The human brain is built for learning, even though learning is often not a cake walk.
Ever since our trip to Iceland in July I’ve been enamored of all things Icelandic, including the language.
Every Icelander we met spoke lilting, perfect English to us, and then chattered to one another in a jaunty Nordic blur punctuated by frequent smiles and exclamations of Yow!
These emphatic Yow!’s felt so delightfully cheerful and positive, and it turns out that “Yow” (properly spelled “Ja”) means Yes.
Our favorite tour guide was a college student in his early 20′s. Chiseled, blond, and surely a direct descendant of Leif Erickson, Tucker turned out instead to be a skateboarder dude from Wisconsin.
Tucker had discovered that the University of Iceland provides free tuition, room, board and health care to any student, regardless of citizenship, just so long as they speak Icelandic; he grabbed a self-study language course and hunkered down to practice every day…and, two years later, here he was! Yow!
My main point is this: Resolve to find something you want to learn or get better at, or help your student select something, and set aside a regular time every day to practice for about 15 or 20 minutes. Stick with it for one month, and then glory in the improvement!
The brain is amazingly “plastic,” and even if it’s not “good at” some subject, if you work at it little by little, consistently, learning will happen!
But what if you, or your student, just haaaaates some subject?…and therefore avoids it like the plague? All the more reason to chip away at it, little by little. Research shows that liking increases with expertise, and with familiarity.
I love Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe
, which is all about “the wisdom of French parenting.” How, for example, do the French raise their kids to love every kind of food (escargots! leeks! blue cheese!) while American kids refuse to eat anything but pizza?
She describes the little-by-little process the French use to slowly educate their kids’ taste buds and learn to love a wide range of foods:
My American baby books recognize that certain foods are an acquired taste. They say …
Get rid of the thing that is causing the stress.
Does this sound unrealistic? Impossible?
When my kids were growing up, we had a big house with an acre of lawn and an in-ground swimming pool. We enjoyed the space and made good use of the pool. Even so, that big spread was a lot to afford and a lot take care of.
I spent a lot of stressful hours, many of them sleepless early-morning ones, fretting over maintenance issues and bills. Paying the cleaning lady, the lawn guy and the pool guy meant I had to work more hours. Letting those folks go and doing the work myself meant spending tons of time doing chores I did not enjoy and couldn’t keep up with.
Decades ago I discovered a terrific ab crunch routine; it’s quick, easy, shows results within days, and it isn’t even especially painful or uncomfortable…and yet…
I haven’t been doing it.
And I dislike the realities that stem from my slacking. I always love the treat of un-boxing my summer clothes; this June I was so disappointed to find several of my favorite dresses were too tight around the middle.
There was a time in my life when I lived in the South and I dated a military man, a decorated Special Operations soldier, a guy with tons of what I still consider “the right stuff.”
Joe was super-smart, responsible, kind, scrupulously honest, family-oriented, conscientious, and like me, more focused on doing valuable work than on making tons of money.
The relationship itself, however, was stupefyingly difficult, for reasons Joe and I struggled to figure out.
And how often do you ask them?
Elena is a beautiful 16-year-old who blithely drifted in and out of my English II classroom this year without any materials…. Over the course of eight months, Elena continued to leave assignments incomplete and did little class work… She lost study guides, lost materials, and lost interest in editing and revising her work.
So writes Colette Marie Bennett, veteran teacher and department chair, in a very good article for Education Week Teacher entitled To Pass or Not to Pass? The End-of-Year Moral Dilemma.
….On the rare occasion when Elena turned in work, she demonstrated that she was capable of writing on grade level. Numerous common assessments taken in class indicated that her reading comprehension was also on grade level…
Now, as the grades are totaled in June, I wonder: Do I hold her accountable for work left incomplete? …If I exempt her from less important assignments, am I reinforcing her lack of responsibility? Finally, is passing her fair to the students who did complete the assigned work?…Will re-enrolling her in 10th grade English bare a different result? Is she prepared or unprepared to meet the rigors of 11th grade English?
It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
I’m sitting with 14-year-old Emma; we’re doing her algebra homework side by side. We started at the same time, but I’m on problem #3 and she’s already on #8.
Does that surprise you? After all, I’m the math tutor who has been doing this stuff for decades. And I’m not purposely trying to work slowly. Emma really is mentally faster than me.
I’m used to this by now. I work with many teens with super-high IQs who process information at lightening speed. Why on earth do they need a tutor?
Emma glances over at my paper. My work is in neat columns. All the steps are written out. Emma sees that her answers differ from mine on problems #1 and #3. She notices that she’s dropped a negative sign in problem #1. And she left out part of the equation in problem #3 because she didn’t bother to write it down; she was “doing it in her head.”
She goes back and fixes her errors; by now I’m on problem #6.