In this article, we hope to bring the concept of understanding home. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s eye-opening. And in “understanding”, anything can be learned. Of course, depending upon what you’re interested in and the time you put forth.
While in college, the second time around, after working in various jobs, I found I could no longer learn using the older methods I had used for years: read, study, ready, study…, and memorize. So, I began changing from learning to understanding. My thinking was that if I could understand what my professors’ points were, that everything else (i.e. all the reading and lectures) would fall into place. And you know what? My thinking was back to front. The experiences I had gained from earlier education, but more so from practical work, caused me to see things in different ways. Within a few weeks, I realized that by understanding (Some based on experiences.), thinking for myself, I could understand anything, sometimes applying old experiences to the new, or what passed for new. And by understanding, the pieces of information would connect. I was right. It took some time, for I had to change the way I grew up learning, but I was open to finding a better way. I also realized I had to partake in some “hands on” activities so I was involved in practical things.
I hope this is heartening to readers, many who may have struggled in school. Trying to memorize works for many young people. To them, I encourage continuation in their successes. People learn in different ways, and what works for one person may not for another. But I have found, over the years that by speaking to people’s understanding, more and more “get it.” And when they do, when they understand, the learning is much quicker. It’s also deeper, and more lasting. It’s like learning is real. And it is.
Let me share some of the learning. I remembered hearing about left brain/right brain. I also heard about the five senses, that the more you included, the more fully you learned. For instance, if you’re learning about the stomach, look at pictures. If you have the opportunity, perhaps even buy an artificial representation. Talk about it with a classmate. Draw pictures. Then, as you’re reading, the information comes alive, more so if you can visualize, but that’s for those who like that method. What’s happening here is you’re “seeing,” reading, talking, drawing, involving more of the brain, and “seeing” in more ways than one. If I were learning about plants, I would go to a garden shop, even smell the plants, drawing them along the way. In this way, I’m active. I’m participating. I’m taking the learning into the real world. And by doing this, I’m engaged and the learning has other aspects. I’m learning in the process, which includes talking with the shop owner, and during all of this, I’m learning about other things that will benefit me in other areas.
But more to the classroom environment, where there is just me, the class, and the professor. While the professor was talking, I was also reading the assigned chapter. Somehow, I had learned to “split” my attention, so as I was reading, I was also listening. If the professor was talking about something, I waited until I understood, then read, until the professor was talking about something “new.” Whatever the professor said that was new, I would take notes: in a notebook to one side, the book on the other. Regarding the text, as I read, I sometimes summarized (put into my own words) each paragraph or so into one or two sentences. In this way, I was putting my own understanding to the chapter. Also, in this way, my “at home” study was scanning the pages, looking at what I had written (and often, I drew pictures, so I could “see” what I was learning, in this way engaging both the auditory and visual processes.). Rarely, did I study at home, except a few minutes to look over the notes, but mostly right before a test. And during tests, I wasn’t relying on memory, but understanding. ** As I look back, I don’t believe I ever worked on class assignments more than two hours in any week.
This may be difficult for some who wish to adhere to memory. And if that works for you, I encourage you to continue. But I’ve discovered by relying on understanding, even when I forget having read what a question is asking, nine times out of ten I will get the right answer. But this also goes to test taking strategies which is easily looked up online.
For me, test taking strategies is first understanding the questions. Then, looking at the multiple choices, crossing out the answers that you know couldn’t be the answer. Usually, you’re left with two choices, so you go with your best hunch. Better a 50% chance than 25%, but more so if you carefully select. *On a driver’s test, I had to take a written exam, something I didn’t know was coming but didn’t want to return on a different day. I applied the same concepts. I would say, I was concerned with seven of the questions. The results showed I only got one wrong, but that was because I chose the second of two I had narrowed it down to. On essays, I again relied on understanding. In this way, my answers would demonstrate, and though I might not get all of the answers, I will get most of it.
To make a long story short, I was nearly a straight A student the second time around. I did well in the first two years, but that entailed twenty plus hours of study, reading, rereading, memorizing, and more. The second time opened up hours for part-time work, socializing, working out, and more. And yet, even while at the gym, I would sometimes think about my classes, and I would be reviewing while on a stationary bike or lifting weights. Even conversations, sometimes sharing concepts with friends, would be an education.
And learning is a cross-over experience. What I learn in one class helps me with others. This I got from hearing, from some teachers, that learning is holistic. I took that to heart. So, if I was taking a math class, I sometimes used real world concept with problems. I made it real to me. If I was taking a history class, I related other history classes to the learning. Learning grammar? Write sentences related to the history lessons. Make it “fun”, or at least engaging, and your own attention makes the learning lasting. Find your way to learn.
I’ve told younger people try to understand what I’m saying. Once you do, everything comes together. The lecture, the reading material. I have them write on a variety of topics so writing becomes part of them. Then, I suggest, when reading, draw pictures of what you’re reading, summarize a page in one to three sentences, looking for the main idea. Be engaged. And when they do, the ones who do, they find the tests easier, but more importantly, the concepts they understand becomes a part of them, and they’re more prepared for future lessons. They find, they have inside, what they need to understand anything.
If anything, my hopes are to write to your understanding: to get you to reflect on how you understand. Sometimes, I’ve wondered, if the very term “learn” is a stumbling block to those who’ve struggled in school. What I say is whatever you’re reading or hearing is just part of life. There’s no time limit. If you don’t get it today, maybe you’ll get it on another day, in your own way. But, if you seek understanding, the understanding will be a part of you, and you’ll add understanding to understanding. Then, everything in life becomes an “ah haaa” experience.
But don’t forget to let go and relax. I have actually found, when I’m not thinking about my classes, my brain was already working without me knowing.