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Bloom Education

SHANGHAI, CHINA – Bloom Education brings together children and teenagers from diverse cultural groups with an aim to provide a holistic educational experience, especially in subjects not typically taught at school. They strive to connect people from different backgrounds and to inspire a love of learning in all of their students.

Strategy Advisor and Youth Mentor, Osmond Wang, approached The Art of Learning Project while preparing for a two-week summer camp program based in Xicang, Sichuan Province, which would focus on exploring TAOL principles while providing students with opportunities to truly enjoy the learning process. An important component of the program was to support the students in developing empathy and discovering the connections between the three participating cultural groups – the Han ethnic majority, non-Han minority, and Americans or Canadians with Chinese heritage.

The entire student population participated in daily martial arts practice as well as a variety of academic, arts and crafts, and other activities, including small group city-building games and debates themed around selected topics. The facilitators led the groups in 1-hour reflection sessions at the end of each day, during which the students contemplated and discussed their learning. Through these reflections, students were able to Value Process Before Results by noting progress and growth, and practice Investment in Loss as they made plans for how to approach a situation or problem differently in the future. Finally, at the end of the 2-week session, the student who demonstrated the most commitment to the process of learning was voted “most dedicated learner” by the other participants in the camp.

“In the beginning (and for many days…), the mandatory daily 7am martial arts practice was not an activity that the students enjoyed, due to the early morning time slot it was scheduled for” shared Wang. “But by the end of the camp, it was the most popular activity and the martial arts teacher was voted best teacher among all the instructors, which was a testament to the quality of his teaching and also an indication of the students beginning to grasp (emotionally and behaviorally) the principles of learning. Martial arts offered a medium through which students could clearly see their own progress – of being able to do something they weren’t able to before.

“I think it shows that learning activities can be structured in ways that allow students to enjoy learning even when the initial learning experience requires elements of discomfort. I love that – when discomfort is enjoyed, even desired, in service of learning.”

Ace Academics Learning Centre

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – Ace Academics is a math and science focused tutoring organization serving students from grades 2 through 12. Founder, Sal Enslin, is dedicated to helping her students develop self-confidence, curiosity, and a sense of personal agency in their learning processes.
“Many students experience maths and science as a necessary evil. They think of these subjects as abstract and boring, and they often just want to get those over and done. Many students are convinced that they have no talent for this; that they are not smart and are often completely disengaged from the learning process, “ Enslin explains. “If I could show them that their brain is capable of way more than the school system has led them to believe, and give them the tools to find out what that might be… that would be incredible. If we could discover how each student learns, how that would play out in his or her environment, and how he or she could apply what we do to anything else they want to learn, it would enrich their lives a lot.”
Each tutoring session is unique, depending on the needs of the participating students. Additionally, the learning principles Enslin incorporates into these sessions, and the methods used to explore them, vary depending on the group. Many of her older students have been reading and discussing sections of The Art of Learning Student Guide in order to provide a general introduction to TAOL principles and open a conversation about their relationships to those concepts. Enslin is beginning to incorporate peer feedback in several of her tutoring sessions as a means to practice Investment in Loss. She is practicing Stress and Recovery with her students by taking breaks during difficult tasks to explore student passions and interests, and regularly incorporates Listening First into her work with each student in order to understand what drives them, how they learn, and any underlying needs that may affect their learning processes.

Barcelona Academy of Art

BARCELONA, SPAIN – Dorian Iten, the Digital Art Program Coordinator at BAA, uses The Art of Learning principles in a 10-week course that focuses on Investment in Loss and Valuing Process Before Results, with an aim to strengthen resilience and deepen the students’ awareness of their internal states.
“Time and again I have found my insights from drawing and painting echoed in the principles Josh gleans from chess and the martial arts,” Iten told the JWF. “Both mental and physical resilience are crucial elements of an artist’s success. There is a lot to discover in this area and I am looking forward to sharing our findings with fellow teachers, trainers and coaches!”

