Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mediated learning

A while back I asked if anyone had read the book, Beyond Smarter: Mediated Learning and the Brain's Capacity for Change, because I wanted to read it, but it wasn't available at the library. Did I really want to buy it? Well, there are some perks to having a husband who works for a university and being able to get academic-type books through the library is one of them. I'm about two-thirds of the way through it and am finding it interesting. It's not a quick read and I think I'll want to read it a second time because there is so much in there. There is also some academic jargon to wade through, but it's not really that bad. I could write a whole other post about clarity in academic writing. If you have read any of the more recent brain science research, this shouldn't be too much for you.

I'll probably write more about this book once I've read it and have thought about it some more, but I think it might be of interest to anyone who has a child who comes from a less-than-optimal background and sees their learning or behavior compromised as a result. The very short, cursory explanation is that mediated learning is what we good parents do naturally... we come alongside our children and help interpret the world for them. One of the early examples in the book was the difference between the child who is allowed to roam a room in a museum by himself, pushing buttons, moving levers, etc., but no adult is nearby to talk with him about what he is doing. This boy's learning is compared to a child whose parent looks at each exhibit with the child, explains what's going on, asks questions, and generally engages the child with what he is seeing. It probably won't surprise you that the child with the engaged parent learned something from the exhibit, while the child who wandered alone had virtually no change in his learning as a result of visiting the museum.

I'm finding this book particularly interesting because of the descriptions of some of the children the researches come across as being mentally compromised... slow or unable to learn... either because of genetic abnormalities or because they never received the type of adult interaction (or mediation as it is called in the book). It is interesting because of the changes in the brain which can occur with mediation. With the correct mediation, the brain was able to rewire itself. It's very exciting.

I want to share a couple of excerpts with you. They are a bit wordy, but I think they address a couple of issues I have heard as being common among the adopted child population (and are also certainly represented in my own home.)

"Defining the problem therefore creates in the person an internal motivation to look for a solution and to explain the contradiction or the gap. To perceive the existence of a problem, we must activate a number of cognitive functions such as creating relations between different sources of information, discerning nonconformity or a contradiction between them, and deducing logical contradictions within the information. Those who lack mediation do not feel the lack of balance created following phenomena that apparently testify to a lack of consistency and contradiction in given information. Therefore, awareness of a problem is not created. For example, there are children who can gaze at a picture of a giraffe with a body of a cow and not notice or differentiate a contradiction between the two animals. If they don't notice differences or contradictions they do not formulate a problem. Their curiosity is not aroused; consequently, they do not need to find any explanation and no elaborations or insights are generated.

The phenomenon of the lack of curiosity in children or adults derives in many cases from the same lack of discerning the existence of a problem. Because they do not recognize that there is a problem, their balance is not disturbed, and therefore have no need to look for solutions. Thus, there is created in them what we term 'lack of curiosity' and what is often referred to as a 'lack of motivation'. So many modern children who are potentially very intelligent often convey that they are quickly bored because of this lack of discernment leading to a lack of curiosity."

And one more... if you're still with me.

"Egocentric Communication. This communication deficiency derives from the form of the individual's attitude to one's fellow human being, as one who does not constitute a separate entity. The individual who communicates in an egocentric manner does not feel the need to detail all the information needed to understand the message, because it is assumed that the other knows all that he/she knows. One says to oneself: 'If I think in this way they also must think in this way. Therefore, I do not need to convince or explain my position.' When they ask: 'Why?' the answer is 'That is how it is,' without any need to explain the reply. The essence of this deficiency is the lack of an awareness on the part of the communicator that what is being communicated is not understood and a lack of the need to facilitate understanding.

One overcomes egocentric communication when one grasps that there is a process of individuation [This process was explained in an earlier chapter and I think it would be fair to say any child who had an interruption in early care giving would be a candidate for this happening. - note mine] that makes people diverse and separate entities. They may or may not have the information or experience that I have. When I take it for granted that they already know what I know, I will not make the effort to assure that they understand what I am communicating, and therefore my communication will be egocentric. Thus it is necessary to acquire the tools to produce an output that will be understood, not only by us, but also by others.  Paradoxically, individuals who may have good reception and processing abilities sometimes may or may not have the need to communicate, and might find it difficult to formulate things so that they will be understood by others."

There's just a lot to chew on in this book. I have a feeling I will be reading a lot more on mediated learning... thanks to that university library loan.
I go up, I go down...

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