Independent Book Review

In this current era, teenagers in the fourteen and fifteen year old range, have constant and instant access to information and media content. They’re bombarded with information and misinformation in abridgments in the form of sound-bytes, sight-bytes, and thought-bytes. Due to this instant access, they take in enormous amount of bits and pieces of information at a rapid pace and all at once, which shortens their attention spans. Rather then mulling over and thinking through the big picture, they expect immediate answers to questions that require contemplation and careful consideration.
Today’s teens garner their information more from the media, Internet, social networks and their peers than they do from schools and families. An adolescent’s brain grows at an unprecedented rate while their hormones play havoc with their emotions and they do not always have the emotional or mental maturity to discern fact from fluff. The majority are more concerned with what is “cool” than what is right. The image that they project and their relationships with their peers, take priority over everything else. All of those factors and more are only normal steps of adolescence evolving into adulthood. It is crucial that, fourteen and fifteen year old children are allowed to learn from their mistakes. Their understanding of the world is limited and they need guidance and direction, but not regimentation. When it comes to a program designed to promote building self-esteem, racial and gender equality and tolerance; as well as addressing social issues, like cyber-bullying, abuse, addiction, suicide, etc; adolescents do not want to be lectured nor have their intelligence insulted. Instead, they should be given the intellectual and emotional tools to self-advocate. Vanessa Lee’s book, Smile Inside: Experiential Activities for Self-Awareness Ages 14-15, aptly addresses these issues. In the preface to her book she states, “The Smile Inside philosophy is based on a very simple concept: people thrive when they’re emotionally balanced, self-aware and authentic with themselves and others.”
The Smile Inside plan is derived from David A. Kolb’s and Ralph Fry’s “experiential learning cycle.” and Kolb’s book,Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, which is a revision and enhancement of Kolb’s methodology based directly on philosophies of John Dewey, a founder and herald of Progressive Education. Experiential Learning gives everyone a chance to grow through experience. Students are rallied to participate in certain structured activities and have discourse and make inferences from the results of the said activities. From there, they take what they’ve gleaned from the experience of the previous activities and participate in more structured activities. Hence, what they’ve learned from their collective experiences, after further discourse, emendation and apperception, is applied across the board during more structured activities, to where eventually Experiential Learning is implemented unconsciously into all aspects of the student’s life. Lee writes, “…this teaching method causes participants to revise their prior understandings as they encounter new information in order to deepen their comprehension of themselves, others and the world.”
Smile Inside is designed for up sixteen students. It consists of eleven modules with a specific title that reflects the goal of each module. The modules are broken down into sections that contain activities that pertain to the subject matter implied by the title. For example, Module One is titled, Icebreakers. All of the activities in this section deal with ‘breaking the ice.’ The first activity is called:THE NAME GAME: “Remembering names and expressing characteristics.” Next is, The M&M GAME: “Opening lines of communication through sharing.” And then, an activity called CLUMP: “Discovering common bonds with peers.” This type of step by step chronology is consistent throughout all the modules, from “Icebreakers” to the final module, the appropriately titled “Culmination.” The structure of the modules and the activities within each module fit together like cogs in a perpetual experiential learning machine. Its operation moves as fast or slow as the required needs and abilities of each student. This promotes an atmosphere of true individual experiential and inquiry learning. Lee’s holistic approach with Smile Inside, encompasses all aspects of a child’s life besides scholastic, including such topics as; self-esteem, proper diet and exercise; methods of meditation; real life problem solving; appropriate socialization; working as team and building leadership skills. Throughout the modules, there are inspirational quotes from famous philosophers, intellectuals, inventors, titans of business and industry, writers and artists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ford, Marcel Proust, Anis Nin and Maya Angelou. The quotes reiterate and enhance the subject mater of each module and the eleven modules in Smile Inside are experienced as a whole.
Overall, Lee’s Smile Inside gives teens the tools, like self-esteem, self-discipline and empathy through experiential learning to become productive and humane citizens of the world.

-Lindy K. Gooden and Lee Gooden

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