Posts for December 2011

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

I just read three brilliant blog posts by neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, in which he identifies three parts of our human brains:

An image of the brain.

Though we like to think of the primate brain as the foremost part (after all, primate means “first”), many believe it was the last part of the brain to develop. It is also the last part to receive signals from the spinal cord. So Dr. Hanson deals with the most ancient part, the brain stem, first.

As a novelist, I love sensory details: the red scarf, the crumbling cookie, the scent of coming rain. They’re just words, but they can take us away to other places. The right sensory details allow readers to encounter the writer’s experience as if it were their own.

Using the Five Senses

The different senses are weighted individually, bearing unique effects. Understanding how a particular sense impacts the reader can help the writer create specific effects:

  • Seeing is believing: People trust what they see. That’s why eyewitnesses say, “I saw it with my own eyes!” If you want readers to believe something, show them.

    Jackson marched up the street toward Tawni’s house, the present box clutched in his fingers. Up ahead, her front porch light beamed yellow. He slowed on the sidewalk. He’d have to stand on that porch for the whole block to see, ring the bell, wait, and hope.

    A car cruised slowly past, the driver rubbernecking.

    Jackson turned away and peered at the card on top of the present. It was bent. His thumb had pressed a small crater into the drawing of mistletoe.

    He glanced one last time at the glowing porch, then turned toward the street and crossed it, jamming the card into a garbage can waiting in the gutter.

  • Did you hear that? Hearing is about understanding how a person feels or thinks. To reveal characters, have them speak. Hearing is also about speculation. You hear a footstep. You hear running water. Use sounds to create speculation about what is happening.

    Outside Tawni’s window, a garbage can rattled loudly in the street. An old man shouted a threat, and a young man echoed it. Tawni plucked out her earbuds and tiptoed to the window to peek out.

    No one was there. Rain began to patter in the lengthening shadows.

    Shivering, Tawni drew the sash closed, clicked the lock, and dragged down the fluttering shade.

    “Tawni,” came a muffled voice outside her window, “I’m getting soaked.”

    Her breath caught. “Who’s there?”


    Another voice—Daddy yelling from the basement: “Who you talking to, Tawni-Girl?”

    “Nobody, Daddy. It’s just me—singing to my MP3!”

Let’s say four friends decide to do some fall fishing. All four have varying degrees of experience and success with fishing. For this particular outing, however, one individual, Aaron, is better prepared than the others. His grandfather owns a cottage on the lake, and he has fished here far more often than his friends have. So when they get out on the water, the others will naturally ask Aaron when they have questions about depths, structures, and baits. But they will also share their own ideas about fishing in these conditions. In a setting like this, friends simply work together, and, in the process, they learn new things, experience some success (in this case, catch some fish), and have a good time.

A 21st century classroom should function pretty much like the friends in the boat do—with individuals working (and learning) together to achieve a particular goal, and you, the instructor, serving as the lead learner—the person who knows the lake best. As you learn along with your students, you also provide the necessary leadership and guidance to keep the boat afloat and moving in the right direction.

10 Tips for Being a Lead Learner

  • Marvel at and show interest in all types of ideas and events—past, present, and future.
  • Promote learning through inquiry (questioning), collaboration, testing, rethinking, and so on—an authentic process that occurs in the science lab, in the workplace,
    . . . and on the lake.