Learn from Global Education

Today I stumbled upon a really interesting TEDtalk. Since it has been a while since I blogged about this topic – and this blog has come to mind regularly since – I figured this TEDtalk by Andreas Schleicher on global education systems was worth pondering, and thus writing. Do note that we are discussing high school education here. Yes; the basics.

The Talk!

First, here is the video in full. It is worth watching simply because it gives you a great idea of the global education playing field. Also, you get a great feel for your experience in comparison to education around the world.

Initial thoughts

Obviously I think: yeah this is cool! Think about it: the team with which this man works took the time and effort to compare, in some way, different global education systems. That is nifty. At the same time I, as any university graduate may agree upon watching the video, have my reservations about the utopia that aggregated data may show. Even though the system you are in may function well in comparison to other countries, it may not be the best education system for you. Or the best education experience for you.

Some highlights 

“We have such a hard time figuring out that learning is not a place, but an activity.”

That, I believe is a brilliant insight into the essence of education. It is something that is done. No matter what country your school is in, how wonderful the facilities are, or how great the teachers – a good education is available anywhere if you do it right.

“We wanted to test whether they can extrapolate from what they learn.”

In other posts I’ve covered how I feel about your ability to reproduce what you’ve learnt. This skill, or trick, should not be a measure of your education – yet it too often is. Rather, what you can create from with what you learn is more important. In life, as is also discussed in the video, the true test is applying what you know to novel situations or ideas. This is the hardest, and most satisfying challenge of learning.

It is not how much you spend, rather how you spend on education.

With similar budgets, according to the measures in this study, results can be very different. By investing differently elements of the system, thusly altering the machinery of learning, what the system produces changes.

“..the believe that all children are capable of success.”

This one really resonates with me. We know now that development of the brain is a continuous process and that what you are capable of today is but a glimpse of what you could accomplish tomorrow. Therefore, to give children the opportunity to develop as much as their potential as possible, seems a logical place to start. And the mindset that any child is capable of success is one of the cornerstones for this philosophy.

“… and nowhere does the quality of an education system exceed the quality of its teachers.”

This makes sense right? And yet, likely, this sentence gave you cause to think of how you perceive the teaching profession. In the Netherlands, it is unlikely that you are urged to pursue a career as a teacher. Not because it is not an honorable profession, because it is. No, likely because you are capable of earning more money elsewhere. This means that people with a gift for education may be pursuing careers where their talents are not being put to the best possible use for themselves or society.

Some afterthoughts

I have no idea what the measures were, how the researchers tested or any of the other requirements to make some sort of academic inference of the quality of their research. Yet,  the main message I believe should not be lost upon you. The quality of education, and thus the capacity for a better future, can be influenced by you today.

Do with it what you will. I know I will!

Seven Facts about Studying: The A-B-C of your Brain

The recordings in your brain

It is magical; that moment when a memory is created. To cut straight to the chase – when you study to remember something, the moment the word on paper is transferred into your nervous system, the concept of that word is ripped to shreds and when you attempt to recall this piece of information it is reconstructed from fragments of information scattered throughout different parts of your brain. This is how your brain processes information. This is how you learn. This explains why remembering what you study for a test is hard.

As I now have your attention, let me bust a myth. You do not remember a list in order; you may reproduce it in order, like the alphabet, but your brain does not have a filing cabinet within where you open a random drawer to retrieve a specific memory. This, and other, oversimplified models of “memory” are doing you more harm than good. In fact, you probably have little idea how your brain commits information to memory – and therefore you cannot use optimal strategies to commit information to memory.

What is the letter in the alphabet preceding P? My guess is that your brain jumped somewhere to l, m, n, O! -p. If the theory that your brain had a filing cabinet in which the alphabet was stored, in order, than you should have gone to the filing cabinet, starting with A and progressed through the information to O. Rather, your brain jumped from P and leaped back to another memory, in this case L, to then fill in the gap till you got to O. And all this in less than a second.

The same rule holds when you memorize information for a test. Trust that your brain will reason its way to the right answer by connecting the dots. Understand that all that information is not stored in one place in your brain – it really, physically is not. Rather, information is scattered acros your cortex, much like the stars are scattered across the universe.

