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The Brain-Mind Cycle of Reflection

by Ashgar Iran-Nejad & Madeleine Gregg - 2001

Educational researchers and practitioners agree that schooling must push beyond memorization into the realm of critical reflection. A model that facilitates instruction beyond the didactic approach, the input-elaboration-output model of constructive memory, has been used by many to describe the process of critical reflection. However, the current hegemony of this model has dampened the exploration, slowed the development, and limited the adoption (or even the consideration) of other perspectives. This paper discusses a theory of thinking, learning, and schooling based on recent developments in biofunctional cognition. At the heart of the theory is the notion that the brain-awareness-mind cycle, not the input-elaboration-output sequence, directly represents the natural course of human reflection. It is argued that what makes this brain-mind cycle of reflection possible is intuitive self-awareness. According to this theory, learning is best viewed not as the internalization of external knowledge but as wholetheme reorganization of the learner's own intuitive knowledge base. The application of the theory is illustrated with data from an experimental teacher education program.

Early in the 20th century, Dewey (1910/1933) distinguished between reflec­tive and nonreflective types of thinking, thereby, preparing the groundwork for the current popularity of reflective problem solving. For many educators today, reflection on the part of both the learner and the teacher is the choice thinking process for filling the gap between (a) the perception of a complex problem and relevant solution behavior, (b) acquired knowledge and its application to the real world, and (c) research findings and their use in educational practice (Schon, 1987). The first of these considerations addresses the theory of learning as a natural process of problem solving and the other two relate to how such a theory can eliminate the problem of transfer (Beach, 1999; Bransford & Schwartz, 1999; Dyson, 1999). In this light, crit­ical reflection promises to guide education beyond memorization of received knowledge and to bridge the gap that has persisted throughout the 20th century between learning in schools and the usefulness of what is learned to the real world (Reese, 1999). Given the importance of these consider­ations for education, the need for a better understanding of the nature of reflectivity and the processes involved in critical reflection is intensifying (Bullough, 1989; Korthagen, 1993; Smyth, 1989).


Disentangling structural and functional theories is a difficult task. Histori­cally, these perspectives have often been fervently debated, misinterpreted, and even confused for one another (see Iran-Nejad & Winsler, 2000).

In the recent past, structural and functional theories have been con­trasted in the context of Bartlett's (1932) theory of remembering (Brewer, 2000; Iran-Nejad, 1980, 1987; Iran-Nejad & Winsler, 2000). Here, we base our analysis on Dewey's functional theory as described in his classic reflex arc article (Dewey, 1896). In that article, Dewey made reference to both psychological and biological sides of the issues involved, as we do here. Dewey rejected the physiological theory of the reflex arc as a linear se­quence starting with the registration of the stimulus events in the lower order sensory systems, moving up next through the higher order central nervous system connections, and ending with the lower order motor re­sponse to the stimulus. He argued that this linear arrangement tends to demand the unnatural separation of the sensory, central, and motor events into a series of stand-alone fragments (p. 358). On the psychological side, he argued, it makes little sense to talk about a sensation-ideas-action se­quence because what appear to be three separate events function flexibly and simultaneously from within the comprehensive totality of an organic coordination. There is a striking parallel between the static stimulus-connections-behavior structure of the reflex arc that Dewey rejected and the more active input-elaboration-output process postulated by contem­porary theories of constructive memory (see Figure 1). In fact, the sepa­ration that Dewey described is so real and complete in modern information processing theory that current textbooks, as well as relevant original sources, place each of the component events in its own self-contained memory store (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968; Eggen & Kauchak, 1997; Neisser, 1967).

According to Dewey (1896), it is the coordination which unifies that which the reflex arc concept gives us only in disjointed fragments (p. 370). In a sensori-motor coordination, a term Dewey used before Piaget (1896-1980), the real beginning, if any to be noted (because none exists, accord­ing to Dewey, 1896, ex abrupto from outside), is with the act of seeing; . . . [and] the so-called response is not merely to the stimulus; it is into it (p. 359, italics in original). The picture Dewey wanted to draw was of an organic adaptation cycle that allowed no separation of any kind or thing, in theory or practice. What the cycle did allow was the active redistribution of the disequilibrium-equilibrium tensions and tendencies within the com­prehensive circle encompassing thinking, real-world conditions, and action (Figure 2). In this cycle of adaptation even a momentary tendency toward disintegration was a disintegrating coordination (p. 369, italics added)in which the stimulus and response were equally uncertain: one is uncertain only in so far as the other is (p. 367, italics in original).

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Within the realm of the structural perspective, whether classic or mod­ern, reflection means active elaboration by making connections between the input information and the information stored in memory. The sensory register and long-term memory stores are first scanned analytically in a bottom-up or top-down fashion, within the confines of a limited capacity short-term memory store, to isolate the knowledge elements that are impor­tant for the specific task in hand. Then, the connections among the selected sets of knowledge elements are rehearsed for learning by memorization (Figure 1). In the functional perspective (Figure 2), reflection means active coordination of the redistribution of ongoing tensions and tendencies in the natural course of real-world problem solving (Prawat, 1997; Smith, 1997). Thus, from the functional perspective, any facilitation (e.g., insofar as the education of the individual is concerned) must take the one-way street identified by Bartlett (1932) as simplification by integration through effort after meaning, as compared to the opposite one-way street of simpli­fication by isolation that is the focus of the classic and modern input-elaboration-output theories. The biofunctional perspective extends the functional theory of reflective problem solving to arrive at a somewhat different way of thinking about learning. Whereas learning is traditionally viewed as internalization of external knowledge by means of constructive elaboration, the biofunctional perspective implies that genuine learning, or learning beyond the trivia, must be viewed as wholetheme reorganization of the learner's own intuitive knowledge base by means of the active coor­dination of the brain-mind cycle of reflection. Thus, education as facilita­tion of learning through reflective problem solving lies at the heart of both functional and biofunctional approaches. In line with the gist of an old Persian saying (the problem becomes simple only after it is solved), the only road toward making a difficult (or complex) problem simple is the one that brings together in a new way the diverse sources that give birth to (insightful) solutions to it.

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Why is it, then, that the functional perspective appears to have been expe­riencing such an elongated period of identity crisis? For example, this perspective has been challenged repeatedly to the brink of extinction. The first such challenge came from the behavioral approach that displaced functionalism by eliminating thinking, reflective or otherwise, from the arena of behavioral sciences. The second challenge came, with no break at all in between, from the computer-inspired cognitive revolution that liter­ally ensured the most definitive separation of the human thought not just from the human brain but also from all other uniquely human capacities at work outside the formal settings of the lab or the classroom (Neisser, 1976). It is very informative to note that it was not until these two social-science revolutions of the 20th century had begun to lose their grip that Dewey's functionalism made a valiant comeback in the form of Schon's (1983, 1987) theory of reflection-in-action.

