Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Practicing to Learn

Persistant pattering of rain, ambient roar of the heater, the constant grey gloomy glow struggles to pentrate inside the window panes. A typical classroom environment in high school - high school in Portland Oregon.

It was my junior year at Sam Barlow High School. I knew the routine well after a few months of AP U.S. History; write like mad to capture every name and date that rapidly fired from the teachers mouth. Then pray that 80% of the notes I was able to scribble (75% was legible, of which hopefully half would stick in my short term memory) would be the right data to pass the next test.

Stressful. Mind-numbing. Passive. Boring. Meaningless.

But a conversation triggered an epiphany.

I don't remember the exact circumstances of the conversation; just that it was outside of an academic setting and I wasn't able to recall the significance of historical events that I knew had been covered in class. I do vividly remember this created a deep sense of personal frustration. I was investing so much time and energy in school but had so little to show for it in application. Whatever I had been doing surely wasn't learning, even if I was getting A's.

This was the catalyst.

On this day I showed up to class and found the lone left handed chair. Instead of picking up my pencil and hunkering down for a session of frantic dictation, I laid down my pencil and sat back with my arms crossed and a grin on my face.

This was an act of defiance.

But I wasn't giving up on the class. I was defying the premise that I was a mere machine being programmed with data which I was expected to recall on a test to demonstrate I in fact a functional machine. Instead, I committed to actively synthesis the information as it was given to me. I was going to actively listen, think, connect the dots of cause and effect, and question answers.

Everything was transformed.

The fact that I didn't get cramps in my hand anymore was only the beginning of my new found enjoyment of the class. The cause and effect began to make sense.  Eventually I began to anticipate outcomes based on differing values and theories about the human system, affirming my reasoning when I was right and sharping it when I was wrong. The exhilarating "Ah Ha!" moments became more frequent, even addicting.

Relaxing. Stimulating. Active. Exciting. Meaningful.

The fruit was twofold. Outside of the classroom the information became increasingly relevant and applicable to the world around me. Inside the classroom I was no longer as stressed for exams, and studying was no longer "anxious cramming". I would show up the day of the test confident because I had a deeper understanding of the subject matter, not just superficial comprehension and memorization of the material.

I was for the first time practicing to learn - something all together different than acquiring knowledge through comprehension and memorization. It didn't take long for this to pour over into all of my coursework (math, english, science) and eventually every aspect of my life.

School became simultaneously meaningful yet peripheral - not solely a means to an end, but a valuable opportunity for growth in and of itself.


Anna said...

If you're interested in reading about education, two books that have helped how I think about it: "Montessori: the Science Behind the Genius" and "What's Math Got to Do With It?".

DK said...

Per your recommendation I will be placing both of those on hold at the library. Thanks!