Making the connections

Luckily, your brain can rapidly access this vast quantity of information. In fact, you can train your brain to better access information stored within it. As you train your brain, the physical structure of your brain changes. Your brain literally changes shape as you use it. Fascinating! The neuro-scientific fact is that as you study, your brain adapts. There is seemingly an infinite amount of information that can be stored in your brain.

By repeating material over and over again you strengthen something called trace-strength. In fact, when asked to recall the letter preceding P, perhaps your mind jumped straight to O. Maybe because you recited the alphabet earlier today and the recent activation of the trace made it more accesible when the electrical current racing through your nervous system fired to active the memory. Perhaps you practiced the alphabet so fervently as a child that these traces are so strong and easy to access.

Can you recite the alphabet backwards? It is hard. It is easier to recite it from A to Z. Why? Likely because that is how you learnt it in the first place. That memory has been repeated over and over again, shaping and strengthening those specific traces from A to B, all the way to Z.

Your brain adapts

As you challenge your brain, it grows stronger. Likely it is harder when you first learn about something (like neuroscience, in my case) because you do not have the memory structure within which to frame the new knowledge. In fact, you need to build that basic framework. That is the hard part. At an undefinable point, the scales tip and you easily place new information into the existing networks. In fact, it becomes easier because you can relate the new to the existing.

Remembering that A is the first letter and Z is the last letter of the alphabet is easy. What is hard is getting the other twenty-four letters in, in order. Yet with practice, you managed to do so just fine.

A matter of training

When you study something and you claim you do not remember, you are lying to yourself. Likely, you did not study at all. Reading something once and highlighting is not studying.

Reading, actively taking notes, reflecting on the information and trying to frame it in a bigger context is studying. Asking yourself questions about what you have read, discussing the material and paraphrasing it in your own words is studying. Every element described above is a part of deep processing, an element of committing information to memory. And if you are not doing these things while you study, you are selling yourself short.

What you are not taught in university

Learning is learnable. It is the fine line between behavior and cognition that determines performance – where behavior influences your ability to learn. In fact, your ability to use your brain’s tremendous capacity to store and reproduce is very trainable.

That is what the following six chapters are about. You now understand that your brain is very capable of learning, and that by studying, you literally grow your brain. What you need to learn is how to study in a way that optimizes your brains natural ability to perform these elementary cognitive tasks better. This will lead to great jumps in your study performance.

What’s the catch? Very quickly you will see that it is not your brain’s ability to learn, but rather what you do on a daily basis, that influences your performance. The catch is finding the balance between what you are capable of intellectually and what you are willing to do to utilize your intellectual potential.

This booklet is merely a guide to show you the way to that moment where a memory is created. It is up to you to make the magic happen.

Change is constant

One observation of mine, after reading the first two chapters of a book which provides an overview of neuroscience, is that change is constant. Of the nine models of the nervous system described early on in the book, it is quite likely that the physical structures within your brain are constantly in flux.

For you that is good news. When you know your brain is an adaptable, ever learning, ever growing part of your body, you know that what you are capable of today is in no way a measure of what you were capable of in the past, and more importantly, what you will be capable of in the future.

I will be digging a bit deeper every day, so there is more to come. Yet when somebody tells you you cannot, you are not smart or able enough, now you know all you have to say to them is: “..yet.

 

The Myth of Procrastination Performers

The Student Achievement Program Learning Education StudyingYou may feel better throughout a study term. You may experience less stress early on in the semester. You may even go to many parties and do lots of fun stuff! And in the end, your performance suffers.

The Myth: “I perform better under pressure”

Perhaps for menial tasks you may claim this is true. Tasks that require complex learning and synergy of knowledge into a report or a modle are a different story all together. By putting of the task, you increase the pressure in a counter-productive way.

A crucial element of learning and performance is feedback. By saving all your effort for the last minute, you deny yourself feedback on your progress while you still have time to adjust your work.

Why would you do this? Perhaps you are in the fixed mindset, and you do not want to hear any negative comments on your work as to you this means you are incompetent. A great way to avoid feeling incompetent is by “ostrich-ing” your way to the deadline.

