“Understanding derives from activity.” –John Dewey

I was reading Jonah Lehrer’s new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, when I saw this quote by John Dewey that I used in the blog title. In the book, Jonah visits NOCCA, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a performing arts program for high school students in NOLA.  Students at NOCCA arrive after attending a full day of traditional academic classes and spend hours at the school learning and practicing their craft. All of the teachers are professional artists and great attention toward helping students learn to perfect their art. Interestingly, although the teaches performing arts, the school is not interested in producing only professional artists.

The teaching methodology is experienced-based. Practice is a vital part of the learning process. So is feedback. Students at NOCCA understand the critique is an essential part of their getting better. And learning how to accept and make use of feedback, helps create a learning experience of higher quality. At NOCCA, artist/teachers provide feedback and  other students learn the art of helpful criticism.  It also can be a mirror in a dance studio, or a recording studio outtake.

John Dewey’s pedagogy of learning by doing has been the structural scaffold for nearly all of the educational work I have done over the years. Beginning with Outward Bound and into progressive schooling, community service learning, and now my latest venture, Apprenticeship Learning. These program are linked together by the sheer power of engagement they offer to participants. Dewey reminds us in Experience & Education, that, ” It is not enough to insist upon the necessity of experience, nor even  of activity in experience. Everything depends upon the quality of the experience which is had.”

As I consider the types of apprentice experiences that will introduce students to the world of work as well as a satisfying work life, how do I create the same sort of feedback  methods?  Both authentic feedback as well as receptive learners? It is one proven way to ensure that an experience grows to be a high quality one. What are other ways to ensure ‘quality’ in learning experiences?

Executive Director of Apprentice Learning
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