One obvious reason for the (apparent) problems of the functional per­spective is that its indisputable strengths have been difficult to put to practice distinctively. As a result, at least in the realm of practice, functional and structural perspectives have so far been largely indistinguishable. For example, Bartlett's functional theory of the 1930s was mistaken for the structural schema theory of the 1970s (Brewer, 2000; Iran-Nejad, 1980). Theoretically, a number of fundamental questions remain unanswered. Exactly what enables or makes possible the active coordination (of ongoing ten­sions and tendencies) that defines reflective problem solving? What role does knowledge play in the cycle of reflection that if eliminated, the cycle would stop working? An even more basic question, what counts as knowl­edge? Exactly what regulates the process of coordination in this cycle? Without answers of some kind to these questions in which to ground the functional perspective, the adaptation-cycle theory is likely to lose its inher­ent conceptual power and change into an input-adaptation-output buzz­word for the input-elaboration-output process of the structural perspective.

Consequently, as educators today, we are confronted with the reality that problem solving in education must be elevated from the world of accumu­lated professional knowledge or the classroom world of received knowledge to the productive world of situated reflection-in-action (Schon,1987). In the meantime, the majority of learners are taught accumulated or received knowledge in many fields of education via the teacher's words, lecture notes, or book symbols which they are to internalize via memorization. The recitation model has been criticized by many for a long time, and various solutions have been proposed (Cuban, 1982; Hoetker & Ahlbrand, 1969). Nevertheless, the input-elaboration-output sequence of constructive mem­ory is today's cutting edge solution for transforming received knowledge into forms that are available for reflection-in-action. Many educators believe that elaboration is the key to promoting robust knowledge in students, recognizing the necessity of pushing beyond internalization of inert book symbols. However, a precursor to elaboration is a deeper understanding of the words or symbols that carry the meaning, and such symbol grounding presents itself as a monumental ordeal (Harnad, 1990; Ausubel, 1963, 1977). Symbol grounding, the process of making sense of symbols, becomes a problem when the real world is omitted from the process of learning and when the many powers and functions of the human brain are downplayed in favor of those few powers required by the input-elaboration-output sequence. Under such conditions, ungrounded symbol processing becomes both the means and ends of the educational process (Iran-Nejad, Hidi, & Wittrock, 1992; Neisser, 1976).

Within the narrow realm of the input-elaboration-output sequence, the only avenues available to the learner are not the ones that support deeper understanding but those that lead inevitably to overelaboration, overabstraction, and overparticularization. Wanting to help students with the symbol-grounding task, many educators face the difficult challenge of providing opportunities for reflection. However, in most cases, such reflection is confined to active elaboration on external symbols, as implied, for exam­ple, by the depth of processing metaphor. The problem with reflection as deeper elaborative processing is that the more actively the learners engage in the part-whole analysis of received symbols in their attempts toward making them more meaningful, the more likely they are to be trapped in what Harnad (1990) called the meaningless Chinese/Chinese dictionary-go-round of the symbol-grounding problem (p. 339). The resultant understand­ings are likely to be overly abstracted, overly elaborated, and overly particularized. Examples of such faulty understandings abound in the lit­erature. Anderson (1984), for instance, cautioned against the tendency for overabstraction in what he called the strong version of the schema theory of mid 1970s (see Alba & Hasher, 1983). Similar concerns have been voiced about overelaboration showing its undesirable face in the teaching of trivial detail (Newmann & Wehlage, 1993) and about overparticularization mani­festing itself in research such as the kind conducted in the realm of story grammar (Black & Wilensky, 1979; Rumelhart, 1975; Wilensky, 1983). Reveal­ing examples of how domain-specific overabstraction, overelaboration, or overparticularization can control our lives may be found in Phillip Howard's (1994) The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America.


To address the problems inherent in the symbol-grounding problem, we seem to be standing at the two-way juncture of a difficult dilemma. On the one side, lies the road not taken: the awe-inspiring challenge of stepping into the unknown world of how the nervous system functions to make the cycle of adaptation a reality (Iran-Nejad, Hidi, & Wittrock, 1992). This alternative promises that, having had the opportunity to adapt our eyes to the darkness of the unknown, we might be able to observe, perhaps in the intellectual microscopes of perspectives like the biofunctional model, a vast expanse of rewarding possibilities. On the other side, lies the road most traveled beckoning us to return to live for the time being in the safety of the world of traditional education (see Bruer, 1997).

The biofunctional model assumes that understanding the brain is nec­essary for understanding how the mind interacts with the world. This is because the mind has no direct access to the outside worldonly the brain does. Consequently, the mind must interact with the world via the brain. We believe herein lie some of the most fundamental problems, as well as their solutions, facing education in the postmodern world. Not only must we (a) understand how the nervous system works, but also (b) how the mind, itself a creation of the brain, can turn around and interact with the nervous system, as well as (c) the manner in which the mind uses the brain and other bodily subsystems to interact with the world. In other words, to solve the symbol-grounding dilemma, we must understand how the nervous sys­tem makes the miraculous feat of the brain-mind cycle of reflection possible?

According to the biofunctional model, evolution has endowed the ner­vous system with the capability of creating the miracle of intuitive self-awareness to serve as the language with which a person's physical subsystems, on the one hand, and the whole person of the mindful individual, on the other, can talk to each other, so to speak. Awareness is a nonsymbolic language in the sense that it serves directly as its own meaning, hence, the term self-awareness. This nonsymbolic quality makes it possible for the whole person to feel and recognize directly the workings of his or her own subsystems. On the other hand, each of the nervous system's subsystemsincluding its microsystems (or neurons), sensory subsystems (e.g., visual subsystem), and nonsensory subsystemscan create, individually or in var­ious group formations, a characteristic self-awareness (Iran-Nejad, 1980). This capability makes it possible for the subsystems to make themselves available for recognition by the whole person. The general course of this brain-mind cycle of discourse is shown in the center of Figure 3 as arrows moving in an 8-shaped double loop.

The bottom loop represents the nonsymbolic intuitive self-awareness that the brain continuously creates. The top loop represents the way the brain creates symbolic knowledge in the form of momentary, fuzzy catego­ries (i.e., concepts, ideas, and images). As the 8-shaped double loop shows, in one complete round the brain-mind cycle follows a clockwise motion in the lower loop, rises into a counterclockwise motion in the upper loop, and returns to continue the clockwise motion in the lower loop again. Evolution has equipped the subsystems of the body with the capacity to create self-awareness in varying degrees of intensity. A particular subsystem of the body creates self-awareness to the extent that its interaction with the whole person is deemed necessary for the functioning of the subsystem and to the person's interaction with the outside world. Thus, subsystems such as the kidney do not create self-awareness; perhaps, because they do not require the mediation of the whole person to function and do not serve as a tool for interaction with the outside world.

