Reflection on the Teachers’ Conference and ExCEL Fest 2021

Note: The following post does not express the views and opinions of my employer and are solely my own.

Extract: The Teachers’ Conference is a three-day event organised biennially by the Ministry of Education (MOE) for teachers to learn together as a fraternity. This year celebrates our 10th edition and Teachers’ Conference and ExCEL Fest 2021 (TCEF2021) is our first edition that takes an online format. The Conference aims to bring local educators together to learn, to connect and to engage with thought leaders and practitioners, as we explore possibilities for the future of teaching and learning. (Source: https://www.tcef2021.sg/)


One of my favourite speakers of the entire conference was Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, who spoke with such passion and conviction about her neuroscience research during her Keynote Address: “Educating the Whole Child: Why All Learning Is Social and Emotional to the Brain” and her Masterclass: “Deep Dive: Implications of the New Science of Brain Development for Teaching and School Design”.

In summary, she suggested that education is about learning “how to feel”.

Let me explain.

As a brain researcher, Dr. Immordino-Yang proposed that the brain is very much shaped by external and internal events, visually captivating our imaginations with a brilliant art piece of a translucent ‘brain’ (or jellyfish) along the shores of the sea, buffeted by the rhythmical ebbs and flows of the tide, surrounded by the sun and sand and sea-critters of every kind. It was a brilliant metaphor for how one’s brain is intertwined and shaped through one’s external environment and experiences, internal thought processes and genes.

Here it is featured as a book cover for ‘Emotions, Learning And The Brain: Exploring The Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience’! 🙂

Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications  of Affective Neuroscience (The Norton Series on the Social Neuroscience of  Education): Immordino-Yang, Mary Helen, Damasio, Antonio, Gardner, Howard:  9780393709810: Amazon.com: Books

Source: Google Images

According to Dr. Immordino-Yang, emotions are our automatic responses to situations. When we “learn how to feel”, we reflect on our experiences and allow our emotions to guide us from learning outcomes to learning ideas.

These experiences govern what we remember and hence, form our memories.

What about the role of the educator in the classroom?
The research also focused on two kinds of learning engagement: process-oriented and outcome-oriented engagement.

Process-oriented engagement strategically invites students to explore a complex problem/big idea together. The educator then supports students in navigating technical resources to explain, defend, revise their findings, whilst making students’ thinking visible and encouraging ownership of their work.

Outcome-oriented engagement focuses on entertaining content and students’ results. More activities and rubrics are set to hold students accountable for their finished work and educators are the ultimate judges of students’ success.

The results were startling.

The first form of engagement encouraged exploration and trial-and-error. Self-directed Executive Function was strengthened, allowing students to increase their attention on errors and reflective skills whilst problem-solving. Accurate results also were not given exaggerated emphasis, and students exhibited the physiological signs of facing a challenge when errors were made.

Problem statements given also allowed students to harness their academic skills to solve relevant, pertinent societal problems. Learning then became intrinsically rewarding and project-based experiences were the default pedagogy in motivating students in learning to become citizens of the world.

The second form of engagement built Rule-Based Executive Function in the brain, focusing more on speed thinking and differentiating between right and wrong answers. Learning was based more on building rote memory (and hence building IQ) than on full understanding of concepts. Students also showed physiological signs of stress and threat following errors. The pedagogy encouraged avoiding mistakes and failures and students tended not to reflect on their mistakes, skipping trickier questions when tested to avoid any errors.

Dr. Immordino-Yang shared that whilst the second form of engagement seemed more efficient in the short-term, in terms of response rates and reaction time of students, it tended to cost students in the long-term.

Source: Screenshot of Presentation Slide During Dr. Immordino-Yang’s Sharing

Some of the most memorable takeaways I had were that:

  1. There is no such thing as failure, only lessons learnt.
  2. Narrative building in learning matters: What problem is my learning solving?
  3. Am I setting enough time aside for my brain to enter Default Mode Network? (To simply rest and set aside time for internal reflection and character development, sense-making and building moral values in oneself)
  4. Are we able to understand how students’ feelings are causing their actions? Then we can have a lesson.
  5. Find your passion? Our passions are constructed! (we re-invent it for ourselves)

The Call-To-Action was a clarion call:

Let’s start using our skills and leverage every crisis (of course, Covid-19) as an opportunity for real innovation and change.

Can we?

I, for one, am thinking of a research topic already 😉

Live & Learn,

Lynn

Author: Lynn Han

Lynn Han is a balance of the two: While she teaches accounting and business to senior high school students, she privately has a writer's heart with a penchant for happy endings.

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