Category Archives: Learning

My Brain Is Too Small

A second grader recently warned me that he didn’t think he was a very good reader. When I probed the reason for his conclusion he told me in very adult terms, “I do fine at home but when I get to school… my brain is too small! There are just too many words and things to learn!”

I wanted to reply, “I know how you feel.”

Later I stumbled onto this article:

How much of learning time is spent NOT learning, do you suppose?

In order to learn, people need time to think, to process, to question and explore. Great companies like Google know this to be true and give their workers permission simply to think or explore 20% of the time. Thanks to this 20% time, Gmail and Google News were created.

What if we allowed 20% time in our learning environments? For every hour of learning time, we allot 12 minutes for our learners to work with the topic on their own? They might go to a quiet meditative room to review their notes. They might go out on the floor and see concepts in action. They might do further research on the topic such as what industries are already using it (whatever it might be). Whatever they choose, it would not be prescribed. It would  simply be reflective, processing time… When it comes to learning, less is more is an adage that holds true.

(c) 2011 The Training Doctor, LLC  http://www.trainingdr.com

An interesting suggestion… but it’s not just about training. Thanks to technology we can multitask. How many times have you carried on a conversation with someone who’s punching the screen of their smart phone?  If it’s safe to do so, count how many drivers you encounter who are NOT talking on a cell phone. 

Next time I read with my second grade buddy I may suggest that the problem is not that his brain is too small. Perhaps it’s just that his brain is too busy. (During our reading time I suggested we’d take it slow–one word at a time if necessary– and discovered that he’s actually a pretty good reader.)

Whether we are learning or living,  a little “down time” isn’t such a bad idea. Take time to process  and explore. One of my favorite brain/thinking researchers was Ned Hermann. He used to describe sitting in his recliner and approaching a “theta”  rhythm characterized by a drowsy, meditative, or sleeping state. If his wife called out to him to take out the trash or perform some other task he’d reply, “Not now, dear. I’m working.”

Reflection, exploration… these are activities with at least as much value as writing or talking or punching the screen of your smart phone. Allow yourself time to do them and you may discover that your brain is bigger than you thought.

 

Problem-solving With Kids

Many regular readers know that I spend quite a bit of time with the kids at school… mostly as a “bookworm” meaning second and third graders get turns reading their favorite books to me. We have a lot of fun and I like to think it encourages a love of reading.  I know I enjoy their friendship and they teach me a lot.

During a recent visit a gaggle of third grade girls cornered me to announce “We have a bullying problem.” Now unless you live under a rock you know that bullying is something taken very seriously at school–volunteers are obligated to report incidents to teachers. I somewhat surprised myself when I responded by asking them, “What have you done about it?”

I was not that surprised when they gave me a fair amount of detail regarding the perpetrator, who’d they’d reported it to, and what the plan was for dealing with it. I am convinced that we often fail as adults by underestimating kids. The situation was well in hand; they just wanted me to know.

My conversation with them reminded me of an event some years ago. I was at my then chiropractor’s office and discovered that Amanda had come to work with her mom due to an accident at school the previous day. She and Tyler, another first grader, collided while playing kick ball.

She was busy managing multiple priorities: being a kid, greeting and visiting patients, entertaining herself, saying “out of the way,” creating art, practicing writing her name, and negotiating more time off rom school with her mom. I considered myself fortunate that she found time in her busy schedule to play with me. Actually, that’s not quite right. She let me play with her.

I found it difficult to “write my name” using those perfectly shaped first grade  letters. But every time I “goofed up” Amanda assured me I was doing fine. She also thought I could draw a pretty good cat.

We of course discussed her accident. When I asked her how she was going to avoid getting hurt again she didn’t hesitate with her answer. She would make sure her and Tyler were on the same team so they were always running in the same direction.

I left clutching the drawing Amanda did for me. (She drew pretty good flowers.) It still hangs in my office as a reminder of the fun we had and the fact that sometimes kids are great problem solvers. Adults are the ones who make things difficult.

 


By my estimation, Amanda is now in her early twenties. I’m sorry I’ve lost touch with her and her Mom… but I hope she’s still drawing flowers!

But Do I Have To?

Do we have to learn this?

When I’m teaching real estate courses one of the questions I get asked frequently is “Are we going to have to do this in practice/real life?”  (It might not be a surprise that it most often comes up during math exercises.)

It’s a good question, of course. It’s also a hard one to answer honestly because sometimes “it depends.” So I will often put my tongue in my cheek and reply “Yes, at least once–when you take the final exam at the end of the course.”

I recently finished reading a series of articles on student engagement and motivation that I thought created several important perspectives in relation to that frequently asked question. I was attracted to the series based on a teaser suggesting it’s important to “teach your students how to fail.” Now that’s an interesting concept–and one I’m still exploring.

But what followed was  the suggestion to “teach students to value learning, not performance.” That statement forced me to wheel my chair back and stare at the screen for a while. I admire the simple elegance of that suggestion.

For years we’ve met at the altar of an adult learning model that suggested we (educators/trainers) only have value when we are involved in “performance-based” training. Our lesson plans have to have “action words” in those behavioral objectives.  “At the completion of this course, the student will be able to…”

I remember having my cage rattled quite a few years ago by an instructor who suggested “writing behavioral learning objectives is arrogant and presumptuous–what right do you have to decide what students are going to learn in your classes?” It’s probably fair to label him an extremist, but he makes an interesting point. As if to reinforce his point, I’ve had a number of occasions when a former student has contacted me and thanked me for something he or she learned in my class–and I don’t remember teaching it.

Our obsession with performance (including how students perform on tests) may have some unintended results. I listened to a student at the start of a recent class introduce herself with the observation she “was tired of taking classes and learning.” I thought it was a very sad statement. But I also think she’s wrong. She’s not tired of learning. I think she’s tired of being taught.

Too often our systems of education remove the joy of learning. If we can’t figure out how to put it back in, we ought to at least look at some ways to allow it!

 


 

To read the articles mentioned visit Teachers Training International.