13. Learning to learn 2


Learning to Learn 2


Wings of Desire (1987), Wim Wenders

In 1973, anthropologist Gregory Bateson coined the terms ‘proto-learning’ and ‘deutero-learning’ (Bateson 1973:142).  Proto-learning refers to learning itself (he uses the example of rote-learning), whereas deutero-learning is an increased proficiency in proto-learning as a result of experience.  Deutero-learning is learning to learn, by ‘acquisition of apperceptive habits’ (Bateson 1973:143).  Deutero-learning contextualises our proto-learning experiences and allows us to develop ‘strategies for maximising learning through extraction of implicit rules’ (Atherton 2013).  So as we learn, we observe how we’re learning – the approaches we take and the techniques we utilise – and, consciously or otherwise, monitor and adjust what we’re doing and how we’re doing it in ways that we deem will be more efficient and effective.

How this relates to my (current) learning experiences

I’m also becoming more conscious of how I’m studying while I’m studying.  Having observed myself getting tired and taking longer to process what I’m reading, I’m becoming more selective about what I read, focusing in more depth on what interests me rather than trying to do everything.

With note-taking, now that I’ve identified particular areas that I want to explore more, I’ve started making a large mind-map for a specific topic.  This way, rather than having notes in different places, I can return to it and add to it as I read more about the topic and more ideas occur to me.  I’ve also taken to more stream of consciousness type writing in response to a thought or idea.

How this relates to my learners

When teaching exam courses, I often set my students the homework task of watching Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk, How Body Language Shapes who we are (see below)We discuss the content in class and consider how it relates to exam skills.  Somewhere I have a photo of a group of students on the morning of their FCE exam – inspired by the talk – with their hands raised in a ‘power pose’.

I still think Cuddy’s talk is a great video for students to watch and discuss, but I feel I’ve been missing something here, in terms of how it relates to learning (as opposed to just exam skills).  While study habits and techniques do come into the courses, we haven’t before considered the benefits of consciously observing and changing one’s own habits until they become more effective.

Practically, I could begin by asking students to spend an hour studying for homework and then in class reflect on how they did so and what the effects were.  Students could experiment with different techniques, trying out each-others’ ways of studying and observing the differences.

I feel there could be a ‘mind over matter’ element at play here: adopting techniques that are known to be effective[1] until they become natural, although I have a feeling that allowing a habit to become too much like second nature might have the adverse effect of stifling any creative thinking.

Learning and the Cycle of Metaphors

I spent the last two weeks thinking ‘learning is hard work’.  This statement not only reflected my feelings but also influenced them – the more I thought it the truer it became.  I talk more about this cyclical nature of metaphors in my first Statement of Relevance.

It took me a week or so to realise I was doing this, but then consciously decided ‘learning is fun’.  It’s inseparable from the shift in my choices about where and how to focus my energies, but intuitively I’m certain this change in metaphor has impacted on my feelings toward learning, and I’m finding the experience more enjoyable.  It’s not a complete shift, of course.  I’m still tired, but I think I’m making progress.  I think this is true for our students too.  I can recall one particular student in a General English class last year who insisted she ‘couldn’t do’ certain writing tasks, and repeatedly told herself so.  I asked her to try telling herself that she could do a particular task, and after some time she started to find the task easier.

I’m not saying anything here that hasn’t been said before, but I think it’s worth us reminding ourselves from time to time, both as teachers and learners, that positive thinking might play a bigger role in success than we imagine, and observing how we’re thinking about learning – as well as how we’re learning – could help us to make better choices.

[1] This is where Evidence Based Teaching comes into play, but I’ll return to this at a later date


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