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The Natural Learning Research

Institute
P.O. Box 1867, 54385 Pine Crest Avenue,

NLRI Idyllwild, California, 92549


Phone: 951-659-0152 Fax: 951-659-0242
http:// naturallearninginstitute.googlepages.com

NATURAL LEARNING:
THE BASIS FOR RAISING AND SUSTAINING HIGH STANDARDS OF REAL
WORLD PERFORMANCE

GEOFFREY CAINE, LL.M.


RENATE N. CAINE, PH.D.

A Position Paper prepared for and published by


The Natural Learning Research Institute.
Naturallearninginstitute.googlepages.com
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Executive Summary 3

Chapter 1 Principles of Natural Learning 11

Chapter 2 The Perception/Action Dynamic of Living Systems 14

Chapter 3 Teaching with Natural Learning in Mind 20

Chapter 4 Natural Learning Outcomes 25

Chapter 5 Implications for Education in the United States 28

A Call to Raise the Standards of the Debate about Raising Educational Standards. 33

Appendix 1 The Systems Principles of Natural Learning Wheel 35


Selected Bibliography 36

About the Natural Learning Research Institute 39


Advisory Panel 39
Directors 40
About the Authors 41

© G. Caine and R. Caine, 2007

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Imagine for a moment that all correspondence was still sent by parcel post, cars could not go
faster then 25 miles per hour, and computers were used for no more than writing text. How
would we operate in this global economy and in this century?

If it is not possible to function with outdated tools and services when it comes to survival, how
can we possibly continue to support an educational system that ignores new research on
learning and continues to “educate” using outdated tools? It is not that talented educators have
never tried to bring the 21st century into the classroom. What pulls them back is a collective,
deeply entrenched almost universally endorsed belief in learning as confined to memorization
and teaching as being no more than the transmission of information.

From cognitive psychology to neuroscience, a picture is now emerging of the immense natural
and biologically based capacities for learning that are at the disposal of every child. They
explain how and why it is possible to learn by making sense of experience, gain deep
understanding, pick things up from the context, get a feel for things, engage in creative problem
solving, master self-regulation and take charge of one’s own learning. Both educators and the
larger public are in desperate need of the fruits of this research. It is the only way to
comprehensively raise standards and achieve the goals that the nation has, for both privileged
and unprivileged students, and at all grade levels.

When they graduate from high school, students should be adequately prepared for life, whether
they go to college, enter the work force or start a business. They need to have academic
knowledge and skills, know about the world, be able to make effective life decisions, be creative
and capable of adapting to a changing world, be smart about new information, work well and
effectively with others and, ideally, care about the greater good in some way. The National
Center on Education and the Economy calls most of this “adaptive expertise.” If students are
to do all of this, it is time for educators to master the new world of learning, and for society to
support them in that endeavor.

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The Science of Natural Learning
No Child Left Behind calls for scientifically based education. For that to occur, however, the time
has come to focus on a renewed view of how people learn. There is a natural biological and
psychological process at the heart of developing adaptive expertise, and at the heart of ALL
learning for successful real world outcomes. The essence of natural learning is the engagement of
perception and action. All real world learning either changes the way that people come to see and
interpret things, situations and themselves,or changes the ways in which they act in the world
or think about and plan action. Not surprisingly, biologists and scientists call this the
perception/action cycle.
We call this the natural perception-action dynamic. It is a natural capacity with
which all of us are endowed and by means of which all of us interact with our
world.

Although the overall process is complex, in principle it is very simple. At its most basic, people
observe, act and get feedback. The key is to learn from the feedback.

Perception action feedback new learning

There is more, of course. Beyond the basic stimulus/response level, decision making (either
conscious or unconscious) is involved. And the entire system is always engaged. All aspects of
the process are infused with emotion. The perception/action dynamic engages the body as
well as the mind, social relationships as well as individual effort, attention and purpose, the
physical context as well as all the other capacities and potentials that a person brings into this
life that can be called upon to support personal growth and development (see generally Caine
and Caine, 2001; Caine et. al. 2006).

So it is more like this:

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An infant learns through this natural process. It observes and focuses in on an object, reaches
for it, gets feedback, learns. Adolescents interact with their video games similarly, as do all
people when they play. They get involved, observe, make decisions, act on the basis of their
current skills and knowledge, get feedback, reflect on what they need to change – and thereby
improve. Moral and ethical values become internalized on the basis of action and feedback.
The same process is at the heart of all creative work and the arts. It is the foundation for sports
of all kinds and the essence of scientific research and essential to all innovations. People on the
job learn this way. People with expertise in any field gain mastery by taking charge of their
capacities for natural learning. This process is the biological foundation for making sense of
things – what psychologists call the construction of meaning or constructivism.

The art of effective coaching, mentoring, guiding, parenting, supervising and more,
all engage and capitalize on this natural perception/action dynamic. Unfortunately,
this natural way of learning has largely been discarded at the classroom door. In
most schools there is almost no opportunity to try things out, test perceptions in real
world settings, make authentic decisions in any subject area from history to science,
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get in-the-moment feedback, experience real world consequences and adapt as a
living human being to what is needed.

Outcomes
The brain is known for its ability to change as a result of experience and interaction with the
environment. This is called neural plasticity (Greenough et. al., 1987). The adaptations and
shifts that people experience, and the new knowledge that is generated, is structured in the brain
as neural networks. Fuster (2003) uses the term “cognit” to describe a neural network that
refers to a specific unit of knowledge.

Real world or performance knowledge essentially consists of cognits that are complex enough
to allow a person to perform, change and adapt in, and respond to, ambiguous situations.
Performance knowledge is always a combination of perception and action, infused with
emotion, beliefs and social relationships in a physical context. A physical skill such as playing
basketball or a rigorous scientific procedure is action based, but is also constantly being adjusted
according to the individual’s perception and assessment of what is happening. It is only by
means of experience in which direct instruction is embedded that all the different aspects of
natural learning can work together. Through the natural perception/action dynamic students
can develop as whole and integrated individuals who can both articulate disciplinary
knowledge and apply it in the real world.

The Traditional System has Reached its Limits


The problem of low standards was acknowledged and an attempt made to address it through No
Child Left Behind. On international comparisons in math and science such as TIMSS (2003),
and on reading literacy such as PIRLS (2001), U.S. students exceeded international averages
but lagged significantly behind the leading nations. And on domestic measures such as NAEP
(2005), it was clear that there were also significant achievement gaps between white and black,
white and Hispanic students, and wealthy and poor students.

