A Most Thought-Provoking Book

A Most Thought-Provoking Book

Book cover: What the Best College Students DoThe book is What the Best College Students Do by Ken Bain (2012) and I highly recommend it.

I checked this book out of the library and shortly after starting the second chapter, I hurried to my computer to buy a copy. I knew this was a book that I would read again and again. I knew it would be a life-changing book.

If you have read this book, I would really enjoy hearing your opinions.

As a child, bored in my classes, I began creating my own learning projects. As a ten-year-old. I was studying algae.  In Junior High, I began wondering how much the different religions around the world were similar, and in what important ways they were different. I studied every book in the library on the topic and created large charts showing similarities.

I understood that learning was a lot more important than grades. I stuck with this firm belief from the time I was about ten years old until today. Ken Bain’s book tells stories of other people, very successful people, who believed the same thing, that learning is more important than grades. That was exciting.

Then there were descriptions of research, not on what students learn when they read an article, but their approach to learning. Those who skim for facts to memorize so they can do well when tested are called Shallow Learners. They soon forget. Deep Learners read in order to understand. They remember much longer. And then, there are the Strategic Learners whose goal is not to understand, but to make the highest possible grade.  I was soon searching for the details of their research.

These ideas have been around for quite a while, but this was the first time I had read about them and understood the importance of these categories for learning.

I finished the library copy just before my copy arrived in the mail. As I began a second reading, I paid close attention and began to question of few of the conclusions. My critical thinking skills were now fully functioning – which is always an exciting experience.

Thought-provoking is such a great term. This book provoked great thoughts in my mind. The more I read, the more new questions and ideas come to me. Thought-provoking books are the best kind.

This in not a book on study skills, although it is found under study skills on Amazon.  Ken Bain selected people he considered especially successful and interviewed them, asking about their experiences in college. He was hoping to find what learning experiences had led to their success. The stories they tell are interesting to read.

Much of the rest of the book covers research on learning. Since I was a science teacher and taught physics for several years I found the studies of how students did and did not learn in physics most intriguing. Apparently, strategic leaners were able to make good grades in physics without understanding any of the basic concepts.

Students were tested on their understanding of the basic laws of motion several months later and the grades they made had little relationship to what they really understood. Some students still believed the same “common sense” false ideas they’d had before taking physics.

One example describes a weight at the end of a rope. The question: If someone swings it around in a circle and the rope breaks, how will the weight move? Some believed it would continue going in circles. When the professor demonstrated what really happened, they thought he was tricking them.

As a result of this research many physics class are changing, testing students more on concepts rather than on problems solving.

This brought back an interesting memory. I had a terrible physics teacher in high school who was absent more than he was there. So I was a bit apprehensive when it came to taking college physics. I took the non-calculus class.

Before class, I spoke to the professor. I explained that while I could do  the seesaw problems, I didn’t really understand why it made any difference how far the people on the seesaw sat from the fulcrum.

The professor smiled and said something like “That’s good. That’s really wonderful. You will do very well in physics. None of the other students understand this either, but they don’t know that they don’t understand.”

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