How Easy it All is….

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                In writing this article, I can in no way speak for everyone.  I can only share the experiences I have been privy to.  Decades of learning and teaching, along with hobbies and other responsibilities have helped me, and others, grow in understanding the simplicity of learning. 

                I am always reminded of Beethoven, that fellow who saw a keyboard and it just made sense to him.  To Cesar Millan, he looks and dogs and their owners, and it just makes sense. I look at kids, and they just make sense. I look at a horse, and it just makes sense. Some pilots look at planes, and they see it all. We all have that to one degree or another.  And some of us find it, and others may not, though it’s there if they look for it.  I’ve found that some people never see it, or when they do, don’t recognize it for what it is:  understanding. 

                I think teaching at summer camps was key to opening my eyes (This and the second stint at college).  Due to the positive outlook of the owners, that they “saw” something in me as they saw in others (and I see it in the kids), that they loved the idea of spontaneous learning and trying your hand at anything, I experienced something many have not, but is also seeming to be lost in our country.  Self-reliance.  Learning anything in your own time.  Just try it.

                Not to belabor the point, but often times we are our own road blocks.  Do you know what happens when you give over your trust to someone else to learn?  You forget that you have all that you need.  Yes, we learn from others.  We learn from their experiences.  Want to learn Karate, find a black belt instructor who knows how to transfer his understanding to you.  But if we apply understanding and self-reliance, we learn much quicker. 

                At one summer camp, I worked with others in teaching beginning horseback riding.  However, one day, the owner’s first in command asked me to help a lady teach trick riding.  My job was to hold the lead rope (attached to the horse) while the instructor went with the student round and round, teaching him/her how to do tricks (i.e. sit backwards, lay backwards on the horse, spin, stand on the saddle, and much more.)  So, I observed but was careful in my job, knowing to support a calm horse.  I was always looking for any danger, to be ready in any case. 

                A day or so later, they asked me to run a beginner’s trick riding course, alone.  I thought they were crazy.  I had no training.  All I had was a couple of days holding the rope.  They told me the instructor knew I could do it.  So, I did.  Easy.  No books to pour over.  No classes to attend.  No videos to watch.  No program.  Just do it. 

                You see, what I learned, which I always had, and which we all grow up knowing, but we’re systematized in every walk of life, is that “we” can “see” the answers.  This curriculum.  That book.  Those self-help books.  These steps.  Whatever happened to innate knowing?  How would Beethoven have done if he had to be trained?  He just went to the keyboard and knew.  But, our insurance requires this much training and these certificates?  Really?  How many people out there can teach having never gone to college?  A friend, a business owner, I had teach another student about business.  In that one hour, the young man learned more than his one year of business class.  Why?  Because the business owner lived business and would only explain the practical reasons.  What worked.  What actually takes place.  And his innate knowing. 

                Those of you hoping for your children to learn well.  Look at your children as they are:  not as books tell you.  “See”, really see them, as they are.  And be willing to challenge them, to work on projects together, and get them trying things they might not otherwise do if we have to study everything.  There’s something each and every one of us has that we can tap into and learn without memorizing.  I never memorize.  Used to.  Never again.  I look to understand. 

                Over the years, as a teacher, I saw the more I did for the kids, the more they struggled, or got bored.  I also saw that some had learned helplessness:  learned helplessness.  It they had problems, there were programs and classes for this and that.  And sometimes, extra time and classes are needed.  But often, a connection is lost between the student and their innate understanding.  So, my hopes was to bridge the gap.  To bring them back to themselves.  To find that innate trust of one’s own understanding. 

                With time, I worked to teach the kids to think for themselves.  However, I realized, I had to show them where it was, and readers can look at other articles on my site.  To reiterate, one student said she couldn’t solve some math problems.  I looked at her.  Watched how she approached the problems.  Ahh, I said, you’re using your language brain.  To learn the math, after you listen to my lecture and take notes, you must look at the problems as if from a distance.  After being reminded a few times, she became a straight A student.  I did nothing.  All the success was to her.  She just realized I wasn’t going to coddle her, that the work would come from her, but that she had what she needed to understand anything.  Her success.  And, I encouraged her to help another student which helped her self-esteem. 

Understanding: A Most Difficult Subject to Convey

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This topic is perhaps one of the most difficult to convey, more so with adults.   I think this is in part, that as we get older, we tend to become more set is how we view the world and life.  I think, to some degree, this is normal.  As we get older, we learn more about what we believe, and with life’s challenges and responsibilities, we must focus on our jobs and families.  With the youth, it’s easier, because I think, in part, we’re closer to understanding and being open to other’s words and ideas.  This is where good parenting comes in.

