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Make Learning Meaningful Through Self-Discovery, Part I

Some teachers opt to take the approach of training students to memorize a bunch of facts or equations without allowing them to explore why they are true or how they relate to each other. This can make the students’ job more difficult as now they must attempt to memorize each piece of information as a discrete unit. In this case, the student has no basis of connection, but it also becomes boring for the student to memorize information in this manner. Plus, with an exhausted mind, the student will likely forget much of what he or she tried to cram once its short-term use [for taking a test] has expired.

I took Chinese for four years between middle school and high school and at one point my Chinese teacher shared a cool analogy with me that gave me a suggested way to continue my studies, so I will share it now, because it is perfectly applicable to this teaching misstep. She said at that point that my grammar was very strong, that my house had a solid infrastructure. Now, according to her, the next step was to start decorating it, learning more words that could be used in all the grammar structures I had come to understand. The point I am trying to make is that one cannot decorate a house without having a house. In a classroom setting, that means students cannot expand their problem-solving and critical thinking skills when all they have are seemingly independent facts floating through their minds. They may have all of the pieces of the house laid out, but now it is your task, as a teacher, to show students the blueprint for putting the house together.

Once you realize that it is easier for students to synthesize knowledge after giving them a bit of guidance on how facts tie together to form concepts, the students’ learning capabilities will greatly increase. All that remains is the question, “How do I make my teaching as meaningful as possible?” I will cover this question in part II.

Joshua Siktar
Joshua SIktar is a the Lead Content & Community Lead at OpenCuriculum