Howard Gardner’s “Disciplined Mind,” or How to Teach Fishing

I recently posted on the entrepreneurthearts blog connecting entrepreneurial habits of mind with Michael Kaiser’s New Year’s resolutions.   In the few days since, I not only launched this blog, but delved a bit deeper into Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, which Tom Duening adapted into Five Minds for the Entrepreneurial Future.  I’ve read some of Gardner’s work before and have my own article on signature pedagogies coming out next fall (co-authored with my two amazing colleagues from Queensland University, Tina Hong and Ruth Bridgstock), but while reading Gardner’s book over New Year’s weekend one element came into clearer focus.

Writing of the “Disciplined Mind,” Gardner notes:

Signature pedagogies demonstrate that the life of the professional is not equivalent to the life of the young student.  For these pedagogies to be effective, both students and teachers must operate on a level quite different from that typically followed in the years before professional school.  That is, students must see information not as an end in itself or as a stepping-stone to more advanced types of information, but rather as a means to better-informed practice.  For their parts teachers – acting to some extent as coaches – must provide feedback on their students’ abilities to pick up the distinctive habits of mind and behavior of the professional.

What struck me was the image of the feedback loop.  Of course, I had practiced this very technique for years teaching lighting design at UW-Madison, but I believe that the feedback loop is largely absent from large group instruction.  In order to teach disciplinary habits of mind, our schools will need to provide or maintain an effective feedback infrastructure.  In this age of declining funding for education, including higher education in the arts, how can we provide students with the feedback they need to develop their disciplinary mind? Technology can help, but technology is an enhancement of, not a replacement for, what Gardner calls the coaching that such teaching requires.

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”  Students need to experience fishing to learn it.  They cast the line into the water and the coach provides feedback on the student’s strategy, technique, and results.  By example, a good coach also teaches the student how to evaluate her own results.  And thus, she eats for a lifetime.  Similarly, to teach entrepreneurial habits of mind, e-ship educators need to provide opportunities for students to experience entrepreneurship – to cast their line into the water — and the feedback students need to develop their disciplinary mind.  Easier said than done, I know, but a pedagogic goal nonetheless.


(photo “Fishing Lesson” by Michael Latendresse)

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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8 Responses to Howard Gardner’s “Disciplined Mind,” or How to Teach Fishing

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