                But this is not about parenting.  On occasion, I do meet an adult or parent who sees what I so graciously appreciated in realizing while in college, then later as a teacher.  But most times, the adults agree, but never really hear.  I say understanding is key.  They nod.  Yes, understanding math is important.  Understanding the subjects will help my child get better grades.  Yes, I understand.  And from this, their kids might do better.  But they never heard me.  A few do.  Then, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

                As many readers have read, when I teach young people, I teach to their understanding.  I don’t teach to their intellect.  The brain, with its intellect, as I see, is like a computer.   We can use it for many things.  It’s amazing.  But understanding is something completely different.  It’s like seeing the whole picture without thinking.  It happens in an instant.  It’s those “ah haaa” moments, many moments in life, that feels like a breath of fresh air.  It’s like coming alive.  It’s like the day dragged on with thoughts about this and that, and suddenly, you see, outside the fog of life and problems.  You see “behind” the scenes.  You see the core.

                When I teach, first, I look to understand what I’m teaching, then, the words pour forth from there.  In teaching horseback riding, I never had formal training in teaching horseback riding.  I just understood horses.  From there, I saw the relationship between horse and rider.  Having learned to ride horses, I knew what the rider had to communicate to the horse.  But I also saw each person has their own dynamics.  Get the new rider to understand the horse, then communication begins.  I don’t say, if you kick the horse’s sides, it will go forward.  I say, what would you do if someone poked you in the sides?  They get it.

                In teaching math, how do I get the students to do better (Of course, their basic skills must be excellent, which requires drills and practice.)?  As some have heard me say, I told a student that you must first listen well, see what I’m explaining, then solve the problems one at a time.  But here’s the kicker.  You have to look at the problem, one at a time, as if you were looking at it from a distance.  Look at the parts of the equation or problem, looking to understand, and suddenly the answer will come.  That part of you that is capable of understanding anything suddenly makes you solve.  But it’s difficult, teacher, the student replied a couple of times.  I said, I know.  Because you’re used to thinking thoughts in streams, not really “seeing”, being patient, you’re beginning to practice something that will help you the rest of your life.  A child that the mother thought would never be good in math received straight A’s that year.  She did very well the next year. 

                This little thing called understanding, I hope the readers come to see for themselves, is the key to gaining a quality education, but without the brainstorming and drudgery which is most students’ experiences.  But there’s something else.  When you understand and learn to learn from understanding, you will also see the problems in some teaching practices, some methods of learning, but also see faster than many of your contemporaries.  It’s like lightning at times.  What took one person weeks, even months, sometimes happens in a moment.  Then, when understanding takes, the learning is forever.  It’s yours.  But it’s not at the same time.   It only exists at the times of understanding.  But you’ll appreciate it.  Looking at things different than you did before.  But don’t try to memorize this.  It’s just there when you understand.

Humor and Stories and Learning

                One of my favorite stories to encourage problem solving (I learned this from another teacher, who learned it from another source.) involves a farmer attempting to cross a river.  He had a chicken, a fox on a leash, and a package of vegetables.  Due to the weight restrictions of the canoe, he could only take one item across at a time.  The problem was, if he took the bag, the fox would eat the chicken.  How did he get all the items across safely?

                **If you wish to attempt solving this, don’t look before until your attempt.

                Of course, many readers have heard this before, perhaps in class.  We take the fox across, so the chicken is alone with the vegetables.  Then, we take the chicken, but bring the fox back to the beginning.  Then, we take the package.  Last, we bring the fox over and continue with the journey. 

                We used stories like this to challenge the kids and teens to think.  Very rarely have we had any student figure this out at the beginning of the year.  By the end of the year, having taught them cause and effects and to think for themselves, more of the students can problem solve.

Why Understanding is Key

                The concept of understanding, perhaps a great communication in classes, but also in work environments, is so important in that it communicates on a level of interest and self-motivation.  Good bosses utilize understanding, which speak volumes, but also enables their workers to see deeper into reasons, but is self-energized.  When workers understand, they are more apt to motivate coworkers, provided of course, doing a good job is at the heart of each worker. 

                I know, having conversations with other adults, often those who’ve had a plethora of life experiences, but also those who’ve gained some wisdom along the way, is a joy and filled with thoughtful consideration, causing deeper reflection.  I think that’s why children and teens, perhaps more so in older days, sat near relatives discussing current events, cause and effects, history, and more.  They listened because these were the ones who’ve lived through difficulties, who shouldered responsibility, and found answers that affected them in the positive, though difficulties may still have created trials.  But through the trials, they learned, and in this way, passed on to the next generation some of their wisdom.  And if the new generation took the education to heart, they still had to go through their own trials, for nothing educates more than real life.

                Fortunate are some of my friends and me, having had practical experiences.  Fortunate are teachers who have had practical experiences upon which to share their knowledge.  Fortunate are the youth who can hear practical experiences, take upon themselves chores and opportunities, but also are motivated to seek understanding.  In this way, they become a generation who see causes and effects, can think for themselves, but also see the wisdom in listening to those who’ve been there.

                It seems, often today, that our youth are losing the importance of this concept.  Say to someone, and I have, understanding is the key to learning, that practical experiences are very important, and they will nod in agreement.  But often, it doesn’t take hold.  Of course understanding is important, they seem to be thinking.  I always understand, many seem to be thinking.  But in application, reflecting upon their own actions, what they want to do when they grow up, and in their interactions with friends seem to often indicate otherwise. 

