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Brain Behavior Institute 2009 - Emergent Pedagogy: Reflections



Session 12


Emergent pedagogy = Open-ended transactional exchange, continued

Workshop on summer projects

Assessment criteria

  • Is there evidence of a significant change in how the presenter thinks about some area of brain and behavior? of distinctive contributions by the presenter to shaping a new way of thinking?
  • Is the new way of thinking presented in a way that others will find clear and interesting?
  • Does it encourage others to contribute to further changes in thinking, making use as well of their own distinctive perspectives?

Further discussion of emergent pedagogy (o.-e.t.e.) in light of the first week of the institute, with Barath Vallabha


Life, liberty, and the pursuit of aptitude

Abnormal - an exploration of art and science in re "disability"

Survey shows gap between scientists and the public



Paul Grobstein's picture

newly emerging emergent pedagogy

Borrowing a phrase several of you have used in these forums: Wow!  Emergent pedagogy sure seems to me to be a good way to learn about lots of things, including emergent pedagogy.  There seems to be something about an environment of open-ended transactional inquiry that promotes ... open-ended transactional inquiry.  A few things it has made me think, for myself and anyone else interested ...

The jungle, with lots of vines of different sizes/shapes/textures to swing from is a nice addition to the houseboat in our repertoire of metaphors.  So too, as per Barath, is the Serendip website itself.  Yep, not well organized but lots and lots of possibilities.  Which has virtues (there are starting places for lots of different sorts of brains with lots of different sorts of interests) and creates problems (how does one know where to start or, for that matter, where/when to stop? you can get lost in here).  And that can indeed by "overwhelming," not in the sense of having too many assignments to complete but rather in the sense of having too many open doors, including some pretty broad, sweeping ones ("the questions get bigger and bigger") that one might not have thought had things behind them yet to be explored.

Its an interesting place, but would one, as Bharath asked, actually want to live there?  It intrigued me that a few people (myself  included) said yes, but more said no.  My sense, however, was that even those who said no thought it was (like New York City) a nice place to visit, a place where one could have new and surprising thoughts that one could use later to refurnish whatever more structured environments one preferred to live and work in.  And that, for me, is a valuable lesson about emergent pedagogy: it needs to be offered in a way that is appealing to all, both to those who want to live in that space and those who would like to drop in every once in a while and take what is useful to them for whatever use that want to make of it.  

A good lesson not only for classrooms, but for life in general?  Offer something that one thinks might be of interest/useful to others but don't insist they sign on to it?  Let them make of it what they can/will, and in return you get new ways to think about what you have to offer?  Not a bad deal.  Thanks, all.

Paul Grobstein's picture

emerging, con.

From several conversations ...

"Openness" is a method in emergent pedagogy, not an objective.  Recognizing this offers a bridge between the virtues (and problems) of "openness" and those of "structure."  The objective is to help students (and others) become better shapers of their own lives (and contributors to others doing the same thing).  To achieve this, students (and others) need environments that offer and encourage new possibilties (openness) but they also need structures in order to be able to recognize/create/make productive use of new possibilities.  The balance of openness and structure should be presumed to be different in different contexts, for different people, and for the same people at different times.  People also need the ability to see difference not as a threat but as the grist from which new possibilities arise.  In this context, what is wanted is to help people identity the presumptions they make, not necessarily to "challenge" them but to be aware they are there, and could be changed and/or otherwise used to create new possibilities.  And to help people see others in the same light, to see different presumptions as an opportunity for not antagonism or compromise but rather creative hybridization.

Paul Grobstein's picture

and from Bharath on openness/structure in the classroom

Some excerpts from a longer set of Bharath's reflections stemming from our conversation:

"In the one story model there is no oscillation between flexibility and structure, because all the students get all the time is structure and more structure. Only the students for whom the structure is natural and fun, for whom the structure comes with in built flexibility, do well in the class, get top grades and might go on to study the subject further. The rest of the students leave the class broken down by the sense of their stupidity regarding the subject, accepting it as a fact and conceding the subject to others deemed more fit for it. The sense that one can study anything, be anything and do anything is warped, and evaluative judgments (“She is great at X, I am bad at it”) are taken as natural facts on a par with having two hands and two legs ...

Similarly, in the one story model, there is no oscillation between the individual and the social, for even though the classroom is a social gathering, the interaction is simply one on one between the teacher and each of the students. There are no frequent changes in perspective and few new insights generated amongst the students, and so in such a class students feel everything is predictable a couple of weeks into the semester. The struggling students are forced to turn for help to the teacher and the students with the good grades, in both cases taking the help at the cost of giving up following the passions within themselves regarding the subject ...