We know that feedback improves performance; in fact an assignment that is reviewed several times may only benefit and improve in quality. Also in learning, intermediate testing of the acquired knowledge is a sure fire method to improve performance on the final test.

Healthy pressure and mobilizing anxiety are great motivators, but procrastination is a bad habit that you have acquired over the years because your work ethic is off. You would rather be lazy than tired, live in the ideal that you can rather than in the reality that you can learn.

If you want to get results, stop putting things off. Open your mind to feedback on your work – actively seek it out. And when the feedback is not what you expect, you will know you are learning something and growing as a result. And that is a good thing – no matter what you do.

Photo credit: http://www.asim.pk/2012/07/23/ostrich-is-not-a-bird-but-animal/

Always look on the bright side of… your ability

Optimism. After another interesting read today, the old adage that the more you learn, the more questions you have rings true. Optimism is a wonderful thing; in fact, a recent assessment and training  I did on my emotional intelligence showed that I had greater than average level of optimism.

The first thing a dear colleague said to me when we discussed this was: “Be happy, imagine what it would be like when you see the world and its events for what they truly are.” There was, as there always is, truth in his advice. In fact, so much truth that I did not give his remark any more consideration until I read today’s article optimism and student performance.

If you do not want to be disappointed, do not expect anything. That is one way to go through life. A realistic view of life, or a pessimistic one – you decide which is which – will save you a lot of heartaches, discomfort and disappointment. When you expect to fail and you do, you psychologically win; being right is a great way to make yourself feel good.

Yet when you set a different expectation for yourself; one where you may need to perform at a level just beyond your current ability, do you win when you do not live up to your own expectations?

Did you get the question? Do you win when you do not live up to your own expectations? 

It depends on your frame of mind. When you are in the able or not mindset, then you probably think that you let yourself down. You tried, you reached and you failed.

Writing things like this has become a gut wrenching experience for me, because it is so fundamentally untrue it nearly hurts. There is no greater accomplishment in life than to try.

To try and fail makes you a winner, simply for going beyond your comfort zone and acting. To try and win makes you a winner, simply for going beyond your comfort zone and acting. They are both the same. The result is irrelevant; in fact all that matters is trying – because that is where growth is.

An optimist may say; “Hey, I tried, I failed, but at least I did it. Maybe next time I will succeed.” In fact, this optimist is more likely to try again. And again. And if we know anything about accomplishment, we know that trying eventually leads to mastery.

Whoaa there friend! Let me venture a guess at your thoughts. Trying the same thing over and over again wil not get you any different result. Very true. In fact, simply doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result is about as foolhardy as not trying at all. And it gets real tedious – real fast.

Rather, you can use your natural predisposition to learn from experience and alter what you are doing; to take a different approach to accomplish what you set out to do.

Think of it as training to run a ten kilometre run (6.3 miles). The first run you do, you don’t go for eight kilometres and see what happens. You are better of setting up a benchmark for yourself by testing your general condition; can I jog for thirty minutes straight?

This initial step may have no direct relation to the end goal; but it is a good starting point for your training. If the answer is yes, you can start a slightly intensified training. If the answer is no, you want to build your general condition over one or two weeks until you can break into a comfortable jog for thirty minutes before starting your running schedule. Knowing that you can go it for thirty minutes may give you just the kind of confidence you need to stick to your initial training schedule when it gets a bit tough.

In your studies, when you look at those humongous books you are required to plow through in university, you may consider that startin of with one chapter may be a big enough challenge. And seeing that you can master that first chapter, perhaps you will find the confidence to accumulate more knowledge – and make the connections.

When optimism fails you. If you are overtly optimistic, you may actually fall into something called the self-enhancement bias. This simply means that you overestimate your ability. I have found that the times I am so certain of my natural ability to make something work out, it always goes wrong. Yet when my reasoning is complemented with a healthy doubt, I make it work. Do you know the feeling?

Year in year out, I hear students say that they’ll be fine. They know what they are doing and they are going to be just fine. They did not get the results they wanted last term, but the courses were just so hard. And the professors lectures, to which they stopped going of course, were boring and uninformative. (If this sounds familiar to you – keep reading) But this term, the courses are completely up their alley; in fact, they used to be really good at similar courses in high school.