                Perhaps why this concept, so key to learning and making better decisions isn’t utilized fully is a need for more experience, or the subject isn’t supported in their day to day lives.  Excitement, distractions, videos, internet, YouTube.  Less reflection.  Less time away from the noise so each person can find within them what they keep looking for outside.  I know I was this way in my youth.  But with time, working, trying this and that, questions kept popping up.  Then, through hands-on work, finally college, I sought to learn through understanding, for I saw this as more energizing than memorization. 

                Encourage our youth to understand, which I believe requires conversations, time away from electronics, responsibilities, and consequences with talks, and they will grow up with something that is inside them (which we’re all born with), which guides should they heed the understanding.  But they will also learn faster, sometimes by leaps and bounds, than their contemporaries.  And they might also wonder why their friends don’t “get it.”  But they will. 

Continuing Understanding

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                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.

Understanding Made Simple

                We were watching a game show a couple of weeks back.  Regarding prices, a contestant gave a prediction, yet it was so far off what is common.  On another show, we heard discussions about the economy, again amazed at the disconnect between perspective and real cause and effect.  In both, we noticed that there seemingly no realization or critical thinking skills being used.  Both seemed certain of themselves, and even upon additional information, there seemed to be no reflection.

                What is understanding?  It’s something we’re born with, but with time, can be lost.  I remember my folks telling me that “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”  They were using a common phrase at the time which regarded the brain like muscles.  I never quite agreed, but I understood the need to learn and develop skills that would later help with life and opportunities.

                The concept is simple, and real, but all too often most people don’t “see” the importance of this little concept.  It’s like a small breeze.  You know it’s there, but you never think much about it.  And yet, it creates the San Francisco Bay Bridge, sends men to the moon (perhaps Mars one day), begins new businesses, brings inventions that improve our lives, and created both the internet and social media.

                Here’s how I’ve explained this before, something I came to better understand during college, but more so in application.  As we see it, it does require time, experience, and reflection, but I’ve known some younger people that seem to be blessed with tons of understanding.  Over the years, I’ve learned that people are all different, have their talents is various applications, but also what we spend time in usually provides the foundations depending upon how we approach and pursue.

                I look at a fan.  It just makes sense.  I look into the eyes of one I’m talking to, and the understanding of where that person is coming from just makes sense.  In college, I listened to the professors, seeking to understand where they were coming from, and once I “got it,” everything else fell into place.  I was stranded on the side of the road, many a time, but with the maintenance manual, repaired and got back on the road.  A friend asked me to train his dog, so I taught it to sit, raise a paw, and roll over, watching the dog for the clues it could give me that would work.  Understanding.  A friend of mine, who has taught many years, wanted to start a business.  So, he does both.  Understanding.

                So, again, what is understanding?  It’s not intellect, though the intellect is used to gather information.  Research?  Of course.  Experience?  Absolutely.  Time and patience?  Yes.  But I also think an inquisitive nature helps.  Curiosity.  Wonder.  Pursuit.  If you want to learn something, sometimes you will need others to instruct, but along the way, seek to understand, because the learning curve will be steeper, more so in some, but certainly higher.

                I’ll take this time to share something I’ve shared before.  I had a student who’d always received Ds, needed additional help, but was being mainstreamed into my class.  I spent some time with the special education teachers, listening as they explained their time with him.  I always enjoyed talking with the special education teachers for their experiences are varied and they have a plethora of students which they seek to help, trying different directions to bring out their best.

                Well, something happened in the third quarter.  He had been getting Ds and Cs, a little better than in previous years, but one day he asked me a question.  He wanted to know, if he got done early, what were his options?  At that time, I had some creative assignments students could take part in should they complete assignments early (i.e. creating games, letter writing, challenging dittos, etc.).   For some reason, completing his assignments as quickly as possible, then having some choices afterwards opened something up. I had always encouraged him, helped him with the work, but when suddenly he had choices, that I encouraged him to think for himself, something clicked.  He still had to do the main work well before he could move to the choices, but that motivated him.  He was motivated from within.  As I saw it, that part of a person engaged from within was expressed in different ways:  from work time to challenging assignments.  Well, to make a long story short, he was on the honor roll for the last two quarters.  He did it.  Not me.  He just clicked with what we both understood. 

                One more story.  A lady I had been dating wanted to go back to college, but she was afraid of having to take Algebra.  She said she never quite understood it in her younger days.  So, we sat together, going over some problems.  I explained those x, y, and z’s used in problems are like the empty boxes we all learned about in grade school.  You know:  3 + blank = 5.  Suddenly, she got it.  That little bit of information opened up her understanding.  Of course, the course took time, but she actually enjoyed learning Algebra. 

                Understanding is learning made live.  It engages us.  It makes what is on paper interesting.  And if we can learn to utilize something we were born with, we might be engaged to learn even more simply because we’re interested.  Then, the learning curved goes up.