As we returned to school-learning after a long break, I asked a group of middle school students, “How do you learn?” They looked at me, puzzled. I explained that I wanted them to think about a time that they learned something new, and think about how they did it; I asked them to tell a story about it. The question turned out to be more difficult than I expected.
Then, after talking about learning to ride a bike, speak a new language, play a new video game or an instrument… , we made a list of what these experiences teach us. The stories of learning can be summarized in five key ideas:
- Watch and listen first. Before riding a bike, they watched people ride bikes; before playing an instrument, they watched people play that instrument.
- Start out small. It is said that the longest journey begins with a single step, and the same is true for learning. Students first learned how to turn on the machine, or play one note, or ride with training wheels. No one started out playing Mozart.
- Learn with others. All of the students talked about getting better while practicing with friends, playing with others, and working with the teacher. The others helped them get better, and encouraged them to keep working at it, not give up. Learning with others also makes it easier to ask questions!
- Know that it takes time and practice. Even the best players in the world have coaches, editors, conductors, and teachers. We all need feedback in order to improve; applying and learning from that feedback takes time.
- When it gets too easy, move up a level. Yes, they started out with small steps, but then they added complexity, and kept getting better. Staying at the same level did not sound like fun to anyone. Part of the joy was getting good at something, something that was difficult to begin with, and then adding something more when it got too easy.
What are you learning now? Do you share your learning with your friends and family? We are all learners. When we talk about our learning, it becomes normal to be on the road towards a goal, to be in process; we make mistakes and grow from them in order to get better at what we do. And in the process, we are thankful for the opportunity to learn, to grow, to be and to become.