Focus 2 Achieve

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I blog on Brain-Based Learning, Metacognition, and Social-Emotional Learning. I am the author of "Crush School: Every Student's Guide To Killing It In The Classroom" which is a book that helps students understand how their brain processes information and learns. In the book, I explain why students can learn anything and give strategies on how to learn effectively.

What the Bleep is Learning?

by Oskar Cymerman       @focus2achieve

Education: What the Bleep is Learning?

Remember when you were a little peanut and you learned to walk?

First, you popped out of your momma’s belly. Then you learned to roll over. Then crawl. Then walk. Remember?

You couldn’t read a book, watch a lecture, or take notes. You just tried a lot, failed a lot, and then finally succeeded, because you never gave up. In fact, you got better at it by practicing. Falling. Getting up. Falling again. Getting up again. A lot. Remember?

Well, sort of. While your mind doesn’t, every other fiber of your being remembers. I mean, you still KNOW how to walk. Actually, you LEARNED it so well that you took it up a notch. You ran, skipped, and jumped around like it was 1992. Impressive, I know.

So What the Bleep is Learning?

First, an explanation of a few important acronyms commonly used in education:

IDK – acronym used in education to indicate absence of learning

TMI – acronym used in education to indicate discomfort with reading the textbook

WTF – acronym used in education to indicate attitudes toward homework, term papers, and Christmas projects

DILLIGAS – acronym used in education to indicate lack of understanding

SOL – acronym used in education to indicate lack of success on a test

OMG – acronym used in education to indicate learning will be attempted in summer/night school  

TEXT - acronym used in education for collaborative work on test answers and homework solutions

SNAPCHAT – acronym used in education to indicate learning about human anatomy with a strong emphasis on the reproductive system (see: Digital Citizenship)

Now that you are alert to the BIG educational issues facing today’s American (and beyond) classrooms, let’s discuss the bleeping learning, shall we?

It’s About the Process Luke (and I am your father)!

Learning is about the process and not the “stuff you’re learning” per se. What I’m saying is that while many a teacher and most a student focus on learning the content, both parties are better served and the number of the above-mentioned acronyms used in education decreases exponentially once the learners dig the learning process. If, as a teacher, you teach (aka use whatever means necessary aka force) your students to use the trifecta of the learning process: THE WHY, THE WHAT, and THE HOW to their advantage, absorbing “stuff” will become easier and your students will develop into more capable and sophisticated learners of the content - Jedi skilled in the use of the FORCE - which is what this shindig is all about.

The Why

Student: Why do I have to learn this? It’s not like I’m gonna be a chemist.

Teacher: Not with that attitude you won’t be!

Student: I don’t wanna be. Chemistry sucks!

Teacher (pretending he’s coughing): Ugh! Ugh! You suck! Ugh!

Teacher (out loud): Go to the office!

Teacher (mumbling under his breath): See you in summer school loser.

I strongly discourage such a response to a student asking a valid question. The student should know the WHY so tell him. Give him “THE TALK.” You are justified. He asked for it. Just keep it brief.

Just as when you were little and the why of walking was answered for you (all the while you were completely unaware of it), it’s important to explain to your students, including that annoying one, how your subject matter manifests itself IN REAL LIFE (IRL). Your survival as a human in the harsh environment of postmodern earth depended on mastering the skill of walking, so you did.

Now, you are obligated to help this one student survive the harsh (for him) environment that is your classroom and indulge him with a couple of EXAMPLES of your content usable in the hunger games outside. Elaborate on the awesomeness of it when used for the BETTERMENT OF HUMANITY. Talk about the SKILLS it develops. Then, with an “in your face biatch” look on your face, calmly move on.

Additionally, show videos (preferably ones from this century that don’t contain dudes with comb-overs and chicks with feathered mullets or sweatbands), force them to read relevant articles, and develop assignments and projects that connect the content to the REAL WORLD (‘cause the rest of it is fake). It takes some prep and creativity but earns you the “AWESOMER THAN MOST” teacher badge.

The What

As I said before, you did not read books or take notes to learn to walk. You used the limited devices available to you at that time and after falling down many times you succeeded. Somehow, you knew what to do. Against all odds, you figured out what to focus on. You used various strategies and tools (objects/people) around you to help you along. You did, because that is what learning is all about. That was the hard way, but a progression in the development of the better way.