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We need not concern ourselves here with the specifics of how the ner­vous system might function or with other details of Figure 3. Instead, we focus in the rest of this paper, on the major aspects of how the nervous system functions to make the brain-mind cycle of reflection possible. In addition, what might already be clear to the reader is that the brain-mind cycle of reflection promises to be an inexhaustible source of educational implications that (a) have never been implemented, or even explored, and (b) are dramatically different from those of the structural perspective that currently dominates the educational scene. We will also discuss some of these educational implications. For example, one obvious implication is that the primary focus of learning must be the development of one's own intuitive self-awareness. This is an especially difficult task in such fields as education that require the most complex of all types of interaction with the outside world. Because of its complexity, education requires a particularly heightened level of sophistication in knowing oneself and a relatively very long period of self-training, as well as other-training, to achieve this. The goal of this paper is to describe some of the more relevant aspects of the brain-mind cycle of reflection that contribute, according to the biofunctional perspective, to this kind of training of the self and others.



In contrast to the input-elaboration-output explanation of memory and learning stands the theory of biofunctional cognition. In this perspective, knowledge is not connections among isolated elements of information. Rather, the concept of knowledge finds a new identity at the level of the nervous system as live intuitive self-awareness. By virtue of creating an ever-renewing panorama of intuitive self-awareness (Rosch, 2000) the phys­ical brain itself serves as what we might call, rather metaphorically, the person's intuitive knowledge base (1KB), representing a coordinated com­bination of knowledge, experience, wisdom, beliefs, affects, emotions, inter­ests, hopes, and aspirations (Iran-Nejad, Clore, & Vondruska, 1981). The 1KB is a nonsymbolic ground that the brain creates directly on an ongoing basis on which the symbolic mind can roam freely and flexibly (Iran-Nejad, 1994). The 1KB is also the learner's domain-comprehensive tool for making and taking perspectives, including perspectives that are domain specific.

In more familiar terms, intuitive self-awareness may be identified, most aptly, as thematic knowledge and compared with the categorical knowledge known as concepts, ideas, and images. Thematic knowledge can manifest itself in the form of wholethemes or themes. Wholetheme knowledge pos­sesses an ever-expanding divergent momentum toward the ultimate form of cross-domain wholenessone that encompasses the subjective world of the individual universally, literally speaking, not only in space and time but simultaneously along countless dimensions. According to Rosch (2000):

Intuitions of wholeness, however, do not stop at the skin. Meditators eventually discover a form of awareness in which the body and its senses are part of a larger, more panoramic way of knowing (Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 1991). From this point of view, it is apparent that our usual sense of being trapped inside the head peering out is only a contracted form of a more basic way of knowing, (p. 193)

As the infinity signs on the outward spikes of Figure 3 suggest, wholetheme knowledge never reaches a limit: There are no borders around a wholetheme, hence, the property of literal universality. Themes, on the other hand, are the convergent antithesis of wholethemes with momentum toward within-domain wholenessthey are wholethemes in reverse with a passport to enter the fuzzy borders of domain specificity. As already suggested, the brain creates and sustains these wholethemes and themes directly in the form of nonsymbolic intuitive self-awareness. It also creates ideas, concepts, and images by firing these, so to speak, as momentary figures out of the ground of themes and wholethemes.

In less graphic language, the 1KB enables the person to perform the cross-domain feat of relating the positions of the hands on a clock simul­taneously to the time of day, on the one hand, and to the notion of geometric angle, on the other. It enabled Einstein's thought experiments to demand a new analysis of the nature of time (Miller, 1989). It is also the 1KB that enables deaf children to be good users of metaphoric language even though the academic tradition restricts them exclusively to literal uses of language (Iran-Nejad, Ortony, & Rittenhouse, 1981). Finally, we believe, the 1KB enabled the combination of vagueness and fertility in William James' thinking to find expression in what Osowski (1989, pp. 127-131) identified as the ensemble of metaphors in the Principles of Psychology, the most famous of which is the stream-of-consciousness metaphor. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the 1KB is the very ground that represents the solution to the symbol-grounding problem.

Recently, we were most fortunate to discover an uncanny description of the 1KB in the guided reflective journal of an intern (called DS here) from our experimental Multiple Abilities Program (MAP) in teacher education. In this weekly journal, DS is responding to the prompt to describe one teaching tool that he had experienced in the course of the week following the university class session in which he was introduced to the notion of 1KB. The interns were to select their teaching tool from among what they had observed in their placement or university classroom, found in a book, discovered in the form of an insight while driving, created when daydream­ing about their Educational Psychology, and so on. Here is an excerpt from DS's journal:

The tool I have chosen for this week's ground-breaking insight is one that I do not think I fully comprehendin fact, I know I do not fully comprehend it. But I believe the very nature of my tool requires

incomplete understandingI would even go as far as to say this tool demands incomplete understanding. Well, I have kept you in suspense long enough: the tool I have chosen to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate is the intuitive knowledge base. I am really quite unsure if I grasp this concept at allbut what I have learned is that it does not really matter if I am right or wrongwhat matters is how flexible I am toward refining my understanding.

There are many notable aspects to this intern's journal. First, the fact that this 1st-year teacher education student chose an all-encompassing concept like 1KB as his teaching tool of the week is highly significant. Many other students described more conventional teaching tools such as individualized spelling plans, field trips, independent work contracts, or subject-specific centers. The 1KB had never been identified by the teacher or by anyone else in class as a tool for teaching. Nevertheless, right after the session in which the 1KB was discussed, the student chose this rather complex con­cept as his week's ground-breaking insight of a teaching tool, from among many other conventional possibilities. Secondly, note how nicely the excerpt portrays the qualities experts in the field have typically attributed to reflec­tive problem solving: uncertainty, open-endedness, open-mindedness, intro­spection, and consequence evaluation (Dewey, 1910/1933; Ichimura, 1991; Kitchener & King, 1981; Liston & Zeichner, 1987; Ross, 1989; Schon, 1983; Zeichner & Liston, 1987). Thirdly, the quality of symbolic-nonsymbolic grounding of the discussion speaks for itself. Far from remaining isolated within the word soup of symbolic knowledge, the student is engaged in the nonsymbolic substancethe intuitive self-awarenessthat grounds the sym­bolic words used. Finally, the excerpt portrays a genuine example of critical reflection: It reveals both the problem recognition and solution recogni­tion sides of the intern's intuitive self-awareness (Iran-Nejad & Ortony, 1984). In fact, the entire journal from which this excerpt came was packed with examples of these two aspects of reflection as problem solving. One example of solution recognition is the very recognition that the 1KB is a teaching tool. After all, the 1KB is unlike any teaching tool to which we are conventionally accustomed. Recognizing that one's understanding is incom­plete and that there are inconsistencies among identified aspects of the concept are instances of problem recognition. In other works, the journal is not simply a shallow, symbolic acceptance of what was discussed in class. It is true critical reflection at work. We might conclude that, at least for this intern, moving university classroom teaching from the level of received knowledge to the level of the learner's own 1KB seems to have served in the direction of removing the solid wall of incomensurability that Dyson (1999) saw between academic learning and real-world practice.


