What is a Breakthrough Learning Moment?

What is a Breakthrough Learning Moment?

A breakthrough is a world-changing event or discovery. It can also be a life-changing experience.

We are familiar with breakthroughs in science and technology. Think of changes in world view due to the ideas of Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Mendel, Darwin, Einstein and so many more. Social and political breakthroughs include Women’s rights, Civil Rights, and Gay Rights. What will be next?

But learning methods have changed very little. Students attend lectures, read books, do homework, and take tests much like our parents and grandparents did. We use computers for instant research and to write papers that can be revised and corrected without retyping the whole thing. But we also need new methods for learning, methods for 21st century students who will need to live in a rapidly changing world.

In this website, I am sharing learning methods, some old and many new methods to help students learn faster, understand more, remember longer and make better gradesmethods that will make it possible for many students to make a learning breakthrough. You may know or discover other methods that could help other students. Please share them.

What is a Learning Breakthrough Moment?

You are certainly familiar with the idea. A Comic strip shows people with a light bulb glowing inside or over their head. The person had a new idea. Some say they have a flash of inspiration. Some say the answer just came to them.

The sun shines through dark clouds to show a "breakthrough."For Archimedes, settling into his bathtub, it was a Eureka Moment. The water overflowed and suddenly he knew how to find the volume of a crown. I’ve always pictured Archimedes running down the street naked, waving his towel in the air in excitement.

When this moment of insight opens the door to a new way of learning, it can be called a Breakthrough Learning Moment. Before that moment the task seemed impossible. Suddenly you see a way to accomplish “the impossible.”

Picture a gray day. The sky is heavy with dark clouds. Then, quite by chance, there’s a break in the clouds just where the sun is.  In the midst of the darkness, the sun’s light shines though. That’s how I picture a Breakthrough Learning Moment. This is what Breakthrough Learning is about.

My Personal Breakthrough Learning Moment

It was in 1967, the year after our daughter was born. I was at what was then Chicago Teachers’ College South, now Chicago State University. I was taking a class on the history of education. One of our books – I don’t remember the name – included fifty short chapters, each by a different famous educator. The chapters may have been articles, excerpts from a book or from a speech.

I immediately had that horrible feeling. I could read that book five times … I could read it fifty times …  I would remember some of the ideas but I’d never be able to remember who said what. The exam was certain to include essay questions asking us to compare the opinions of several educators on a topic like teacher training or curriculum.

I have no idea if other students worried about this. I suspect they started reading on page one and just plowed through the way they always did.

I was finishing the first chapter when the idea started coming to me. Instead of reading the whole book, I would skim the chapters and find the three, four or maybe five main ideas from each educator. I might be able to remember three or four ideas …. but for a whole fifty educators? Well, at least for some of them, the ones I’d heard of before, the ones that have the most important sounding ideas. If I had stopped there, I would have had a very good strategy.

I was taking notes on their main ideas when I saw a picture in my mind. I would create a chart. I’d write the educator’s names down the left side. Across the top, I’d list topics. For each educator, I filled in a few details under topics they mentioned. After completing the chart, I began looking for important relationships. This was the key to making sense of the information.

If thirty or forty educators discussed the same topic, I knew it was important but had no intention of trying to remember what all of them had to say. I chose the earliest to raise the subject and a few more with strong, preferably contradictory opinions. like those advocating practical classes like agriculture and home economics compared to those who recommended a strong education in the classics.

Some topics were rarely mentioned or never seemed especially important. I skipped them. Sometimes only two mentioned a topic but held opposing opinions. These were important. Continuing this way, I soon had four or five pages of notes. I read those key opinions carefully. Occasionally, I wrote down a very brief, well-known quotation.

Studying these few pages was easy and exciting. My educators came alive. They were involved in a number of important debates. I could almost picture them in front of me, shouting and pounding their fists.

Years later, looking back, at this experience, I realized this was an advanced use of a compare/contrast chart though, at the time,I had never heard of compare/contrast charts.

I certainly enjoyed studying the material this way, I remembered much more, and not surprisingly, made an excellent grade. The professor was impressed with my amazing memory. It wasn’t my memory that was so good. It was my strategy.

This website has many different strategies. I hope that some of these might led you to a breakthrough in learning.

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