A Pedagogy for Life

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In my profile, I mention the synergy I often experience between my career life and my personal life. The past few weeks proved to be no exception. As an instructional coach in elementary education, my role allows me to engage with teachers about maintaining a growth mindset while working together to ensure our practices maximize student learning. Recently, many of my discussions with my colleagues focused on a process called the CRA Model when teaching mathematics. It’s a practice that takes students from Concrete, to Representational, and then to Abstract ways of thinking in order to develop mathematical reasoning and conceptual understanding. I’ve witnessed the powerful effectiveness of this instructional practice with students and wondered…Can this CRA process help us to reason and conceptually understand life lessons as well?

For context, allow me to briefly explain why CRA is used and how it unfolds. Most of us learned math by memorizing basic facts, math rules, procedural steps, and math tricks to solve a problem. (Remember this one? 1, 4, and 7 have only straight lines so 4+7=11.) These traditional practices of simply memorizing facts and rules have done little to foster a conceptual understanding of why the math works. The CRA model begins by placing CONCRETE materials in the hands of students to physically build the math with manipulatives such as base ten blocks, counters, or an abacus to name a few. The REPRESENTATIONAL phase transitions students from hands-on to two-dimensional models like drawings, charts, or even videos. Then with strong connections between the concrete and representational, students will be able to think and reason with math in ABSTRACT ways using numerals and mathematical symbols.

 C (What we DO in life?): In life, our physical environment and realities become the concrete phase of our personal growth. Each day we maneuver ourselves among loved ones, colleagues, and strangers while learning with every interaction the way we fit into the world and how the world views us. In this physical realm, we’re also defined by labels relating to gender, race, education, politics, age, and so much more. All of this gives us a very literal, or concrete, view of our existence causing us to generalize about expectations and boundaries based on what we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. It is where our life lessons are revealed. All of our experiences provide what we need for our healing and growth. If we remain in this phase, we limit ourselves to a superficial way of life because our thinking and reactions would focus only on the physical acts and material things.

R(How we SEE life?):To avoid remaining in the concrete phase, there are options available to guide us into the representational phase. The creative spirits among us write about experiences in the physical realm. We read or write articles, journal entries, op-ed pieces, poems, books, and yes, blogs. We also enjoy artistic expressions like painting, photography, or sculptures. These are all samplings of the ways we transition our thinking from the concrete to the representational. Here, we reflect on how we function in our daily experiences and begin to make meaning of our relationships. We inspect and ask questions about why things happen and whether limitations truly exist. This phase opens our minds to consider how our beliefs hinge upon experiences in our physical realm. Our awareness expands from the contemplation, dialogue, and discourse sparked by all the various representations created in this phase. For this reason, it’s extremely valuable to have thought partners to bravely exchange insights in the spirit of vulnerability and non-judgement. So often, inspiring discussions with my own thought partners create a safe space to unveil both fears and revelations that lead to profound shifts in my Being.

A(Who we are BECOMING in life?): Shifting into the abstract phase moves us to consider things that don’t exist physically.  We examine deeper meanings and broader ideas like compassion, consciousness, enlightenment, or the soul. The connections established from the concrete phase to the representational phase act as a bridge into the far reaches of possibilities and imagination. It is in this phase that we search for personal purpose and life’s meaning. We also re-examine our beliefs and begin to shed the beliefs that no longer serve us.

For me, the CRA Model serves as an analogy for how I am experiencing my personal growth and development. I am most certainly a work in progress and some days are better than others. However, I do understand that there are a few practices that sustain me. My meditation practice helps me to be present and therefore be keenly observant of my physical realities. Additionally, my creative practices of writing and visual art help to both express and make meaning of my daily living.  And, as stated ealier, there are deeply cherished talks with my thought partners. (You know who you are. I love and thank you.)These practices lead me to find relevance and purpose that extend beyond the tangible to the realm of infinite possibilities which is accessible to each of us.

Think about a meaningful lesson you have recently learned in your life. Did you experience each phase of the CRA Model? Why or why not? I invite each of you to consider this interpretation of the CRA Model for a week.   Try the following:

  • Be a keen witness to your interactions each day.
  • Write a list of your thoughts and reactions to your experiences and to the people you encountered.
  • Reflect on what beliefs informed your thoughts and reactions.
  • What patterns to you see in your thoughts? What lessons are being revealed to you?

Be courageous!

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