentionally strung together that we get music that resonates with us. When the colors dance on a canvas that we are moved to emotion.

So, when we talk about education and we look at data points and test scores and numbers, we lose something. The number can’t tell a story. It can’t show the incredible little moments that led up to learning. Because there IS embodied learning. The part that really matters. The embodied story that tells us that learning was more than just the shallow memorization of surface facts. That there was a journey that led to the light bulb moment. The tricky part comes in the stakeholders. They want the learning to be defined. But a lot of that embodied learning doesn’t have a name. It can’t be measured in any scientific, rational, conventional way.

We end up talking about education as if it can fit inside a 20 second sound bite. We boil it all down to one sheet of paper that tells kids if they measure up or not. When we reduce everything down to the soundbite, we strip away something vital to who students really are, the journey and learning that takes place. Students can become completely enslaved to expectations, good grades and accolades and lose their true selves in the process. Lose the curiosity and wonder of learning. This isn’t what the world needs. The world needs people who are fully alive. Who have passion. It’s one thing to memorize and have the right answer (and right number on the report card), it is another to be so passionately engaged with learning that curiosities lead you to new learning.

Our job as educators is more than just standards we teach. We are in the business of helping students know they are more than just a number. More than just data points. They are the story, the song, the art that moves and matters. They are the embodied learning.

Our challenge is to help stakeholders care more about the embodied learning, the things that don’t have names. The journey that collectively leads to things that matter. Our challenge is to care most about students that are fully alive in their learning.

It is up to us to make the things that matter, the most important.

(Along this line of thinking, I’m attempting a redesign of the “report card” we need a way to better capture the things that can’t be named.)

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