Saturday, July 25, 2009

The power of imaginative rehearsal

How did he do it?

I asked a group at a conference this question about the landing (not crash) of flight 1549 recently. The answers that come back are usually "training" and "practice." That's not quite enough of an explanation though. No one "practices" water landings in passenger jets. What did Captain Sully's training look like, and what can K-12 teachers learn from his heroic success?

Time: Captain Sully got his initial license at age 14. He's been flying for years, he's experienced. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours to develop a skill to the level of expert. Captain Sully has been at this for a long time. Time isn't enough though, that time has to be well-spent. Kids are in school for thousands of hours in their lifetimes. Are we spending that time well? There are two components that deserve more time than most schools give them.

Reflection: On more than one occasion, Captain Sully studied and reviewed the evidence of airline accidents. He wrote reports designed to help improve the safety of commercial flying. These sound almost like traditional school activities, don't they? It is critical that reports in school include a true synthesis of primary sources and a reflective, future-thinking, component.

Role playing: Pilots train for hours on flight simulators for scenarios that can't be practiced in real life. In his book Teaching for Tomorrow, Ted McCain discusses the importance of having students engage in projects via role play assignments.

Young children learn about the world and the roles of people in the world through imaginative play. They dress up like firefighters, princesses, and superheros. This type of play ends all too soon. This imaginative role play is important for developing practical skills such as making a presentation that closes a sale, designing a building that will survive an earthquake, or landing an airplane without any engines. Yet even more critical is the importance of developing students moral compass through role play, or imaginative rehearsal as Kelly Gallagher calls it. Teachers must design learning environments in which students can imagine themselves in situations where a choice must be made. Well-designed re-creation of historical scenarios can provide children and teens authentic opportunities to learn the consequences of cruelty vs. kindness, selfishness vs. generosity.

This kind of teaching isn't easy. There is a lot of work involved and teachers need to be supported in doing this work. What tools and resources can help? That's the subject for my next post!

PS I've watched this video dozens of times now, and my heart still races each time. It was created by the folks at Scene Systems. Their website says that they are specialists in digital recreation for litigation. I think, though I am not sure, that the re-creation in this case was to help them market their product.


Meredith Stewart said...

Imaginative rehearsal is so powerful. When I taught American History, the textbook specified that we should hold a mock debate between Loyalists and Patriots. I decided a mock political rally would be more likely to result in students “feeling the feelings” of Patriots and Loyalists and giving them a sense of the chaos of the times. I assigned sides and had students make signs and write talking points. Then I took them outside and told them that outside of physical violence there were no rules. Intense shouting matches about the benefits or drawbacks of independence ensued. When we went back into the classroom, I asked how the rally had made students feel. Anger and frustration were the most frequently cited emotions. One student said that he hadn’t really cared about the Loyalists or Patriots before but once he had been assigned a side and started making his arguments, he realized he hated the other side. One student said he now understood how the Boston Massacre started, especially since the colonists had chosen their sides. They all nodded. It was a powerful lesson in mob dynamics and made the sentiments of colonists tangible to my students. Several students listed it as their favorite activity of the year on their class evals.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Sarah!

I think Meredith's story bears witness to the real meaning behind what Malcolm Gladwell refers to in 10,000 hours of experience required to become an expert.

You say that children are taught in schools for thousands of hours. Likewise, employees in their workplace can perform tasks for thousands of hours.

But what the children do in the classroom and what the employees do at the workplace are not the sort of experiences that Malcolm Gladwell is referring to when he talks of it being required to become an expert. Gladwell's 10,000 hours are unequivocal in that they are about active and sustained practice - cognitive as well as other physical activities if necessary - in a particular discipline. Musicians, for instance, who genuinely put in 10,000 hours of practice, do just that - they are not casually sounding notes for a portion of that time but are 100% involved in the activity.

The same applies to airline pilots who do their thousands of hours of flying experience.

What Meredith brings to your discussion is proof that when the activity is taken seriously, the outcomes can be quite different from that resulting from a casual interest.

No other form of transport has had the profound consequential outcomes of inexperience than has flying an aircraft. My gut feeling is that the thousands of hours flying, that have been revered as a golden rule for pilot experience, was not established without significant reason.

Catchya later

Sarah Hanawald said...

Meredith--you are brave! And what a powerful lesson your students learned because you crafted this experience for them, then let them own it. I'm sharing your story with an American history teacher I know who is also fearless.

Ken--thanks for coming by! You're absolutely right at pointing out the difference between just serving time and experiencing "flow" in that time.

I'm pretty sure that what many kids really spend 10,000 hours learning to do in school is sit still and hide their true identities. If they are passionate about an area, then we tell them they have to be well rounded and restrict their time spent on their passions.

Crazy, isn't it?