Habitual and Creative Modes of Functioning

The theory of biofunctional cognition also provides insights into why solv­ing the symbol-grounding problem requires more than knowledge in the conventional sense. Figuring out what words and symbols mean is also mediated by the way the brain mobilizes its own past, including its evolu­tionary past. More specifically, there are indications that evolution has designed the nervous systems of organisms to work in two opposing modes of functioning (Iran-Nejad & Cecil, 1992). One of these, called the habitual mode of functioning, is the energy-conserving mode of living in the safety of the known (internal) world in which the natural momentum of the nervous system is toward routine, rest, inaction, and avoidance of chal­lenge. The other, called the creative mode of functioning, is the energy-mobilizing mode of living in the unknown (internal) world in which the brain has natural momentum toward change, exploration, action, and approaching challenge. A mode of functioning is not a domain-specific knowledge structure or even a mental model. Rather, it is a type of brain disposition for action or inaction, a dispositional mode of performance or practice.

The internal world of the creative mode of functioning is governed by the unknown in exactly the same sense as the setting is governed by the unknown in the surprise-ending story in Table 1, as experienced by the reader midway through the story. Similarly governed by the unknown are the movement patterns of the pawns on the chess board as they emerge during a particular game (de Groot, 1965). In the journal entry already discussed, DS makes a keen observation related to this aspect of creative mode of functioning: But I believe the very nature of my tool requires incomplete understandingI would even go as far as to say this tool demands incomplete understanding. The journal also reveals that it was composed in the creative mode of functioning and that the intern's intimate sense of intuitive self-awareness succeeded responsively to fine tune itself according to the rhythm of the dispositional modes of brain activity. An even more striking manifestation of the creative mode of functioning occurs in a subsequent journal from the same intern. The description by DS of a teacher's oral reading shows that for this future teacher being in the cre­ative mode of functioning actually becomes a self-imposed challenge that the intern finds hard to meet:

Table 1. Summary of the Surprise-Ending Story (Thurmond, 1978) used in Iran-Nejad (1980) to illustrate why knowledge schemas must be viewed as transient ongoing structures and not as permanent long-term memory units.

Marilyn left the hospital where she worked after a late night shift. She got in her car in the hospital parking lot, waved goodbye to the attendant, and got on the freeway. Then, in the dim dashboard light, she saw the gas gauge indicating empty. Fearing to run out of gas on the highway in the middle of the night, she took the exit for the gas station to which she had been before during the day. The attendant, Gabriel, cleaned the windows and filled the tank. Then, as he returned the change, he asked her to come inside the station office to see the birthday gift given to him by his sister. As he insisted, Marilyn reluctantly agreed. Once inside, Gabriel quickly turned around, locked the door behind them, and grabbed a gun from a drawer. Marilyn's heart trembled and she began experiencing the symptoms of shock. She yielded to the pressure of Gabriel's hand pushing her down toward the floor.

Gabriel's lips were moving and, as she listened, the words began to make sense: Sorry I had to scare you like that, he said. I was scared myself when I saw that dude hiding on the floor in the back of your car. Good thing you stopped for gas tonight. I'll call the cops now.

The tool I have chosen for this week's entertainment is reading aloud to children in the classroom. I have always been a bit hesitant about reading books aloud for childrenI guess this springs from my own self-consciousness. I think what is so nerve-racking and intimidating to me is that I see reading aloud as a creative expression. The reader gives voice and color to the bookhe or she breathes some sort of life into the words that was not there before. And if the reader does not capture that life, the book is often that less interesting and real to the audience. What a responsibility this can be!! This added pressure toward the creative process opens up the vulnerability that is present with most creative expressions.

This quotation, the quotation presented earlier about the ever incomplete nature of the 1KB, and the entire journals from which these came reaffirm the idea that DS's descriptions of his teaching tools are firmly grounded in the nonsymbolic substance of his intuitive self-awareness, so much so that the intern describes as nerve-racking the discrepancy between (a) the uncompromising belief about the indispensable creative requirements of oral reading and (b) the perceived inadequacy of the current level of proficiency in living up to the equally indispensable requirements of giving them grounded symbolic expression in performance: Indeed, what a respon­sibility this can be!! Again, the journal entries also demonstrate DS's remark­able problem recognition as well as solution recognition capacities. Thus, exposure to more (ungrounded) symbolic knowledge is not viewed as the answer. Neither is the abstract procedural content of such knowledge. Thus, I am really thirsting for more exposure to kids in a setting that I don't feel like I'm being watched or that every move has to correspond to some Canadian journal article or educational psychology text. I would just like to feel completely relaxed and let things run smoothlyI'd like to just relate to kids and know who they are better, rather than reading about them in texts. If performance in the presence of kids is nerve-racking, the answer is more relaxed exposure to them. Turning the internal state of the unknown into known by being told what to do is not the answer. What this intern sees as the solution comprises exercising his creative mode of practice, charac­terized by reflection-in-action (Schon, 1987), in the presence of the kids, without the distraction of the scaffolding eyes or words of well-meaning teachers, guided by one's own undisturbed intuitive self-awareness, or unencumbered by any impositions coming from textbook or any other type of pre-planned procedures.

Active and Dynamic Modes of Self-Regulation

At its core, critical reflection is a kind of self-regulation (Iran-Nejad, 1990; Iran-Nejad & Chissom, 1992). The biofunctional perspective also sees self-regulation as manifesting itself in the form of dispositional modes of brain functioning. One fundamental source of evidence for this is that much of the brain's activity is dynamic: It goes on tacitly, regulated involuntarily by the brain itself. Such dynamic self-regulation is unmediated as far as the intentions of the individual person are concerned. This type of brain self-regulation, we believe, is responsible for the spontaneous coordination involved in the cycle of adaptation mentioned in our earlier discussion of the functional perspective. By comparison, reflection is active in essence and must be mediated by the individual's intentions. More generally speak­ing, active self-regulation is a mind-regulated dispositional mode of prac­tice and dynamic self-regulation is a brain-regulated mode of functioning.

