!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Learning a New Mental Model

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Learning a New Mental Model

As a follow-on to yesterday's post, I'd like to highlight another part of Ken Bain's conclusions concerning how the best teachers establish "a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on the way [students] think,act, and feel.".

Often, achieving sustained results requires that learners build new mental models of reality, something that people tend to resist. Bain found that the best teachers
generally believe that to accomplish this feat [building a new mental model of reality], learners must (1) face a situation in which their mental model will not work (that is, will not help them explain or do something); (2) care that it does not work strongly enough to stop and grapple with the issue at hand; and (3) be able to handle the emotional trauma that sometimes accompanies challenges to longstanding beliefs.
How do good teachers create circumstances that meet the above conditions?
They conduct class and craft assignments in a way that allows students to try their own thinking, come up short, receive feedback, and try again. They give students a safe space in which to construct ideas, and they often spend a great deal of time creating a kind of scaffolding to help students engage in that construction ... Because they attempt to place students in situations in which some of their mental models will not work, they try to understand those models and the emotional baggage attached to them. They listen to student conceptions before challenging them. Rather than telling students they are wrong and then providing the "correct" answers, they often ask questions to help students see their own mistakes.
For additional thoughts concerning how to approach improving learners' mental models, I recommend taking a look at this brief piece by Peter Senge — Mr. Learning Organization.