And on the one story model, there is certainly no oscillation between teaching and learning, since the classroom is a one way street of education ...

Classrooms where the teacher abandons lecturing or setting guidelines and constantly lets a thousand flowers bloom fares no better; call this the infinite stories model. In the infinite stories model, there is no oscillation between flexibility and structure, because all the students get all the time is flexibility ... The infinite stories model also doesn’t allow for oscillation between the individual and the social ... Lastly, the infinite stories model also doesn’t allow for the oscillation between teaching and learning, because the equivalence of all ideas makes the concept of teaching itself incoherent. The teacher and the students are both bored; the teacher because ultimately she is reduced to a traffic cop constantly reminding the students that all points of view should be respected, and the students because they lose respect and awe for the classroom and treat it as no different from hanging out with their friends ...

In relation to emergent pedagogy, it is important to see that emergent pedagogy is not and need not be the infinite stories model ... Emergent conversation requires thoughtful participation, not mindless participation. How can there be thoughtful participation? That is where the constraints or guidelines come in. The key is to think of some constraints which can help a fruitful and multi-dimensional conversation to emerge, and which can thereby avoid the pits falls of the one story model and the infinite stories model ...

The balance of stories model avoids both extremes and aims to keep alive throughout the class the exictement and openess with which the teacher and the students come to it. It draws a line in the sand at the beginning of the class with the teacher presenting the base story to the students. But unlike the other models, it acknowledges that the classroom is ultimately a place of change, transformation and growth, and that a good class is one which changes through that development. Thus through the oscillations between structure and flexibility, the individual and the social, and teaching and learning, the teachers and the students together erase the line in the sand as the class proceeds. They grow together because they grow from being on separate sides of the line to occupying a common space which incorporates and challenges every one, each of the students and the teacher alike.

Antoinette Sisco's picture

Personal connection

Personal connection to Brain and Behavior from the previous years:  After the 2003 summer institute, my oldest brother, Tony had a stroke.  He experienced spasms, in his right arm, although he was ‘paralyzed’.  I let him know some of what I had learned during the summer institute, that paralysis is the loss of control of voluntary movement, I encourage him to go to physical therapy to learn new ways to be able to control his arm.  He indeed, after some convincing went to physical therapy and regained much of the usage of his arm.

During the spring of 2004, my Mother had a series of strokes shortly before she passed away.  I asked the nurses if she was able to hear what we were saying to her, she responded “no”.  I remembered from Brain and Behavior that she indeed may be able to hear me, but was unable to control any of her movements, to “verify” that she was able to hear.  I asked the nursing staff to only play the Bible on c.d. and or gospel music on c.d.  I wanted to ensure that anything she heard was going to be things that she enjoyed, even if she was not able to respond.    


Antoinette Sisco's picture

Open ended Inquiry - a week later

What has changed within me in the past week is a continued level of comfort/discomfort with the open ended inquiry.  I am growing more comfortable with navigating through the “vines” to make personal , spiritual , educational, social and other connections.  I am constantly creating an environment within myself, to make time for personal Bible study, open endedness, time for structure and time to prepare for academic preparedness, time to cook, clean, .  As I look at myself as a Christian, a woman, a teacher, a bible school teacher, a student, a girlfriend, a sister, an aunt, a cousin,  a friend, and a granddaughter, I look from slightly different lenses.  Each lens/ role has a set of responsibilities is unique. 


Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

7/13 PM Session...Welcome Professor Vallabha!

Emergent Pedagogy...there is always another box to unlock, open, and explore other boxes to open.

To have a job for life where I could just continually open the boxes seems limiting, finite, to me.  There is more to life, my very existence, than just opening the boxes in front of me.  I want to open boxes at the beach, in the ocean.  I want to continue under the leading of God's Holy Spirit to figure out the keys to open the boxes of physically experiencing new people and places globally.  Thus my excitement in anticipation of my trip to The Holy Land for my half century birthday celebration.

I do not want to live a limited, finite existence.  I want the experience to grow within and outside of the box and its many boxes.

