There is a global movement afoot that is revolutionizing the way people of all age ranges are learning. From Scandinavia to Singapore, governments and schools are embracing methods that utilize the brain’s natural mechanisms for acquiring information.
A key figure in this movement is Dr. Jeannette Vos, co-author of The Learning Revolution (1994, with Gordon Dryden, which has sold more than 9 million copies in China and is a best-seller in Sweden and New Zealand. This international educator, author, speaker and corporate consultant will release The Teaching Revolution and The Teaching Revolution Field Book next March with co-author Kathleen Carroll, offering 111 strategies for teachers and trainers from all corners of the world and actual lesson plans on how to change your community and your country.
She spoke with The EDGE about the revolution in learning.
Why are you writing these new books?
Dr. Jeannette Vos: The reason we are writing these books is that teachers and trainers simply need the tools to teach in the Learning Revolution way! The traditional way is archaic. Why would anyone choose to ride in the first plane or Model T car that was ever built for their everyday business trips, when there are superior vehicles that can get us to our destination much more quickly and comfortably? Sure, it is fun to have an old car to show off once in awhile in a parade, but is it practical to use for the work we do every day?
Generally speaking, in education we are still using the old Model T everyday. We are still working with the tools that our forefathers implemented into the public school system. If Rip Van Winkle would wake up today, what would he see? Everything would have changed except, (in most cases) the school classroom! So the Teaching Revolution will be a very practical guide for teachers and trainers to implement transformation.
And the transformation that I am talking about is the fact that every single human being is potentially gifted…provided that we give them an enriched environment. The Learning Revolution describes that enriched evenironment, and gives specific examples where even poverty children just bloom. Tahaitai School in New Zealand, Lemsaga School in Sweden are currently the best examples of true learning.
Give us a an idea of the paradigm shift that is taking place in learning.
Vos: It’s a paradigm shift in thinking. It’s a paradigm shift in human potential. The whole philosophy has changed. We used to think that some people had to be dropouts, had to be on welfare, had to be poverty stricken, that some people were dumb, and that others of us were privileged to be very smart, very gifted, and then there were those who were kind of mediocre. One of the biggest changes in thinking is the notion and proof that all people are potentially gifted in their own way, and that stems from the brain research by Dr. Marion Diamond, who has demonstrated that all people can grow more brain, even as we grow older. The best potential for brain growth is, of course, in utero and up to the age of 8. Half of the neurological pathways are created in a child before the age of 4, and another 30 percent before the age of eight. The young child should be our target for brain stimulation.
So preschool should be filled with learning and exploration as those neural pathways are being developed.
Vos: That’s right. It’s about creating that brain in an auditory way, in a visual way, and bodily kinesthetic way, in a musical way, in social ways, in introspective ways, in spatial ways, so there are many, many ways to learn, and the more ways that we can stimulate that child’s environment, the more chances of creating neurological pathways for the brain.
Any portion of the brain that is not being used dies, basically. Any neuron. We have over 100 billion active neurons when we are born. If you can imagine comparing that to a computer, we have 100 billion active computer chips when we are born, and each one of those can make over 100,000 different connections. We have a brain that is far superior to any computer, and to activate that computer, we should be doing that before the age of 8 years old.
What we know about Einstein is that he used imagination. Well, what is imagination? Imagination is visual, auditory, it’s using the body, it’s using smell, it’s using taste. He used all of the senses in his imagination. In fact, when he created the theory of relativity, he saw it, he heard it, he participated in it, he actually sat on a sun beam in his mind.
Our form of teaching doesn’t allow for much imagination?
Vos: We tend to do it the opposite way in the old way of teaching and learning. We tend to put the field trip at the end, so to speak, and just bore people by giving them all the answers. In our typical presentation, for example, we don’t let people explore the learning, we just give them all the answers and they just have to sit and listen. Whereas, if you go to a good movie, we tantalize you by giving you a little introduction and then you explore the movie. That is what true learning is. It’s like a good movie.
And that’s not the educational philosophy we now use.
Vos: The philosophy has been to pour the learning in as if we are funnels, receivers of knowledge, and swallow it, and then spit it back on the tests in exactly the same format as you received it. We know that true education means to draw forth, meaning information that forms us and informs us and transforms us.
The challenge for schools has been to measure educational growth.
Vos: Yes, but the other paradigm shift that is happening is that we are moving into self-evaluation and peer evaluation and that, of course, comes from the quality movement. It’s much more valid when you are able to look at yourself and when you are able to be with your peers and say, “OK, how can we solve this problem? Look what’s happening to our company, look what’s happening to our classroom, and what can we do?” You have to have active ownership so that you have a responsibility for the product that is being generated or the behavior that is being generated.
The whole area of evaluation is changing away from the dictatorial mode of the teacher or the boss as god. It will be more like flat management and it moves into more of an ownership kind of evaluation, where the student is the learner, where the employee is the life-long learner, where the customer dictates what is going to be the market. It’s all based on “What can I do to serve you?”
The models in our society are people like Gandhi, people like Jesus Christ, people like Mother Teresa: “What can I do to serve you? What can I do to make you shine, because if you shine, I shine.” Only if our customers are happy, only if our students can show that they know through application, then we will have succeeded.
The other part, of course, is the marketing. Schools and teachers need to learn how to market themselves. Why not draw the students to them rather than the students being forced to come. Again, it comes right down to this little area of: “What’s in it for me? What’s in it for the student? What’s in it for the customer and the client?” Let’s make sure that we meet their needs and the needs of the new century.
In the past I did an interview with a man from Ghana who came into a college to demonstrate the talking drum. This man was a history keeper of his people. He kept more than 100 generations of history inside of him, in his mind, in his memory. His main message was: “Throw away your notes, you pens, and begin to use your memory, because you have that ability.” Is that part of what you are talking about?