Throughout the course the students explore their feelings of self-doubt by learning about and discussing mindset, analyzing both failures and growth of masters in painting, and participating in shared journaling activities on Slack. Students practice Valuing Process Before Results in collaborative drawing exercises in which they focus on improving accuracy and proportions by working on each other’s drawings. By regularly discussing both the teacher’s and the students’ struggles, the class develops a safe space in which students can be vulnerable and open to working together on Investment in Loss and growing as learners.
“As artists, we value our bodies as instruments and seek to refine perception and control,” Iten explains. “Our students are studying their own responses and biases through heart rate variability training and the study of screen recordings of their digital painting sessions. Heartbeat by heartbeat and brushstroke by brushstroke, new understanding emerges.”

An Actor’s Journey Into The Art of Learning

by MATT RYAN

I first came across The Art of Learning in my junior year in college. After about a year pondering Josh’s principles, as well as those of Tim Ferriss, and experimenting with them in my own acting work, I decided to test my knowledge and see if I understood them well enough to teach them to a group of people who were completely unfamiliar with them, and build the foundation of an acting company and show around the principles.

I used one of my favorite plays, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, to facilitate this process. I knew this show would work well because in order to work with it at all you need to strip away the crushing preconceptions of famous productions that have come before it, and thus are forced to operate from first principles. I also knew doing the show would get better actors to audition and more people in the audience come performance time.

I used Tim Ferriss’ Meta Learning Principle DiSSS (Deconstruction Selection Sequencing Simplification Stakes) to set the ground rules and operating principles for the company and show. In order to work as a team we needed to come up with unified terminology and operating rules. There are so many misconceptions and traps that come along with acting and acting technique, and it is easy for a seven-member cast like ours to all be operating on different frequencies. After a few days of heated debate we came to the conclusion that our goal was the goal set by the forefathers of modern acting, Constantin Stanislavski and Michael Chekhov, which is Creative Self Expression. This is achieved through the way of Form-Transformation-Creative Self Expression; meaning once the form is mastered, then one can transform oneself, once transformation is mastered, true Creative Self Expression can ensue. This goes hand in hand with what Josh teaches in The Art of Learning over and over again. It rang the most true for me when he told the story of forcing The Buffalo to play Chess with him in the Push Hands World Championship.

It was important for this that I not only challenged everyone’s perceptions of what they thought acting was, but even more importantly, showed them that the process they were being taught was not conducive to mastery. I did this by flipping the process they knew so well completely on its head. Instead of the traditional hierarchical process of Director, Assistant Director, Stage Manager, Actors, etc., we would remove the hierarchy and run this like a lean startup, or better yet, like an elite sports team. An NFL team, for instance, trains together, practices together, studies together, plays together, and then when the time comes, performs together. Every player not only plays their position, they are also teacher and coach simultaneously. So for our production everyone was Director, Stage Manager, and Actor. This not only allowed us to be as efficient as possible, it taught us through constant application some of our most important principles. It taught candor with one another as well as with oneself, which then could lead to the most important principle: awareness of process.

We only had three and half weeks from casting to performance to achieve our objective. It is said that it takes an actor 20 years of training to be able to achieve true creative self-expression. So I knew I would have to sacrifice something somewhere. I decided that the technique that it takes to be able to transform oneself completely was far too vast and difficult to teach to a group of varying ability and experience in under 4 weeks. I felt that if I put our energy in the right places, enough transformation would occur through exploring depth with the other principles. So that meant we had to focus solely on awareness and givens of the story (meaning what clues does the playwright give to the actors on what their characters are supposed to do and how they do it.)

For the givens aspect of this, I decided to use Josh’s principle of “Learning the Macro from the Micro.” From personal experience I have noticed that when most actors create a character they only do it from limited perspective – either from their own life experience or from a two dimensional interpretation of character. What I mean by this is that we as people are almost entirely different people based on who we are around, but when people act on stage or screen it seems to be a person reacting exactly the same no matter where they are or who they are around. So we decided to create characters based on their interactions with other characters and other characters only, such that they should be an almost different person based on whom they are around. This taught us who these people were and leads me to my next principles.

