Why do I insist on buying my own books? Because I can do this to them:
I don’t just read a book: I digest it. I flip down the corners of pages to remember, look up things I don’t know, and talk about ideas with friends. Working in the field of adult literacy, we work hard to teach low level learners the basic strategies of reading, writing, and math. Once folks have the basic mechanics down, the next hurdle is strategies of critical thinking: compare & contrast, fact vs opinion, identifying bias, etc.
Lately, I’ve been thinking we might serve our learners better if we focused first on the basics of how to learn independently. So here are my top 5 skills for lifelong learning, strategies that have never let me down:
1. WRITE ON BOOKS: I have yet to be converted to buying an e-reader for the simple fact that I haven’t seen anyone scribble on the pages. Writing on books can mean underlining or circling words & phrases, putting blocks & stars around quotes, making notes in the margins, even drawing pictures and turning down pages to return to later. The key here is return to later. The key quality of learning is that you gain skills or information you can return to at another time. The easier it is for me to get back to the things I want to remember, the easier it is for me to read it again & make another impression in the soft grey matter of my brain.
2. USE THE CALCULATOR ON YOUR PHONE: Cell phones are common place these days, and there’s no charge to minutes or texts for using the calculator. Pull it out to figure out how much Netflix will cost you over the course of one year, or compare the cost per diaper for different brands at Target. Make it competitive: Whose car has the better gas mileage? Or get silly: What is the collective age of all the pets in your house? I know some people disagree with the use of calculators, but I consider it just an instrument without which I would miss much of the music of the numbers in my life.
3. MAKE A CALENDAR: I know that sounds like a basic life-skills, but actually it’s relevant to learning. Calendars are just a measure of time, and marking that time, organizing your day & week & month are really making mathematical models about how to spend this limited resource. Not only that, but if you write down the days & times of your learning opportunities (Learning for Life Class at 1:30pm on Tuesday) and check your calendar daily, you are more likely to show up & learn!
4. TRY SOMETHING NEW…AND MASTER IT: Nothing is a better work out for your brain then stepping outside of your comfort zone. Whether it’s going to a new place, meeting people of a different culture, eating new food, testing out a new game… Trying something new has to be balanced with having some structural and comfort zone in your life, but when you push yourself to not just try out a new area, but really wrap your mind around it and make it your own, THEN you will really gain invaluable skills that no one can take from you.
5. MAKE PREDICTIONS…AND FOLLOW UP: In your daily planner that you will now carry everywhere you go, along with your cell phone calculator, jot notes about what you think will happen in your day. When will you do certain activities? How many glasses of juice will you drink? Will your mother-in-law call about holiday plans? What’s the weather going to be like? When you have a question, write down what actually happened. At the end of the day, go back to your observations and see if you were right. Why did things turn out the way they did? Guess what…you just did the scientific method. You started with a theory (prediction or question), tested your idea against reality, and then analyzed those results to figure out why. Whether it’s asking if your toast is going to burn or if the space-time continuum changes at the speed of light, the process is the same. Pat yourself on the back, Einstein.
What do you think? Are these 5 everyday skills you can use to make yourself into a lifelong learner? Is there anything I forgot? I predict there will be comments on this post. Check back soon to see if my theory is correct.