SHANGHAI, CHINA – Le Xue She (Love Learning) and the For Next Generation movement was founded by Oscar Cui to address the internet addiction and disinterest in learning that he witnessed amongst teenagers in China. Time and again he saw students become addicted to the internet because they were bored with the subjects they were learning in school and discouraged from pursuing their own outside interests.
“I started this movement to help young kids deal with their internet addiction by teaching them how to learn,” Cui explains. “I want them to know that there is a way they can learn both what they really want and the school subjects as well. The way is to learn how to learn, i.e., The Art of Learning.”
The goal of the For Next Generation project is to help students uncover, cultivate, and apply their strengths through an exploration of The Art of Learning principles. The initial phase of the program is a 10 session online reading group. For each session, participants read selected chapters of the book, answer introspective questions from The Art of Learning Project’s resource guides, share and discuss their thoughts and experiences of the principles, and take turns leading the reading group. Participants work on exploring difficulties they’re having in their lives through the lens of TAOL principles, and using those principles to find resources, knowledge and experience to address the problems.
At the end of the first 10 day course, one student shared, “The Art of Learning gives me a new way of thinking about learning. We cannot live without learning. We have continued to learn since we were very young, but I have a sense of powerlessness when it comes to learning. However, with this book, you see a well-structured learning system. What is more, you can discover yourself in the book. Growth mindset and fixed mindset exist in our everyday lives, but we do not notice them. I am encouraged and passionate about learning after reading this book. It is an amazing experience!”
In the second phase of the program, Cui will offer an online course focused on specific Resilience and Peak Performance principles that the students feel will best address their areas of interest and need. By Listening First, they will discover their personal approaches to learning and begin to apply it to their study of the principles.
In time, Cui plans to develop a third tier of the program to spread The Art of Learning throughout China by recruiting and training others who will lead study groups across the country.
WASHINGTON DC – The Whittle School and Studios is a prek-12 independent school with an interdisciplinary and mastery based approach to learning. Katarina Slobodova, the Assistant Director of Admissions, Upper School Advisor, and occasional parkour coach, is bringing The Art of Learning principles to her 9th and 10th grade advisory group.
The advisory group meets three times per week and is designed to support students in developing a deeper understanding of themselves as learners, an understanding of the thematic interconnectedness of their academic and athletic pursuits, and a sense of independence and ownership over their learning processes. Slobodova is designing a series of lessons that incorporate The Art of Learning principles into this work. They are beginning by exploring what it means to have a growth mindset and the impact that has on how they work toward academic improvement. They will also look at the balance between personal achievement and the needs of the group or community, how to use a Beginner’s Mind approach in both new and familiar pursuits, and how the principles of Listening First and Using Adversity can help students develop agency over their own learning.
“Reflecting about many of the lessons from The Art of Learning with Katy has helped me move from personal development to professional development,” Slobodova explains. “Resources like The Teacher’s Guide to The Art of Learning have reminded me that a process-oriented mindset (rather than results-oriented) can be shared with students simply by being cognizant about our language use as teachers.”
FLORENCE, KY – Bryan McCartney is the owner and lead teacher at Heartseed Studio, providing private music instruction for students ages 5 through adult. In addition to private lessons, McCartney has taught the music course Guitar Methods at Cincinnati Christian University to music students interested in learning the guitar.
In his time as a music teacher, McCartney has discovered that many students struggle with internal motivation and maintaining a daily structure that allows for dedicated time to improve their musical skills. McCartney has begun his work with The Art of Learning Project with a focus on building his students’ internal motivation. Using the principle of Valuing Process Before Results, he is teaching his students to shift their focus from the end goal of a perfect performance to the incremental steps they need to take along the way. As they meet these incremental goals and see the progress that comes with intentional and focused practice, they will develop a deeper motivation to continue to strive and grow.
Live performances at a local Chick Fil A provide opportunities for Using Adversity and Investment in Loss. The experience of playing in front of an audience gives McCartney’s students the opportunity to practice channeling heightened emotions into higher levels of performance. They have also begun to look at the feedback they have received from these performances to explore how they can continue to improve and grow as musicians.
