Excellent Instruction and Systems Thinking - A Virtuous Relationship
Jul 17, 2010 Teaching Methodology 2994 Views
Excellent instructors know the power of metaphor, analogy, and story. They engage in elegant leverage by using something their students know well in order to introduce, explain, and anchor that which is being taught and learned. Additionally, systems thinking is rife with metaphor, analogy, and story. The simple diagrams of systems thinking serve to sketch reality, using circles and arrows and graphs we know and understand to create images that represent abstract ideas and complex relationships. In this way the elements in our pallet of diagrams and drawings synthesize as we sketch complex ideas into pictures that can be seen and felt and shared. Then there are the stories that accompany a good diagram: those that are woven from the discussions that create the diagrams, and the story that is told when sharing the end product - the graceful metaphor. Excellent instruction and systems thinking are interdependent and system thinking concepts are central to each of the four 'backbone' components of excellent instruction.
The strategic application of a systems thinking approach to excellent instruction is both an aid to more 'traditional' elements of good instruction, and it is good instruction in and of itself. Systems thinking is both a tool and a framework that engages higher level thinking while simultaneously improving the learning, storage, and recall of fundamental content, processes, and skills.
Excellent instructors are weavers. They are able to describe the whole of the idea being taught as though it were a cloth woven together of many simpler ideas; then they pull the fibres from the whole and show you how to analyse each one; finally, they show you how the fibres go back together and how they depend one upon the other to make it whole again.... Excellent instructors are master weavers, much like excellent systems thinkers.
Through years of observing and researching great instruction, I have found the instructors who captivate their audiences no matter the age or subject matter consistently utilize - either deliberately or by unconscious design - the following four 'backbone' components in their construction and delivery of excellent instruction:
- Best Instructional Practices
- Brain Research
- Foundational Psychology
- Systems Thinking
Further explanation of the components will in this post be limited to the fourth component - systems thinking - as it assists in excellent instruction. It is worth noting that each of the first three components is imbued and naturally aligned with systems thinking concepts; moreover, each component is amplified in purpose and effect by the deliberate use of a strategic systems thinking approach to instruction.
#4. Systems Thinking. A list of those systems tools I have found most effective - without a detailed reference to 'why' they are effective in terms of sound educational pedagogy - is as follows:
Stocks and Flows - illuminate elements of the subject-system, including the relationships, connections, interdependence, complexity, and cause and effect those elements share with one another. Using a stock - flow approach to subject material helps students to look at the whole rather than parts, and it is focused on finding connections, groupings, and relationships to make meaning. *Meaning derived from the understanding of wholes is more natural to our way of learning and is therefore authentically.
Events, Patterns, and Structures - The events, patterns, structures pyramid begs students to relate one level with the next in a search for interdependence or cause and effect; it is a tool that students can use to construct questions that lead to statements or findings. It is a tool that provides opportunities to evaluate and analyze complexity... to think creatively.
BOTG's -allow students to relate, connect, see interdependence, understand complexity, determine cause and effect.... And, with each use of this simple tool, students hang detailed information on the 'wholes' being conveyed to them. They are anchoring, making meaning, referencing, paying attention, and getting engaged - all of which affect learning, storage, and recall.
Causal Loops - Causal loops are naturally intriguing and draw people in to their unique structure. They make excellent discussion points or as the basis for supporting arguments or offering proofs. The applications are endless, and all of them bring students closer to the subject material - naturally - thus, they possess immeasurable benefits to instruction and learning.
I hope you have enjoyed the simple flavour and substantial nourishment that using systems thinking with and as excellent instruction provides. Instruction is everyone's business, and your efforts are more effective when including systems thinking in the construction and delivery of your message.