As we begin this semester, I am remembering last semester. I am thinking about learning and remembering my impressions of being a student again for the first time in a very long time....
I'm sitting in class and the instructor is teaching a concept I know that no one is really "getting". The students might understand the words, or think, "I'm not confused by what you are saying." But there is no way, they would be able to apply what they just learned to what they already know or take that information and actually do something with it. No one says anything. It is silent. The instructor goes on to the next concept and the next asking, "Does this make sense?" No one says anything. Everyone in this class wants to know what is being taught. I know they are extremely motivated to learn because they want to better their situation. So why aren't people speaking up, talking about what is being discussed, and asking detailed questions? This is a classroom and that is what learning is supposed to be all about.
Learning should be one of the best experiences anyone has. Instead, I think it fills people with dread because there is always that worry that they will be that person that looks stupid. The person who didn't understand while everyone else did. This can be the only explanation for why no one is saying anything or asking questions. Then there are those few brave people that ask a question. That is the moment of truth. The teacher makes all the difference in how they answer those first few questions. It sets the tone for the class. When students feel that any question is okay to ask, suddenly you start to hear everyone asking the questions that pop into their minds without filtering them. Of course, there are those people that even when everyone feels free to ask questions will say nothing. They like to pretend that they understand while the whole time they are listening and learning from the questions that other people are asking (personal pet peeve).
Here is my viewpoint. Every category, or concept, exists on a continuum: A starting point of understanding that gradually increases to the point of real understanding, where you stop "learning" a concept and start taking it in directions that stretches the information. So when you begin to learn something new, you should be asking every question you can think of in order to advance yourself along the continuum. How are the things you are learning connecting with what you already know? What doesn't make sense? What confirms the information you understand about a topic? It's not about whose smart and who isn't. It's about where you are on the continuum of learning.
Are there going to be points where you hit a "wall"? Yes. Everyone has them, and I mean everyone. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone say, "So and so is having a hard time with this and they are really smart." Like I would automatically think that if someone didn't understand something it means they aren't smart. Where does that come from? Not understanding something right away is to be expected. Those are the points that are tough and you have to work hard to get past. But once you get past them, you have a rewarding experience and confidence that the next time you hit a wall, which you will, that you will get past it.
So this semester, everyone ask a lot of questions please. When you are taught something that you have no idea about, remember that is okay. It's brand new to you. You are at the beginning of learning that particular concept. The only way we will ever learn all that we have to learn is by asking questions.