I’ve started a new blog for my students and their parents. The idea is any evergreen concepts that are valuable (and used to be delivered by me in class like sermons from a pulpit) will be posted there for easy access 24/7. Here’s the latest one.
What are the habits of a successful, proactive, independent learner?
To start with they work out what it is they are supposed to be doing. What the subject expects of them. What’s the course want them to do and how will that be assessed? The end game. Is there a study design? Is there a list of suggested readings? Is there a list of words or metalanguage or jargon, that they need to get to know and use?
They think about these things and investigate. They are bright but not super computers. They don’t memorize everything before the course really gets going. But they do familiarise themselves with the job at hand and they make sure that the ideas, insights, observations, and questions they have at this early stage are taken out of their head and put on a page. In other words, they take notes.
They read. They think. They write.
As the course progresses things fall into place and come into perspective. Class work and time with the teacher and other students helps them learn and master the content. They do the work expected – not to just get the work done and stay out of trouble – but to help them make sense of what’s important in their subject. They read more than just the required information. They play around with the ideas in their head at times other than those moments when the classroom comes to order. They don’t live and breathe the subject (there’s more to life than that) but they do think about it and establish what they understand, what they don’t yet understand. They get all this out of their head and onto a page – they take notes. They ask their teachers for clarification and note down the explanations. It all sounds worryingly complex and hard to manage but there is a pattern to it all.
They read. They think. They write.
Periodically, they need to prepare for assessment. They should have been given the opportunity to see examples of work that has been done well (and they darn well ask for it if they haven’t). They look at these examples. Not to plagiarise – but to pick up tips. Turns of phrase, ways of weaving evidence into their ideas, styles of expression, metalanguage in action, structure. Then they try it out themselves.
Read. Think. Write.
Once they’ve tried it out themselves they give it a short time to settle. They come back to their work a little later and check it to see that it says what they thought it says. They consider for themselves whether it is doing the job required (remember, they worked out what gets marks early on) and then they get feedback from the teacher. Sometimes their peers. Maybe even family and friends. And then they take fragments and sections of their work that they think could be better and rewrite them.
All the while they are basically following a pattern of read, think, write, repeat.
Successful students aren’t geniuses. They’re not bookworms either. They don’t try to do it all on their own but they don’t sit around waiting for someone to tell them to “pick up a pen and write this down”. They get busy in learning the content, knowing the rules of the game, getting it all out of their head and on a page, reviewing the quality of their work and improving it bit by bit.
They read. They think. They write. They repeat the process.
They read. They think. They write. They repeat.
Read. Think. Write. Repeat.
Read. Think. Write …