Usually, this conversation takes place after one (if he is lucky) or two terms in which the student has failed to manage himself appropriately, and failed miserably he has. But rather than look to himself for answers, he looks at the courses, the teachers and the system. Or, even more detrimental, he convinces himself he is not able. Yet his bright outlook on life colors his judgement to the extent that it impedes an appropriate response to this dire situation.

Optimism is perhaps one of life’s great paradoxes. It makes life easier and helps you overcome hardships without loosing yourself on the one hand. Yet on the other hand, it may cloud your judgement and keep you from actualizing your potential in the time you have.

A healthy balance between optimism about and reflection on facts will help you reach decisions. And as you look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Am I seeing myself as more than I am right now?” and your nose starts growing, dare to be brave and call yourself on your self deceit.

As for your ability to learn and grow, keep a rather optimistic view of that. It is in fact, truer than you realize.

Rely on yourself

What is one of the greatest lessons university teaches you? Self reliance.

Self reliance is worth pursuing in life. We have a great way of learning about self reliance in our educational institutions. While you are a student at university you may set your own schedule, follow your fits and fests, and decide what will be a fulfilling university experience for you. And you can make it on your own.

The confidence that whatever challenge life throws your way, you can handle. The confidence to size up a challenge, physical, intellectual, emotional, and take action in spite of doubt, fear or embarrassment. Because it is the right thing to do. For you. Because you can. And you know you can.

Self reliance means that you, independent of the good opinion of other people, make choices which influence the course of your life. This does not mean that you neither search nor heed good advice. No, but it does mean that you trust your own judgement.

The only way to learn self reliance is by making choices, taking decisions, following through and accepting the consequences. This is the only way you learn from what cloth you are cut. And this is the only way for you to understand which decisions and actions bring you closer to actualizing what you have deep inside you.

Bravely dare and make mistakes. Foolish is the one who does not try because of what others may think. Breaking through the barriers and failing terribly, in the public eye or in private are excellent ways to learn. Be daring, go out on a limb – who knows, the response you get might surprise you. But if you never try…

In a sense, the university is a playground. With so many experiences you may enjoy, so many avenues you may pursue, making choices becomes important. The feedback in this system is ruthless; if you make enough choices that do not move you forward through the system, you will end up paying the price.

That is why it is important that along the way, you make sure you reflect on the choices you made, and the results you got because of your choices. This way you can think over choices you may make in the future and based on your experience, take decisions which work to your advantage.

A pleasurable conundrum. As you want to learn self reliance, you must venture out and experiment. Yet venturing out and experimenting requires some measure of self reliance to begin with. So it comes down to a simple starting point: do you believe you are capable of growing and developing your self reliance? Do you trust yourself to learn from mistakes and enjoy both the good and the bad experiences in life without regrets?

Have a little faith in yourself. I know you can grow, if only you remain open to learning. And the best teacher in your life will be you yourself. Trust yourself, and self reliance will follow. And there is no better time to learn this than while you are at university.

 

 

 

Receiving an education

Have we forgotten what it was like? Perhaps thirty or forty years ago, the gift named education was better received than it is today. Receiving an education. It rings similar to receiving a postcard. Or receiving a surprise. Perhaps it has the most striking semblance to receiving a gift.

Perhaps children, at the dawn of the age of education, were happy to go to school. It took them away from hard, manual labour, and put them in a classroom where they could read books of all sorts, thick and thin, books with drawings and pictures or plain black ink. A place where they could think and play freely, exploring the farthest reaches of their imagination together with children their own age. A life at school was a blessing, at some point in our modern history at least.

The history of education is a long one. Education existed in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, perhaps even before. During the middle ages the church and those born into wealth were educated by some means or another. But it was not until the dawn of the modern era that education became seen as a way for society as whole to advance itself. Yet perhaps in the course of two-hundred years of industrializing education, we may have missed the ball.

I mean, something must go wrong when business schools in marketing refer to a companies’ marketing communication activities as “educating the consumer“. Really, ask yourself: what is the added value to my development as a person in this type of education…?

