Saturday, 26 March 2016

REBT and Mind Stretch - learning how to struggle

Mind stretch or mind stretching has entered the lexicon of learning and teaching in recent times. DECD (Department of Education and Child Development) identifies this personal capability as being crucial to achieving learning goals.

Joan Moran explains here Joan Moran: 7 Tips to Stretch Your Mind at Any Age what she believes to be the elements of mind stretch ability. Her yoga practise and life experience has taught her some essential insights into how to get the best out of her physical and psychological selves.

One essential personal capability Joan suggests we hone is learning how to tune into what we are saying to ourselves; our self talk.

What is self talk and why is it important to teach our children? Simply self talk is the dialogue you have with yourself in your head. The concept of 'mind' is harder to define. 'What's on your mind?' you may ask. 'What are you thinking?' 'What are you thinking or saying to yourself?' The 'mind the gap' pronouncement when alighting the train reminds us to be careful and so on.

To be mindful is to be aware and self talk is something to be aware of because what we say to ourselves determines the actions we choose and the emotions we experience. Or does it? Perhaps but that's not the whole story.

I think the kind of our self talk habits is a reflection of the deep philosophical beliefs we hold and it is they which drive our actions and feelings. In other words I think our self talk is the expression of deeper held convictions (personal philosophies about me, others and the world in general).

Stretching the mind incurs risk taking: taking a leap of faith from what you know to new understandings (linking new learning to old to make new and different meanings). The skill of the teacher is to determine where the learner is and provide learning experiences that will entice the learner to strive for new, unchartered realms of knowing and experience. What we talk to ourselves about reflects what we 'know' about ourselves from our experiences to date (what we have learned).

New learning then engenders some discomfort, disorder when things don't seem the same. We may feel agitated and anxious trying to work out where this new stuff fits in with the old. We may not like how we feel but we 'muck in' anyway or we can feel so overawed that we panic and recoil from the challenge because it is so strange and alien to us. The more we are coaxed to the edge of our thinking the scarier learning can be. Do we engage with curiosity and enthusiasm for the unknown? Or do we disengage and demur, yield to the scary and mysterious?
Just thinking!
So mind stretching will help us expand our knowledge and capabilities and we will gain some sense of academic and personal confidence on the way. After all if we don't take chances how are we ever to realise our potential? But what if the learner considers the gap between what she knows and what she doesn't to be more of a gigantic chasm than a gap and the leap into the new and unknown is perceived to be too scary to even contemplate. What can she do?

Perception is the key. How does she perceive herself as a learner? Does she have a strong sense of self worth and self efficacy? (the belief that she can achieve set goals as described by Albert Bandura) Can she hang tough in difficult situations where nothing seems to make sense?

The ability to stretch the mind and to take that leap of learning faith into the chaos and struggle of the unknown can be either embraced or rejected depending on the kind of psychological muscle one has developed and can draw on in tough times.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education (REBE) is the school wide application of Albert Ellis' ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. Helping children develop the personal capabilities to engage in 'mind stretch' activities is the work of teachers at Para Hills School P-7 and many others in South Australia. REBE teaches:

  • We are constructivists
  • We construct helpful (self and other) rational ways of thinking/believing or unhelpful irrational ones
  • We can challenge and change (deconstruct) old unhelpful ways of thinking and reconstruct more helpful ones
  • We are always worthwhile
  • We can achieve our goals with hard work and self belief

'State of mind' teaching and learning (REBE) and the ability to 'mind stretch' are inextricably linked.

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