However there is a deeper problem. The question is not simply one of whether students do well
on tests, and whether scores can be raised, but how well they are prepared for life. That is
much more difficult to measure, and yet there is a wide consensus that the system is failing by
that criterion. That is the essential concern spelled out in Tough Choices or Tough Times ( 2007),
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the report of the NCEE’s Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. The problem
is compounded by the fact that, in our opinion, most of the steps that are taken to improve test
scores – even when they succeed - tend to interfere with preparation for life. Most of NCLB
focuses on standardized tests. And one of the central consequences has been a focus on
standardized, direct instruction. Sometimes, when the conditions are right, this can raise test
scores until they plateau (see e.g. Fullan, Hill and Crevola, 2006) without addressing the
underlying issues or achieving the goals of real world competence.

This messy yet tightly organized process has done a job, after a fashion. After all, most of the
people who are currently successful in life have also been through the traditional education
system. But as reported in Tough Choices or Tough Times (2007), and as leading commentators
such as Michael Fullan and his colleagues have been demonstrating, the current system can not
deliver on what is needed for the future. The essential weakness is an educational model built
on memorization which is supported by an enormous infrastructure and related set of processes
and procedures.

The entire approach is directed AWAY from student decision making and depth of
understanding and does not invite genuine instructional change because it largely
ignores or suppresses the inherent capacities for natural learning that are lying
dormant in each and every learner. Teacher directed learning exclusively based on
memorization allows for little or no possibility to demonstrate real world
competence. Instead, the vast array of standardized tests are assumed to indicate
that the student will succeed in the real world later on in life.

The point is that it is simply not possible to adequately teach for real world performance
without adequately calling upon the real world in learning, teaching and assessment. That has
worked to some extent in the past because the rate of change was slower and after-school
experience filled the gap. Today’s world is radically different. It is massively interconnected
and is technologically and socially volatile. And today’s students are different. They are
growing up in a world where instant text messaging and an unrelenting flow of unsifted
information are the norm.

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Education has to address the nature of learners and the world in which they live. It can succeed
when the latent natural capacities of learners are acknowledged and used. And, paradoxically,
when that happens, scores on standardized tests also improve – and the improvements can be
sustained. We have seen that in our own work with, for instance, a leading edge educational
reform effort in South Australia called “Learning to Learn”.

The nation wants higher standards for all, but it can’t get there based on the
present, limited view of how people learn.

Natural Learning in Education


The role of real life experience in schooling has been a serious question for over a century. The
question is not whether or not people learn from experience. They do because in most
instances they have to: that is how life works.

Education based on natural learning is not the romantic process rightly dismissed by Hirsch
(2005). It is much closer to the goal based scenarios developed by cognitive psychologist Roger
Schank and his colleagues at the Institute for Learning at Northwestern University and used
today by business at the highest levels. Or to the program developed by Dean Kamen through
FIRST! which partners students with engineers and others to use math and science to build
robots that compete with each other in sporting competitions. In these settings students and
adults are immersed in moderately realistic settings where they have to set goals, and then make
the choices and engage in and reflect on the type of application of academic learning that leads
to real world success.

The current thrust of education in the United States is to teach for basic skills (such as basic
competency in reading) and for the memorization of a large number of facts. The essential
next step would be to teach for intellectual understanding of concepts and patterns, as
recommended in Tough Choices Or Tough Times ( 2007). Real world competence within areas of
interest then tends to develop after college and through life experience in those areas –
medicine, marketing, management and other types of work.

The essence of the challenge is to reverse the traditional order of doing things. The key is to
focus on real world performance by fully engaging the perception/action dynamic beginning
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with a student’s first days in education. Concepts, facts, procedures, authentic decision making,
creativity and the enhancement of a student’s inner life can and should be embedded
throughout. The primary focus of assessment can then also be reversed with tests operating as
supplementary aids.

The added benefit from the use of natural learning in academic subjects is that
students develop their brain’s executive functions (Goldberg, 2001) such as the
capacities to set goals, plan and make effective decisions. They come to be able to
examine and monitor their own thinking and reactions in different situations. And
as they constantly develop these capacities through learning in this way, they also are
exposed to opportunities to internalize moral and ethical values essential to becoming
an effective adult.

Getting There from Here


The challenge is complex and difficult. The structure and organization of schools, training of
teachers, management of time, approach to standards and assessment, use of text books and
“teacher proof” materials and many other factors have to shift if genuinely higher standards
based on natural learning and real world performance are to occur.

The question is how best to introduce it into schools. It is a shift that requires a new approach
to teacher development. All the related concerns of discipline, attendance, motivation, safety
and diversity are addressed, but in different ways. We (Caine and Caine, 2005) and many
others, have shown and are showing how it can be done.

There is no option. The current system cannot do an adequate job, particularly in


such a rapidly changing technologically-based world.

The place to begin is with a renewed appreciation of the natural capacities that learners bring to
their lives, and to reframe the goals and practices of education with those natural capacities in
mind. ALL students, including students who are underachieving and deprived, benefit when
more of their natural capacities to learn are called into play during their time in school.

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The time has also come to take a larger and more generous look at the entire question of
education and raising standards. We need to remind ourselves that we are all still learners, and
that the worlds of government and business, spirit and science, conservatives and liberals all
have a role to play. For above all, the standards we set for ourselves and our own willingness
and capacity to work with each other and learn, are the real world standards that we actually
set for our children.

The Natural Learning Research Institute


The NLRI was formed by educators with backgrounds in teaching, administration, research,
neuroscience, biology, government and business for the purpose of making natural learning the
cornerstone of education. It is committed to a collaborative and voluntary approach that makes
learning, not testing, the primary focus for all facets of education. It seeks grants and raises
funds in order to:
• Promote further research that integrates practice with these theoretical perspectives;
• Disseminate its findings as widely as possible;
• Network with individuals and organizations with similar goals;
• Conduct programs for the professional development of educators;
• Facilitate conversations about the future of education; and
• Work with communities to disseminate the more practical aspects of this work.

Its mission, then, is to promote the use of natural learning to raise and sustain high
standards of real world performance across the board.

