Being a senior in college, I would say I have lots of experience being a student. I have been in countless classes with countless teachers on countless subjects. I would also say that I am a pretty good student. Until college, I had no idea what the letter B even looked like on a report card; even in college, a B has been the lowest letter grade I’ve seen. I remember loving the feeling of being smart, being able to complete the tasks set in front of me, being good at school. It seemed that staying at the top of the class was the best way to have the best life. If I could just get out of school with A’s and a few B’s, I would be set for the real world. Don’t get me wrong I loved learning, but I loved being good at school more. I studied, wrote the material down on a test or in a paper and never thought about it again. I went into more science classes thinking that it would prepare me for the best job with the most money, and that was all I needed to be happy once my time at school ended.
Science tends to be the best subject/field of study for the pure memorization and regurgitation of material which happened to be what I was best at. You can take a physics class for a requirement of getting into college and not remember any part of it once the class ended. You can memorize any chemical equation for one exam and forget it by the end of the day. Everyone in those upper level science classes did the same. We didn’t care about the material only about the grades. That was what school was for wasn’t it? Being told you’re smart because you could consume mass amounts of information in a short amount of time. It didn’t matter if you could remember them.
Everyone also takes English classes from grade school through high school. They always start with words, grammar, and sentences - vital pieces on the road to communicating with others. They usually end with readings of popular novels and plays (usually written by white, male authors but I digress); however, in these later English classes, I found more joy than I thought I would. I love reading for pleasure, always have, but in school I thought, the books were the same as the science material. Memorize the plot, characters, main themes for the exam or the paper. Many of them ran just like that: easy, simple, forgettable. Until one of them wasn’t.
The class AP Literature evokes many emotions in different students - most of them less than pleasant, but I started to fall in love. I fell in love with the conversations. The class was filled with senior high school students and most were trying to get the English credit for their undergraduate programs starting in the fall. A few of us, however, started to fall in love with the class. We talked about the books, about each others’ lives, about the connections we individually fell with various characters over the year. Our teacher joined in these discussions. He shared his story, his dreams, his goals, his passions and everything in between. I learned in a totally different way than my science classes, and I couldn’t get enough.
Just the other day, I read a section from bell hooks’ book Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom titled “Conversation”. The short, five-page entry inspired me to write this post. She talked about the passive learning most students do in the classroom and how at the conclusion of the exam or the class “they feel no need to hold onto the knowledge once it has been used to meet the material demands of the course”. It reminded me of the countless quizzes and exams I have taken especially during my biochemistry degree and the amount of material I simply forget because it’s not necessary for the class. I thought about the material demands from my classes: the A’s, the high GPA, etc.
Then I realized, I barely even remember most of my science classes, even the ones from last year. The classes I remember with the most fondness were the ones filled with conversation, specifically most of my English classes like my AP Literature class from high school. My thoughts mirrored hooks’ who talks about remembering vibrant conversation the most from her classes as a student and how those conversations helped her learn.
I took a course on global spy fiction my sophomore year of college as a general requirement for writing competency. The title of the course instantly sparked my interest, and the conversations we had in the class kept my interest. We talked about any number of global issues, literary themes, and even film studies techniques over the course of the semester. I still remember the conversations and the topics they were about. I was never bored and always learning. hooks’ wrote that “mindful conversation, talking that is powerful and energetic, always spotlights what really matters”. Our professor gave us room to speak energetically about the things we resonate with and didn’t push the topics that seemed less important to the students.
I also always felt at ease in the class. The information shared was never the spark for competition or animosity in the room. This felt immensely different from many of the science classes where students thrived on answering correctly before everyone else or getting the highest test grade. In this class, ideas were freely shared and expanded upon in a safe environment. Since reading this section, I can’t stop thinking about how we can bring a more conversation-based curriculum into science classes. Comment below if you have any ideas about having more conversation-based curriculum in science classes or how/if conversation can be beneficial in those classes!
APA Citation of bell hooks’ Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom
hooks, bell. (2010). Teaching critical thinking: practical wisdom. New York: Routledge.
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