How do You Learn Best?

I often like to think about how my students learn best, and I don’t believe there is one correct way. I personally learn a lot from the stand-and-deliver lecture format, from reading, from small group discussions, from doing, from writing, reflecting, and through collaboration. This was true for me this past week when I attended the National Association of Independent School’s Annual Conference and participated in edcampis. I learned many things in a wide variety of formats.

Some liken what we know about the brain and learning to what Galileo and his contemporaries knew about our solar system: significant, but in its infancy. Most experts claim that our brains are all wired differently.

My goal isn’t then to find the one best practice to teach students, but to learn and provide them with a variety of best practices, so that they can be empowered to learn about anything, anytime, anywhere, and in any format.

TED talks are a format that fascinate me. Some have argued that they are simply a modern secular version of a 20 minute sermon (delivered to most over the internet). While independent school folk were gathering in Seattle for the annual conference, this year’s annual TED talks were taking place in Long Beach, CA. The first two talks released were polar opposites of each other. One talk warned us about of our excess waste and the economic, environmental, and democratic catastrophes that are happening right now (the secular version of fire and brimstone). The other talk was full of optimism, hope, and abundance. I enjoy thinking about and grappling with this kind of discourse. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle and we all have biases that lean one way or the other. My bias in this case is towards optimism. As an educator, I believe it’s not only us, but our students that will have to solve many of these complex problems.

Boolean choices are often thrust in front of us:

  • You’re either with us or against us.
  • The best ideas happen in isolation or they happen through collaboration.
  • Phonics vs. Whole Language (if you’re old enough to remember that)
  • Boys play with guns. Girls play with dolls.
  • VHS or Beta
  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

The TED talk below explores and celebrates introversion, but acknowledges that there is a spectrum between introversion and extroversion. People that lie somewhere in the middle of this spectrum are called ambiverts (a term I had never heard before). Where on this spectrum do our students lie, and are we supporting both their current needs and providing opportunities for them to stretch and grow outside their comfort zone?

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