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CHAPTER 1
PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL LEARNING

A major theme of No Child Left Behind is that educational practices must be grounded in
good science. Peculiarly, the emphasis on research about practices, although mentioned
more than 100 times in the law, makes no reference to research about learning.
Unfortunately, much of the research on teaching practice makes assumptions about how
people learn that are now being called into question.

The social sciences have not been kind to education because the focus has been too narrow.
In the grand sweep of educational psychology, two major strands – behaviorism and
cognitive psychology - have addressed education. Behaviorism was limited in part because
it only looked at behaviors and largely discounted the minds and hearts of learners. And
while cognitive science leapt into the void by exploring more deeply how thinking and the
mind participate in learning, until very recently mainstream cognitive science has
inadequately attended to the links between mind, body and emotions.

And yet over the last century, other fields and disciplines including the neurosciences have
focused on the fact that learning and behavior are complex processes that engage many
aspects of a human being. More recently, research into the nature of expertise and the
therapeutic process have contribute to the emergence of a powerful new science of
learning.

Learning as an Integrated Process


Neuroscience research in particular is calling into question a fundamental belief that has
endured for four hundred years. Ever since the writings of Descartes in the 17th century, it
has been largely assumed that body and mind are separate.

That approach is now being challenged (See e.g. Damasio, 1994; Lakoff and Johnson, 1999).
Body, brain and mind are deeply interconnected. Even though a specific function (such as
hearing sounds or seeing faces) may be separate in some respects, the bottom line is that
each person is an “undissociated whole that interacts with the world as a complete system”
( Damasio, 1994).

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Brain/Mind Learning Principles - Systems Principles of Natural Learning
When body, brain and mind are conceived of as dynamic unity, then it becomes possible to
identify core general aspects of how this system learns: we call them system principles of
natural learning and they cross multiple disciplines.

Because we were intent on integrating research for the purposes of improving education,
we had four criteria in mind that a principle had to meet:
1. The phenomena described by a principle should be universal, and apply to all human beings;
2. A principle should emerge out of research from several different disciplines;
3. A principle should anticipate future research; and
4. A principle should have implications for educational practice

They need to be read as gateways to a vast body of research, and as working at several
different levels simultaneously. In essence, they show how the many aspects of a human
being are engaged in the overall learning process in any field or subject or domain. The
Principles are as follows:

1. Learning is physiological
2. The brain/mind is social.
3. The search for meaning is innate.
4. The search for meaning occurs through patterning
5. Patterning involves the emotions
6. The brain/mind works with parts and wholes simultaneously
7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception
8. Learning is both conscious and unconscious.
9. Knowledge is structured as memory.
10. Learning is developmental.
11. Learning is inhibited by threat associated with helplessness and/or fatigue.
12. Each brain is uniquely organized.

We have introduced and discussed the science behind the principles, which we initially
called “brain/mind learning principles,” and their practical implications, in a series of
publications beginning in 1990 (Caine and Caine 1990, 1994, 1997, 2001; Caine et.al., 2005).

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There is no necessary sequence of principles. Rather each supports and connects with all
the others. Accordingly we show them in a circle, as seen in Appendix l.

The problem for educators is there are too many variables that influence learning. A way
needs to be found to integrate all of this, both conceptually and practically.

The answer lies in one of the fundamental characteristics of living systems.

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CHAPTER 2
THE PERCEPTION/ACTION DYNAMIC OF LIVING SYSTEMS

The central underlying dynamic that drives the natural learning process, and that engages
all the principles described above, is what biologists call the perception/action cycle
(Fuster, 2003).

Simply put, all organisms in the real world have to do two basic things in order to survive:
• They have to gather information about their environment and themselves
(perception) and
• based on this information, they have to manipulate their environment, and
themselves, in a way that is advantageous to them (action).

As a result of acting, the organism gets feedback - new information from the world and
from itself. That feedback provides the guidance about how the organism needs to act next
time. This may cause a change in the organism and in its capacity to perceive or way of
perceiving. This can also lead to changes in the capacity of the organism to act and/or to
perform different types of action. In short and it learns.

In human beings the process is more complex and we therefore call it the natural
perception-action dynamic. At its most basic, people observe, act and get feedback. The key
is to learn from the feedback.

Perception) action feedback new learning

The perception/action dynamic operates at different levels. For instance there is the
natural, spontaneous engagement and interaction of perception, decision and action in
every moment of life. Then there are the more complex, long term projects and activities
that call for goal setting and planning over time, such as any research project. So the
dynamic functions at two levels: in part it is automatic and “instant,” and in part it is
extended over time for the purpose of projects and other activities.

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The Perception/Action Dynamic Involves the Whole Person
All of the system principles of natural learning described in Section 1 come into play in the
course of the natural perception/action dynamic. It is a living system process that uses the
whole system. For instance:

• Every situation in which a person finds him or her self is framed, to some extent, by
what the person cares about and is trying to accomplish – the search for meaning;

• The situation is perceived in terms of the patterns – categories and constructs – that
have been developed over time, and this awareness is colored by the person’s
emotional state;

• The situation involves a whole physical context and a scenario of some sort that is
playing itself out, and while some aspects of the context are selected for attention,
the rest is still having an impact on what is being perceived and the decision making
process;

• The person’s interpretation of what is happening is taking place at both conscious


and unconscious levels, and engages a host of different but interconnected
memories;

• The action that is taken calls for the implementation of performance knowledge
structured in memory;

• All of this is influenced and shaped by the person’s past and present social
awareness and context;

• And the person’s state of consciousness and capacity to take charge of and regulate
his or her reactions and behavior play a large part in what transpires now and in
plans for the future.

Thus, the process looks more like this:

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In very general terms, then, at the heart of natural learning is the process of making sense
of experience. Psychologists call it the construction of meaning or constructivism. Among
the fathers of constructivism are Piaget (1972) and Vygotsky (1978). The construction of
meaning, we now know, is a whole-system process that involves both individuals and the
societies in which they live, with the perception/action dynamic at its core.

