Learning about Learning

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 2:23 am | By Sara Woolery ’11

Change often happens without notice. One day, I’m just a student, taking classes, thinking about ideas — and suddenly the school year is nearly over, and it hits me just how much I’ve learned, grown, and changed in the last nine months. One of the courses that influenced me the most was Education 101. It challenged my ideas about what knowledge is and how it’s acquired, and revitalized my desire to work in public education.

One of my favorite lessons from EDU 101 was learning how to think about my own learning process. Our professor asked us to observe our own learning in one of our other classes for several weeks (recording everything in a journal, of course). We were also asked to interview the professor of that class, and write a few short essays about our findings in the meantime. I chose my introductory English class, Literary Analysis.

As a prospective English major, I was enthusiastic about certain aspects of literary analysis and hypocritically frustrated by other elements, skilled at writing but not-so-skilled at critical reading, and alternately irritated and inspired by my professor’s ideas and teaching style — I made a good case study for myself.

At first, I simply took notes on what the professor did and what happened in class. Thinking about my own learning, in the moment, was more difficult than it sounded. What was I supposed to notice, anyway? If the teacher was talking, I was probably learning something, right? Eventually, I learned to notice not only what was going on in class, but also my immediate responses to class events. I also learned to evaluate the situation as a whole.

Suddenly, my education took on a whole new level of personal meaning. Whether I was comparing stories to hurricanes in English, figuring out how vectors work in physics, or relating McDonaldization to my own life in sociology, I knew how to think not just about the subject at hand, but also how to think about how I was thinking about it.

This is exciting — why? Is it the material itself, or the way it’s being presented? Usually, I am most excited by ideas that are directly relevant to my experiences; does this fall into that category? How can I make sure I stay excited about this subject? Or, I just don’t get this. Am I thinking about it the wrong way? Maybe a more visual approach would work better? Or something more mathematical? How do I usually understand math? Would that approach work here, too?

One of the ideals I hold dear is that education should be personal. EDU 101 changed my worldview of learning forever by providing me with a clear sense of self-perception and agency in my education.

Sara Woolery '11 is an English major getting an Education certification from Malvern, Iowa.