link: thematic teaching

           HOLISTIC EDUCATION: TEACHING WITH THEMES OR 'THEMATIC TEACHING'

theme: Thematic teaching is powerful and effective because it integrates learning with life.

THE NEW COGNITIVE  PARADIGM: COGNITION IS A FUNCTION OF PHYSIOLOGICAL PROCESSES The attention of educators is being drawn away from the traditional paradigm of the behavioural sciences and towards the findings of brain research or 'neuroscience'. Over the past several decades the science of the brain or 'neurobiology' has merged with the science of the mind or 'psychology' to produce the new science of 'psychobiology'. Psychobiology is concerned with the biological basis of the mental functions of learning or 'cognition'. The process of cognition is a natural function of the brain involving the continuity of information from one part of the brain to another i.e. 'information flow'. Information flow involves physiological functions such as the propagation of electrochemical signals or 'nerve impulses' along nerve cells or 'neurons' and their transmission across the interconnections between them, the 'synapses'. Modification of synaptic connections - 'synapse modification' - results in changes in existing neural networks and the creation of new ones. This accounts for the brain's potential for change or 'neuroplasticity'. The physiological functions of learning constitute the basis of mental functioning or 'mind': interrelated processes of remembering, separating, organizing, comparing, integrating and evaluating mental data i.e. 'analysis'; detecting relationships and making connections i.e. 'synthesis'. Analysis and synthesis occur simultaneously in a natural mental process of 'immersion' in which new learning experiences are embedded in the totality of previous experience and connnections are made between new information and information which has already been processed. the

Application of principles of brain functioning to learning theory results in the creation of new concepts for the so-called 'cognitive paradigm' of teaching. Teaching involves the orchestrated integration of different learning experiences.

'NATURAL LEARNING' OR 'EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING' IS 'BRAIN-BASED LEARNING' Teaching methods of the cognitive paradigm are confluent with the brain's rules for learning i.e. 'brain-based learning'. Brain-based learning is defined in terms of the natural function of the brain: to 'make sense' of unfamiliar stimuli... to 'search for meaning' in experience i.e. natural learning' or 'experiential learning'. The brain is a natural 'meaning maker' with an instinctive urge to make sense of experience or 'understand' i.e. 'curiosity'. Curiosity is a survival oriented capacity which is naturally stimulated by challenge and complexity and elicits motivation which is intrinsic to the organism i.e. 'intrinsic motivation'. Intrinsic motivation or 'self-motivation' activates optimal functioning of the brain i.e. 'optimal learning' or 'optimalearning'.

Optimal learning accounts for the deep involvement which characterises the creative process.

GLOBAL FUNCTIONING OF THE BRAIN: THE BRAIN HAS A NATURAL CAPACITY FOR HOLISTIC PERCEPTION  The brain's function as meaning maker is a natural physiological process of information processing which involves the interdependent activity... the interactivity... of the left and right cerebral hemispheres. The cerebral hemispheres interact via the 'corpus collosum'. It is the interaction... the interconnectedness of the specialized hemispheres which allows for the integral functioning of the brain. The integrated functioning of the cerebral hemispheres is the basis for the global or 'holistic' functioning of the brain. The brain is activated as a whole. In its attempt to make meaning of the environment, the brain responds 'holistically' to environmental stimuli, perceiving and creating connections between parts and the whole. Its natural capacity to make connections... to perceive and process parts and wholes simultaneously i.e 'holistic perception'. Holistic perception results in the interaction of parts and wholes - the parts containing the whole and the whole containing the parts. As a result of the brain's natural capacity for holistic perception, its activity as a whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts in the form of characteristic 'emergent properties' such as 'moral consciousness' or 'conscience'  - the human 'soul'. The human conscience evolved as a vehicle for behavioural adaptation of the human organism as a social organism i.e. 'adaptability'.

The understanding of 'emergent properties' of the brain is of significance to holistic brain-based learning theory.  

