Inconsistency and Cognitive Dissonance

Been thinking a lot about these two topics lately. When I heard John Hunter (a Gifted Resource Teacher in our division, known for the World Peace Game) describe his job as one where he “sets up a situation so students have to stumble through the unknown and discover for themselves how to do it” I thought, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone describe their job similarly to how I think about mine.

I talk about metacognition with my students.  I teach them about cognitive dissonance and tell them that if I NEVER cause them cognitive dissonance, then they aren’t learning with me, because it’s when we work our way out of confusion that we often ask the best questions, do the deepest thinking and have the most astounding “AH-HA” moments.

My students know that the questions I ask aren’t usually  yes/no questions and if one is, then they are going to have to justify or defend their response. My students also know that I sometimes deliberately lead them, through my questioning, down a “slippery slope” to see who really has deep understanding and who doesn’t. See my post from fall 2008 on scaffolding and an accompanying post about reading minds.

So when I saw a post the other day by Monica Diaz, that said:

monedays @JohnDMcClung @TalkDoc2 We are so wired to find consistency that inconsistency bothers us and takes us away from balance/learning9:31 AM Oct 10th from Tweetie

I sat up and noticed. The way Monica stated that, I definitely felt some cognitive dissonance.

Inconsistency DOES bother us, but that inconsistency is what makes us examine the situation/problem/facts more deeply so as to figure out WHY it is inconsistent, and then we try to bring whatever it is back into balance.  When we’re in that mode of trying to find balance and consistency, then we often acquire a deeper sense of balance, a deeper understanding of the learning. In my mind, it doesn’t take us AWAY from balance and learning, but leads us towards a DEEPER understanding.

So, I began backtracking the Twitter conversation to figure out the context and I found this response:

TalkDoc2 RT @monedays: @JohnDMcClung Good teachers create moments of inconsistency/lack of balance to inspire good learning.9:36 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck

YES!  I thought, Mike thinks like I do. . . Creating that cognitive dissonance is a good thing for learning!

In reading more of the conversation (see my post about Following Followers and Thinking), I realized these folks were thinking and talking about the act of learning NOT being a dichotomy, not being black and white and not being a simple act of finding consistency. I was glad I had backtracked Monica’s statement so as to understand her–and the conversation– better.

Learning (and in context, teaching as well) is about leading,

and following,

and thinking,

and NOT being boxed in by our past or prior experiences.

It is about relationships, meaningful tasks and conversations, and hard thinking. If we don’t provide our students with opportunities to think, communicate and interact at deep levels of creation we are not giving them the opportunities to grow to the depths and heights they possibly can.  Some of us may romanticize our past education, but I agree with Candace (@iMrsF) that students need repeated exposure to some components/tasks/concepts/knowledge they may not even know they don’t know. And, I agree with @hrmason that when we teach, “we MUST find a blend of structured and teacher-directed, of freeform and self-guided with ALWAYS the student who is sitting in front of you in mind and not the student you once were in school.”

This past summer our county held a conference called “Reimagining Education.” Can we do that by  looking at our students as they are today, thinking of the talents they need to survive–no, to THRIVE–in our world, as it is right now?

Can the world around us BE any more inconsistent, uncertain and change driven? So how do we teach our students to deal with that inconsistency without giving them chances to experience it in safe situations first?  How can we help them cope with, understand and embrace the rapid world changes they will live through without giving them an opportunity to practice change, living it, looking at options and discussing potential actions and possibilities as well as consequences?

5 thoughts on “Inconsistency and Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Inconsistency and Cognitive Dissonance | Reflections of the TZSTeacher --

  2. I concur that a big part of our role as educators is to disturb equilibria, putting learners in a position of having to find their way to a new equilibrium. Are you aware of recent findings on the cognitive benefits of absurdist literature?

  3. We cannot learn without inconsistency, and teachers need to use it in order for the students to recognize the unknown in contrast to the known. You cannot recognize the past tense as new and different unless it is contrasted with something you do know – like the present.

  4. Wow, Paula, I learn so much from your blogs! Thank you for putting your knowledge and wisdom out where people like me who are not teachers but do work with teachers and students can read it and benefit from your expertise.

  5. Chris, Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I love the sharing piece of blogging.
    I appreciate the time you take to read and respond frequently!

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