Once again, it’s that time of year. The floors are waxed, the fields properly prepared and the new staff hired. On 28 August, Raymond School District will open its doors to the incoming students and begin another year of learning. Below are four challenges that students often experience when learning, as well as ideas about how to overcome the challenges.
Challenge #1—I Received a Low Grade
Often, we think that learning should be easy. (Wouldn’t that be nice if that’s the way it worked?) Sometimes we think that simply because we’ve read over the assignment (and even highlighted it), that we’ve learned it. We also sometimes fail to recognize that there may be other complicating factors. These include the belief that talent is required to learn something well (it isn’t), that human beings are good at assessing their own level of learning (we aren’t) and that memorizing the facts is the key to learning (also not true). We actually learn by applying ourselves, engaging with others in reflection regarding our abilities and relating what we’ve learned to real-world situations and what we’ve previously mastered. One of the best ways to know we’ve truly learned something is to teach it to somebody else. If you can do that, you will know you’ve mastered the topic.
Challenge #2—I Failed a Homework Assignment/Test/Course
Failure is a part of learning; students might benefit from simply making this shift in their perspective. Students need to ask themselves how they can benefit from the failure. What have they learned? Did they wait too long to ask for help? Did they do the work necessary to be successful? Are they attending school regularly and on time? Are they using effective study methods? Properly reacting to the failure that we all experience will be the difference between continuing to fail and learning from the temporary setback.
Challenge #3—I Can’t Keep Up
All students have those moments when they feel like they are collapsing under their work load. Juggling learning with everything else going on in our lives is a learned skill. After many years of studying, I have found a few things that help. First of all, if we have a lot to read, divide it up into “chunks”, rather than waiting until the night before the test. Secondly, go to class; it’s amazing how much easier learning is if we’re actually at school! Thirdly, take good notes. Writing assists in prioritizing and reinforcing what’s important. Finally (and at the risk of repeating myself), don’t wait too long to ask for help.
Challenge #4—I’m Studying Hard and It’s Not Working
We’ve all been there; we thought we had properly prepared, but the test results indicated something different. Sometimes we think we are studying, but we are actually “multi-tasking.” Our society has fostered the belief that we can think about more than one thing at a time. We can’t; it is physiologically impossible. Our brains can move from one task to another quite rapidly, sometimes giving the illusion that we are truly multi-tasking, but what we are actually doing is sequentially decreasing our efficiency in several activities. If you’re going to study, study. If you’re going to watch TV, watch TV. You’re fooling yourself if you think you can fully engage in both at the same time. It’s not a matter of intelligence; it’s a matter of the way our brains are built.
Challenge #5—I Forget the Important Stuff
While facts are important, concepts are more important. True learning occurs when the learner:
- Identifies a new concept
- Identifies any contradictions with previous learning
- Examines all options in an attempt to resolve those contradictions
- Strives to find meaning in the resolution
- Connects, explains and integrates new learning into current understanding
- Enjoys the clarity of the new understanding
- Applies and relates what’s been learned with the next new concept
The fact is that learning is hard; there really aren’t any shortcuts. However, by focusing on the tips described above, most people can be more efficient in their learning.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” –Frederick Douglass