Recently, I had a talk with a young man of about 20, at a Walmart store. He and a few others were discussion education and I happened to be walking by. Upon hearing some of the discussion, I stopped to listen. Some of them were concerned with how and what their children were learning and the preparation for adulthood. Since that has always been my goal: to prepare students for their adult lives, I thought better to listen.
After some time, everyone left, the young man remaining. He was entering college, but I was impressed with the level of discussion. He had views on subject matters, understanding cause and effect, and had thoughtful analysis of how our young people are learning. Although we may have had some different views, I enjoyed the conversation, trading thoughts, and wished him well on his future endeavors.
What I gathered during this conversation was here was a young man who seriously contemplated his future, but also the future of this generation. He enjoyed his own education, partaking in many discussions with his family, and as he grew older, was looking at cause and effect, reasons for learning difficulties, and more. This had been instilled by his family, though he may have always been one to look at things as if from a distance.
So, this I shared. I explained the concept of understanding, which he instantly recognized. Understanding is like a light bulb. It’s not something you can learn. You just have it, whether you recognize it. Understanding is knowing without knowing how you know. You just see it. Like when one is trying to figure out why a car won’t start. You read, you look, and you tinker with the car. Then, frustrated, you calm down and have lunch with a friend. Then, during conversations about planets or hobbies, suddenly, the answer about the car comes like a flash. You go back to the car, fix the problem, and the car works.
That’s understanding. It is also a very important aspect of learning. As an educator, I have endeavored to “show” this to the students, to point to understanding as the key to a great education. First, I say to them, look to understand what I’m sharing, then, all the other information will come together and the learning will be much more meaningful. You will understand, and the understanding will be yours forever, and the reading will either support or counter what you understand. But either way, you will be the one with the lights flashing on, tiny lights of “I get it” going off in your minds. This will have the effect of helping other areas of life. You will understand why you’re supported, but also why you are not supported, learning in both occasions.
This is worth repeating. One parent came to me, her daughter starting in my class. The parent wanted to share the daughter struggled with mathematics. I took one look at the daughter, asked her a couple of questions, then explained to the parent she will do well in this class. How did I know? One, I knew a positive, can do, perspective might counter some disbelief. But I also saw something of a mathematics in the student. Well, higher than what I expected, the young lady aced math that year.
But there’s something that needs to be added here. It was one conversation I had with the class, later one-on-one with her, then supported later. She was having difficulty with a problem. I asked if she carefully listened when I was giving the lesson. She said yes. I asked if she wrote the notes down. She said yes. I asked if she read the instructions in the book. She said yes. I then explained she was using her language brain to understand math. She didn’t understand.
This is what I explained. She likes to write. She likes to read. She enjoys socializing and talking with others. These are good qualities. But for math, I explained, you have to distance yourself from the problems. Listen, read, and then carefully look at a problem, seeing how the parts work together. Look at the problem as if you’re seeing it from a distance, seeing the parts, until the mind makes sense of it.
This, as I call it, is using your understanding, something I as yet cannot explain where the understanding is coming from, just that we’re born with it, but many forget how important “seeing” is.
She went back, and within a short time, knew how to solve the problem. So I explained, that is how you’ll complete the rest. She explained she didn’t like this method, but I explained that was the key to getting good grades in math. But I also explained it would get easier with time and practice. What, in effect understanding does, is show students that the “key” to learning resides within them. And as they grow in understanding, they become more self-confident, able to utilize this in other areas of learning.
When I teach, I come from a place of understanding. I talk to the students’ understanding. In this way, as I teach, I “see” whether they are “getting it” or whether I need to explain or show from a different perspective. I can explain this in a variety of different ways, but I’m always explaining the same concept. And to those who “get it”, learning becomes more of a joy.
For those reading this, many will identify times in their lives when thinking seemed to get in the way, but when those flashes of understanding came, how much easier learning and problems were solved. If you are endeavoring to explain concepts to your children, coming from a place of understanding “connects” you with their understanding. They will also enjoy listening, because understanding is like learning come alive. It’s personal and real.