The Experience of Learning

I love to learn! I love to experience new things and to take in all that is around me and all that I can…well about things I am interested in at least. As a student in elementary school, I loved to learn! I loved my teachers; I loved to help my teachers. I was the girl who sometimes stayed in at recess to help my teachers make extra credit crossword puzzles on the ditto machine! In middle school, we were “tracked”…meaning, kids were grouped into classes by their IQ test results. I didn’t exactly understand all of this at the time, but I knew which group I was in because the “gifted” students were intermingled with my group (the “almost gifted”) and were selected on Wednesdays to be pulled from the class to participated in special “gifted activities”, while those remaining participated in the SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) cards that were conveniently color-coded so that you could see what levels others in the class had achieved. I don’t believe I ever reached teal.

In high school I fell in love with art. My art teacher was my saving grace. When I struggled in World Cultures or Chemistry, I could escape to the art room. When I didn’t have money to go out for lunch like the others, and didn’t want to sit in the cafeteria by myself, I went to the art room. By my Junior year, I actually began to recognize my artistic talent.  And, I learned that Algebra and I were not friends, but the art room offered me opportunities to feel good and escape the drama of high school!

Throughout undergraduate college I struggled with classes, but did “well enough”.  Again, art classes were no problem…academics were more of a struggle, or perhaps, as I realize now, the academics weren’t as much of the problem as my own knowledge of how to learn. It wasn’t until I returned to college 9 years later to become a special education teacher (a dream I had always had, but in high school didn’t enjoy academics a lot), that I began to recognize how I learned.  It was during the first semester of my first year of graduate school, when I was placed “out of sync” in classes related to earning my Masters in Exceptionalities, when I sat in a class with words and acronyms being thrown around like “IEP”, “ER”, “IDEA”, “NOREP”…that I began to realize that I needed to not only raise my hand and ask questions, but I needed to talk with other students and collaborate in order to learn. It was through the modeling of the professors and their methods of not only teaching, but evaluating, that I began to realize how I truly learn best and how teachers really need to teach.

It was during the two years of graduate school, that I became acutely aware of the method of delivery of information and more importantly HOW I learned this information best.  (And, therefore how to teach others.) For instance, when material was delivered in ways that actively, physically involved me, whether we moved our desks into small groups, walked around the room, or created something, I learned information quicker.  Perhaps this was the method of instruction or the content and application, or maybe just the dialogue that occurred to reinforce the content…whatever, it worked.  When studying for tests, we did this in a small group of graduate students…sitting and talking about the content. Again the dialogue that occurred, hearing myself say the words, talking about the information, reinforced it in my head.  What I wouldn’t have done to have known this in high school or under graduate school!

As a teacher, I find myself often forgetting to reflect on my own learning.  I focus so much on helping students “get” the information – teaching them to navigate a text or helping them learn how they best learn, that when I am learning something new I simply think about the content instead of being aware of the process of learning. (Which, in fact, may be MORE important that what I am actually learning!) But, I think this is something that is VERY necessary for teachers and really all people to be aware of…HOW do we learn best?

Recently, I participated in a free webinar on ADHD in families. I was interested in the topic because I have a family member who has ADHD and I often think that I probably have ADHD as well, and of course, also because I am a teacher of several students who have ADHD. I have a lot of basic knowledge about ADHD and how it affects students in the classroom, but I hadn’t thought about it from the parent or family perspective or how it may manifest itself at home or outside of school. So I found myself listening to this “new” information and sometimes getting distracted when it was information that I already knew (medications, classroom strategies, etc.).  The PowerPoint was presented for us to look at during the session, but was not provided ahead of time to print out. This made it frustrating for me, because I am someone who enjoys taking notes and then being able to look back…having the PowerPoint would have helped me write the notes next to the slides and recall the information. This is the same reason I still prefer paper books over e-books. I want to physically turn the page or turn it back. The delivery format was auditory and visual which was fine, but wasn’t quite engaging enough for me. Because the topic was something I was interested in, the links provided during the session sparked me to continue after the webinar in search of more information.  Furthermore, I shared this information with others.  But, mostly I became very aware of my inability to focus (interesting since it was a presentation on ADHD)!

I think, as teachers, it is vitally important that we take time to be aware of our own learning styles, how we engage others. I do many presentations at conferences across the state. I have done very interactive presentations engaging the audience, and I have, admittedly, done some presentations that lacked engagement. In almost all of my presentations I do offer additional resources to find more information on the topics for those who want to learn more. But, it is easy to forget that adults need the same teaching methods as youth!

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2 Comments

  1. Wendy,
    Great post. I couldn’t agree more. I believe that we get so caught up in covering the material and hoping that are students “get it” without putting much thought into how they learn best. I often have conversations with my students to determine how they learn best, however most times they are unable to identify it themselves.
    During instruction I try to deliver content in multiple ways so that I can reach many learning styles and engage my students. We do a a lot of project based activities vs. paper/pencil work whenever possible. I think that is because I myself find I learn best by completing something rather than answering a question about it.

    Mindy

    Reply
  2. Wendy….

    Thanks for sharing these insights about your own learning. I suspect we’ve had some similar experiences in our learning approaches. I too would characterize my own learning style as one that is very visual and kinesthetic. I too enjoy the opportunity to engage in my learning. I’ve found UDL to be an important framework that helps educators understand why this is so important in reaching/teaching all learners. I hope you concur as we move through this course.

    Reply

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