We may illustrate the interaction between the two modes of self-regulation by analogy to how the body itches and the individual person scratches. We cannot regulate the bodily processes behind the immediate experience of an itch. The body itself regulates them dynamically (invol­untarily). Scratching the itch on the other hand is active and under the control of the person. This dynamic-itching/active-scratching cycle is a crude example of a more universal brain-awareness/mind-attention cycle, which the biofunctional perspective assumes to be the core coordination process of the brain-mind cycle of reflection. This cycle is at work when one explores the world through the senses by first seeing and then looking, hearing and then listening, tasting and then savoring, and so on. The processes of seeing, hearing, and tasting are usually considered passive (or reactive) responses to the external stimuli. However, this view of involuntary action may not do justice to the role that the brain itself plays in regulating perceptual processes. Similarly, the brain may dynamically make the indi­vidual experience the itch of curiosity, as it were, in order to get the mind to scratch it by posing questions to oneself or others. What makes these and more sophisticated internal forms of the brain-mind cycle of reflection possible is the immediate intuitive self-awareness that the brain creates on an ongoing basis.

Active and dynamic types of self-regulation are two qualitatively distinct modes of functioning. In a dynamic mode of brain functioning, many things can happen at the same time. Just as itching can be felt all over the body, seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling curious, thinking, suspense, interest, apprehension, and so forth can all happen together. By comparison, scratch­ing is typically directed at one itch at a time because it requires an active mode of performance. Because dynamic self-regulation can occur in many fronts simultaneously, it is responsible for sustaining the divergent momen­tum of intuitive self-awareness. Active self-regulation, on the other hand, is a convergent mode of functioning. It has momentum toward bringing everything under the control of the mind's singular focus of attention.

The diverse fronts where dynamic self-regulation occurs at the same time tend to combine into a domain-comprehensive totality. This combination is ordinarily hard to penetrate by means of ordinary (i.e., uncritical and unpracticed) reflection. This is probably why experts, especially those who have mastered the art as opposed to merely the techniques of their profes­sion, might find it difficult to articulate the basis for their expertise. There­fore, in the dynamic mode of functioning, one must continuously guard against overintegration. A relatively straightforward, but by no means easy, way of doing this is by means of resisting the usual and shifting out of the habitual mode of functioning and into the creative mode of functioning. One area where this is particularly difficult to do is in writing. What makes writing so challenging, nerve-racking (to use DS's terms), or even mind-blocking is the recognition that breathing nonsymbolic life into lifeless symbolic knowledge is a major responsibility.

By contrast, active self-regulation tends to go in the direction of isola­tion, so much so that it tends to overlook the hard-to-penetrate intuitive knowledge base. This is a problem that Dewey (1910/1933) discussed at length and this is when and why the problem of symbol grounding arises. As a result, active self-regulation is left to work with the lifeless word soup of domain-specific symbols. Therefore, in this mode of functioning, one must continuously guard against the traps of overelaboration, overabstraction, or overparticularization.

Constructive and Unconstructive Modes of Functioning

A third pair of dispositional modes of brain functioning has to do with the tendency toward integration or disintegration. The constructive mode of functioning corresponds to the brain's natural capacity for problem solving by integration. The unconstructive mode of functioning runs against the nervous system's natural disposition to integrate. There are many reasons why brain activity might turn in the opposite direction from its natural course. Having to perform symbolic school tasks is one potential cause for children's brains to shift to the unconstructive mode of functioning (Iran-Nejad, Clore, & Vondruska, 1981; Iran-Nejad & Ortony, 1984).

A potential internal cause of the unconstructive mode of functioning is imbalance in the coordination of the brain's different modes of function­ing. Being in an overly active mode of functioning with insufficient engage­ment of the dynamic mode of self-regulation might create such an imbalance. Similarly, trying to accomplish a challenging task in the habitual mode of functioning is another source of imbalance. To illustrate, consider the following two excerpts from the reflective journals of two other MAP interns. As part of their weekly journals, MAP interns were asked to respond to the prompt: As a facilitator of authentic learning in children, this week I view myself to be _____ (insert a suitable METAPHOR). The following student is reacting to the volume of the work MAP interns are challenged to perform:

METAPHOR: This week I feel like a migraine. No matter what you take for it, it just stays and does not go away. I feel that as much work that [sic] I do, my workload is not getting lighter. It seems to be getting bigger and bigger. It will soon be a mountain. When you have a migraine you just want to relax and forget everything around you. That has been what I have been feeling lately. I just want to relax and forget everything for now but then the mountain will just keep build­ing and never get smaller. I am waiting for the migraine and pile to end.

It is evident that this student is willing to embrace the MAP challenge. What she is suffering from is the schoolwork mentality that traditional education has established in her. The schoolwork mentality says that the proper context for accomplishment is the habitual mode of functioning in which previously overlearned procedures are at their best. This is a situa­tion that is woefully inadequate for meeting the challenge facing our intern. As a result, she finds herself in a severely unconstructive mode of perfor­mance. The assumption behind MAP work, however, is that the proper context for accomplishment is the creative mode of functioning. To meet the challenge, our intern must (a) undo the trap traditional schooling has set for her and (b) discover and use her own creative mode of functioning. Instead, she chooses to turn away from the challenge. In biofunctional terms, what she needs to do is to shift from an unconstructive, habitual, and more-active-than-dynamic mode of functioning to a constructive, cre­ative, and more-dynamic-than-active mode of functioning. She can do this with or without help. What she cannot do without is progress toward mas­tering the art of regulating her own brain-mind cycle of reflection, which MAP journaling is meant to motivate. Now consider our second MAP intern:

METAPHOR: I am like one piece of an enormous jigsaw puzzle that simply won't fit no matter which way it is turned. I compare the whole me to an enormous jigsaw puzzle because my life has so many important pieces in it that are complicated and turn in many direc­tions. For example, I have a husband who is stationed in New Orleans, two little girls, and MAP!!!!!!! I used to have many more areas in my life, however, since beginning MAP it has narrowed down to these basic areas. I can not seem to get a grip on the one piece of me that brings these areas together. MAP has consumed Andy (pseudonym) and I don't know how to do it all. I am a very private person and I don't like to admit when I am losing control of the situation. Well, I have lost control! It really hit me when I realized how stressed out my 1 and 3 year old have become. You know the really bad thing about them being stressed out is I made them that way. Reflecting has become a big part of my life and now when I reflect on my family I feel like a failure [i.e., critical reflection has opened my eyes]. My family is the most important thing to me in the world, and I am not being a good mommy. As I watch and listen to you speak about children and what they need from their home environment, it tears me apart inside to think I am neglecting mine so much [i.e., I don't like what I see deep inside myself with my newly discovered eyes]. How can I be a good teacher if I can't be a good parent? MAP is hitting me in such a personal way I am overwhelmed. I mean who would of [sic] thought it would make me question my parenting skills?