An infant learns through this natural process. It observes and focuses in on an object, reaches
for it, gets feedback, learns. Adolescents interact with their video games similarly, as do all
people when they play. They get involved, observe, make decisions, act on the basis of their
current skills and knowledge, get feedback, reflect on what they need to change – and thereby
improve. Moral and ethical values become internalized on the basis of action and feedback.
The same process is at the heart of all creative work and the arts. It is the foundation for sports
of all kinds and the essence of scientific research and essential to all innovations. People on the
job learn this way. People with expertise in any field gain mastery by taking charge of their

16
capacities for natural learning. This process is the biological foundation for making sense of
things – what psychologists call the construction of meaning or constructivism.

The art of effective coaching, mentoring, guiding, parenting, supervising and more,
all engage and capitalize on this natural perception/action dynamic. Unfortunately,
this natural way of learning has largely been discarded at the classroom door. In
most schools there is almost no opportunity to try things out, test perceptions in real
world settings, make authentic decisions in any subject area from history to science,
get in-the-moment feedback, experience real world consequences and adapt as a
living human being to what is needed.

The Role of Decision Making


The perception/action dynamic is driven in large measure by decision making (Fuster,
2003). People are always making decisions. Some decisions are conscious, some are
unconscious. Some are instant, and others take time. They include decisions about what to
attend to, how to act, how to interpret feedback and more. Thousands upon thousands of
decisions are made as people “cognitively interact” with their world of daily experience.

But all decision making is not the same. Elkohhenon Goldberg (2001) has proposed a very
elegant and useful distinction between types of decisions. According to Goldberg,
veridical decisions are either right or wrong. An example might be naming the capital of
Georgia. Actor [learner] centered adaptive decisions, on the other hand, are called for
every time a person is in an ambiguous situation and has to work out a path of action, such
as who to vote for in an election. An example might be: “what is the best way to get to
Georgia?” Veridical decisions confirm or dispute a known truth; adaptive decisions refine
ways of perceiving and acting.

So the adjustments and adaptations that people make is a consequence of the feedback that
comes from the decisions they make and the actions they take in countless real world
situations. It is at the heart of the way that infants learn in the moment (Gopnik et. al.,
1999). And, although often functioning at a different and deeper level, it is at the heart of
the naturalistic decision making found in the literature and research exploring the
development of expertise (Zsambok and Klein, 1997).
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Most schooling, unfortunately, is full to the brim with veridical questions and decisions.
Actor centered questions and decisions – those for which there is personal responsibility
resulting in real world consequences – are largely excluded from the curriculum.
However, they are the primary focus of student concerns in the playground, in social
relationships in the classroom, after school and outside school. They drive the influence of
technology and ways in which students use technology to interact and entertain
themselves. That is why the lives of so many students are more impacted by what they
experience on the play ground and in video arcades than by what they experience in the
classroom.

Action
Decisions lead to actions. A person will join a particular group, participate in a specific
event, try out different things, dress in particular ways, visit particular places, behave in
specific ways and so on.

Feedback
Actions lead to consequences. Other people respond, the environment may change, new
information may become available, a person’s inner state may shift and more. All of this is
feedback, to be interpreted, assessed and responded to. In addition, the provision of
feedback can also be a more formal process in which others assess or evaluate decisions
and actions.

Learning
Learning occurs when a person is able to capitalize on the feedback, and adapt and adjust
as appropriate. The key, ultimately, is for a person to be able to monitor him or her self
and take charge of his or her own learning. Psychologists approach this capacity in many
ways, through such notions as emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1995) , self-regulated
learning (Boekarts and Corno, 2005), metacognition (Perfect and Schwartz, 2002) and what
Costa and Kallik (2000) call “habits of mind.” Schon (1990) captures the overall process in
his notion of “the reflective practitioner.”

Neuroscientists deal with this self-monitoring and reflective capacity in terms of what they
call the executive functions of the prefrontal cortex (see e,g, Goldberg, 2001). When the

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perception/action cycle is engaged, and people have to make decisions in ambiguous
situations and then live with the consequences, the executive functions are invoked. They
include (Denkla, 1999) the abilities to:
• engage working memory, which involves future goals, and not being easily
distracted;
• use reason, assess risk, and make sense of ideas and behavior;
• moderate emotions;
• see ahead or have a sense of an extended future;
• demonstrate flexibility in thinking and be able to shift or add tasks
• think critically and creatively;
• reflect and engage in self-critical consciousness and metacognition.

The prefrontal cortex is primed to mature in late adolescence. However, like other
capacities, that maturation needs to be supported by appropriate experience which
includes multiple opportunities to make adaptive decisions, beginning early in life and
continuing throughout adolescence.

Unfortunately, the consequence of traditional schooling - in which adaptive decision


making is so neglected - is that maturation of the prefrontal cortex and the executive
functions is undermined throughout the k-12 schooling experience.

So the challenge for education can now be reformulated:


The challenge is to guide and support the operation of the natural but complex
perception/action dynamic for the purpose of helping students grapple with
their curriculum in a rigorous way that also develops the basic capacities of
brain and mind that are the birthright of every student.

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CHAPTER 3
TEACHING WITH NATURAL LEARNING IN MIND

In order to be implemented successfully, the perception-action cycle requires students to be


asking questions of personal interest, and to think in ways that call for personal choices
about actions, and to experience feedback that enhances, and does not destroy, initiative.

This is not to discount direct instruction, which is often essential for both infants and
experts. It is to advocate embedded direct instruction, which works with specifics in steps
where necessary, but should take place within a larger experiential context.

We have developed a frame of reference to help educators grasp the way the process works
and that can guide them in their own actor centered decision making (Caine and Caine
2001, 2005). It integrates three elements and conditions that together effectively engage the
perception/action dynamic. They are as follows:

1. Relaxed alertness: All learning is impacted by the state of mind of the


leaner and the atmosphere in a learning environment. The systems
principles of natural learning suggest that the optimal state of mind and
atmosphere are what we call relaxed alertness. It consists of
• A combination of high challenge and high expectations with low
threat in the learning community as a whole; and a
• state of mind that combines confidence, competence and intrinsic
motivation.
When in this state of mind, students are ready and able to respond to appropriate
exposure to the subject matter of the curriculum by asking questions that
personally engage them, and so the perception/action dynamic is usefully
engaged.

The core foundation for developing relaxed alertness is an orderly (but not rigid)
and caring community in which healthy relationships based on respectful and
coherent procedures are infused throughout.

