My Learning Breakthrough Moment

My Learning Breakthrough Moment

Black and White Photo of Horace ManmIn an education class I once took, the textbook included fifty short chapters, each by a different famous educator. The chapters included articles or excerpts from a book or speech.

Horace Mann (shown in photo) was one of these educators. He argued against the idea of education only for the elite. He is called the Father of the “Common School Movement.”  He wanted all students to have the same opportunity to get an education.

I looked at that book and  immediately had a terrible feeling. I knew 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 came to me. Instead of reading the whole book, I could skim the chapters and find the three, four or maybe five main ideas from each educator. That seemed like a good start, but then what?

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. This was a large chart.

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 educator who first raised the subject and a few more with strong  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.

You might want to read  Compare and Contrast Charts

and about Advanced Compare and Contrast Charts:   Matrix Charts

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