Part 2: Learning May Not Be Simple–The Student’s Perspective

In Part One of our “Learning May Not Be Simple” series, we discussed the complexities of presenting new information in an average classroom, as well as how a teacher’s management of the class can influence the learning process.  The following highlights the student’s perspective and the complications of understanding new information, particularly for high school students, who are subject to the normal-everyday-teenage self-consciousness, and also may feel the pressure of the college admissions process.

Striving to be as competitive as possible for college admissions can make classroom learning into a goal-oriented task, where a particular letter grade is the focus, rather than the grade being a measuring stick for future improvement.  In addition, students can be concerned that grade does (or doesn’t) reflect her/his true intelligence and abilities, which further complicates their selectivity as a college bound student. While the aforementioned ideas may not be conscious concerns during class everyday, the subtle influence can create underlying pressures and affect the student’s ability to pay attention.

Since learning is part listening and part absorbing new information, a classroom environment where a student is able to wrangle with new ideas, test them, and ask questions is advantageous.  However, a back and forth dialogue between students and teacher, as well as student and student may not be simple for 35 teenagers with various teenage stresses and biases, plus a teacher who’s responsible for 160 students each day.  Just like the teacher, the listener’s character flaws, personality quirks, outside stresses must also be set aside during the presentation (i.e. class time) in order to focus. Teenagers can be unforgiving about a teacher’s and fellow students’ personality quirks and disconnects, expressing frustration by not doing the work assigned (or only minimally completing the work) or being disruptive during class.  In addition, paying attention is not just staying silent and taking in sound through one’s ears.  Paying attention can include asking questions at the moment when that “I’m not sure what we’re talking about” thought pops up in the mind.  Sometimes, asking questions can be inhibited by self-conscious concerns of being inaccurately judged by other students or being rude for “interrupting” the teacher.   A student’s ability to set aside reasons to not pay attention, as well as actively listen by asking questions when needed, can define his/her ability to learn new information.

While the student’s learning style doesn’t change from class to class, responding to a different teacher and a different set of students each hour, can add more complexity to the learning process.  Plus, as the school day continues, physical tiredness can naturally occur, which can also possibly result from a late night doing homework after extracurricular activities. The complexity of the subject matter, like Calculus or AP English, as well as a student’s natural talent for a particular subject, can further influence the difficulty of learning new information.  Self-confidence and stamina then start to play a larger role in acquiring and assimilating new ideas.

The intricate, interdependent conditions that are most conducive to learning can be easily derailed by one small deviation in any of the above mentioned factors.  Keeping the complexities in mind when trying to address a learning challenge can help students focus their reform efforts, in order to improve efficiently.  In addition, knowing the complications of learning can help put grades and other learning measurements, like test scores, into more perspective so the feedback can be used to improve a student’s future learning.

For more about the complex learning process see previous posts: Learn HOW to learn: The Legacy of Mr. CoombsEventually…May Be The Key Lesson to Learn, The Human Element of Learning and Grades Don’t Only Measure Learning