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2. Orchestrated immersion in adequate experience: The only way to
simultaneously engage the many processes and capacities reflected in the
system principles of natural learning is through complex experience. That is
because life experience is the context within which the perception/action
dynamic operates.

The way to translate this into education is to orchestrate the immersion of


learners in experiences in which content standards are embedded. More
specifically, students need opportunities to do such things as:
• Physically interact with what is to be learned or understood.
• Make associations or have opportunities to recognize how what is
being experienced links to what they already know.
• Frame their own actor (learner) centered adaptive questions.
• Research the world of formal knowledge, which includes what experts
know about the students’ questions.
• Be where those who are more expert in the subject matter can be
imitated and where they can participate in natural conversations about
the subject matter.
• Pick up concepts and procedures by osmosis, simply by being in places
where the subject matter is being lived, just as people pick up much of
their culture and first language.
• Create products or perform in ways that call for the use of vocabulary,
concepts and skills tied to real world standards.
• Receive feedback on their work.
• Use the new knowledge in spontaneous situations.

3. Active processing of experience:


Although experience is essential, students do not automatically learn all that they
need to learn just be being immersed in experience. The key is for the teacher to
move away from providing information to assuring that students have many
opportunities to receive feedback digest, think about, question, examine and
process what they are experiencing – guided by teachers and the questions asked
by teachers and others. This continuous and personal engagement by students is

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what we mean by active processing. Active processing, therefore, constantly
shapes the perception/action dynamic and ensures that cycles are constantly
completed and reinvigorated.

Active processing should include, where appropriate:


• Detailed sensory observation;
• Deliberate practice and rehearsal;
• Making links to previous learning;
• Multiple modes of questioning;
• Incorporation of expert knowledge;
• Analysis of data and sources;
• Ongoing reflection on feedback; and
• Expansion of capacities for self-discipline and self-regulation.

Active processing is doubly useful because it simultaneously provides feedback


for both teachers and students while it can be used to expand and deepen student
thinking. As Fullan and his colleagues point out (2006), the timing of feedback and
the timing of responses to feedback is critical. In this way formative and
summative assessment are largely integrated.

These three elements and their components do not need to occur in a linear or sequential
fashion. Rather, they should be seen as a triple helix, with each element supporting and
being a part of the other two.

In this way the perception/action dynamic is engaged, all of the capacities spelt out by the
principles of natural learning find a voice, and the outcome is the continuous growth of
real world competence.

A Comment on Technology
Whether we like it or not, students are immersed in a world of technology that inundates
them with information, images, suggestions and sounds, and that enables them to network
with each other and with others beyond the boundaries of a school, state or nation. That is
becoming their natural world. It is also a world that activates the perception/action
dynamic constantly and, usually, without much guidance.

22
The approach to teaching that we spell out in these pages provides a way to use the world
of technology in the service of rigorous standards. Students have opportunities to use
technology pursue their interests, interact with each other, research information and
participate in complex projects and activities.

How to Do it
Bringing the natural/perception dynamic into most classrooms is difficult. Educators tend
not to see the connection between school learning and natural learning, and the system
often makes it very difficult to implement the process that we describe. Clearly,
educational reform needs to operate at at least three levels. First, the larger system,
including the school district, the central office and parent, needs to be supportive and
involved (Fullan et. al., 2006). Second, an appropriate process needs to be introduced for
the professional development of educators. And third, the climate in the school needs to be
appropriate for the professional development that is called for. In short, the same
conditions and procedures that teachers should use in the classroom should be used in the
course of professional development.

We frame our process that we use and research in terms of several stages along a path of
professional development for educators,

The first stage, which lasts for about one year, is a program of professional development
implemented through what we call process learning circles. These make it possible for
educators to experience relaxed alertness, orchestrated immersion and active processing as
a prelude to their being introduced into the classroom.

At monthly meetings of the circles, educators collectively study one of the principles of
natural learning from the perspective of their own experience as learners, determine the
implications of the principle for practice and decide a new practice to test in classrooms
during the following month. They gather data during the month, and reflect on their
experiences at the next monthly meeting, before launching into the next principle.
Additional in-class guidance is also provided to participants each month.

23
The reflection/action dynamic is therefore built into the program. And the results are
excellent (Caine, 2006).

The second stage lasts at least two years. Educators master a structured model that
incorporates all the elements we describe. We call this a guided experience approach to
teaching (Caine and Caine, 2005). In essence, educators learn how to generate appropriate
experiences for students, and then guide a process that is driven by student questions and
interests. There is evidence that this also works very well, as illustrated by the results of a
leading edge, large scale educational reform program in South Australia for which we are
visiting faculty, called “Learning to Learn.”

We should add the general philosophy and approach has been demonstrated to be
immensely effective in a wide range of settings, ranging from elementary to high school,
and in many countries around the world (Caine and Caine, 2001). The language and terms
used to describe these processes varies, but the underlying approach and philosophy is the
same.

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CHAPTER 4
NATURAL LEARNING OUTCOMES

The fully engaged perception/action dynamic leads to the development of new ways of
seeing – what Goethe called new “organs of cognition” – and new ways of acting. These
two interactive aspects of knowledge – new ways of perceiving and acting - is what we
mean by performance knowledge (Caine and Caine, 2001). That is why students with
performance knowledge in a particular field or subject are can do such things as read a
context or situation clearly and act appropriately in unanticipated situations. In addition to
knowing some math or history, for instance, they have some capacity to think
mathematically or historically.

The process NEVER stands still. It is not a matter of storing detached knowledge for 18
years until it suddenly becomes useful. Natural learning is an ongoing process that begins
at birth. As Piaget (1972) demonstrated nearly a century ago, a person is always adjusting
and adapting, using what he called assimilation and accommodation. As we age, original
ways of seeing and being act as the foundations for what comes next.

Neural Networks
The brain is known for its ability to change as a result of experience and interaction with
the environment. This is called neural plasticity (Cozzolino, 2006). The adaptations and
shifts that people experience, and the new knowledge that is generated, is structured in the
brain as neural networks. Fuster (2003) uses the term “cognit” to describe a neural
network that refers to a specific unit of knowledge. Other cognitive scientists describe
knowledge in such terms as categories, constructs, prototypes, frames, schema, maps and
so on. The point is that new cognits are regularly being formed and expanded as a result of
experience.

