Platform shoes, organic soda, and the value of dissonance for learning
This is a version of an activity I use in my training that you can use with your team.
Have each person study this picture:
Notice the platform shoes and can of organic soda. They are both sitting on top of a garbage receptacle. Next, have each person craft a story to explain how these items may have come to sit together. Compare the stories.
Why is this activity beneficial?
When we experience dissonance—the clashing together of two or more seemingly unrelated elements—it ignites our curiosity and mobilizes important learning tools. We immediately begin to develop a host of questions and possible explanations in an effort to resolve the dissonance.
Use dissonance to increase engagement with your message. For you, your message is a coherent, harmonic story lacking dissonance. But this isn’t the case for your audience. Your message appears to your audience like the picture. There’s dissonance. Use this to fuel learning.
In the same way you tried to make sense of this picture, your audience will naturally try to resolve their dissonance with your message. They will ask questions. Make comments. Sit in silence. Talk to each other. Challenge what you say. These are tools we all use to transform dissonance into harmony.
Furnish the right answer (if there is one) and you will negate this entire process. Trust that the people you work with, no matter what age, possess the abilities necessary to create harmony.
The result of this process is a new, clear understanding that changes how we see the world. What was foreign becomes familiar. The dissonance leads discovery. Eureka!
Education as an Art Form
When we approach education as an art from we:
Abandon script! Structure learning in the same way Christopher Guest makes films (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, etc.). Establish points A and B in clear terms, then trust students will arrive according to the most meaningful, personalized path possible.
Present our content like Beethoven, Dostoyevsky, and Picasso—refine, refine, and refine until we arrive at the most essential, brilliant elements.
Look to jazz and rap to inspire our methods—set a beat, a key, a progression, then invite students to interact with one another for a deeper understanding.
Use only those teaching tools with which we have a personal relationship and that suit the goal of cultivating brilliance—Isaac Stern referred to his violin as an appendage.
A new standard for good questions
Few tools are more critical to learning than the ability to ask good questions. Unfortunately, most people believe that a good question is open-ended and a bad question is closed-ended. Not true.
This traditional standard is grossly inaccurate. Exceptional questions can be open and closed-ended. My daughter asked me, “Can dogs see better than humans at night?” This is an excellent question. The fact that it is closed-ended doesn’t matter.
Abandon the old definition of a good question. Don’t worry about whether a question begins with who, what, where, when, why , or how.
Consider a new standard for good questions:
1) Was the question’s origin authentic curiosity?
2) Did the question awaken curiosity in others?
3) Did the question generate additional good questions?
Promote learning and engage students at a deeper level by asking excellent questions. Better yet, teach students how to recognize and ask good questions for themselves. Few skills are more important for life-long learning.