Damn You, Earnest

Hemingway infamously advised wanna-be writers to cultivate

…a built-in, shockproof, bull*$#! detector

and mine has been sounding off recently. It’s not a system I’ve nurtured, rather mine is by nature…I can’t remember not hearing it’s blip-blip, so I took a strange comfort in this quote at first…it was one of those light-bulb moments…maybe more a lightning strike of self-awareness quickly dimmed by the thunder of social disapproval…

It is true that any activity requiring socialization is best undertaken by leaving your BS detector at home…at least on vibrate…while I do work to keep it muted so I can move more nimbly through each day, our current situation requires me to sound the alarm. I mean, we’re already “socially distanced,” so it might be a good time…since some of you may not like what I’m gonna’ say…

It is precisely that we’re doing everything at a “social distance”…not least, learning, our mutual concern…so before your feathers get ruffled…indulge this ‘processing moment’ (Wut?! See what I did there?? Threw it back to my last post…no she di’int?!?) with me…

...but online classes don’t work for me…I just can’t learn that way.

Sorry, Chickadees, this is where I gotta’ call it…

Beeeeeep…

You can, my Favorite Fowl, you can learn and be successful online.

You can successfully learn online, on the ground, in the air. 
You can be learner who learns anywhere! 
You can learn inside, outside, upside down. 
When you learn to learn with a smile not a frown!

Suessical as it may sound…it’s actually science. A 2018 Stanford brain-scan study confirmed what Sesame Street has been trying to tell us since 1969, the attitude with which we approach learning is just as (if not more) significant than IQ…and they’re not alone, Carol Dweck and many others have been telling us for decades that we need check our ‘mindsets’ at the classroom door…it’s really just simple ‘law of attraction’…if we keep putting out “can’t” vibes…that “I’m not capable” boomerang’ll be back to hit us in the teeth every time.

Once we’ve locked in our “my little engine can” mantra, next up is a check-in on our ‘preferences.’ We’ve disguised (really through no fault of our own) our lazy learning habits in “learning style” costumes and “study strengths/preferences” accessories for too long. When theorists like Gardner and Fleming came along throwing out multiple intelligences and VARK instructional preferences, we scooped it up like candy….

Suddenly, we had an easy-out for grades less than we hoped they’d be…e.g. Prof. X’s teaching style doesn’t match my learning preferences OR I just don’t have a mind for math OR fill-in-the-__________ class just doesn’t work for me...

While well-intentioned and not without merit, most of these learning theories have done more harm than good. Research demonstrating the weaknesses and misapplication of these theories continues to mount. Let’s consider learning styles, for instance. We’ve all taken surveys that aim to tell us how we “prefer” to learn…and our results may indeed reflect our penchant for visual or kinesthetic experiences…but just because we prefer one thing to another, doesn’t make our preference any more beneficial than our aversion…I would choose java-chip over mint-chocolate-chip everyday of the week, but it doesn’t make ice cream a healthy dinner entree.

In a 2018 study published in the American Association for Anatomy, Husmann and O’Loughlin reach the same conclusion most research on the subject does, “…the conventional wisdom about learning styles should be rejected by educators and students alike.”

Fortunately, there is plenty of research offering alternatives that have been scientifically proven to work. SPOILER ALERT: They require effort…the kind of effort that may lead to sweating or swearing from time-to-time. The kind of effort that years and years of “passive learning” can make seem much more intimidating than it really is.

Here are some of the things we know are effective:

  • Space learning/study sessions out over time (interweaving concepts and subjects)
  • Experience the material in multiple modalities (incorporate a variety of “intelligences” and “preferences”)
  • Self-test (using a variety of formats, including the one the test will be given in)
  • Elaborate on material (make content and personal connections)

As far as online learning is concerned, many students who think they “can’t” learn this way are probably suffering from a case of “stranger danger.” Anything unfamiliar can produce discomfort or downright panic, especially if we feel coerced into “taking a ride.” But we should take comfort, most students do find with time and use of good strategies, online learning can become a positive, productive, and even preferred mode of instruction.

It does require:

  • Daily planning and time management (you simply MUST schedule time every day and every week to be in front of a screen, working in all of your classes…setting a daily/weekly schedule and sticking to it is the MOST important element of succeeding with online courseworkset your schedule in stone and do not, under any circumstances, barring being ill w/COVID-19, stray from your schedule until you have confirmation that you have passed your courses!)
  • Careful reading & time dedicated to reviewing all course information
  • Self-awareness and initiative (there’s nothing passive about online learning…it requires students to ask when they don’t know and seek when they can’t find)

If you can implement these 3 strategies, you are well on your way to lovin’ learnin’ online! Any additional “preferences” are there for the taking…do you like working with a “human being?” No problem…reach out to a tutor so you have a “processing buddy,” email your instructor for a Zoom meeting to ask some questions, connect with a few classmates on *Discord, Google Hangouts, Skype, or your preferred platform for some group study time, enlist the help of your spouse, your parents, or your kids…make learning a family activity…read together, teach them about what you’re learning, or have them quiz you. My 16-year-old ‘schools’ me daily on his ‘preferred’ tech tools (*see Discord above)

Like to hear and see rather than just read…check out YouTube for excellent educational channels on every subject under the sun, use audio/voice accessibility features in Google, Microsoft Edge, Word, or Adobe…the options are endless and the choices are yours! The only prerequisite for success online is that you must become an “active” learner…and since we’re waving our BS detectors around…no real learning happens, even for a student with perfect attendance, who claims a seat in the back row and avoids eye contact until class is dismissed.