Performance Knowledge Consists of Relatively Rich Cognits


Performance knowledge essentially consists of cognits that are complex enough to allow a
person to perform, change and adapt in, and respond to, ambiguous situations.
Performance knowledge is always a combination of perception and action, though either
may take precedence. A physical skill such as playing basketball or a rigorous scientific
procedure is action based, but is also constantly being adjusted according to the

25
individual’s perception and assessment of what is happening. An expert giving advice on
a financial problem is calling on acquired knowledge in order to interpret a situation, but is
simultaneously analyzing data, comparing points of view, adjusting materials and so on.
So real world competence always requires a blend of perception and action in which
specific ideas and processes need to be applied in and related to, different situations and
contexts.

Other Types of Knowledge


Cognits – units of knowledge – differ in depth and quality. The reason for the differences is
variation according to how much of the perception/action dynamic is engaged in the
learning, and how complex the neural networks are that are formed. In addition to
performance knowledge, therefore, we have also described what we call surface
knowledge and technical/scholastic knowledge (Caine and Caine, 1994, 2001, 2005):
• Surface knowledge or memorized facts and procedures requires very little
engagement of higher order and situational aspects of the perception/action
dynamic. There is very little understanding.
• Technical/scholastic knowledge or intellectual understanding involves a grasp of
key concepts and competence with routine procedures. This engages more aspects
of the perception/action dynamic because problem solving occurs and more
complex decisions and more deliberate practice are called for. There is
understanding but limited capacity to apply knowledge in the real world. Gardner
(1991) calls this the “unschooled mind.”

Most traditional schooling in the United States is limited because it tends to result in
surface knowledge: a large number of very simple cognits structured in relatively
impoverished neural networks. This is the inevitable outcome of only working with basic
aspects of the perception/action dynamic.

Aiming for performance knowledge from the early years would be a major paradigm shift.
To many it seems counter-intuitive. It is complex and messy. And yet it would be building
on the process that both infants (See e.g. The Scientist in the Crib by Gopnik et al., 1999) and
experts (See Sternberg and Grigorenko, 2003) use naturally. As real world competence
(albeit of a limited nature) builds from the early years, using the philosophy and approach
introduced in the preceding chapter, surface knowledge and technical/scholastic

26
knowledge are integrated readily. Concepts are grasped more easily, and skills are
mastered more readily, so that the intellectual foundation of technical/scholastic
knowledge is built. And facts are remembered more readily when they are associated with
experiences that involves students. That creates a fundamentally different foundation for
future learning. At the core are cognits that are formed by engaging every level of the
perception/action dynamic, structured in complex neural networks that can be the
foundation for extensive further growth and development.

Scores on tests are not compromised, for the most part (see e.g. Oakland?). And at the
same time students are acquiring and extensive additional capacity for further growth.

The Executive Functions and Student Maturation


The development of performance knowledge is grounded in constant, authentic decision
making. That means that the very process that is used to develop performance knowledge
is the SAME process that is used to capitalize on and strengthen the executive functions of
the brain, referred to in Chapter 2.

In other words, as the natural perception/action cycle is engaged in service of the


curriculum and of formal standards, students are also building the capacities to make
plans, adhere to timelines, negotiate with others, reflect on their own performance, monitor
their emotions and take charge of their lives. That is why students educated in this way
develop the maturity and ability to adapt in a radically changing world.

27
CHAPTER 5: IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES
Many individuals have grasped aspects of the underlying process for the purpose of
academic learning. It is present to some extent in such notions as self regulated learning
(Boekarts and Corno, 2005), self-directed learning (NWRL, 2004), experiential education
(Luckner and Nadler, 1997) and project based learning (Barron, 1998).

The perception/action dynamic lies at the heart of the success of these approaches. It is by
engaging the natural perception/action dynamic that students can both acquire academic
knowledge in a way that makes it useful in life and find out how to plan and achieve goals,
negotiate with others, master time lines, reflect adequately on ideas and generally become
more competent human beings.

Accordingly, the time has come for education, both public and private, to more fully take
advantage of natural learning.

Here are our recommendations. They apply to policy makers, philanthropic organizations,
those in the business world with an interest in education, parents and researchers, as well
as to all those in the world of education.

1. Change the end in view: Aim for real world competence


As Stephen Covey (1989) wrote, successful people begin with the ends in view. The time
has come to intentionally and consciously change the focus of education, and to openly
work towards real world competence. The essential outcome of education should be real
world competence at all ages, but with an eye towards Commencement Day for as long as
that is the point in time towards which we are aiming.

We suggest that the place to begin is by clarifying the set of real world outcomes that we
seek for students. These include:
• An academic foundation so that, as a minimum, they are well grounded in the
basic knowledge and skills of any subject that is intended to prepare them for
college.
• Everyday knowledge and skills so that irrespective of whether they enter the
work force, start a business or set out to travel to places unknown they have
adequate performance knowledge to get started.

28
• Self-discipline, so that they are able to set goals, think through and make good
decisions, plan ahead, interact adequately with others and generally behave as
adults.
• Adaptability to change so that they can creatively adapt to changes in the
world.
• A grasp of and commitment to some higher good so that they are equipped to
think about and act on behalf of the larger society as well as themselves.

One way to begin, we suggest, is to add, to all content standards and at all ages, the
phrase “in the real world.” Thus, anything from the need to be able to “write complete
sentences” to “explaining geological formations” should be demonstrated “in the real
world.”

2. Insist on instruction that is grounded in natural learning


The principles of natural learning and the perception/action dynamic provide quite clear
guidance for instruction.

Irrespective of subject matter and grade level, we recommend that that the three interactive
elements introduced in Chapter 3 above are always used to frame and guide teaching and
professional development.
• Relaxed alertness: The creation of an atmosphere in schooling and a state of mind in
learners that we call relaxed alertness.
• Orchestrated immersion: The orchestrated immersion of learners in experiences in
which content standards are embedded.
• Active processing of experience: The examination and consolidation of experience
in order for its content to be understood and mastered.

Many superb approaches to instruction have been developed that engage these elements in
varying ways, though often using different terms and labels. In our view, the element most
frequently underutilized is active processing. Fortunately, there are also several
approaches to instruction that emphasize this element, such as the Socratic method used in
almost all law schools and sometimes offered to K-12 educators.

