Five Things I Hated As a Student That I Now Love

Today, I pulled out my journal and had a flashback to the same kind of composition notebook that I used in grade school. I remember hating the journal I had to keep. I hated the prompts. I hated the notebook checks. I hated having to glue items into my notebooks to make them more “interactive.” I hated numbering the pages and, when I felt particularly bored and rebellious, I would change the numbers to improper fractions (so page six was 18/3) and sometimes I would insert a decimal page number on a random line, like page 14.68.

I fell in love with journaling in high school, though, when Ms. Waller gave us free reign on our journals. Suddenly, I could tape in newspaper clippings and draw political cartoons and sketch out ideas for novels I wanted to write. It was technically a “civics journal,” but she said, “the larger theme is making sense out of your world. So, go beyond the subject and add anything you want.”

For the next fifteen years, I’ve continued to keep a journal.

Here’s why:

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Which has me thinking about things that I once hated in school and now love:

  1. Lectures: I hated lectures. I hated sitting down and listening to a teacher drone on about various topics. However, now, as an adult, I love listening to TED Talks and audio books (which are essentially another version of lectures). 
  2. Reading Logs: They were the bane of my existence as a reader. However, a few years back, I realized I was reading less and that I wouldn’t read unless I fought for that time in my schedule. So, I added reading to my to-do list and then I started a reading log. It’s simply the amount of time that I read, what I found fascinating, and then, a random fact that doesn’t connect — like what music I’m enjoying. What I’ve found is that music and books often coincide with themes I’m thinking about in life. 
  3. Note-taking: I hated taking notes in class, especially when I had to copy an entire outline off the board. However, now, as an adult, I find myself taking notes when I want to force myself to listen intently and not interrupt in a meeting. I tend to sketch-note or draw webs in order to make sense out of things in a more visual way.
  4. Memorizing Stuff: I still remember trying to memorize the Periodic Table of Elements in Chemistry. I wanted to know why the table worked that way and why we had missing numbers and what it would take to find new elements. I wanted to know what the elements looked like and smelled like and tasted like (dangerous, I know) but instead, I had to memorize it. But now, as an adult, I love to memorize things. I’ve memorized poetry and lines from books and quotes that I found fascinating. 
  5. Group Work: I realize that group work was supposed to teach us cooperation, but all it did was make jaded about cooperative learning. However, now, as an adult, I thrive when I work collaboratively
So, what changed? I’d love to blame old age and claim that I’ve matured. However, I know better. I’m still pretty immature 😉 
I think it’s less about good and bad strategies and more about the context. In other words, any strategy can work if it’s done at the right time with the right subject. So, a lecture is great for conveying an idea (like a TED Talk) or a concept. It doesn’t work as well when explaining a set of skills. Memorizing profound poetry forces someone to meditate on the meaning. However, if you want someone to memorize the Periodic Table of Elements, they’d be better off using it and playing with it until it’s memorized (think of the way you memorize the rules to a sport). 
But it’s also about choice and agency. I hated notebooks and note-taking because it was one-sided. I hated a reading log because it was compliance-driven. However, now that I can create my own reading log format and keep my own journal in the style that I want, it’s more relevant. So, maybe a part of the solution is to give students more agency in their learning. 

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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2 responses

  1. This is a really inspired post. I too love to listen to lectures these days. I think it might be because I listen to people all the time. But when it's a lecture, whether good or bad, I know it's the best and most concise version of that person's thinking that he or she can offer at that moment. Lectures hold the promise of an underlying organizational structure which can help me comprehend. Ultimately, I can accept or reject the lecture but I appreciate the forethought that went into planning it.

    So many more things I could comment on. Anyway, thanks for this great post.

  2. Spot on again John. I was making assumptions about compliance before I read your last paragraph. Cornell notes, SQ3R, EZ speller, and other mandated practices did little to inspire my learning. Agency, as you point out, is the key. In my middle years I use my smartphone to take notes, record thoughts, highlight reading material, and so on. Autonomy, Purpose, and Mastery – Daniel Pink has got it right! When we empower learners to create their own systems to document and share their learning we eliminate the sour taste of compliance. Power to the learners!

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