What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.

— Aristotle

ID-10061488 learning

Is there only one way to learn? What exactly does ‘learn by doing’ mean these days, and to different ‘learners’? (image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)


An  ‘interesting’ conversation with my daughter yesterday made me reflect on Aristotle’s words of wisdom.
She asked me a question about simplifying ratios, in advance of an upcoming test in Maths. Thankfully, Maths is one of ‘my things’ and it won’t be until she hits Year 12 Calculus that I will have to concede defeat — but try telling her that I know anything worth knowing. She asks, but then proceeds to argue about the answer I’ve given her.
Anyway, after a bit of ‘to and fro’, she came out with this beauty:

You don’t get how I learn!

Stunned is the only polite way I can describe my reaction to this.

The steps she was taking, using a calculator, to solve a really simple problem scared me a little. This question required one step! She was taking at least three.

Her rationale was the teacher had shown them this way, and told them to use a calculator so they wouldn’t make mistakes. (I am not going to bang on about the current overuse of calculators in place of brains these days, or I will never finish writing this.)

My rationale was I could show her a quicker and more effective way, which was less likely to cause errors because it eliminated the possibility of punching in the wrong numbers in the first place. I could also explain to her how and why my ‘one step solution’ worked.

‘But, I don’t know how to do it that way,’ she said.

Try as I did, there was nothing I could do to convince her to attempt a few more questions ‘my way’, so she would know ‘how to do it that way’.

I stopped short at quoting Aristotle to her. We were beyond that. She made that abundantly clear by turning to a different page in her text-book.

Mums who are also teachers know nothing in their child’s eyes. I am coming to (grudgingly) accept this as fact.

What I also have to accept, though, is that maybe she does have a different style of learning. And if that style is not the most efficient in my opinion, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong. She is still ‘learning by doing’ — just in a more roundabout way.

This example is not the first time we have talked about her ‘way of learning’ either. Apparently, she ‘learns’ by writing lots of notes. This is a good thing, because from what I’ve seen in the last 18 months since she started high school, this style of ‘learning’ has not changed in the last 30 years! That is, students are either given pages of pre-written text, or sat down in front of a ‘video’ and told to take notes; often without any guidance on what they should be looking for.

For me, if I write something down I am more likely to remember it; it’s a semi-effective way of learning, certainly more so than just passively listening, but not as much as actually ‘doing’ something. Mind you, not everything lends itself nicely to ‘doing’ in the classroom.

What I do resent, however, is when I see pages and pages of photocopied text glued into my child’s book. (Paper wastage not discounted here; this has been happening since both of my children were in Kindergarten!) These days, with my son in Year 6, I am also now seeing sections of this photocopied text highlighted, then rewritten on the following pages.

I have to ask why?

I also have to ask exactly how this constitutes effective learning.

I can only assume they are also ‘doing’ something else to add to this mindless text-rewriting, because my son has not yet, to my knowledge, failed a test. Neither has my daughter.

Much of the knowledge I have ‘learned’ over the years has been via rote memorisation or note-taking or reading and regurgitating. This was the standard teaching methodology when I was at school.

But, most of the skills I possess have come from ‘doing’ stuff repeatedly.

In the 30 or so years that have passed between my formal school days and that of my children, it appears, on the surface, little has changed when it comes to pedagogy and methodology.

Yes, there are more ‘hands-on’ activities, more group work, more getting up and moving around than there was when I was a student. But, there is still a lot of passive ‘learning’ — especially with the upsurge in digital technology and the BYOD programs operating in so many schools now (which is probably the biggest change in how our current crop of kids do actually ‘learn’.)

There’s a fine balance between the ‘active’ and the ‘passive’ when it comes to learning; it’s very difficult to get it right.

If you read what the media has to say about the current state of academic results in Australia, you may well jump to the conclusion that our youth are not learning anything at all; certainly not when we compare their results to other countries. But, is this actually the case?

So, I come back to whether my children are actually ‘learning’. They are certainly ‘doing’ things, and they are not failing tests or receiving below average grades.

My conclusion is this: only time will tell.

If they still know this stuff in 5, 10 or 20 years time — then I will know they did actually ‘learn’ it.






One thought on “learning

  1. I frequently advertise to students in my care that, according to my thinking, the human brain is the most superior of all calculators. Yes, it does have some glitches, but maybe not as many as technologically formed calculators. The human brain may not be as ‘slick’ as its technological cohorts, but in time of crises I have always found my brain to be a very reliable and thought-stimulating instrument. It prompts me to wonder, to help me solve problems in a logical way. Most importantly, it helps me make important decisions, it helps me find a balance.
    My old age is telling me that I must not be too cynical about the state of affairs in education, that I must come to terms with current ‘trends’ and embrace the fact that I am now living in a different age with different thinking. I am living in a technological age. It’s hard to come to terms with, but I am ‘hanging in’ and trying not to throw the precious baby out with the bath water!
    As Mae West said:
    ‘The score never interested me, only the game’.
    I like this thinking as well:
    ‘Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out’.
    Carpe Diem!


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