Fire in the Mind – Collaborative Investigation into Learning

Jigsaw of the Day

Fires in the Mind came about from a nationwide collaboration among youth and adults to investigate the question “What does it take to get really good at something?”

This infographic seems to have been created by “So Much Homework” by Anna Gutermuth and posted on Flickr.

Looking at Innovative Teaching Strategies

An innovative team lead by  Kathleen Cushman began a process of investigation by taking what they already knew and could do well and building on this knowledge.  200 young people contributed to Fires in the Mind.   They analyzed the process that all learners go through when they take up new things and work toward mastery.  They wanted to know about young people’s motivation and mastery in academic subjects.

Through listening deeply to students’ voices on the topic of homework as deliberate practice, Cushman proposes the following “four R’s of deliberate homework”:

  • Readying themselves for new learning
  • Repetition and application of knowledge and skills
  • Reviewing material learned earlier, and
  • Revising their work.

Fires in the Mind website, gathers resources, examples, and student voices that focus on these three big questions:

Can we use what we know about the learning process — in combination with our academic domain knowledge — to engage students in learning that lasts?

Does student motivation arise from factors that teachers can investigate and orchestrate?

What contribution can students themselves make to our understanding of teaching and learning?

Why Not Join the Conversation?

If you work with youth you may wish to experiment with the Practice Project.  It is a 5-day curriculum that can act as your guide. (Download our Practice Project Curriculum PDF)  The aim is to kindle “Practice Circles” in districts, schools, and communities, so that people begin thinking together about what it takes for young people—as well as adults—to get really good at something.

Teens talk to adults about how they develop motivation and mastery

Think of this collaborative venture as having two faces.  The book  Fires in the Mind asks “What does it take to get really good at something?”   And youth starting with what they already know and do well, are part of a cutting-edge dialogue with adults about the development of mastery in and out of school.

Their insights frame motivation, practice, and academic challenge in a new light that galvanizes more powerful learning for all.

The book also includes practical tips for educators.

  • Breaks new ground by bringing youth voices to a timely topic-motivation and mastery
  • Includes worksheets, tips, and discussion guides that help put the book’s ideas into practice

The Fires in the Mind website (what does it take to be really good?) brings together

  • national dialogue on this subject,
  • sharing of experiences on the site and in workshops and presentations around the country
  • resource library offering group discussion prompts and ideas for curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

MetLife Foundation not only supported the research and work with students that form the core of the Practice Project, but also the  website—and its invitation  to join us in this game-changing initiative.


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