This student is reacting to the same challenge as the previous student but from within the disposition of a constructive mode of brain functioning, albeit one with the tendency of a disintegrating coordination, but coordi­nation nevertheless. She is also in the creative, as opposed to habitual, mode of functioning, which is evident in the quality of her writing, in the terms she uses, and perhaps even in the relative amount of her writing. And, finally, she is viewing everything through various perspectives that dynamic self-regulation is making available to her simultaneously. She is not misattributing her situation solely to the specific domain of MAP assign­ments (i.e., by overreliance on convergence). Rather, she is attributing it to the enhanced level of understanding MAP has accorded her (acknowledg­ing the divergent momentum of her intuitive self-awareness): I mean who would of [sic] thought it [MAP] would make me question my parenting skills. For her, the concept of good, for instance, is wholetheme and runs across domains: How can I be a good teacher if I can't be a good parent? In the language of the biofunctional perspective, she seems to be asking: How can I be a good teacher by abandoning my dispositions to integrate the various sources that make me the healthy person my parenting and other aspects of my life require me to be? She is engaged in both problem recognition and solution recognition sides of critical reflection. As we read and reflect on this intern's MAP journal, we experience, vicariously through her, the widespread problem-recognition and solution-recognition powers of a blooming critical reflection capability.

The opposite of everything we have said about the journal of this intern seems to be true of the journal of the previous intern. The critical differ­ence, from the biofunctional perspective, lies in the dispositional modes of brain functioning the two interns mobilize or fail to mobilize. Remarkably, this difference is evident in both in a wholetheme fashion: physically, men­tally, emotionally, behaviorally, socially, and temporally. For example, the journal of the intern in the constructive mode of functioning reveals a behavior best characterized as approach. By contrast, the journal of the intern in the unconstructive mode of functioning suggests a type of behav­ior best characterized as avoidance: When you have a migraine you just want to relax and forget everything around you.


The educational side of the biofunctional perspective, as illustrated above with qualitative data from the journals of our MAP interns, may be called wholetheme education, in general, and wholetheme teacher education, in particular. A major focus of wholetheme education is to facilitate the devel­opment of intuitive flexibility in learners by helping them to understand (a) themselves, (b) the inexhaustible resources of their own nervous and bodily systems, (c) the role of their own brain-mind cycle of reflection, (d) the contribution of their own dispositional modes of functioning, and (e) the illuminating power of multiple perspectives. Another core aspect of wholetheme education is to help learners to understand and practice learn­ing as wholetheme reorganization of one's own intuitive knowledge base. Fortunately, as our illustrative data already suggest, we have had significant success in these areas (Iran-Nejad, Marsh, Ellis, Rountree, Casareno, Gregg, & Schlicter, 1995).

Mastering the art of regulating the diverse modes of one's brain functioningthat is, becoming the captain of the flow of one's own opti­mal experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988; Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1988)is the ultimate goal of wholetheme education for every individual learner. However, whereas this goal statement casts education according to the natural rhythm of the individual learner's physical, nervous, and bodily systems, it must not be taken as the blueprint of a crusade for the cause of individualism in education. Rather, the essence of this goal statement is that learning to interact with oneself is a prerequisite for learning to inter­act with others. The brain-mind cycle of reflection is the means with which to accomplish both of these kinds of learning. For our MAP interns, for all student teachers, for practicing teachers, and for educators in general, what mastering the brain-mind cycle of critical reflection is likely to bring is the intuitive flexibility to face educational challenges constructively, creatively, and dynamically. It is only then that an educator is likely to become an effective agent in handling the ever-unpredictable peculiarities of the slimy swamps of real educational settings (Schon, 1987).

What would it mean for one individual to play a role in educating someone else's brain-mind cycle of reflection by means of social inter­action? The biofunctional perspective implies that the right kind of prac­tice may be described as intuition exchange. Let us go back to our earlier discussion of MAP interns. Table 2 shows an interchange between DS and the MAP faculty member to whom he posed questions in his journal. This interchange reveals a glimpse of the kind of social organization of learning that MAP offers its interns. The questions were e-mailed to the professor as part of the same journal submitted after the intern's second week of class and second class session on wholetheme learning. As the quality of the questions illustrates, the experience has engaged the intern intensely in reflection on several major wholetheme ideas. In line with the assumption of simplification by integration, one wholetheme principle discussed in class was that learning outcomes indicative of successful reorganizations of the learner's own 1KB must come in the form of self-evident conclusions on the part of the learner. Another wholetheme principle is that intuitive flexibility results from repeated reorganizations of one's 1KB. For DS, there was a contradiction between these two wholetheme principles: But if our intuitions are self-evident to us (by definition in class, inseparable from us), why should we feel the need to allow our intuitions to be flexible?

Table 2. Quotations from guided reflective journals of D. S. Intern, a fictitious name for one of interns in the 3rd cohort of the multiple abilities program (MAP), along with the response by a MAP faculty member

QUESTIONS: My biggest question stems from this notion of the intuitive knowledge base being self-evident. Dr. A. I. MAP said in class that it does not matter if one's intuitions are right or wrong; what matters is how flexible we allow our intuitions to be. But if our intuitions are self-evident to us (by definition in class, inseparable from us), why should we feel the need to allow our intuitions to be flexible? I certainly understand that our intuitions must be flexible, but I think it is important that we understand that if our intuitions are often wrong this does not mean we should not go with them and try and test them in real-world scenarios. I just think accepting one's intuitions as self-evident is a scary thought. I stand firm by my intuitions, but that does not mean they are always right; thus, I do not consider my intuitions self-evident (without need of proof or explanation.) I guess I am having trouble distinguishing intuition from reasoning/experience, Does any of this make sense?

RESPONSE: Why should we feel the need to allow our self-evident intuitions to be flexible? One reason is that critical reflection forces us to wonder if today's self-evident conclusion is going to be as self-evident tomorrow. Therefore, rather than concluding once self-evident, always self-evident, we conclude it is self-evident today but let's sleep over it, so to speak, because tomorrow is yet another day. Therefore, you are absolutely on target in saying we must recognize that our intuitions are often wrong. To this we might add that intuitions often turn out to be wrong tomorrow even if they are self-evident today. This is because being self-evident and being right/wrong are two different things

When it comes to learning, one must NOT dwell on whether or not 1KB conclusions are right/wrong. Right or wrong, an 1KB conclusion is a gift we must cherish. On the other hand, we must strive for 1KB conclusions to reach their mature state of self-evidence. If we dwell on right/wrong, we work against the brain's creative powers. If we strive for self-evidence, we work with them, thereby encouraging them to march always forward in the direction of establishing self-evidence.