“One thing that really hit me in The Art of Learning was the idea of finding your inner rest, and creating a series of habits to unlock that rest,” McCartney explained. “I really like this idea of knowing yourself so well, and finding a way to maximize your time when you need to, that you can access calmness in any moment. This is something I hope to teach my students.”
The Wuwei Princeton Academy (for SuperKids!) offers an intensive curriculum in Tai Chi, mindfulness, and optimal performance to help children (grades 2 – 6) thrive. Founder and teacher, Mackenzie Hawkins, had been indirectly incorporating TAOL themes into her classes and wanted to begin teaching the themes directly to the young students who had been studying Tai Chi with her for the past three years. She hoped the themes would facilitate her students’ deeper investigation of how and what they were learning in Tai Chi. The Art of Learning Project’s vision—“When children explore how they learn they become empowered…”—became the main objective for their 12-week semester.
This required teaching TAOL themes directly to young children who were too young to learn them from reading and discussing The Art of Learning book itself. At the same time, Mackenzie didn’t want to teach TAOL themes without, as she said, “the sense of how this one person [Josh Waitzkin] is exploring all of this and taking all of this on. I would like to share that sense with my young students somehow because that’s the role model that helps it feel so real and interconnected.”
Mackenzie used short quotes from the book and The Art of Learning Project website for some of the themes and also wrote 8 short “Josh Stories,” illustrating themes from The Art of Learning book, which the young children could easily read and discuss in class. One story in particular (“The Boy Who Hadn’t Lost in a Year”) had an immediate impact on several of the students, enabling them to take on harder challenges with less stress. Mackenzie wrote after class that day, “As a teacher, I just can’t tell you how grateful I am for this.” She joked that Waitzkin’s stories should come with a caution label: May impact lives!
To further make TAOL themes more accessible for younger children, Mackenzie gave the learning themes more immediately descriptive names with easier words for kids, as well as linked them to visual cards (and stickers) based on the icons from The Art of Learning Project website. (Mackenzie created a Carving our Path PDF to give an overview of how she adapted the theme names and grouped them into three categories: Guiding, Discovering, and Applying. There are also PDFs of TAOL theme cards with the original names in the Tools for Educators and Coaches section of our website.)
For the first half of the semester, the children practiced and learned Tai Chi, using the challenges and reflections built into their SuperKid Game to explore their own learning through TAOL themes. During the second half of the semester, the children were given the challenge of designing their own Tai Chi independent practice plans based on TAOL themes, executing these plans in 10-15 minute practice sessions, and journaling about their experience. Mackenzie was thrilled with how the themes gave students both freedom and structure as learners because students could practice any aspect of Tai Chi they wanted to—in any way they wanted to—while using TAOL themes in doing so. With their heightened engagement and sense of self-reliance, the children naturally deepened their practice of Tai Chi during these independent practice sessions. Mackenzie wrote, “I can’t teach kids this ‘from the outside.’ Only when SuperKids are empowered as ‘captains’ of their own learning experience can they learn at this level.” (Throughout the semester, Mackenzie wrote in-depth parent emails describing the journey she and her students took together, including many samples of student work and comments. You can find her Wuwei Princeton Parent Emails – TAOL here.)
To “bring it all together” as a capstone project for the semester, the children could pick any skill that they wanted to get better at, such as playing a sport or musical instrument, and use TAOL themes to design, execute, and journal 12 independent practice sessions over 4 weeks in order to be awarded the Declaration of Independent Learner Badge.
In the final weeks, the children also prepared to host their Being Your Best Summit where they would have Q&A about learning with a very special guest, jazz musician Rudresh Mahanthappa. Through the lens of TAOL themes, the children read transcripts of Mahanthappa’s insights into how he excels as a jazz improviser and composer. Mackenzie reported that the children loved making “webs of connections” between the themes and would eagerly discuss how interrelated they are with each other. The children each gave BestX Talks (their own version of Tedx Talks) at their Being Your Best Summit, and one of the children’s speeches is featured in the Learning Journal Blog post “A Real Learner”. Another student’s “webs of learning connections” and TAOL insight notes are available under Student Work.
