I have recently been enjoying reading a newsletter from the Emergent Futures Lab. From what I can tell they are an innovation design consultancy who uses a systems lens to unpack a lot of things we take for granted in schools. Like thinking.
My most recent read is called Thinking is Not in Your Head. In this article they unpack the concept of Embodied Cognition using a framework called 4EA, which stands for:
Embodied. The idea is that our types of bodies and what we do with them give rise to our forms of thinking, which in turn feeds back into the forming of our body’s abilities. Changing the body’s habits/actions will change how you think. This resonates with me for two reasons. First, in schools we make students sit. They barely use their bodies at all. If thinking is embodied it is no wonder that so much of the passive learning that happens in classrooms is never retained and used once the test is written, Secondly, I have spent the last 6 months getting up every morning and stretching and doing push-ups to keep my old man back healthy. I started doing this very much to protect my back but quickly realised that it makes me feel more centred, focused and ready for the day. There is definitely a link between what I am doing with my body and how I am thinking.
Extended. The thinking that we do is enabled by tools and the tools we use affect our thinking. Think pen, paper or this blog. Thinking involves an interplay between different brain regions, our bodies and the tools we use. So to think creatively we need to “focus on new tools, techniques and practices and connect them experimentally into effective novel assemblages”. I see this at play when I teach my students to draw properly so that they can use drawing to help them develop ideas in 3d. Similarly, when they learn model, either physically or CAD tools it allows them to combine their ideas even more effectively in different ways. All these different tools help them explore their ideas in different ways.
Embedded. ”Thinking is embedded in a concrete environment and this environment shapes and patterns thinking. The environment is fundamental to why “our thinking gravitates towards certain patterns, logic and outcomes.” All student thinking at school is embedded in the environment of school and man does it ever affect thinking. Whether it’s the desks in rows, the grading and reporting, the peer pressure and the constant moving from class to class. I think it is fair to say that how we all think has quite a bit to do with the environment our thinking was embedded in when we were learning to think.
Enactive. “Thinking is fundamentally tied to acting – to doing where meaning arises via our actions. Meaning and thought arise during situated actions that are in a context of being co-determined along with our environment.” Huh? What I get from this is that thinking is not enough, it needs to exist along with meaning. That’s why I am writing this blog. I read stuff, I think, but in order to derive any meaning from this thinking I need to do something with it. In this case write. The writing affects my thinking and this process helps me start to derive meaning. In schools we often deprive students of meaning by depriving them of the agency to take meaningful actions based on their thinking and then reflect on the results of these actions. The action is more often taken by the teacher: “you are right”; “you are wrong”; “your grade is ..”. This is an external action and not directly relevant to the students thinking, thus depriving them of the opportunity to create meaning.
Affective “While we do use logic our emotional lives and all our thinking rests upon an emotional foundation that is continuous with, colours and saturates all experience.” This makes sense. It is difficult to think and make sense of the world if we aren’t feeling emotionally in a place to learn. If we are distracted, upset, uncomfortable etc it is going to affect how we think and make meaning.
This has implications for innovation as it implies that creativity is a result of “deeply engaged worldly collaborative experimentation” because “ideas do not come from our brains, because thinking does not come from our brains”.