Monthly Archives: March 2009

Lively Discussion

To be considered well-educated, we must learn to express our ideas eloquently in conversation.

The goal of our lively discussions will be to prepare students for college and later life when clear, collaborative inquiry will yield tremendous dividends.  

We pursue this goal by practicing:

  • Wrestling with big questions as a group
  • Quoting from the text to support our propositions
  • Disagreeing without being disagreeable
  • Seeking to understand other viewpoints without sacrificing our own values

To this end, we use a version of the Socratic method:

  • With leading questions we seek to pull intelligence from each other rather than didactically delivering a “Truth”
  • The focus is on dialouge around shared inquiry rather than on formal debate
  • This is a kind, encouraging Socratic Seminar approach, not Paper Chase/Harvard Law School intellectual combat
  • Our goal is always to meet each other kindly where we are and gently guide each other to more refined thinking, understanding, and expression.

Clear Thinking

Once we learn to read deeply, we find the need to evaluate and expand upon what we’ve learned.

To this end, we learn to think more clearly by using the Trivium and other tools:

From Aristotle’s Organon via the Trivium

  • Deductive and inductive reasoning
  • Syllogisms and Aristotelian logic to understand and form propositions and arguments
  • Topics and dialectics as a means of wrestling with questions beyond the scope of scientific reasoning

Visualization tools

  • The Dialectic Bridge
  • Concept Mapping
  • Dramatization

Seeing ideas and propostions clearly allows even visual learners and kinesthenic learners to clarify their thinking.

Benefits of Tutoring

Quite simply, nearly everyone, talented and challenged, learns best by being tutored one on one.

In the past, this was too expensive for most people to afford.  Now, it’s affordable to you.

 

http://edr.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/13/6/4

 

refer to it here: http://mit.edu/5.95/readings/bloom-two-sigma.pdf

The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring

Benjamin S. Bloom

Educational Researcher, Vol. 13, No. 6. (Jun. – Jul., 1984), pp. 4-16.

 

Evidence Tutoring works  USD Ed

 

http://www.readingrockets.org/article/125

 

But wait! Is homeschooling really the same as one-on-one tutoring? Ask a homeschooling parent if thisdefinition sounds familiar:

The concept of tutoring is an old one, perhaps one of the oldest of all human teaching and development tools. As Jenkins and Jenkins described the origins of tutoring in their paper Educational Leadership (1987), “Tutorial instruction: it was parents teaching their offspring how to make a fire and to hunt and adolescents instructing younger siblings about edible berries and roots, it was probably the first pedagogy (teaching) among primitive societies.” Tutoring is one of the fundamental foundations of physical, emotional, social and academic growth. It is considered one of the most successful of all teaching methodologies. Quality tutoring reaches beyond singular academic subjects by adapting to the needs of the learner and doing so in a fashion the learner can understand. It works best when it utilizes and takes into account the concept of learning as a whole mind and body experience; it involves all the senses, the environment, the community, family and specific requirements of the learner.(emphasis mine.)

Tutoring is defined as the act, art, or process of imparting knowledge and skills. In the last one hundred years the term tutor, especially in western countries, has closely been identified as an individual who works with a single child or small group of children as opposed to a teacher who tends to manage with larger numbers of students. Tutoring has further been distinguished from early stage education and development. It is now viewed as a separate vocation focused almost entirely on academics. Most academic-oriented tutors work with children K through 12 and beyond while parents or nannies and caregiver services tend to focus on development of infants and young children. Individuals from both groups may still act as tutors and manage developmental activities during a child’s early years.

Academic tutoring takes on a variety of different classifications: peer tutoring, age tutoring, certified tutors and tutoring by certified teachers. Many tutors wone with-on-one with students while others work with three, five or ten students at a time.The ability of the tutor to impart knowledge, as later discussed, may have less to do with the age or experience level of the tutor and more to do with individual attention and the ability to create learning strategies in a student. Good tutors follow the student, not the curriculum. (emphasis mine.)

Jenkins, J. R., & Jenkins, L. M. (1987). Making peer tutoring work. Educational Leadership, 44(6), 64-68.

