Blog Post

Some Meta Thoughts on Learning

Blog post on Judith Butler and Sylvia Plath is coming. This week. I'm currently editing an article for submission, learning Scalar, and also getting trained for a new tutoring job. (Excuses, yes, but productive ones.) A propos of nothing, the cat is cutely nestled right next to my laptop as I type.

As part of the tutoring training - which is rigorous and supportive and very exciting! - I was asked** to do some writing on different tutoring techniques. It turned into a great opportunity to reflect on the way that I learn and the processes that are working for me in this Orals Adventure.

They asked for a definition of active learning, which I said means taking information and wrestling with it in any number of ways (through writing, movement, talking, acting out, et cetera) instead of passively listening and absorbing it. As I wrote the above, I realized that I learn through active learning all the time. As I prep for my exam and edit my article (and hell, even as I learn Scalar), I can't just sit and read or watch. Sometimes I talk my notes out loud. Sometimes I draw diagrams for myself. Sometimes I draw pictures. Sometimes I write "classic" notes, but I also blog, talk to friends, and (yes) post thoughts on Facebook and Twitter to see what responses I get. I have my college students do many of these activities as well in my literature and writing classes. I think the combination of these techniques makes the learning process much more fun and helps the information to stick. 

My learning takes the active part really literally: I have to consistently shake things up. Sometimes that literally means moving to a different room or doing a quick yoga flow between pieces of work. As a college student (and, honestly, as a master's student), I obsessed over my own learning/studying process: was I studying "hard enough"? concentrating "well enough"? As a doctoral student and a teacher, I still sometimes have those thoughts, but it's easier now to cut myself a break. One technique that helps me is actually one I learned in yoga teacher training (and loved so much that I got a tattoo of it). The Sanskrit concepts of abhyasa and vairagya complement each other as learning tools. Abhyasa means to focus, and vairagya means to let go. The combination of these two actions (which are the antidote to multi-tasking!) helps people move through a topic or an experience with better attention and less anxiety.

I was also asked as part of a tutoring training to identify which styles apply to me, and it's been useful to think about in the context of my studying. I think I'm a combination of visual, auditory, and writing! Sometimes I really need to draw pictures and make lists, like when I am coming up with a yoga sequence that I'd like to teach. When I take notes for my academic work, I often dictate them, like I said above: I find that my thinking flows differently when I talk out loud, and sometimes I remember it better. If I have a longer piece to write, though, like an article, installing myself in front of a word processor, either standing or sitting, - and sometimes in front of a paper and pen - are the best way to go.

For teaching, I'm trained in the Socratic Method, which pairs so well with asking leading questions. One thing I like about it is that it is actually very similar to reversing the roles. If you do it lightly and with interest, students naturally allow themselves to be experts in the topic (to the best of their ability). Sometimes all it takes to help them get there is to show your (genuine) interest in what they think. 

I may actually write the Plath stuff in my dictation program: she has been part of my ether for a long time, and I know The Bell Jar so well that I can discuss it in detail without looking at the text. For more of my thoughts on the idea of textless writing, find me at conferences or read this.


**I'm getting very interested in purposeful passive voice. Here, I didn't want to say "they asked me to reflect," because the identity of the people doing the asking isn't relevant to my point. In most instances, I abhor passive voice, so this interest is intriguing to me in and of itself.


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