Helping our Students to be Architects of the Future

Habits of Mind,” developed by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, are “characteristics that are employed by successful people when they are confronted with problems.” Developing these 16 traits or skills can be particularly challenging for people with learning disabilities.

Science Fair_LS2

In recent blog posts, I explored the habits of persisting and thinking interdependently. As our students prepare for Kingsbury’s Art Salon on May 15th, let’s discuss two additional habits: (1) creating, imagining and innovating and (2) responding with wonderment and awe. These habits reflect the affective domains of our lives.

When we consider that our children will be the architects of the future, we must ensure that we develop their capacity to solve problems and then create opportunities for them to generate original solutions for existing problems in creative and innovative ways. We also have an obligation as a school to establish opportunities for our students and ourselves to create, imagine and innovate. There has been much written about the strength in organizations that allow for time for innovation during the work week. As an example, Gmail, the electronic mail system provided by Google was developed during the innovation time provided to all Google employees; Post-it® notes had a similar origin.

Children who have learning disabilities frequently have attentional or executive function weaknesses as well. In these cases, their impulsivity, or lack of attention to the details required of a new or different task may prevent them from fully establishing the confidence necessary to try something new. Creating and innovating require a level of risk-taking, and a time commitment that necessitates that students examine alternate possibilities to a problem. Imagining requires that the student start with a vision of the final product and work backwards, or consider the perspective of others when creating. These constructs become complicated for children with learning disabilities and attention issues as they often have fabulous ideas, but cannot communicate their entire vision or cannot devote the emotional time and energy necessary to complete a product.

Creating is constructing. Constructing is a demonstration of an understanding or learning or interpreting through the visual and performing arts one’s knowledge or experiences. Sometimes students with learning disabilities immediately shut down stating, “I can’t draw,” or “I can’t sing,” or “I’m not creative,” or “I can’t see what you are talking about.” In addition to this response to the opportunity to create, we also often observe our students immediately making a value judgment about an idea. They may be quick to criticize any idea that they perceive as too difficult or label any task they can’t complete with one try as insurmountable or ridiculous.

Kingsbury Student Designs for Van's Shoe Competition

Kingsbury Student Designs for Vans Shoes Competition

We must help our students by breaking down the tasks, sharing concrete examples, creating the opportunities for success and sharing visual and aural models that support the development of this habit. Students and adults who demonstrate the habit of creating, imagining and innovating are open to criticism and are intrinsically motivated. In other words, they strive for a product that meets a personal standard of excellence and they are less reliant on external material rewards.

While all of the habits are critical, there is something undeniably special about the habit of responding with wonderment and awe! Albert Einstein, a genius with learning disabilities, was quoted as stating, “The most beautiful experience in the world is the experience of the mysterious.” The idea that every snowflake is unique, that mass times acceleration produces energy, that penicillin was the result of mold, that a young man listening to music on his computer one night imagined that other teenagers were probably doing the same thing and music file sharing was born, the power of an atom, a spider’s web, a rainbow, and the resiliency of our students, all cause me to respond with wonderment and awe.

Thinking about the mysterious and unknown is hard work, and therefore students with processing disorders, compromised executive functioning skills, and specific learning disabilities often avoid or struggle with the thinking that produces wonderment and awe. We have an obligation to excite our students and establish an environment at home and at school that encourages curiosity. We want our students to feel passionate about learning and mastering knowledge, as we know that this passion will establish the intrigue that produces a sense of wonderment and awe.

Exciting things continue to happen here each day at The Kingsbury Center. We invite you to join us on May 15th for our annual Art Salon as we celebrate our students’ creativity, imagining and innovation. We hope you’ll respond with wonderment and awe!

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