Joseph R. Jenkins, UW.

http://education.washington.edu/areas/edspe/profiles/jenkins.html

Jefferson on Walking

“In order to assure a certain progress in this reading, consider what hours you have free from the school and the exercises of the school. Give about two of them, every day, to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks. Never think of taking a book with you. The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself even to think while you walk; but divert your attention by the objects surrounding you. Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far. The Europeans value themselves on having subdued the horse to the uses of man; but I doubt whether we have not lost more than we have gained, by the use of this animal. No one has occasioned so much, the degeneracy of the human body. An Indian goes on foot nearly as far in a day, for a long journey, as an enfeebled white does on his horse; and he will tire the best horses. There is no habit you will value so much as that of walking far without fatigue. I would advise you to take your exercise in the afternoon: not because it is the best time for exercise, for certainly it is not; but because it is the best time to spare from your studies;”

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785

Of course, we don’t need a gun to walk.  The physical exercise is the key.

He’d be horrified by our current situation; obesity, carbon emissions, and oil prices and politics all plaguing us when the ability of “walking far without fatigue” was his ideal.  How far we’ve come from horses!

Because most of us do not study so intensely these days that we need a mental break, I like to will combine the walking, the reading breaks, and the discussions.

Peripatetic School

Literally, the walking around school led by Aristotle.

Imagine Aristotle leading discussions with his students as they wandered the grounds of the Lyceum in Athens.

Imagine Thomas Jefferson walking in the woods around Monticello late each afternoon after a long day of studying. He suggested his nephew, Peter Carr, take such walks.

Now, imagine your own child, mind filled with beautiful, challenging words and images, discussing them while walking through the woods near Battle Point park. We stop, read another passage, begin our discussion and continue talking as we walk over the bridge and up the hill. Hearts pumping, oxygenated blood flowing, minds racing to cement fresh connections.

What Aristotle and Jefferson knew from experience, modern science has proven.

Young people have bodies that need movement and brains in bodies in motion learn better.

See this interesting site on 12 Brain Rules, #1 is exercise.

So, my question is… why don’t more teachers teach moving children?

per•i•pa•tet•ic

(per”u•pu•tet’ik), adj.
1. walking or traveling about; itinerant.
2. (cap.) of or pertaining to Aristotle, who taught philosophy while walking in the Lyceum of ancient Athens.
3. (cap.) of or pertaining to the Aristotelian school of philosophy. —n.
1. a person who walks or travels about.
2. (cap.) a member of the Aristotelian school.

How I Teach

Technique

I work on the premise that iron sharpens iron.

To advance intellectually, we must run the mind up against even harder and sharper steel in the form of great writing about great ideas by great people.   I work to ensure that this interaction creates the quantity and quality of friction that sharpens without cutting.  See Mortimer Adler speak on this topic here (highly recommended)

To that end, I seek to hold creative tensions between:

  • Edifying challenge and delightful ease.
  • Material that is “over the student’s head” and being sensitive to exactly where the student is today (skills, knowledge, and emotional/physical state).
  • Focused intellectual work and integrating body, heart, and mind.

Experience samples of my teaching (mp3s)

Tools I use:

Tutoring

The Trivium

  • Grammatical analysis to discover meaning
  • Logical analysis and logical fallacies to steer thinking towards truth
  • Rhetorical analysis to add beauty and grace to expression

Socratic Method

  • Leading Questions

Visualization

  • Time and Space Mapping
  • Concept Mapping
  • Mind Mapping
  • Drawing

Writing Exercises

  • Pastiche – using great writing as a model for our own
  • Note Taking – capturing ideas from conversation and reading
  • Journaling – to strengthen the heart, brain, and hand connection
  • Editorial – practice reading your own work with fresh eyes

Examples

In a 1:1 tutoring  or private class session we might:

  1. Review prior work, discuss successes and challenges
  2. Check in on skills practiced since last session
  3. Read some fresh material with support from me
  4. Use Trivium tools to deepen our understanding of the topic and sharpen those skills
  5. Discuss the material using the Socartic Method
  6. Seek to vizualize part of the piece to make it more real and to impress it in our minds
  7. Begin writing a short piece about what we’ve read and discussed
  8. Prepare to work at home on continuing the reading and writing assignment

In a public class or camp we might, on day 1:

  1. Introduce ourselves and loosen up a bit with a short anecdote
  2. Walk for a few minutes to get our blood pumping to a grassy spot
  3. Dive right into taking turns reading aloud to the group (those who feel comfortable)
  4. I open our Socratic discussion with a leading question
  5. Our discussion begins
  6. We continue our discussion as we walk to a spot a few hundred meters away
  7. We read a bit more aloud
  8. We take time to visualize the scene we’ve just read about
  9. We spend 15-30 minutes drawing what we visualized
  10. We read a bit more and start our discussion anew
  11. We walk on as we share insights and invite those who have yet to share to do so
  12. Etc, etc. until our 3 hours have flown by and we return to the pick up area bodies fully alive and minds abuzz

Next:

Experience samples of my teaching

See the classes offered

See my qualifications

See my rates

Why such focus on military history?