HUMAN ADAPTABILITY AS SOCIAL ADAPTABILITY DEPENDS ON MORAL CONSCIOUSNESS OR 'CONSCIENCE' The human organism is a social organism and human adaptability is social adaptability which depends on cultivation of the capacity for accurate evaluation of the social environment  leading to effective decision-making and successful adaptation i.e. 'social intelligence. Social intelligence is a function of 'mature growth' or 'self-actualisation'. Self-actualisation is a function of the unfolding of human 'values for living' - the 'social values' or 'morals' i.e. 'moral intelligence' or 'morality'. Morality is the human moral faculty which depends on motivation by the 'metaneeds' i.e. 'metamotivation'. Metamotivation engages development of 'conscience' which depends on creativity and productivity or 'work'. Meaningful work is the vehicle for growth motivation or 'self-actualisation' which involves the harmonisation of psychic forces - emotions and intellect - and frees the individual from the limitations of the 'ego-life' allowing them to live in the spiritual realm of human existence i.e. 'ego-transcendance'.

Ego-transcendance is prerequisite to effective socialisation.

TEACHING TO THE BRAIN: 'CURRICULUM DESIGN' The brain's capacity for holistic perception can be represented in terms of themes in mental space or 'thematic maps'. Thematic maps integrate the various experiences in different learning contexts... family, school, local community, national community, global community. The understanding of issues in meaningful contexts - such as political history in the context of current events - makes it possible to apply what is learned to new learning situations. Emphasis on understanding of themes in real life contexts creates new depth and makes for meaningful subject matter. When presented in a meaningful context, complex and rigorous content becomes intellectually challenging. Motivation for learning is enhanced. Learning is focused on the brain's natural capacities for comparing, patterning and categorizing which stimulate its capacity to make  connections, to integrate new experience with learned experience, to see global relationships, to extract meaningful patterns, to perceive interrelationships as the 'patterns which connect'. The learner analyses a contextual reality and recognizes connections between the various components so that they can be perceived as different dimensions of a total reality. This learning methodology is confluent with the brain's natural capacity for the simultaneous perception of parts and wholes. With 'holistic perception' opposites and dualisms disappear so that illogical paradoxes and dichotomies can be resolved and problematic situations become creative opportunities.

To ignore the brain's global functioning is to reduce its capacity to make connections and understand relationships.

THEMATIC TEACHING: LEARNING IS MADE MEANINGFUL IN  REAL LIFE CONTEXTS Pedagogies based on the stimulation of 'intrinsic motivation' are compatible with the natural functioning of the brain. They are 'brain-compatible'. Brain compatible pedagogies are based on the recognition and encouragement of the brain's natural potential for complex learning. They recognize the emotional dimensions of learning and teach for knowledge that makes sense to the learner i.e. 'meaningful knowledge' or 'natural knowledge'. Natural knowledge results from the brain's capacity to organize information on the basis of its recognition of patterns. The brain is a pattern detector which can perceive 'interactive relationships' or 'themes'. Teaching which focuses on themes as 'organizers of meaning' is 'thematic teaching'. Thematic teaching methods are based on the recognition and understanding of the global functioning of the brain. They teach to the natural function of the brain as a pattern detector which perceives parts and wholes simultaneously. They teach to the brain's natural potential to thrive on complexity. They capitalize on the brain's instinctive drive to make sense of unfamiliar stimuli and thus derive meaning from experience. Thematic teaching involves the organization of subject matter around central unifying themes or 'global themes'. Global themes are based on essential concepts that have universal application and used as 'organizers of meaning' for understanding content. The scope of the theme is larger than the scope of the subject. Use of themes makes it possible to introduce material from other subject areas and from real life experience. And in this way the different subject areas can be related to each other and learning be made meaningful in a real life context. With the integration of learning with life through the use of 'global themes' the brain is stimulated to make connections... to 'create'.  Learning experiences which engage the brain's natural potential for creativity are a source of excitement and joy. Therein lies the power and effectiveness of thematic teaching.

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