So Chickens, I may have your hackles up…but I hope you are reading the intentions between these lines…

And then some! With the right attitude, the right tools, and the willingness to actively engage…you can learn here, there, and most anywhere! If it isn’t easy – it will get easier. If isn’t your preference – focus on your options. If you doubt me, I will leave you with these wise words from Hemingway…who, let’s remember, got us into this mess to begin with…

Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.

It's a Process…

I would ask how you’re doing…you know…living through this unprecedented pandemic an’all. It continues to reveal itself, doesn’t it? The ripples extending softer and wider each day passing…but I think the better question is…how are you processing?

How are you processing, Chickens?

Let’s do be sure we all have the same eggs in our baskets:

As a verb, let’s consider how “processing” can be defined:

  • the act of performing a particular series of operations on information
  • actions that are taken to change raw materials during the production of goods
  • the use of a computer to collect, store, organize, and use information

And when we use our glorious gray matter to collect, organize, and apply all the “stuff” coming in…all the ‘sees,’ ‘smells,’ ‘feels,’ and ‘thinks’…we make this “raw material” into “goods” or something good…in the form of learning, awareness, experience…

And so when we ask “How are you processing?” we’re asking the most essential human question:

How are you making meaning of your life?

Dive with me, Chickens…this is an unusual time for us as individuals and communities…our lives have been interrupted in the smallest ways (have you tried buying toilet paper recently or avoiding memes and GIFs about buying toilet paper?) right on up through the biggest…the global economy, our health care systems, international relations, life and death, if we get right to it…

Many of us are experiencing our work, our families, our communities in entirely new ways, feeling the whole while like our heads have been separated from our bodies…so who has time to ‘process,’ you Crazy Chicken Wing-o, you may be asking.

But I think that ‘processing’ time has to be included on our ‘To-Dos’…it’s what has allowed homo sapiens to reach the top rung of the evolutionary ladder, after all. It is our ‘job‘ to learn and grow…to develop our self-awareness and our connection to the world. So what is a crisis, but the universe reminding us to do our jobs.

I know we are all just survivin’…but I also know we will. So let’s agree to step back and make time to ‘process’…we live our lives on continuums and ‘processing’ is no different…some of us can’t stop (to the detriment of everyday activities like recognizing we’re almost out of toilet paper) and some of us would rather extract our own teeth with a rusty monkey wrench…wherever you fall, there are ways to make time for ‘processing’…the following are some ‘breeding ground’ activities…

  • Go for a walk/jog, any kind of individual exercise
  • Sit for 15 or 20 minutes by yourself, if it feels weird…make a cup of coffee or tea
  • Find a ‘processing buddy’ – someone who likes to think deeply about life (you don’t at all need a Ph.D for this…my dad has only a high school education and worked in a steel mill his whole life…he was my first ‘processing buddy,’ an armchair philosopher…he has an endless curiosity for psychology, sociology, biology, astronomy, music…he is still, after almost 8 decades, fervidly passionate about living in the world and loves to spend time thinking and talking about “being human,”…he was and still is, for me, a most valued ‘processing buddy’)
  • Go for a drive to nowhere (stay in the car, social distancing an’all, and find some ‘country roads’) wonder and wander
  • Listen to music…it ‘frees the mind and the rest will follow’…music is always ‘en vogue’ (yikes! that’s a “dater”)
  • Do 10-15 minutes of “stream-of-consciousness” writing…write anything and everything that pops into your head…DO NOT CENSOR yourself, that’s super important…and surprisingly hard to do…to kick start your ‘processing brain’ write on napkins
  • Take a nap

These activities give your brain time and space…when your brain has time and space it defaults to ‘processing’…yep, we are literally built for it! Even when we’re sleeping, maybe especially because we’re sleeping, our brains are ‘processing’…

Usually, we’re so busy…often creating ‘business’ (e.g. distractions) for ourselves…socializing (virtually & F2F), shopping, eating, running errands, helicoptering and bulldozing for our children…and on and on…we work really hard to oppose ‘processing’ in the course of our ‘normal’ lives.

So Chickens, I hope to keep connected with you (I know I’ve failed fatly and epicly for at least a year now…) to keep ‘processing’ with you…

It is, after all, a ‘job‘ we share.