29
We recommend that educators seek to understand and employ an overall approach and
model that systematically integrates all three elements. Our way of doing this is what we
call the global experience model (Caine et. al., 2005).

3. Use appropriate modes of assessment and evaluation


The primary way that the United States currently uses to gage success is comparative
results on tests, both domestically (e.g. NAEP: The National Assessment of Educational
Progress) and internationally (e.g. TIMSS: Trends in International Mathematics and Science
Study). The bipartisan attempt to raise standards through NCLB is therefore quite
understandable.

The problem lies in a misunderstanding of the role of test results. The United States, like
many other countries, is largely focused on the results themselves. The challenge, rather, is
to teach for a more complex outcome – a richer and deeper quality of knowledge. This
engages more of the natural learning capacities of students. The side effect is that most
students then perform better on standardized tests..

Evidence of real world competence is real world performance (See e.g. Wiggins, 1998).
Among other things, parents who teach their children to speak well embed language in the
every day activities of life in progressively more complex ways. And right at the heart of
the development of expertise is progression from the performance of a novice to mastery
(Feltovich et. al., 2006.)

Clearly, assessment of performance poses multiple problems. For instance, there is the
question about who is competent to assess performance, and how one can assess the
assessor. So problems do not go away. They are just the right sorts of problems.

We recommend that
• All schooling should use indicators of real world performance as the primary
basis of assessment. That means that educators need to be competent in the
content areas that they teach.
• Standardized and other formal modes of assessment can and should be used
in a secondary and supportive manner. The key is not to be dominated by
them but to use them as tools.

30
• Times of assessment should be more variable, so that students can be
assessed at more appropriates times in learning cycles.

4. Change the basis of scientifically based research.


There is a disconnect between research on education and research on how people learn.
Thus, when specific instructional strategies are researched, for the most part the objective is
surface knowledge and/or test results, and the bulk of what is known about how people
learn is generally not considered.

We suggest that educational strategies can never be adequately researched until more basic
issues have been addressed.

We recommend that
• Research on instructional strategies should include an overview of the theory of
learning upon which the research is based;
• Educational procedures which seek to receive governmental endorsement
pursuant to NCLB and other legislation, or funding from other sources, should
show how the elements of natural learning addressed in this paper have been
accounted for;
• Research which purports to show that educational results have been improved
should address the differences between performance knowledge
,technical/scholastic knowledge and surface knowledge.

5. There is more
We have focused on learning and teaching, but there is more. One issue is the huge
problem of developing curricula and defining standards at a time when the growth in
information and the pace of change makes coverage of most subjects essentially
impossible. Another is the equally taxing problem of developing systems that can support
more powerful modes of education based on how people learn naturally.

All of these issues have been extensively explored elsewhere. We will address them from
the point of view of natural learning in position papers to follow.

31
Making it practical: The Mission of the Natural Learning Institute
The NLRI was formed by educators with backgrounds in teaching, administration,
research, neuroscience, biology, government and business for the purpose of making
natural learning the cornerstone of education. Its mission is to promote the use of
natural learning to raise and sustain high standards of real world performance across
the board.

It is committed to a collaborative and voluntary approach that makes learning, not testing,
the primary focus for all facets of education. It seeks grants and raises funds in order to:
• Promote further research that integrates practice with these theoretical perspectives;
• Disseminate its findings as widely as possible;
• Network with individuals and organizations with similar goals;
• Conduct programs for the professional development of educators; and
• Facilitate conversations about the future of education; and
• Work with communities to disseminate the more practical aspects of this work.

32
A CALL TO RAISE THE STANDARD OF THE DEBATE ABOUT RASING
EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS

The time has come for the culture as a whole to reexamine the standards that it has for
discussion and debate, and for the ways in which it goes about pursuing the goals of
improving education.

It seems to us that one outcome that most people want from education is for students to
aim higher than material success, to at least have some notion of the common good.

Education needs to serve the search for meaning. And when that search is grounded in the
spirit of investigation and inquiry, the deep core of the scientific process needs to find a
voice. Science is not a recitation of facts. Science includes the essence and spirit of the
scientific process itself, the excitement of discovery, the drive for evidence based opinions,
the fact that science itself is open ended and that core theories and assumptions are
themselves always open to challenge. Excluding genuine student inquiry and the search
for evidence and rigorous confrontation of pet prejudices both diminishes students and
reduces the capacity of science to make a difference in our world. That is one of many
issues that needs to be revisited, and revisited with the philosophy of science in mind.

Education needs to serve the search for meaning. And when that search is grounded for so
many people in spiritual beliefs, the role of spirit needs to find a voice. Excluding spirit
from education altogether both denies something that is crucial to the life of many people,
and reduces the capacity of education to aim for a higher good and to serve as a means of
preparing children who want more than material comforts for themselves. The issue is
larger than the division between church and state. In the minds of many including,
perhaps, many of the founding fathers, religion and spirituality are not the same thing.
That is one of many issues that needs to be revisited, and revisited with the golden rule in
mind.

Education needs to serve the search for meaning. That search for meaning is partly driven
by the norms and procedures that any culture develops for pooling its resources and
working together – its political process. That is now and always has been both an
individual and collective endeavor. Demonizing those who emphasize individual and

33
independent approaches is as counterproductive and destructive as demonizing those who
are committed to community based solutions. What matters as much as anything is the
spirit and integrity of those who advocate different positions. They are the teachers who
lay down the path that our children follow.

The time has come to open ourselves to the additional possibilities that lie beyond the
limits of our current assumptions.

The place to begin, we contend, is with a renewed appreciation of the natural capacities
that learners bring to their lives, and to reframe the goals and practices of education with
those natural capacities in mind.

We need to remind ourselves that we are all still learners. And that the standards we set
for ourselves and our own willingness and capacity to learn, are the real world standards
that we actually set for our children.

We invite you to join us in conversations about education that aim higher, go deeper and
reach more widely. Initiate those conversations yourselves, support them where they
happen to be occurring, let us see if there is some way in which we can work together.

When we genuinely work together we can do better than this.

34
WHAT THE INSTITUTE DOES

We use the ideas and processes outlined in this paper to help educators and educational
organizations better assess, integrate and focus their other work on professional development.

Our approach to school improvement


Our primary instruments are process learning circles. There are reflective action/study groups
that build safe, challenging and deep communities of learning.