Verolga Nix-Allen's picture

Afternoon With Barath

In the discussion with Barath, this afternoon,I found it very stimulating.  In my 20 years of teaching and as the conductor I am excited that I am enjoying the class anyway without a conductor.  I am overwhelmed that I made it through the first wweek and looking forward to the 2nd week.  I was overwhelmed because I'm not computer savy,  a new language, re-enactivating my brain, relearning to think about what I think, time schedule, and then to deal with the material given to study and respond.  WOW!  After all of that I'm stilulated to press on.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Emergence pedagogy one week later

There may not be a group story or understanding, it is possible for such a story to emerge, but not necessary to a successful open ended transactional inquiry. What is important if emergence pedagogy is to be deemed useful is that the teacher facilitate an environment that makes possible/probable an inner dialogue for each student. I attach "probable" as it has become clear to me that successful application of emergence pedagogy requires that teachers sign on to the idea that human beings are emergent systems too. As such, they cannot be conducted to adhere to an external schedule of either readiness or "doneness."

What are the implications of such a position on teachers who operate within a framework of grade level standards that mark the time for readiness and mastery? Formal education systems define the criteria that must be met in order to be "done" with school/education. If criteria are met in the institutionally defined sequence, the student will move to the next level, ultimately earning a terminal degree. If criteria are not met in the prescribed manner then the institution may decide to be "done" with the student.

Inner dialogue, the bridging of the cognitive unconscious and the storyteller (I-function), is the catalyst for learning. Learning is a life process, not an outcome tied to academic standards. And so I have a new metaphor for the teacher, that of a forger of keys. This forger of keys has three tasks: throw open door after door in the emergent classroom, vocally and forcefuly refuse to allow anyone or anything to close doors on or for another (that agency is reserved for the individual student), and finally to teach all students how to make their own keys.



Deborah Hazen's picture

Deliberate choice of the term "key maker"

I was very thoughful about the use of key maker instead of locksmith. Here's why.

For me, locksmith brings to mind a teacher with a huge ring of keys walking from door to window trying to unlock the student's house and gain access. I reject that vision. If we accept that each of us is constantly constructing our reality based on our limited perceptions, then I can only open those doors that I've found for myself. This is also why in my role as a teacher I have to remember to bring other people into the classroom (authors through books, voices in filmstrips, guest thinkers from a variety of disciplines and interests) so that they can open other doors for my students.

Lucienne Davis's picture


Stuck in mind, is the image of my brain as being house with many doors and many windows.  This workshop has opened many of the windows and many of the doors of mind. I feel as though there is a wild party going on inside my house (brain) and I am not sure when this party will end. Nor do I know when the shock waves from this party will end. My perception of what I do and what I say has more than likely changed how I think.


Brie Stark's picture

Ideas for Project Expansion

These are some ideas that came to mind when we were discussing projects; hopefully, these ideas can help expand your project, if need be!

1) Explain the significance/interest of each link you found of interest.  Think emergence: facts are secondary, discussion/conversation is primary.  Therefore, don't state the facts of the website that you found, but rather, your ideas considering the facts that you read from the website -- explore new ideas, etc.

2) Think of questions to lead to a discussion about your links and your overall interesting concept

3) Take constructive/emergent thoughts from today's group discussion to expand on numbers 1 & 2 (above); add to your questions and explanations, if need be.  Where there things you hadn't thought of before?  Did anyone say something that made you think different?  Was there something said that really agreed with your own personal interest?  Again, describe these in the website.

4) Look at your project idea from other viewpoints (kids, non-educators, parents, etc) and think/comment on it on your project website.  Would a child find this hard to understand?  How could you make your idea more applicable to a certain situation?  How could your interest be applied in certain settings?  Could your interest have implications on education for a certain group of people or perhaps all people?  How would your discussion points/questions differ according to different audiences?

5) Play devil's advocate --> can you find ideas that do not agree with what you found?  Think about possibilities, look online and comment on those in relation to your project.

6) Think outside the box.  Is there anything you found that was interesting that changed the way you thought about it?  Do you disagree with some of the links that you found?  Did you have any original ideas when you looked at these links?  Does your researched interest personally affect you or someone you know well?


Physical Roadblock (the actual "look" of the website)?

1) Draw what you envision on paper... and then decide how you can make that on the website using tables, pictures, links and bullet points.

2) Scroll around Serendip and find other people's websites to use as inspiration.

Brie Stark's picture


“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” - Stephen Hawking.

It seems that this quotation, made by one of the most famous scientists of our modern age, actually describes the impact and necessity of emergence.  He states that there are rules and equations -- in sum, there are facts that are generally agreed upon by the masses.  However, he then questions those facts: what is it that breathes fire--life--into those facts?  What makes the universe tangible to us?  Basically, the creation of stories through discussion of those facts.  By using the concept of emergence, stressing that facts are secondary to the primary of discussion, really allows the creation of stories that breathe fire into what we claim to be the universe.

For further consideration, "Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge," - Carl Sagan.

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