“Form to Leave Form”, “Making Smaller Circles”, and “The Power of Presence” pervaded everything we did within these three weeks. Most importantly, they all centered around teaching one of the techniques that is the toughest to teach in acting and a quality that all great actors have, which is making every moment seem like it is the first time it has ever happened. “Living in the Present Moment” is tough when you have experienced that particular moment a hundred times over in rehearsal. We taught this by incorporating it into everything we did. We practiced daily mindfulness meditation. We played what I called the “Surprise Game” – during a scene, any time one actor felt like another was operating on autopilot, they had to surprise them in some way driven by their character. We also would come together as a company after every scene and we would answer a few questions I adopted from Jeff Sutherland’s SCRUM: “What worked? What didn’t work? How am I going to fix it? How am I going to put myself in a position to fail again next time?” These questions helped the cast quickly put themselves in a third person perspective so they could accurately gauge their work and progress over time. The last question, derived from Josh’s ‘Investment in Loss”, became a sort of mantra of ours. We used failure as an objective learning point rather than a subjective learning one. This not only made every acting moment interesting, it caused us to learn much more quickly because we were valuing the process over the results.

In the actual performance we made sure we kept this idea of process over results going. We had each actor performing some sort of an experiment while performing his or her part (I found in my own work that experimenting when the stakes were the highest led to massive learning jumps.) We would then break between each scene and answer our questions in front of the audience. The end result had a tremendous effect on all that attended and especially all that were part of the company. My goal from the beginning of this was that if I inspired one actor enough to realize their full potential or to head himself or herself into the journey of higher learning through Josh’s work, I would have succeeded. I am proud to say that almost every member in the company and a vast majority of the audience (about 40 in attendance) expressed their interest in delving into the world of higher learning.

For me the biggest thing that I realized through this workshop and my own studies with The Art of Learning was that finding this book was like finding a priceless artifact that has been tucked away in your basement for centuries. The more that you explore the artifact and its limits, you find that not only is the artifact the actual foundation of the house, it is the house. The Art of Learning is the key to a world that seems like fantasy, but is actually directly at your fingertips if you only reach for it.

Ithaca College

ITHACA, NY – After a year exploring the relationship between his study of acting and The Art of Learning principles, Matt Ryan, a senior at Ithaca College, developed an independent study through which he would test his knowledge of these concepts by teaching them to a group of people to whom they were completely unfamiliar.
Over the course of three weeks, Ryan and his cast of seven actors used the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire to explore their own connections to The Art of Learning principles and then present them to other members of the Ithaca College community.
Woven through the entire three-week workshop were multiple opportunities for the actors to practice Learning the Macro from the Micro, Making Smaller Circles, The Power of Presence, and Investment in Loss.  Their daily practice involved mindfulness meditation, games that challenged them to stay present within moments they had rehearsed many times before, and frequent reflections on successes and struggles within each scene with an eye toward incremental progress.
The performance itself continued the exploration of Valuing Process Before Results with each actor undertaking some sort of experiment while performing and then breaking between each scene to answer their questions in front of the audience.  Ryan explained that the performance had a powerful effect on the audience and the performers, many of whom have been inspired to continue to pursue deepening their own learning processes.
“For me, the biggest thing that I realized through this workshop and my own studies with The Art of Learning was that finding this book was like finding a priceless artifact that has been tucked away in your basement for centuries.  The more that you explore the artifact and its limits, you find that not only is the artifact the actual foundation of the house, it is the house.  The Art of Learning is the key to a world that seems like fantasy, but is actually directly at your fingertips if you only reach out for it.”

 

To learn more about Matt Ryan’s independent study workshop, read his Learning Journal post.

Comsewogue High School

PORT JEFFERSON STATION, NY – Andrew Harris is a Special Education Resource Room teacher working with students between the ages of 14 and 18. He describes his students as bright and hard working children with minor learning disabilities, who would benefit from special projects in addition to support with their regular schoolwork.
Harris applied to our book donation program with an interest in starting an Art of Learning book discussion group with some of his students. He hopes that the learning experiences and principles outlined in the book will inspire his students as they develop their own learning paths. “I want my students to appreciate and enjoy the process of learning,” Harris explains.
In addition to the book group, Harris plans to incorporate some of the Resilience principles such as Valuing Process Before Results and Investment in Loss, into his math and writing lessons. With multiple avenues of exposure to the concepts, he believes the students will more easily incorporate the ideas into their own lives.