Our training programs


• We guide educators from a transmission model to a constructivist/natural learning
model of teaching through a multi-phase program that combines training with on-site
support.
• We offer advanced professional development - a variety of programs for the professional
development of those who wish to become professional development consultants.

Public outreach
We welcome opportunities to share and about our findings work with and learn from others.

Our research
We research any program in which we engage with a school and or district in order to test its
efficacy and further validate our ideas and procedures.

Examples of the Caines’ work


• For a low SES elementary school that dramatically increased its test scores, and
sustained those increases, see Hartmann, A.C. “District to try natural learning,” The Press-
Enterprise, Riverside, California, Sunday, September 17, 2006
• For the Caines’ contribution as project colleagues to an eight year leading edge statewide
program of educational reform go to http://www.learningtolearn.sa.edu.au

35
Many schools and educators are already exploring this approach to learning, some of which the
Caines have worked with, although they may use different language. Examples include: The
Collaborative for Teaching and Learning, http://www.ctlonline.org/;
The Convergence Foundation, http://www.cef-trek.org/;
The George Lucas Educational Foundation, http://www.edutopia.org/.

36
APPENDIX 1: THE BRAIN/MIND LEARNING PRINCIPLES

37
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Caine, G., and Caine, R. (2001). The Brain, Education and the Competitive Edge. Lanham, MD:
Scarecrow Press.
Caine, R. (March/April, 2006). “Systematic Changes in Public Schools through Brain-
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Brain Based Teaching. Virginia: ASCD.
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memory, and executive function. Baltimore, MD: Brookes
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Psychological Perspectives” in Ericsson, K.A., Charness, N., Feltovich, P.J. and
Hoffman, R.R. (Eds.). The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance.

38
Fullan, M., Hill, P. and Crevola, C. (2006). Breakthrough. Corwin Press, NSDC and Ontario
Principals’ Council.
Fuster, J. M. (2003). Cortex and Mind. Unifying Cognition. New York: OUP
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Basic Books
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Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books
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and Expertise. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, U.K.
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Student Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

39
Zsambok, C.E. & Klein, G. (Eds.) (1997). Naturalistic Decision Making. Erlbaum; Marwah,
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Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (2003). http://www.timss.org/

40
THE NATURAL LEARNING RESEARCH INSTITUTE
The Natural Learning Research Institute is a nonprofit organization created by a diverse
set of educators and researchers dedicated to using emerging information from
cognitive science, neuroscience and discoveries about natural, biologically based
learning as a means to improve education. For more information, visit our web site at
www.Naturallearninginstitute.org.

ADVISORY PANEL
Arthur L. Costa, Ed.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Education at California State University,
Sacramento and Co-founder of the Institute for Intelligent Behavior. He has served as a
classroom teacher, a curriculum consultant, an assistant superintendent for instruction, the
Director of Educational Programs for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
and was the National President of A.S.C.D. from 1988 to 1989

Louis John "Lou" Cozolino, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University,


California. Dr. Cozolino holds degrees in philosophy and theology, in addition to his
doctorate in clinical psychology. He has conducted empirical research in schizophrenia,
child abuse, and the long-term impact of stress.

David E. Drew, Ph.D. is Professor of Education at Claremont Graduate University and


holds the Joseph B. Platt Chair, with concurrent appointments in Executive Management,
Psychology, and Mathematical Sciences. He is a sociologist who studies the development
of individual potential and the growth of organizations, especially educational
organizations.

Joaquin Fuster, M.D., Ph.D. is Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the
Neuropsychiatric Institute and Brain Research Institute in the School of Medicine at
UCLA. His research focuses on studies of the cortical mechanisms of cognitive functions.
The objective of these studies is to gain better understanding of the dysfunction of the
cerebral cortex in neurological and mental illness impairing cognition.

Elkhonon Goldberg, Ph.D. is Director, Institute of Neuropsychology and Cognitive


Performance, New York, with prior appointments over a period of more than twenty five

41
years in psychiatry and neurology in the United States, Israel and Australia. One of his
primary research interests is the executive functions of the human brain.

Lynn Nadel, Ph.D. is Regents’ Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. He is a


pioneer in linking neuroanatomy and physiology of the human brain to behavior. His
research is concerned with the role of the hippocampal formation in learning and memory,
and focuses on its particular role in spatial cognition.

Robert Sylwester, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon


who focuses on the educational implications of new developments in science and
technology.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Linda Hargan, Ed.D. (President) is the Founding President and CEO, Collaborative for
Teaching and Learning. Prior to forming The CTL she was Associate Commissioner,
Kentucky Department of Education, Office of Learning Programs Development.

Karl Klimek, M.A. (Vice-President) is President of 2 Perspectives, Inc., a learning through


leadership consultant team. He is also Project Orchestrator of the Convergence Education
Foundation, a Michigan based non-profit organization integrating technology into
innovative projects emphasizing engineering, math and science in schools.

Geoffrey Caine, LL.M. (Secretary./Treasurer) is an education consultant and Director of


Caine Learning. He is the Executive Director of the Natural Learning Research Institute.

Kenneth L. Thompson, M.S. is Associate Director of Development at the Albuquerque


Academy, a large independent school in New Mexico where he manages corporate and
foundation relations and alumni major gifts

42
THE AUTHORS
Geoffrey Caine, LL.M. is a writer, speaker and education consultant. He is Executive
Director of the Natural Learning Research Institute. He has also been a professor of
constitutional law, education services manager of a national software company, and state
manager of a national publishing company. Geoffrey has written or co-authored many
articles and chapters, as well as seven books on learning and education.

Renate N. Caine, Ph.D. is a Professor Emeritus in Education at California State University,


San Bernardino, and Director of Research of Natural Learning Research Institute. She was
an award winning high school teacher. Her work with schools has been featured on
“Teacher TV” on the Discovery Channel, " Wizards of Wisdom" shown on PBS, and
elsewhere. She has also written extensively and, with Geoffrey, is the coauthor of seven
books.

The Caines’ first book was Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain (ASCD, 1991;
Addison-Wesley, 1994). John Dunworth, Past President of the American Association of
Colleges for Teacher Education says:
“Making Connections” ranks among the most significant publication in the field
of teaching and learning in this century. This provocative work could easily
impact the life of every learner and every teacher.

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