Byron's Babbles

Stretching The Vessel of the Mind

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Inspirational, science education by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 19, 2015

It is hard to think about the brain and learning without reflecting on Albert Einstein. Reading Walter Isaacson’s book, Einstein, causes one to think about whether every individual has the ability to develop and use his or her brain in the way Einstein did. From an educator’sperspective I found it amazing that Einstein always believed that he had no special talent – he was just as he said, “passionately curious.” This points to the important fact that we have atremendous obligation to help our students develop and find their curiosity. Einstein posited the brain was wired and set up as it was, but we all have the ability to develop the mind (Isaacson,2008). This reinforces the belief that every student can learn. It is important for us to develop and create minds that question. Individuals with intuition and imagination are crucial to our future.

So, how do we develop a student mind that is curious, questions, and has imagination? If learning was as simple as pouring the pitcher of knowledge into the empty vessel of a student’s brain then all education would require was a person to speak didactically on a subject, and students would listen and gain the knowledge themselves. Unfortunately, learning takes a lot more than merely listening to an authority speak, regardless of his expertise and reliability.

There are two types of learning: informational and transformational. The first type (informational) is that which we use as a lower level form of learning. We are just gaining new information. During the learning process this informational learning is placed in short term, or what is also known as immediate memory. Immediate memory acts as a temporary site whereinput is briefly stored until the brain decides whether to erase the memory as unimportant or toprocess the memory. To use the metaphor of the pitcher of knowledge filling the empty vessel used earlier, informational learning will only fill our vessels so full.

We then need the second type of learning, transformational, in order to stretch our learning (Mezirow, 2000). The unique quality of human beings is our ability to think flexibly about new situations, comparing them intelligently to all past experiences, and then to do something that is uniquely appropriate, bringing about desired objectives (Taylor, 2007). When educators facilitate this type of learning the brain is stimulated to put the information learned into working memory where processing of the information begins. In order to engage the working memory the students must begin to work with and actively use the information learned. By engaging the working memory by using the learned knowledge the long term memory then creates meaning enabling the student to make sense of the material. Ron Ritchhart promotes thinking through the use of “thinking routines” (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011). These routines then help teachers to establish a classroom culture that supports thinking (Ritchhart, 2014). Relating lessons to real-life situations, and being enthusiastic creates meaning for the students. We must know our learners’ backgrounds so that we can relate to the student’s past learning and allow the learner to understand and make sense of the material being presented.

Transformational learning provides us with new ways of thinking (Taylor, 2007). This can actually change the form of the metaphorical vessel of the mind. In fact this new stretch, and.extending of thinking actually gives more room in the vessel of the mind for greater and more magnificent thinking. Creating lessons using real-world contexts that the student can beenthusiastic about and make sense of immediately can do this. Think about the student who says to their teacher: ”I was confused before you started…now I am confused at a higher level.” This is not to say that educators should teach by confusing students, but students do need to be appropriately confused. In order to achieve this stretching of the vessel of the brain, teachers must facilitate learning is such a way as to use all parts of the students brain by including reading, writing, verbal processing and images in lessons and other modes of learning. Because the mind is tethered to what our bodies are doing and the senses being used, educators must be cognizant of making sure that our students’ bodies and brains are in sync.

Many educators believe it is important to teach students to think. These same educators teach thinking (reasoning skills and problem solving skills) skills, which are important, but if we want students to use these skills we will need to do more than just teach the skills. Research shows that motivation, values, cultural context, and alertness to opportunity are factors important to developing intellectual behaviors (Boix-Mansilla & Jackson, 2011). These factors make up thinking dispositions, which are important characteristics of good thinkers. To become educated and worthwhile citizens, our students must learn a wide range of skills. Brain research must continue to be linked to facilitation of learning. We must use what we know about the brain to effectively engage students so they are motivated, creative, and understand the relevance to their personal lives.


Boix-Mansilla, V., & Jackson, A. (2011). Educating for global competency: Preparing our youth to engage the world. New York: Asia Society.

Fischer, K, & Immordino-Yang, M.H. (2008). he Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Isaacson, W. (2008). instein: His life and universe. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Ritchhart, R. (2014). Creating Cutlures of Thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. San Francsico: Jossey-Bass.

Taylor, E. W. (2007). An update of transformative learning theory: a critical review of the empirical research (1999-2005). International Journal of Lifelong Education, 26 (2), 173-191.

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