Not because I value violence, strife, or destruction.  

In fact, my intentions could not be further from glorifying war.

As a young man, I was fascinated by war, death, and destruction as are many of today’s youngsters. 

Given this reality, I see a few choices:

1. Pretend like war and violence don’t exist or that somehow humanity has outgrown them.

2. Try to squelch or redirect their curiosity before it gains momentum.

3. Meet and encourage their curiosity, fulfilling it with the true, beautiful writings of educated, thoughtful writers caught in the horrors of war themselves.  

By looking the realities in the face, the curiosity can be met, encouraged, fulfilled, and left edified by interacting with sensitive, intelligent humans who, resting in a muddy dugout between fire fights pulled pen and paper from their pockets and began to write as a way of bearing witness to and beginning to make sense of their experiences.

Far from the detached, meaningless violence so many of our young see in the media (movies, television, and games), we will seek to meet the curious where their interest lies and open their hearts to a deeper understanding of humanity, conflict, and themselves.

A taste:

Trench Duty
 
  Shaken from sleep, and numbed and scarce awake, 
Out in the trench with three hours’ watch to take, 
I blunder through the splashing mirk; and then 
Hear the gruff muttering voices of the men 
Crouching in cabins candle-chinked with light.
Hark! There’s the big bombardment on our right 
Rumbling and bumping; and the dark’s a glare 
Of flickering horror in the sectors where 
We raid the Boche*; men waiting, stiff and chilled, 
Or crawling on their bellies through the wire.
‘What? Stretcher-bearers wanted? Some one killed?’ 
Five minutes ago I heard a sniper fire: 
Why did he do it? … Starlight overhead— 
Blank stars. I’m wide-awake; and some chap’s dead. 
Siegfried Sassoon 
*Boche = Kraut: offensive term for a person of German descent

Deep Reading

The books that help you most are those which make you think the most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.  – Theodore Parker

Learning to read deeply requires patience and practice.  Mortimer Adler and  Charles van Doren wrote the classic How to Read A Book to teach us how.

Students today seem to focus on speed as the ultimate reading skill.   We all bathe in huge, cresting seas of information.  But how much of it do we really process?  How much of it makes us really think?   How much is “deep freighted with truth and beauty?”  Are we avoiding reading anything we think is over our heads?

Here’s what Mortimer Adler himself has to say about that:

If you never ask yourself any questions about the meaning of a passage, you cannot expect the book to give you any insight you do not already possess.  – Mortimer Adler

See Mortimer Adler speak on this topic here (highly recommended)

My goal is to help teach students the skills to elevate their minds with what’s over their heads.

The Process

  • First, we start by slowing down and looking closely at sentences, using the Grammar tools that make up Part One of the Trivium.
  • Once we figure out the meanings of the nouns, the relationships implied by the verbs, etcetera, we move on to looking at the logic of the thoughts in sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and entire works.
  • Finally, we analyze using Part Three of the Trivium, the Rhetoric. in search of elegance and persuasive power.

Waving iron near iron won’t sharpen it.  We must bring our minds into close, friction-heated contact with greater minds to be sharpened.   This work happens with greater ease and predictability when a tutor (that’s me) is close at hand making sure no one gets cut in the sharpening process.

The Great Books

This 60 volume set of, arguably, the finest thinking in the Western tradition never fails to excite me.  

The high price of $995 represents one of the great bargains around.

In one set, you get English translations of the greatest books (History, Philosophy, Science, and Literature) in the Western canon, from Homer to Freud, with everyone from Plato and Aristotle to Locke, Hobbs, Rouseau, Hegel, and Marx in between.

I think of all those books as free after I spend some time in the first two volumes, the Syntopicon.  

Imagine, a compilation of all these volumes based on the 104 ideas that have shaped our world.  This allows us to look at concepts like Law, Libery, and Love across our entire written culture.  What did Plato think, Aristotle, Locke, Hobbs, or Freud think of these concepts.  How has Western thinking around these ideas evolved?  It’s all here, summarized, explained, and indexed down to the quarter page in the 57 other volumes.  A mind tingling and boggling intellectual acheivement and tool set.

Amazingly, these are often available used locally, check craigslist, for under $400.

Can I recommend the investment?   Do you think?

More about the Great Books of the Western World.

Buy them from this link and help support The Library Table’s mission.