The way schools teach learning

October 12 2020

Why don’t schools teach learning in the best way possible?

It is puzzling.

But I think it is the result of sleepwalking on the part of the educators. They themselves had never been trained into the level of possibilities. As youths, we do not realize how much overwhelm the majority of our mentors are actually in. (They might not realize it, either.)

We were given fun games to play at the start, and those were actually best: Walking around in a circle banging on noisemakers; colored paper to cut up and glue using something called paste.

Later, we had mimeographed sheets that were deathly boring, and we were supposed to memorize things. Anyway, here is what we never learned.

  1. There is a pattern to learning, from an memorization and internalization standpoint. A set of patterns for maximizing the effect of learning. Of making it your own, internalizing it.

Blooms Taxonomy. This would have been good to know from the get-go. Did the teachers even have time to really learn it? Probably, but did they ever really understand it, or have time to see how it could best fit into our pedagogy?

Bloom’s taxonomy

The more I am thinking about it, it is possible that lots of people at all levels did think about this: How do we get kids to retain more? How can we help them do better, etc.? I am sure these things were at least covered in their classes, if they got education degrees. Or at least one afternoon was spent on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Learning retention pyramid

So I guess my question here, is: As an adult who went through university, how come I was never given habits related to internalizing my learning? If I were to teach a book now, knowing what I am starting to know about learning, retention, and utilization, I would definitely not just have people absorb it and then move on.

I would have them decide what parts were important to them. I would utilize some of the methods from Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book, such as creating a personal table of contents at the beginning, or a little index at the end. And various techniques of note-taking.

Perhaps each student would have developed a variety of their own strategies for learning. Graphic methods, such as Sketchnotes, are very interesting. Or the use of mind maps. Why were these methods never taught?

Why were we never taught how to make a little play out of our learning, that we could then perform for our classmates? Why were we never taught to use color to help us remember things, or stimulate our brains?

Why, in my entire school career, was I never once taught a note-taking method, by any of the instructors? Was the actual process of learning itself, considered so automatic and transparent, that it was too obvious to do? Was it just so obvious to them?

This gets at a broader topic for me, that I suppose in some sense this fits into: why are so many things in the way we do things, as a culture, done on automatic, when there are so many smart people who have actually figured out ways of doing them better?

It puzzles me, a lot.

One perspective is that everyone was so busy doing things the normal way—just trying to get through their normal day, that it never crossed their minds. Or it did cross their minds, but no one else was doing it. Or they did try it, but older teachers (administrators, whatever), laughed at them. Or told them, “this is not the way we do things”. People gave in under the weight of normality, perhaps? I am not so sure.

It just seems so weird to me, when the objective—supposedly—of school, was to learn. Wouldn’t you want to learn the best ways to learn?

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© Alexander Feller 2018