Providing children with the gift of knowledge is something that, today, charities and governments ferociously pursue through a broad range of programs. And that is the way it should be. There should always be the opportunity to receive an education; for anyone, anywhere, in any field they of their choosing. In places where having been educated is not yet the norm, but still seen as a way to a better life – that is where it is still received as a marvelous, liberating gift.

Yet over time, something changed in places where education has been institutionalized. As with all good things, too much of it satiates the desire for it. The over-emphasis on education in our modern societies may well be driving the spirit of education from the classroom, for it to be replaced simply by the desire to receive a diploma. A worthless piece of paper if there is no development, growth and vision within the person receiving it.

With the systematic implementation of education, the design and development of learning institutions for the masses, we have lost something which once was held dear by those who championed education for the young; developing the skill, ability and aptitude to think, to create, to communicate, to collaborate and to understand.

Yet the norm seems to have become to create through reproduction, to communicate for advancement and to think to please those who assess.

Is that really what education is intended for? You must ask yourself, why would I want to receive anything? What does a gift received mean if you do not appreciate it?

Certainly you may say you are purchasing your education; therefore it is not a gift. It is easy to forget that not everyone can purchase an education, a contradiction in terms if ever any was put to paper. But the very notion that education is for sale in itself is a symptom of a greater tragedy. One playing before our very eyes.

Whatever happened to education as a means to further interests and abilities? As a means to cultivate your mind so you can put your mind, together with your body, to good use?

An education is not a gift you can buy at any price. You purchase the opportunity to enjoy an education. The institutions you may attend make it possible for you to receive the gift of education.

Too often, education is seen as an end. Where it should be seen as a means, an opportunity to become accomplished in a field of your choosing, be it arts or science. Perhaps these are not as separate a set of concepts as you think.

When someone says that their diploma will get them a good job, be brave enough to point out it is not the diploma, but the person with the diploma who gets, and in turn performs the job. When someone tells you that they are in school because they must, be bold enough to tell them they have-not to do a thing, through their education they would know that thought, reflection and choice are the virtues of the mind.

In the end, though, it is you who must want to be educated for the pleasure of your intellect. It is you who must rejoice at the gift of learning. And if you are not, then ask yourself whether you are still pursuing and education because it helps you grow, or whether you are simply following a diploma because of what it resembles to modern society.

If, then, you find yourself considering the latter, pack your bags, explore the world and when you discover your truest, deepest interests and passions, pursue a lifelong education in them. That is the only education that is worth pursuing in the first place. And perhaps you will remember what it was like not to have to be educated, but to want to receive an education.

How to (3): Memorize a list, use your brainpower

The Student Achievement Program Brain Diagram

Figure 1. (Image taken from braininjury.com*)

Memorization is hard. Memorizing a list is harder. Besides using the memory palace technique when preparing for an exam to create an almost full proof memory of lists, facts and figures, it is important to commit relevant facts to memories. Looking further by standing on a giants shoulders’ means that you must climb and stand upon these shoulders first. Learning is crucial in applying the knowledge creatively or critically, depending on the circumstances. Here is how you do it.

Since the brain is a recurring theme in my writing, you and I will go for the maximum usefulness of the exercise by looking into five distinct aspects of the brain. Mind you the brain is a bit more complex than these five regions put together, but knowing about each of them and what we think we might now about their functions (I am talking to a neurologist in a month or so and will bring this blog to his attention for revision), will certainly help explore the brain in greater detail. Oh yes, and you will get a crash course in comprehensive reading and memorizing lists. Deal? OK. Let us get started.

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingSurvey the image above, at the start of the article. What do you see? Make sure you have a notepad handy and simply jot down the central idea of a mind map. This is the first step.

Now you could simply copy the five items in a list, and try to memorize them in order, say counter clockwise:

  1. Frontal Lobe
  2. Parietal Lobe
  3. Occipital Lobe
  4. Temporal Lobe
  5. Cerebellum

But if you have read any of my blogs on reading for the sake fo learning, you know this is a terrible idea. First, your mind is just not that good at remembering lists, in order.  So why bother? Second the list is quite useless as by the end of creating your list, you have no inclination as to which part of the brain you are referring to or any other useful information you may associate this new information to. Rather, let’s take a radically new approach:

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning Studying

Click to enlarge

As you can see for each part of the brain in the diagram in figure 1, two actions are taken in learning about the brain. First, a question is asked about the location of the brain segment in relation to something you are familiar with, your head or your neck. Second, a description of the location relative to something familiar like “over my eyes” is added.

