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Own It: Learn How to Learn

When I look back on my college education I see class time spent listening to lectures and watching instructors work math problems on the board. Seldom, if ever, were we students given class time to think something through or work something out for ourselves.  If connections were going to be made, they were going to be made on our own time away from the classroom and instructor.

As an instructor, I try to give my students opportunities to understand the material we are covering during class before I send them home to try it for themselves. This is seldom appreciated by the students in my classes who seem to want to be spoon fed the material so as not to have to think hard about it.

Following are some excerpts from an email I received from a student early this semester: “This is very frustrating for me because I am working really hard on this stuff but have no idea where to start a thought process, mainly because I have never seen this kind of material or examples of it.” “I quite simply can not learn this kind of complex math by reading a power point and then be given a problem to do with other frustrated students. I am not alone in these feelings, other students in the class feel the same. I can see some of the students sitting in the back seem to be able to do it, but most of us can not.

This is a good student, one of my best, but he does not like to have to figure anything out. His expectation for me is that I will show the class one of every kind of problem they might encounter in homework or on a test. He is unhappy that I ask him to think hard about it before I tell all the secrets. I know that the way I am teaching it helps my students to learn the material better than when I just showed a bunch of examples and asked nothing of them. At times, though (like when I got this email), I ask myself if it is worth it. It is easier to just lecture. The students are happier when I just lecture, even though their test grades are lower, go figure! But then I think back to my own education, how I truly owned it when I figured it out for myself, and that is what I want for my students. I want them to learn how to learn.



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One Response to Own It: Learn How to Learn

  1. Mark Smith November 4, 2013 at 9:41 PM #

    As an English instructor it does me a lot of good to read this. I suppose I thought things would be more straightforward in the Math world, but no .. there is no substitute for students facing up to the fact that thoughtfulness is required. You can’t phone it in.

    I usually get this type of revelation when a student comes to me and says “I don’t get what you want,” in response to an assignment which asks them to think critically and engage their minds. “I don’t get what you want,” usually translates into “Please tell me what to think, what to do, what to write. Give me a worksheet to fill out, give me something easy.” But my reply is this: “What do I want? I want you to take an interest in this subject. After that, all else will follow.”

    Thanks for the fine and honest post!

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