Make Learning Easier — Part 1

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 8 (1 June 1997)

Just as in other multiplex dynamic situations such as games (where “a miss is as good as a mile” and even an inch makes huge differences in outcome): even the littlest things can make huge differences in how well or how poorly you learn. –Or how well others whom you care about are able to learn. Lack of some obvious practice or strategy can get you life-branded as a poor learner. Picking up on some little knack can get you on a roll instead and mark you as a great, gifted learner or even a genius. Here are some tips on some of these little knacks. If some seem overly obvious to you, others might not. If with some of these you think they couldn’t possibly make that much difference, try them and see for yourself.

You’ve taken too many people’s word for too many things. It’s time you check some things out for yourself instead of waiting for school-based authorities (with their own mixed agendas and purposes) to tell you what’s what. So–

Some Hot Tips for Little Knacks of Learning

1. Turn “dry facts” into memorable experiences. Use your imagination and involve all your senses.

For example, turn the “dry facts” about such historic events as the Battle of New Orleans into: hunkering down behind hasty fortifications in the heat, with the smell of mud and sweat and gunpowder, watch the British main force coming directly at where you’ve fortified most strongly instead of where you were weakest and the mixed anxiety and relief feelings that gives you there at those main fortifications…. And the mix of feelings you get weeks later, after all that you and everyone went through to win that victory, when you learn that the War of 1812 with England had actually ended before you had to fight that battle…..

Or, for example, take the “dry facts” of C=2 pi R or A = pi R squared. Imagine being an inch worm the length of pi chasing his own tail around and across circles and observe everything you can from being that inchworm. Or measure off the relationships involved in terms of your own physical body, discover where pi comes to from here to there in your own body, feel those relationships in your own body….

–Or be a participle dangling on the end of a sentence or clause. With great effort and resolve, pull yourself back from the precipice toward a more comfortable place in that sentence…..

–Imagine the mixed exhaustion and elation and other feelings Thomas Edison must have felt all through his body when, at long last, he realized that he was looking at a successful filament for his light bulb….

–Or the astonishment and excitement Elias Howe must have felt as he emerged from the sweaty breathless dry-mouthed terrors of his nightmare. –When he realized that those odd holes in the spearheads of the attacking cannibals in his nightmare were the key solution for the sewing machine he had been trying for so long to invent….

Make your “dry facts” utterly memorable!

2. Talk your way through the key points or issues. –WITH someone.

Talk problems through with a pal, whether these are math problems, science problems, problems of the school, at home or personal problems. (Also keep a private diary or journal for these things, and/or record these things also onto a tape recorder.)

Take turns. Going through the problem, one of you describes everything that’s going through your awareness as you do that, not just what you’re “supposed” to be talking about – to give the rest of your mind the chance to relate to the problem.

Your pal is listener, not interrupting, just listening and urging you on when need be, until you hit your “a-HA!” Take turns and be patient enough as a listener to let your pal hit his or her own “a-HA!” instead of letting on how you’ve already figured things out.

When it’s your turn to describe freely and to have a go at solving the problem, allow your own ideas and perceptions, and descriptions of your ideas and perceptions, to surprise you! –Because often the answer comes from unexpected directions if you let it, and balks when you don’t.

3. Experiment and Record

If a problem seems difficult, experiment with putting the problem into a different form and solving that one, then come back to the main one. Also–

Experiment with imagining whatever’s in that problem being bigger or smaller, or changing with time, or standing it upside down, or being in different colors, as another way to “get a handle on it.”

After such experimentation, and after talking problems through with a pal, review what you did to see if you can find out from what happened, something that will make your next problem-solving be easier and more accurate.

4. Treat what you don’t understand, in what you’re learning, like problems and do to them what you did to problems in #’s 2 & 3 above.

Whatever the state of your learning and your history as a learner, some parts of your learning have gone easier than have other parts. Not all of which is attributable to good or bad teachers or texts. Compare everything that was going on for you in your most successful leanings with the counterparts of those factors in your other subjects. Brainstorm all possible factors, don’t edit until you have maybe 50 or more items. Then sit down to see what items you might find it useful to give some attention to.

5. To make sure you understand something, explain it to someone much younger than you are and make THEM understand it.

One of our most famous educators, Jerome S. Bruner, once said that you can teach any idea or concept to anyone at any age level, provided you put it to him in his own conceptual vocabulary. That is, in terms that he already understands. In your search to find the terms which someone much younger than you understands, you strengthen your own grasp on that point of understanding immensely.

To the youngest among my readers:

You might not have to get a teacher or parent to explain any of the above to you. –Just get together with two or three friends. Each of you take turns explaining the above to each other, in detail….

To all of you reading this:

You have brains enough to run a galaxy. What are you doing with them?

One of the most frequently used paths to genius: find a knack that works for you. Get on a roll. Find ways to satay on that roll. Find ways to return to being on that roll, until so much else falls into that roll that even you begin to realize that you are, indeed, a genius……