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How to Learn

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I am having an intense learning experience.

I live in Maryland, but I'm currently in St. Louis with my sister and family. My sister Eva is an artist, and her husband Paul is director of a museum. It was open studio weekend, and I visited galleries and studio space with them, meeting lots of artists and supporters of artists. I asked everyone lots of questions. I learned a lot that I did not know before. I saw much that was beautiful, and much that led to more questions.

I also visited the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois -- the remains of a Mississipian tribal city. There is a great learning center on-site for visitors, and a fantastic hike up to the top of the mound. I learned a lot about American early history that I did not know before. I had to work my body hard to climb up the mound. From the top I could see the other mounds left by the Indians. I could see vast acres that had been farmed for decades. In the distance I could see the city of St. Louis with its trademark Arch. I was walking in the footsteps of thousand of others over a thousand years of history -- and seeing it all at once in panoramic view.

This week I also read several books about middle school. I gained experience through other people's eyes and their interpretations of experience. That has given me a lot to think about as I prepare to enter the Middle School educational program. I read a great novel The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. I had to look up some of the words using a dictionary. I used the computer to find other books by this author so I can read more. I learned something from his words and ideas. I was inspired enough to create a collage using one of the passages from his book. I am not an artist, but it pleases me to see it finished. I have experienced success.

My intense learning experience has incorporated travelling to new places, talking with strangers who are experts, reading books, imagining the lives of other people, walking uphill on a summer's afternoon, searching the internet, using my eyes to see art and my hands to create art. I asked questions and thought about things. I used my imagination, and the expertise of others to add to my previous knowledge and create new ideas. I experienced learning success.

There is less than a month until we're all back in school. I have to think about the required curriculum and tests, and plan out lessons according to schedule. But right now I'm just thinking about how to learn. I know how to learn. I'm doing it. That's the key. I am experiencing learning, even when I am not seeking it out or being told to learn. Learning can't be turned on when the figurative school bell rings. Or can it? After that, that is our job, right?

Hope I can bring it home in my suitcase. Hope I can bring it back to my students.

1 Comment

Passion is what you bring to the students. Share your passion for learning, caring and respect. I taught middle school once. I learned so much from them and I think they learned alot from me too (according to end of the year surveys.) At this age, they need role models, mentors and advisors; but not the kind that preach to them or tell them what they should be doing. They need those who show them through example and self exploration. Lessons that help them learn about themselves, others, and how they fit into the world.
I let them create the rules of the classroom and the consequences. We had a rubric of classroom expectations and they graded themselves daily. I commented back when we disagreed on the grade but they were usually very acurate. I used comment sheets to hear what they had to say when they were too shy to say it out loud and classroom meetings for discussions and decisions. We set goals and measured progress. I made them teach a lesson on something that they felt they knew how to do,so they understood what it was like to teach in front of a classroom and how it feels when students are not paying attention or doing it the correct way. I taught them to respect my job and what I do the way I respect their own unique way of learning, studying or personality.
After my year as a middle school teacher, I took an elementary school position which was much closer to home; But I really enjoyed teaching middle school. They have a lot of energy and enthusiam if you can guide it in the proper direction. The "light bulb" can go on everyday because they have a new sense of understanding, humor and higher-order abstract thinking skills.

Have fun with them and help them grow to love learning the way that you do.

The greatest gift you can teach them is fearlessness. Don't be afraid to try, don't be afraid to learn, don't be afraid to admit that you don't know something. That is the only way to truely LEARN about yourself and life.

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