“What I have loved so much about the learning themes,” says Mackenzie, “is that they’ve been a way for us to connect the very specific to the very general—and everything in-between. There’s been a lot of moments this semester, when I’ve felt like saying, ‘Whoa—and wow!’” She continues, “It’s my poorly-kept secret that I teach what I need myself and what I wish I had learned earlier. What if I could have grown up with learning themes and with the sense of empowerment about my own learning process that came with them? What if I could have grown up with a role model showing how it was possible to develop oneself as a learner (of anything)? That would have been cool—and oh so helpful.”
Introduction and comments by Mackenzie Hawkins, founder/teacher, Wuwei Princeton Academy
12-year-old Anurag has been learning Tai Chi at the Wuwei Princeton Academy (for SuperKids!) for the past three years with his teacher Mackenzie Hawkins. In the Spring semester of 2019, they used The Art of Learning themes to explore how they learn Tai Chi in order to empower themselves as learners generally. At the end of the semester, the students each gave a talk at their Being Your Best Summit to share with parents and friends what they thought were the most important lessons. Below is SuperKid Anurag’s speech with explanatory commentary from Mackenzie.
SuperKid Anurag: This semester we learned about learning about learning. To practice this skill, for four weeks I worked on applying what I learned to improve my skills in basketball, and my improvement was more significant than just trying to do it.
Mackenzie’s note: As a final challenge, the children could pick any skill that they wanted to get better at (most selected playing a sport or a musical instrument) and design, do, and journal for 12 independent practice sessions using TAOL themes in order to be awarded the Declaration of Independent Learner Badge.
SuperKid: I understood my practice more by not just doing it but by also using the Guiding, Discovering, and Applying themes I learned in class. With the themes I expanded, connected, and found ways to improve the quality of my practice.
Mackenzie’s note: The children learned 16 of the unifying TAOL themes this semester, and we found it helpful to see the connections between them by having 4 Guiding themes, 4 Discovering themes, and 8 Applying themes. Our aim was to explore in order to empower our learning (as stated in the vision of TAOL Project), so this Independent Learner challenge was a critical test for us! We wanted to make sure that learning about learning wasn’t just interesting or something that we used to help our Tai Chi practice in class but that it also helped us find ways to improve our learning process on our own—no matter what we wanted to get better at.
SuperKid: This semester we were taught the themes by learning the stories of a man named Josh Waitzkin, a chess champion and Tai Chi Push-Hands winner and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt. But what inspired me most about Josh Waitzkin was his ability—his skill—of mastering how to learn. By learning about learning, he mastered three sports and is working hard on another. In a way, he is a real learner.
Mackenzie’s note: We read many passages from The Art of Learning over the semester. We also read 8 “Josh Stories,” illustrating each of the 8 Applying themes, that I wrote with younger readers in mind. In this way, Josh Waitzkin could be our role model, even though the students were a bit young overall for the book itself. By the end of the semester, though, several of the 12-year-old students became quite determined to read the complete book!
SuperKid: “But what is a real learner?” one might ask. “What is a student and what is a teacher?” A learner is a student who learns from himself and is a teacher who teaches himself. Also the best teacher and student is a learner.
Mackenzie’s note: All through the semester, we had an ongoing discussion about what is the role of a teacher, what is the role of a student, and what is the role of a learner. This was inspired by yet another quote from Josh Waitzkin: “And when there is no one to look in; no one to give feedback or cheer us on, a keen but relaxed focus will enable us to motivate and monitor ourselves.” That made a big impression on our SuperKids. They talked about how it was like you had to be your own teacher. During their independent Tai Chi practices in the second half of the semester, the children began to experience how important—and actually fun—it was for them to be “captains” of their own learning process. In these practices, we focused primarily on the four Discovering themes: All-In, Slow-Repeat, Inner-Compass, and Ever-New. (We gave TAOL themes more immediately descriptive names with easier words for kids, so these themes correspond to The Power of Presence, Making Smaller Circles, Intuition: Developing the internal compass, and Beginner’s Mind.)
SuperKid: My favorite themes by far were the Guiding theme Work-Together and the Applying theme No-Walls. Work-Together is everything. It is the parts of the whole and the whole of the parts. It is working All-In and the Basics-for-Everything. It is Ever-New and Respondable-Flow, and Slow-Repeat and Dig-in-Deep. It is all the themes in one. And No-Walls connects to it. No-Walls is connecting everything you learn, which, in a way, is Work-Together.
