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The Power of Mindful Learning Paperback – March 17, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1 edition (March 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201339919
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201339918
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Remember those all-nighters back in college--staying up till all hours memorizing the plu-perfect form of the verb avoir or the names and dates of succession of all the kings of England? Now remember facing that final exam and having your mind go blank? According to Professor Ellen J. Langer, author of The Power of Mindful Learning, those sleepless nights and agonizing memorization were probably for naught. In her book, Professor Langer seeks to prove that real learning takes place in a "mindful" environment, one that provides a context for the subject we are studying and allows us to bring something of ourselves into the process. As an example, she points to a study of two groups of piano students, one of which was taught through repetition and memorization of scales, while the other was encouraged to respond to their own thoughts and emotions. The second group became more competent and more creative.

Professor Langer espouses a more holistic approach to teaching than is generally in vogue today. For example, she believes that forgetting can be an essential component to learning: just as smokers who have attempted to quit before have a better chance of succeeding in future attempts, so people who have forgotten information and skills and then relearn them may remember better the second time. The Power of Mindful Learning is sure to raise a great deal of debate among educators, and this is a good thing; after all, what old dog couldn't stand to learn a new trick or two? --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A wonderfully thoughtful and thought-provoking follow-up to the author's earlier study Mindfulness (1989), this time exploring the ill effects of mindlessness in education. After long and careful research, Langer (Psychology/Harvard Univ.) has distilled the basic philosophy of our current, flawed educational system into seven commonly held myths: The basics must be learned so well that they become second nature; paying attention means being focused on one thing at a time; delaying gratification is important; rote memorization is necessary; forgetting is a problem; intelligence is knowing ``what's out there''; and there are right and wrong answers. Showing how many of the problems with education today can be traced to the seven myths and teachers' efforts to mold students with them, Langer counters with five principles of her own, the basis of what she calls ``sideways learning'': openness to novelty; alertness to distinction; sensitivity to different contexts; implicit, if not explicit, awareness of multiple perspectives; and orientation in the present. She offers alternative approaches based on her five principles, with startling results. For example, when Langer and her colleagues rewrote a chapter from a standard text on finance so that facts were presented as conditional rather than absolute, students who were tested on their creative use of the material did significantly better, and enjoyed the reading more, than those using the original text. Langer's arguments are extremely persuasive and supported with meticulous research. While it's not always clear how to implement her findings, especially for the individual who has been trained in the seven-myth method, this is still an invaluable first step to solving many of the problems of our educational system today. An excellent introduction to what might be (and certainly should be) the next paradigm shift in education. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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My eyes were opened!
Howard Aldrich
I would highly recommend anyone wanting to keep learning and personal growth alive throughout their life to read this book.
Daniel Lyle
Langer has performed with kids and students and shows how a new approach and behaviour improves learning.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Binns on November 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
Langer's style is more popular than academic. She presents plenty of empirical evidence to support her ideas, though there may not be enough data to satisfy some scholars. What she does well is challenge conventional wisdom, for example, that you have to learn to do the basics before acquring a new competence. Or, that we should encourage our children to 'pay more attention'. She dissects these beliefs and exposes the relatively shallow assumptions that underpin them. This has had great power for me, and I have tried to apply these insights mindfully.
It is over a year since I first read this book. In that time I have found endless applications for Langer's concept of mindfulness. My training designs have been completely transformed by the idea, backed up by empirical evidence, that teaching people 'steps in a process' is essentially meaningless. I have borrowed constantly in writing and speech from her suggestion that 'conditional' language is more persuassive than 'unconditional'. Most importantly, I have learned to help other people become mindful about solving their problems in my coaching work.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Ms. Langer effectively conveys her theory of mindful learning and its implications for education wherever it takes place - in school, on the job, in the home - and does so in a clearly expressed nonacademic manner.
What is mindful learning? It is learning that involves "openness to novelty; alertness to distinction; sensitivity to different contexts; implicit, if not explicit, awareness of multiple perspectives; and orientation in the present." What might this all mean for us? Perhaps our educational curriculums need to be taught differently, maybe our jobs could be more enjoyable, and self-improvement less onerous.
She states the myths of conventional learning:
1.The basics must be learned so well that they become second nature.
2.Paying attention means being focused on one thing at a time.
3.Delaying gratification is important.
4.Rote memorization is necessary.
5.Forgetting is a problem.
6.Intelligence is knowing "what's out there."
7.There are right and wrong answers.
Each chapter discusses, in a nondogmatic manner, theory and possible reasons why these myths are not always helpful.
This is not, as Professor Langer states, a "how-to" book with prescriptions and study programs for the self-help "professional learner" (as one reviewer phrased it.) It doesn't have cute little "mind-maps," and it isn't a De Bono's "Thinking Course"-type book. The reviewer (Adamson, January 22, 1999) might have learned something if he'd been less smug about his naive faith in those "accelerated" learning books which don't deliver half of what they claim.
Personally, I found this book extremely helpful in my own personal studies - from learning to play tennis and golf better, becoming more fluent in Spanish, improving my chess - since I try to find alternative methods, perspectives, and just plain fun in learning. I don't try to be perfect. I don't think there's only one way to do something. Try it.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Howard Aldrich on March 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
I read this book from the perspective of a college teacher, looking for new ways to think about what goes on in the classroom. My eyes were opened! Langer argues that learning need not be boring and students don't have to think of education as "work." She suggests ways to re-frame activities in ways that engage students in what they are doing and give them a reason to care about the outcomes.
Langer attacks the myth that rote learning & blind memorization are the foundation for higher-order skills. She makes a strong case that "forgetting" is often a good thing. Teachers should be concerned about students understanding the contextual limitations of what they learn, rather than with "covering the material."
Coupled with Bob Boice's several books on mindfulness in teaching, this book changed the way I think about college teaching.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By "frankkr" on April 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ellen Langer has taken a thought and put great amounts of research into it. It is said that knowledge capital decreases quickly in our information-based society, so not only must we keep ourselves up to date on current changes--we must also re-evaluate the old facts we've learned. Langer points out six myths and explains them away with research to support it. One of those myths and our perception have made us medicalize an academic deficiency. We have medically treated many children, diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, when the educational system including parents do not understand that the student is being distracted by something else more attractive. The idea here is to make our learning more attractive than it currently is by allowing a more creative and questioning environment. I watched a 30-minute PBS special with Ellen Langer discussing her book and have read the book--her interview was much better and to the point. However, her book questions five other myths all related to the fact that the environment changes. To leave you with my favorite sentence in the book--it will give you a taste of what the book is about--"Not only do we as individuals get locked into single-minded views, but we also reinforce these views for each other until the culture itself suffers the same mindlessness."
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