The next step is to formulate the answers. When you are doing this by hand, it is easy because you can quickly draw a new diagram, and jot down the answers, in a visually relevant way:

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning Studying

OK, so now you have the basic relative positions of the brain sections in mind.

Let us look a bit closer at the prefrontal lobe and its attributes. Ask yourself a question about the prefrontal lobe, such as: “What do I know about the prefrontal lobe at this moment?:

Your answer obviously includes: It sits at the front of my brain, somewhere above my eyes. Further, you could include some random knowledge such as: It is related to memory, I think. Remember, you do not have to be right when you answer these questions before having learnt the material, but it is important start building the associations in your brain.

(A second question might be: what is the function of the prefrontal lobe in my brain?)

Now let’s add some information, taken from Wikipedia on the Prefrontal Lobe:

“The frontal lobe is an area in the brain of mammals, located at the front of each cerebral hemisphere and positioned anterior to (in front of) the parietal lobe and superior and anterior to the temporal lobes. It is separated from the parietal lobe by a space between tissues called the central sulcus, and from the temporal lobe by a deep fold called the lateral (Sylvian) sulcus. The precentral gyrus, forming the posterior border of the frontal lobe, contains the primary motor cortex, which controls voluntary movements of specific body parts.

The frontal lobe contains most of the dopamine-sensitive neurons in the cerebral cortex. The dopamine system is associated with reward, attention, short-term memory tasks, planning, and motivation. Dopamine tends to limit and select sensory information arriving from the thalamus to the fore-brain. A report from the National Institute of Mental Health says a gene variant that reduces dopamine activity in the prefrontal cortex is related to poorer performance and inefficient functioning of that brain region during working memory tasks, and to slightly increased risk for schizophrenia.”

That is quite some information to sift through. Can you circle the key information in this section, that is the information that will allow you to build on the concept of the prefrontal lobe as it exists in your brain right now? Again, rather than listing them, map them.

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning Studying

Essentially you repeat these final two steps for each of the five aspects of the brain from Figure 1.

In the end, your narrative may run something like this:

The brain has five main parts I can distinguish right now. At the front above my eyes somewhere is the prefrontal lobe. It is associated with my motor skills, such as my ability to type or tip-toe, but also with dopamine. This substance influences cognition such as attention, short term memory, planning and motivation. In a nutshell my prefrontal lobe is important for my ability to think.”

Piecing the information together,  you can move from a description of its location in your brain to the more functional aspects of your temporal lobe. The power of association is built and strengthened through practice.

As you challenge yourself to describe, place and answer questions as you study, you build and strengthen these connections. It may seem to take a bit longer at first, but after three months, the deep processing you utilize from the onset ensure learning and the ability to use this information in your reasoning, because it is accesible in your mind.

You can go all out, adding images, imagery and vivid descriptions at any step of the way. At some point this blog will be updated to include those examples, but for now these are the basics. Enjoy and give it a try. It is worth it.

*Source Figure 1

The reading myth – busted

The Student Achievement ProgramYou are not a filing cabinet! An interesting, brief article today. Even though the results were somewhat surprising, when I connect it to everything else I think I know about learning, here is what I think:

Depending on how you are tested, the way you study influences the test result, making learning a different matter entirely from academic performance.

If you are interested in learning and understanding, then spending time organizing and connecting information in your brain is the most effective strategy you can follow.

Your brain simply is not a library in which you can shelf books in order, to retrieve them in alphabetical order. Rather, it is a vast network of content like the internet and you can access most of this information by linking from one piece to another.

If you want to learn, to remember, and to apply what you have learned, putting information into a context you create matters. Relating new knowledge to which you already know is key, but you can only do this upon reflection (whether you reflect while you read or (right) after you finish reading, depends on your personal style).

