The Daydreamer


Educational Individuality: Describe Yourself In One Word.

My 1st-grade teacher lovingly described me in one word on my first-trimester report card by saying, “Robby is a daydreamer.” I'm pretty sure she was right..or was she? The ideas of what we are, what we think we are, and what others think we are can get very complicated. I’ve always been interested in choose your own adventure stories, endless quests, and using storylines with blends of reality and fantasy to learn things. I didn't have "cable" television growing up so I don’t know the names of many bands or the proper names of most songs or albums (things I would have learned from watching MTV). If you challenge me to a round of 80’s sitcom theme song trivia, you’ll be sorry you ever did though. Sometimes I write down notes on paper to remember things and other times I can remember things by just listening to a lecture, podcast, or audiobook while I’m driving. For my most important work, I often use old black and white composition notebooks. For directions, I’m a map person. If I see the map once before I depart, I can usually make it most of the way without looking at it again. If you tell me the directions, I’ll forget them almost instantly. I’m horrible at remembering names but I can recall numerous lines from certain movies after hearing them for the first time. When it comes to organizing and cleaning, I am a pile-making machine and a professional categorizer. I often know exactly where things are in the house and I almost never lose anything. For some reason, I hate unpacking luggage after a trip. When something interests me, I do extreme deep dives and become unstoppable in the pursuit of understanding it. I spent 5 years doing research to co-write 2 books profiling every chocolate shop in NYC, categorizing 40 of them into walking tours geographically by neighborhood, and that was just a hobby!


These are the things that contribute to the makeup of my Educational Individuality. These are the sorts of details I mine for when working with new students, as I think they lend themselves to a more complete overall picture of the cognitive profile of the student. Of course, there are cognitive assessments, observations, questioning tactics, and conversations that help as well.




Whenever I ask parents and teachers to give their children or students a descriptive title (think of a noun, not an adjective) that describes them as fully as any word can, they sometimes have trouble, and for good reason. For my son, I might say that he is a collector, a forager, a gamer, or an observer, but I really don’t know if I could narrow it down to just one. I would never say that he is a certain “type” of learner because I think there is a more suitable cognitive profile description that complements my descriptive nouns for him. Those words all describe something meaningful about his personality and learning style because they relate to his interests. I don’t use this information to help him learn information though, I am using it to help him develop into an expert learner and critical thinker. There are many things that most expert learners, regardless of their field of study, seem to have in common that I try to foster in him as well. These include curiosity, adapting, logic, reasoning, pattern recognition, resource management, abstraction and more.




One of the unknowns in all of this is the extent to which our Educational Individuality is shaped by others. Family members, friends, teachers, and countless others we observe or encounter

probably have, or have had, some influence over the things we become interested in or the ways in which we learn to do things. There is also the idea of experience acting as a major influencer as well. Ut est rerum omnium magister usus (roughly "Experience is the teacher of all things" or more generally "experience is the best teacher") is a quote attributed to Julius Caesar in De Bello Civile, the war commentaries of the Civil War. If we blend this together, we could use an obscene run-on sentence to say that experience is a great teacher in different ways at different points in our lives, and there are experiences that are completely isolated to ourselves, that happen privately without any outside influence, and there are experiences that are facilitated for us by people or by exposure to environments or events.


Below, you see 4 generations of Monahans (Robert, Robert, Robert and Sam) who all believe Dominick's Famous Hot Dog truck in Queens, NY makes the best hot dogs on earth. My father remembers visiting the truck with his father, and I remember visiting it with my father as a young boy. My son will always remember visiting with me as well. Compared to every other hot dog I have ever eaten, Dominick's really holds its own as a standout competitor. Fond memories of bonding and sharing an experience together with people I love introduces some serious bias though. Also, how many hot dogs have I eaten and from how many places? Compared to the available pool of options worldwide, not that many.



This short and simple example raises some serious questions about cause and effect scenarios in education settings. What the learner comes to the table with (prior knowledge, misconceptions, bias, logical fallacies) mixed with the same things brought to the table by the teacher, or facilitator, yields some very interesting end-products. I think the facilitation aspect of being an educator and taking kids on a learning journey should have a little to do with the amount of content they absorb and a lot to do with the development of certain cognitive skills and processes that allow them to identify, process, analyze and apply the most important elements of the content in various contexts. In short, helping them learn to not only think for themselves, but to think powerfully and to take control of their own learning. Now more than ever before, content is raining down on kids all the time, and that is why I continue to research and practice ways to create and adapt processing systems and behaviors that help kids to thrive and grow instead of them just getting wet all the time.


Hello, my name is Rob, and I'm a daydreamer.



Afterword

I recently watched In & Of Itself on Hulu and found it to be a profoundly connected expressive artistic representation of the theme of this article (which was written before I had seen the show). Here is a breakdown by Casey Cipriani in a Bustle.com article (which I'm using because I am still trying to process what I experienced and witnessed after having watched the show!):




Created by Derek DelGaudio and directed by Frank Oz, In & Of Itself premiered in Los Angeles in 2016 before making its way to an intimate off-Broadway theater in New York City. Once there, the show sold out all 150 seats night after night, and became an off-Broadway phenomenon, running for 72 weeks, 560 performances, and grossing $7 million. DelGaudio details that in the creation of In & Of Itself he, "wanted to explore the illusory nature of identity; how we rely on labels and definitions to identify one another; and how, paradoxically and inevitably, those labels obscure who we really are.


If you get a chance, I highly recommend watching and digesting In & Of Itself.




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