Vos: Definitely. Our whole body is the mind, too. We can learn through the senses. The memory aspect is very much tied into using of the senses — and one other thing, emotion.
Storytelling is very emotional. When we tell a story, when we use music, when we use the senses, we are using our emotional brain, which has to do with memory. Why is rap music so effective? Because there is really a story with the music if you listen closely. Youngsters who cannot learn the periodical table in science can say every word of rap. It’s because there’s a story, there’s a rhythm that creates emotion and that creates meaning and that creates kind of a body movement, well, their whole body and brain is involved.
Even going for a walk helps put information into the brain, and even going for a swim puts information into your brain. One of the best studying techniques is actually to review your notes and then go for a swim, and let the information simmer in that brain. It’s kind of like making soup. The key is the simmering. We think that all we should do is cram, cram, cram. It’s much better to do a thing called circuit learning, which I mention in my book. Study just for 10 minutes one night and take the same material and do it three minutes the next and three minutes the next. By Friday you will be able to do the test because you studied every night, you just did it very lightly.
You also can do something like a mind map and just review with a lot of color and a lot of emotion and a lot of visual pictures, which helps to activate the memory. Then, if you review it once a week for one month, after that do it once a month for six months, and after that once every six months, you will have it for life. It doesn’t take a lot of studying.
How do we get to the point where the schools will take the time to do what is right for each kid? Are we going to get to that point?
Vos: I think it’s going to come through parents demanding that their child’s needs be met. It’s got to be the customer dictating. In Sweden, private schools now being funded by the government and they are free to do what they want. And guess what? They create enough competition and enough choice so that the public schools either have to keep up with the new trends and provide for the needs for student, or the students leave. It’s as simple as that.
Here in the United States, I think we really do need to have the voucher system so that people have a choice. Right now, the private schools are only for those who can afford it and It’s not fair. The public schools are so much into their tenure and they’re so much into protecting what they do that often the students suffer. The schools accept the mentality that some kids just have to bail and some kids just have to get mediocre grades, when we can all be excellent in our own way.
Singapore, for example, is part of the coming revolution. They are into thinking. They want the best methods of learning. They are making sure that teachers are becoming trained in these methods. It’s the same thing in Sweden and New Zealand. There’s the mentality of the people and the government that they need to stay competitive, to meet the demands of the 21st century.
I met a little boy in Sweden. He was 9 years old and he was from Sri Lanka, where he had been born in poverty. Because he now lives in Sweden, he has the opportunity to learn to his fullest potential. I don’t see this in America. I see a lot of inner-city children who have to go to a neighborhood school because they happen to live there and they have no choice. They get stuck with a teacher who is maybe waiting for the day of pension, and as a result that brain is wasted, and as a result, we often have a lot of deviant behavior that comes out of that. We are creating a lot of discipline problems when we force children to go to schools that they may not like. We really need to give children and families a lot more choice.
Why don’t we see the learning revolution taking hold in America?
Vos: A lot of Americans think we already have it all, and it’s a very false belief. We think we have the best system, but we don’t, not as I compare it to other countries. We do have some wonderful models. The John Elliot School, for example, in Massachusetts is a wonderful model of true learning. They get high scores in critical thinking. But we need to have a whole country full of wonderful schools and wonderful teachers. We just have too many schools that are content with mediocrity.
How does one begin the process of learning how to learn?
Vos: I didn’t really learn how to learn until about 15 years ago. School was very difficult for me, and yet, today I’m a doctor of education and I speak all over the world. I now consider myself a gifted human being, and in my own way I am very differently gifted than my co-author, who is differently gifted in many other ways. We all are gifted in different ways. It’s not how smart you are but how are you smart. I think it’s important to take courses on learning how to learn and how to run your own brain, so you can take charge of your own life and run your own life. I think you can do it all the way from first grade through age 108. It’s never too late to begin designing your own life.
What often happens is that we become reactive, and we have little boys killing other students because they don’t know how to react in a responsive way. As a society, we don’t know how to handle anger. We watch the television and that’s how we think we should handle our anger. We have this huge vicious cycle going on in America, and people abroad will often say, “You Americans, you have the Bible in the one hand and a gun in the other!” It doesn’t make sense. Why do we have this gun mentality? Are we still in the Wild West? Are we still in the reptile brain? We have thinking brains, so I think it’s very important to teach people to think.
Guess who’s mostly in jail in Manitoba? The Kinesthetic aborigines. They culture is more kinesthetic. Guess who’s mostly in jail in America? African Americans. They’re more kinesthetic in their culture. They’re very musical, they’re very social, they’re very spiritual people. They’re all a right-brain kind of people, and it’s very sad that we penalize people like that who learn with their bodies.
Are there any things people can do on a daily basis that they can use to start working on this?
Vos: Yes, definitely. Number one is diet. What you eat affects the transmission of your brain. I recommend fruits and vegetables and herbs. Also: water, lots of water. I suggest getting off coffee. Try fruit juices, instead — especially pregnant women. They should not be drinking coffee, because it’s very detrimental to the brain. I also recommend exercise. Exercise brings oxygen to the brain and to the body.
I am 53 years old, and I consider myself very healthy, I exercise every day, I eat very good food, I also stimulate my brain through keeping myself mentally alert, always reading and sharing information and hearing other points of view. So there is the mental stimulation, the physical stimulation, the nutritional stimulation, and then the whole spiritual connection. If we don’t tap into our spiritual source, we are also missing a vital source in our life.
Contact Dr. Jeannette Vos at P.O. Box 228, La Mesa, CA 91941-7301, call (719) 457-0015 or e-mail [email protected]