While the learner side of us must be free to cherish and enjoy the vital experience of self-evident 1KB conclusions one after another, it is the critical side of us that must recognize the risk. However, mastering the art of reflective problem solving to facilitate learning in ourselves and others requires that we find a way of ensuring these two sides work together without getting in each other's way. In real-world scenarios, critical reflection and relying on the power of one's intuitions must go together. We are really not saying that our intuitions are immune to error. What we are saying is that it does not matter if they are not immune to error. In fact, what is intriguing about one's 1KB is that it is trustworthy despite being wrong because right/wrong is not how to evaluate the 1KB. The value of the 1KB is how flexible a tool it is to offer solutions, including wrong ones, rapidly enough for critical reflection to prioritize them, realizing all the time that the 1KB is, by design, a perpetual source of solutions.

Should we consider our intuitions self-evident to begin with? The short answer to this question is that we have no choice. Intuitions are either going to be self-evident or critical reflection has stopped short of letting them. One cannot say I do not consider my intuitions self-evident. They just either are or are not; and when they are not, we must strive to make them that way. What we can say is that I do not consider my intuitions to be always right, which is what makes critical reflection. The brain's creative processes determine if the ongoing intuitions are self-evident. . . .

The questions this intern is posing are about what he identified as a teaching tool: his own 1KB. Neither the questions nor the answers to them suggest any desire to receive or give information, certainly not any infor­mation that can be properly identified as factual. Nor are they confined to the tool-like focus of the 1KB (e.g., how, when, where to use it)there is no trace of how-to or procedural knowledge in the interchange. This is not a dialog out of the textbook of technical rationality (Schon, 1987). The substance of the dialog is much more organic, much more cross domain, and much more domain comprehensive. And yet, the tool-like nature of this intern's teaching tool is self-evident to the contentment of both the student and the teacher in the dialog, so much so that at no point during the interchange is there any question about it.

Similarly self-evident are other wholetheme aspects of this student-teacher interaction. The discourse is undeniably an exercise in critical reflection, both in tone and substance. In MAP, learning is viewed and practiced as wholetheme reorganization of one's own 1KB. It is clear from the discourse that this is, indeed, the tacit goal with which both partners of the interchange are struggling. The various processes for facilitating learn­ing as reorganization of one's own 1KB have two purposes. One is to help interns let go of the deep-seated eclectic assumptions they already hold about teaching and learning. The second is to replace these eclectic assump­tions with alternative wholetheme assumptions about the course of brain-mind cycle of reflection. Accordingly, these are again, self-evidently, the focus of the exercise in intuition exchange, not so much by design but as a natural consequence of the process of wholetheme learning.

A major focus of wholetheme teacher education is to help MAP interns master the art of personally exercising dispositional shifts in their own modes of functioning and of facilitating such shifts in their students' modes of functioning. In everything they do during their 2-year program (read­ings, assignments, field placements, field trips, classroom activities, etc.), MAP's spiral curriculum encourages the interns to exercise shifts from habitual to creative, from unconstructive to constructive, and from predom­inantly active to predominantly dynamic modes of functioning. Table 3 provides a glimpse of their progress across the 2 years.

These findings resulted from a systematic inspection of the journal entries of six MAP interns from the first cohort of MAP, across both years of the program. For each intern, 12 journal entries were analyzed, 3 journal entries from each of the 4 semesters. The journal entries were analyzed for evi­dence of the kind of perspectives the writer held about teaching and learn­ing. Each journal entry was segmented into chunks so that each section contained sufficient information to reveal a distinct idea about teaching or learning. These ideas were then coded as to whether they reflected an eclectic or a wholetheme perspective. There were a total of 334 codable chunks for Year 1 and 408 for Year 2. Table 3 shows the data in proportions for eclectic and wholetheme idea units combined across semesters and students.

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There were three main findings. First, the proportions of eclectic ideas decreased, while wholetheme ideas increased from Year 1 to Year 2, both at least at the .05 level of significance. Second, the proportions of wholetheme ideas were significantly higher than those of the eclectic ideas for both years. Third, the eclectic-to-wholetheme change in the proportion of idea units reached practical significance, in addition to statistical significance, only for Year 2 journals.

To illustrate the quality of student progress in adopting the wholetheme perspective, consider the case of Tammy, an intern from the second cohort of MAP students. Table 4 presents the metaphor portions of three of her reflective journal entries from her 1st year in MAP. Comparing her meta­phors from 10/18/96 and 2/16/97 provides evidence of the kind of progress she made. The 2/16/97 metaphor is much more personal and much more grounded; and it reveals a wider spectrum of thoughts about teaching and learning, a first measure of its wholetheme nature.


It is difficult to see how the theory of constructive elaboration on memory structures and processes can do justice to the human capacity for critical reflection. The idea behind the biofunctional approach discussed in this paper has been to search for an alternative. At the heart of this alternative lies the brain-mind cycle of reflection in the course of which the brain dynamically creates intuitive self-awareness for the mind to discern. The mind, in turn, converges, reflects, and acts upon the awareness that the brain creates. Thus, intuitive self-awareness serves as the language in which the brain and the mind engage in conversation with one another in the course of the brain-mind cycle of reflection. In this sense, intuitive self-awareness plays an indispensable role. Without it the brain-mind cycle of reflection would be impossible.

Table 4. Quotations from guided weekly reflective journals of Tammy T. Intern, a fictitious name for one of the interns in the 2nd cohort of the Multiple Abilities Program.


As a facilitator of authentic learning, I view myself this week to be a key. An authentic teacher must be able to unlock the potential in their students and give them the keys they need to succeed. The teacher (the key) would also be opening new experiences that the students would be able to relate to in everyday life situations. As an authentic teacher, I not only want to be the key to their success but give my students the idea they are their own key to success. I feel very excited about what I am learning this week. I am beginning to be able to relate what I have learned to what I have observed in my field placement. I am also anxious to learn more information to build on what I already know. GWRJ-M (10/6/96)

As a facilitator of authentic learning, I view myself this week to be a trout swimming up stream. I know the direction I am supposed to be heading in, but because of certain circumstances I may not always get there. Sometimes the water may be too swift and certain obstacles keep me from swimming ahead. As a teacher, I will have to face certain events and obstacles that arise in my teaching and in my classroom each day. I hope that when I finally reach the top of the stream the brown bear is not waiting to eat me. I am feeling very discouraged about what I am learning in Ed. Psych, this week. I just can't seem to make myself understand. GWR-M(10/18/96)