We have already talked about deep processing and on using your brain’s strengths; in a way these are organization strategies. I think we have been drilled to think that organization  is synonymous to hierarchy. It isn’t.

The Student Achievement ProgramTrunks and leafs. If you were to sum up the parts of a tree, would you start at the bottom and work your way up; hierarchically from roots to crown? Or does an image of a tree come to mind from which you can associate the different parts you know (squirrel nests included!)? I bet its the second; because that is the easiest way for us to think. Why mind mapping is such a great tool to use when you study? It’s a summary in a language your mind understands.

Organization means putting things into your mind in such a way that you access the information and put it to good use. Regurgitating the the names and years of rule of Roman Emperors is not a useful feat of memory in every day life. But if you are trying to understand how the debauchery of Roman Emperors, or people in power in general, is related to the demise of an empire, perhaps being able to associate your way to a name such as Caligula, and examples of his excesses, can aid you in illustrating your case.

(We’ll talk more about metaphors and why they are so useful in learning at another time…)

To save time tomorrow, you have to spend some time today. Put your mind to work; learning is not like watching t.v., ok?! You don’t laugh when cued and switch to the next channel when you get bored. Be involved and take some time to work with your brain and pick any, but at least 2, of the following things to do when learning:

  • paraphrase what you read in your own words
  • ask yourself: What do I know about this topic already?
  • answer questions about the material after reading it
  • make mini mind maps of key terms and their descriptors
  • aggregate those mini maps into a large map outlining the main topics
  • build your framework of understanding, connecting what you know about the topic

Just remember: learning is not reading. Reading is a first step in learning. And now that you know what the other person thinks about something, find out what you think about it. 

Afterthought. As I changed the title to the blog to: Reading Myth – Busted, a thought crossed my mind, and I really want to share it.

We have all met someone who seemingly did not read all the material thoroughly, yet simply could reason her way to an answer. Could it be that this person had actually mastered the organisation of new information in such a way that she could quickly associate what she read to what she knew and therefore seemed to spend less time learning, when in fact, the learning was almost automatic? Just a thought…. 

Getting started

The Student Achievement ProgramA month ago, I had a coffee-and-catch-up session with a dear friend of mine. It was a sunday afternoon, and as usual we had a long and inspiring conversation. She was about to set off exploring the world, and I, as usual, wanted to explore the uncharted regions of my mind. We created a mutual pact – that we would both venture forth, and deliver on our ambition. Obviously my friend has the more pleasurable end of the deal, as I believe her to be somewhere “on a beach, in the sun, sipping cocktails and enjoying life- ready to hug the world” (it’s not a real quote, but hey… it adds to the picture right?), whereas I am in Holland, enjoying what can only be described as the worst summer in history. At least I’m inside.

A month after we created this pact, I am taking the next step; a daily blog which will chronicle my unearthing of some interesting findings concerning the quest for mastery at universities and colleges around the world. What is mastery? Well, we’ll get to that at some point – this is the introduction, so hang in there.

Yes, it is true; I am writing a book. However, the more I write, the more I discover the vast number of tangents one can branch out on when exploring a topic such as this one.

The purpose of this blog is simple; rhythm. I have had the pleasure of studying writing at some occasion in my life, and the best advice I got from Professor F. (really, his name starts with an F, whatever you are thinking…) was to write every day (admittedly, I updated my journal twice that term… but still.)

This blog will be my immediate transference of inputs into my brain concerning the psychology of achievement in universities and colleges around the world, with a focus on your ability to learn, grow and accomplish what it is that you want, to paper. Just to get into the rhythm.

For more than 6 years I have been lucky enough to work with some of the most talented students I could have met, and you have all inspired me greatly with your feats – from trips to China to running your own businesses, from accomplishments in sports to academic achievements. Every story has fueled my inspiration – and I trust these chronicles will do your experience in my workshops justice.

So, I guess after years of drinking coffee with people, I finally filled my inspiration-tank enough to put this program to paper. I’m sure I will enjoy writing it. Hopefully, you will enjoy reading it.

(p.s. The challenge is to write the blog before I start my day; so it will not be thoroughly edited. All comments welcome, but keep in mind that this (all) was written before breakfast… thanks!)

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