Mackenzie’s note: In class we had some great debates about how the themes were very interconnected. For example, Josh Waitzkin advised Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion Emily Kwok to remember this before her finals: “At my core, I am dynamic quality.” In many ways, one could see the 4 Guiding themes as perspectives to better understand that; the 4 Discovering themes as perspectives to better perceive it; and the 8 Applying themes as common—and often critical—scenarios in learning and life where we can tend to have a more stressed or fixed perspective so it’s really important to apply it!
If translated back into the original theme names, Anurag’s speech would be as follows:
SuperKid (translated into original theme names): My favorite themes by far were the Guiding theme Bringing It All Together and the Applying theme Breaking Down Walls. Bringing It All Together is everything. It is the parts of the whole and the whole of the parts. It is working with Power of Presence and Master the Fundamentals. It is Beginner’s Mind and The Soft Zone, and Making Smaller Circles and Learning Macro from Micro. It is all the themes in one. And Breaking Down Walls connects to it. Breaking Down Walls is connecting everything you learn, which, in a way, is Bringing It All Together.
SuperKid: All in all, I learned a lot about learning about learning that can help improve my learning. Next year I am planning to do this to try to work on other skills. This semester was very fun and interesting and was the perfect end to my SuperKid Tai Chi experience.
Mackenzie’s note: I’m so glad that we were able to have this semester together before SuperKid Anurag and his sister SuperKid Anushri moved to another state. For the past three years, they had learned Tai Chi with me twice a week, all through the academic year, from age 9 to age 12. If it weren’t for this semester’s focus on learning how to learn, I would feel some deep regrets about how much I hadn’t been able to teach them. But with TAOL themes, I feel that I was able share to with them the most important thing I could as a teacher: how they could be empowered learners—real learners. They are ready for their next learning adventure.
KAMPALA, UGANDA – Aleksandar Dimitrov spent three months working as a volunteer with Erasmus+ and the European Voluntary Service in conjunction with the Kawempe Youth Development Association Uganda. The project is designed to empower Ugandan youth through educational and vocational training and improvement of personal well-being with an aim to provide the students with the resources and skills necessary to better their living and employment situations for the long term.
One of Dimitrov’s volunteer responsibilities was to teach a business course to a group of Ugandan young women who had previously received vocational training in hairdressing and tailoring. He was eager to explore how The Art of Learning principles could support his students in deepening their understanding of business concepts and their drive to become life-long learners, as well as how to improve his own skills as a teacher. Dimitrov had his students work in groups in the interest of building community and to provide opportunities for the less outgoing students to participate in projects and discussions. Utilizing the principle of Listening First, he explored how each student approached the learning process and began to structure group makeup accordingly. By understanding student strengths he made a plan for how best to group them to bring out their knowledge and build upon their skill sets. He also found that by Listening First to his students, they would often assign themselves roles within the group that best fit their personal learning styles.
A long term goal Dimitrov held for his students was that they become curious and inspired learners with an ability to envision future scenarios. “This is a challenge,” Dimitrov explained “because there is a scarcity of basic needs such as food and housing, making it difficult to discuss and learn about some of the more complex educational and learning concepts.” Unemployment is a serious problem for young women in Kampala. Through the practice of envisioning a future in which they use their skills and vocational training, Dimitrov believes his students will develop an understanding of the possibilities for a future in which they are able to support themselves financially, and begin to develop a plan for how to do so. He is interested in further exploring the concept of Loving the Game to help his students build intrinsic motivation and to embrace learning challenges. “Painting the big picture is most important for me,” he explained, “This has to do with teaching these teenage girls to push themselves, not wait to be pushed to do the work they are best at.” As they begin to experience success with developing their business plans, he believes they will develop a love for the challenge itself, spurring them on toward a brighter and more sustainable future.
Dimitrov is in the process of creating a manual to be used by future volunteers in Uganda. He hopes that the practice of exploring The Art of Learning principles and helping the students deepen their passion for learning will extend well beyond his time with the organization.