As a facilitator of authentic learning, I view myself to be a beautiful sunny day. A day of sunshine after many days of cold rain. . . . Today on my walk down a new path, I asked myself questions that I can relate to the wholetheme learning principles. I reorganized my thoughts by asking myself many open ended questions. I drew from many sources (the sun, the path, the beautiful sky). I listened to my inner feelings. I fed off the sunshine and my outside surroundings. Because I listened to what my body was telling me (Get outside and enjoy the day to the fullest!) I put my self in a creative, constructive mode of functioning. All of my thinking and writing may seem a little far out to you or anyone else that reads this. I am not concerned about that, because for the first time I am able to take what we have discussed in class and relate it to an everyday life situation. Today, I realized that on my walk I had been thinking about Ed. Psych, and my journal for the week. I didn't tell myself to think about it, but subconsciously I was. I stopped for a moment while on my walk and found myself chuckling inside. For the first time I was able to let out a loud BINGO! I actually understood what you were meaning in class. I am excited about my realizations and I am also curious to see if I can pass the sunshine on to my students. As an authentic teacher, I hope I will always be a bright, bright, sun shiny day!!! GWRJ-M(2/16/97)

Intuitive self-awareness is a nonsymbolic language. It directly serves as its own meaning. Because its creation is regulated dynamically, it is divergent in nature and appears simultaneously everywhere in the nervous system in the form of domain-comprehensive wholethemes. Because of its divergent na­ture, it can serve as an open ground for exploration by the convergent nature of the mind through self-focus in the brain-mind cycle of reflection. It can serve, in part, as the conscious mind when and to the extent that it is caught in the convergent focus of the active mode of self-regulation in the form of a domain-specific theme. In turn, a domain-specific theme can serve as a ground out of which the convergent focus of the mind can pull figures in the form of categorical concepts. Some of these concepts are nonsymbolic in that they can serve as their own meaning. Others, whose nonsymbolic content is limited (e.g., to visual or auditory awareness) take a symbolic form and play an indirect representational role as words or other types of symbols.

Far from existing in the form of disembodied memory structures, knowl­edge as described here is an ongoing creation of the brain in the form of live intuitive self-awareness in its various manifestations. Nevertheless, as inti­mately tied to brain function as it is, knowledge is but one of the many sources that contribute to the brain-mind cycle of reflection, learning, and other as­pects of human functioning. Other major contributors are the dispositional modes of brain functioning (e.g., habitual or creative)imagination, fore­sight, insight, hindsight, suspense, curiosity, interest, anxiety, fear, ap­proach, and avoidance. Explaining critical reflection in terms of constructive elaboration in memory processes renders these critical aspects of brain func­tioning as mysterious and/or irrelevant as the brain itself is to the explanation.

The human race has extended its explorations to the depths of space and oceans. However, our understanding of what gives us the power to engage in these extraordinary voyages or to have solved the obstacles inher­ent in such explorations lags behind. It is no more sophisticated than what once upon a time Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, delivered to the Greeks. As we look back today from the threshold of the 21st century, we must wonder why we have paid so little attention to the very system that makes our uniquely human accomplishments possiblethe human brain. Given the complexity of the human nervous system, it will probably take a number of different perspectives to arrive at a realistic understanding of how the brain works. Nevertheless, until very recently, the mnemosynic perspective had been the only one through the ages to guide our thinking about how the brain works. For more than 2 decades now, however, the biofunctional perspective and its wholetheme counterpart in education have offered an alternative vision. The present discussion of critical reflec­tion is free from any explicit memory metaphors which may turn out to be the Achilles' heel for the proposed brain-mind cycle of reflection (see Iran-Nejad, Marsh, & Clements, 1992). However, if this is the price to pay for challenging the hegemony of the mnemosynic perspective, so be it!

The brain-mind cycle of reflection is first and foremost a theory of self-discovery through critical self-reflection. This theory requires us to let go of many assumptions that apparently serve us well in our everyday dealings with the world. One such example is the assumption of simplification by isolation or the assumption that breaking difficult-to-manipulate external objects into manageable parts makes it easier for us to handle them (Bartlett, 1932; Iran-Nejad, McKeachie, & Berliner, 1990; Salomon, 1994, 1995).

In wholetheme teacher education, interns must first master the art and science of regulating their own dispositional modes of brain functioning in action before hoping to make substantial progress in developing the critical reflection expertise needed for facilitating learning in others. Analyzing and internalizing an external store of disembodied book symbols or observ­ing others doing so in the classroom will not promote the requisite mastery.

The brain-mind cycle of reflection theory offers a realistic solution to Hamad's (1990) symbol-grounding problem. Symbols are grounded natu­rally in nonsymbolic categories, themes, and wholethemes. Thus, the symbols that constitute the words in the story in Table 1 are grounded in the theme of the story, which is, in turn, simultaneously grounded in the wholethemes of space, time, life, death, and so forth. The wholethemes serve as the common ground for the multiple perspectives accessible by means of crit­ical reflection. However, the grounding occurs not only at the level of knowledge but in the dispositional modes of brain functioning as well. Thus, the dispositional modes are an inseparable part of us in a fashion that is self-evident to us (i.e., to our intuitive self-awareness). Moreover, they are inseparable from us not because they form rigidly fixed structures but because they are regulated dynamically in a manner that is simultaneously governed by inordinate stability and unrestrained flexibility.

We are grateful to Ray Russ, Gopa Venugopalan, Yuejin Xu, and our anonymous reviewers for their insightful contributions to this paper. Correspondence regarding this paper should be sent to Asghar Iran-Nejad, Ph.D., Educational Psychology Program, University of Alabama, Box 870231, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487. Phones: 205 348-1183 (Office), 205 752-3762 (Home), 205 3480683 (fax). Email: airannej@bamaed.ua.edu


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 103 Number 5, 2001, p. 868-895
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10826, Date Accessed: 11/26/2021 7:17:29 PM

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About the Author
  • Ashgar Iran-Nejad
    University of Alabama
    E-mail Author
    ASGHAR IRAN-NEJAD is professor of educational psychology, University of Alabama. He is interested in biofunctional cognition, learning, and wholetheme education. He is a founding member of the Multiple Abilities Program in elementary teacher education, the guest editor of special issues of Educational Psychologist, Journal of Mind and Behavior, and Review of Educational Research, and coeditor, with P. David Pearson, of AERA’s Review of Educational Research.
  • Madeleine Gregg
    University of Alabama
    SR. MADELEIN GREGG is an associate professor of teacher education, University of Alabama. She is a founding member of the Multiple Abilities Program, an innovative undergraduate elementary teacher education program. Her research interests include the cognitive processing of geographical information with particular reference to memory and reasoning processes.
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