The new and improved way involves teaching your students to become more efficient and effective learners. Encourage them to ask and answer questions such as: What should I do to learn? What should I focus on? What study strategies can I apply to maximize my learning? What are some effective learning tools I can use to crush the next test? Why does Princess Leia say: “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi!”? Give them strategies that work and they can apply to learn smarter.

Some suggestions I have:

1.     NOTES – Teach students to take notes, summarize them, and write questions about notes. Encourage class comparison of notes with other students and frequent (and brief) review of notes. Here’s a NOTES METHOD and a NOTES PEER REVIEW worksheet you can use.

2.     TEXTBOOK – It’s a book, so it’s good for just about one thing: READING. Encourage your students to read the unit sections/chapters as they are discussed in class. It provides the background as a few WHYs will undoubtedly be answered for students and it’s a form of repetition.   

3.     Learning OBJECTIVES – Write them down for them, present and read them to them, make them write them down, repeat them for them in class, tell them to review them, and make them apply them. You can read more about the importance of learning OBJECTIVES here.

4.     Review in class via activities (Kahoot, Jeopardy, Study Groups) and use a formal tool. Here’s a REVIEW TOOL that focuses students on what they should study.

5.     If all else fails, use DUCT TAPE. (DO NOT OPEN THIS LINK!!!)

The How


Focus – Identification of big ideas and important skills, surgical removal of phone from hand, uninterrupted completion of tasks

Stuff – Good and bad study habits, understanding of ideas, study strategies that help, the thingy thing

Luckily, you did not update your Facebook status every 15 minutes, or read that LeBron or Taylor Swift tweet, or posted that cute cat pic on Instagram for the entire world to admire, while trying to learn to walk in the pre-toddler era. I imagine that all the distraction would have derailed your mobility efforts by at least several months. I can only hope that the parents of the “swipe” generation children disincentivize the use of e-devices by threatening to take away the milk or the teddy or something else. Don’t look at me that way - it’s for their own good!

Anyway, you learned to walk by constant trial, error, and adjustment. You got better at it, because you kept at it. You kept trying, repeating what worked, and processing the external stimuli with a single-minded focus: LEARNING TO WALK.

It is time to up the learning ante. Here’s the path (or major segments of it):

1.     Teach students to REFLECT on their learning. When they reflect, they realize stuff. When they realize stuff, they can change stuff. Empower them to change stuff. Here’s a REFLECTION TOOL you can use.

2.     Show them how to problem solve. Model it. Then, ask them to use it. Here’s a PROBLEM SOLVING APPROACH you can use.

3.     Have students teach each other, or their 7-year-old sister, or 70-year-old grandma. I mean: What else do they have going on that’s so important that they can’t sit through a 30-minute lecture on the quantum mechanical model? Seriously. When you teach, you learn.

4.     Teach students how to approach their studying. Encourage them to assess their habits and understanding. Give them the tools and the know-how necessary to maintain good habits and change the bad ones. Give them a list of effective and detrimental study strategies. Here’s a STUDY APPROACH tool you might find useful.

5.     Preach repetition, but don’t just repeat. Huh? Encourage your students to process the information several times and in a variety of ways. For example, I ask my students to summarize notes by writing down 3-4 key ideas right after they take them. Then, I ask them to list all the vocab. Then, I ask them to write questions they have down. This means they have interacted with the information contained in their notes 4 times and in 4 different ways before they even stepped out of my classroom.

6.     Tell students to USE THE FORCE aka YOU and the rest of the Jedi. Throw a few ninjas and superheroes in there as well: If your school has other tutoring or homework help resources, make sure your pupils know about them.

So What the Bleep IS LEARNING? REALLY...

Exactly! Merry Christmas!

I really thought about leaving you hanging right here - it’s like 1 am up in here on a weeknight - but I ain’t gonna. My Catholic guilt is not allowing me to do it, so let’s see this thing through.

In a nutshell, here’s what I am trying to say:

1.     Getting your students to take a closer look at the learning process helps them gain awareness of how they can learn more efficiently and effectively. Show them the way and they will!

2.     Encouraging your students to consciously consider why they are learning what they’re learning, what tools and strategies to use while learning, and how to use them to maximize their learning will turn them into Superstudents.

3.     Jedi, ninjas, and superheroes are awesome.

4.     The eighties was a confusing and weirdo-saturated decade.

5.     Because 4 summary points just aren’t enough.

Be cool fool and join me on this teaching journey. Please comment, follow, or sign up for the NEWSLETTER and you will receive more great content very soon. Thanks for visiting and may the force be with you!