The summer between 7th and 8th grade year, I was given a summer reading list for my Honors English class. As I skimmed the list, I noticed several books I had already read just out of curiosity rather than requirement. So, I spent my summer only reading about 2 books and returned the next school year “prepared.” Our first week in class, we were to choose which novels we would take tests over. I picked all the books I had read before instead of those I read over the summer. I felt so strongly that I would be successful since I had read them before. I chose the Anne of Green Gables exam knowing in my heart of hearts that I would ace it. Well, I didn’t. I failed. It sounds crazy, but I had never failed anything up to this point. I was one of those smart kids who learned to be lazy because it took too long for the class work to become challenging. My teacher, Mrs. Lewis, handed it back with the answer key, and I painfully looked over each incorrect answer. With each correction, I felt a stab of failure, over and over, in my gut. It was humiliating, except no one knew but me. I realized I was humiliated in front of… me.
This experience is the beginning of my personal learning theory because it is the moment I understood with my young 14 year old brain that I learned more through failure than I did with success. And, most importantly, I did not know everything.
Now that I am older and have spent years obsessively analyzing that moment so as not to experience it again, I have noticed more in that situation that guides me now in my teaching as well as in my own learning. According to the essay Personal Learning Theory, “Hoy, Davis, and Anderman (2013) believed there are four pillars” to “quality learning.” I can see those pillars in this experience. The first is that “students must first understand and make sense of material.” In my own experience, I failed this pillar. I failed to recognize the different between academic reading and reading for fun. This is a failure because I failed understand the content on a deeper level. I never really “made sense of the material.” The second pillar is that “students must remember what they understood.” I could not be successful at this pillar since I never really understood the real meaning of the material. The result is that I only remembered the parts I liked or identified with. The third pillar is that “students must practice and apply their new skills… in order to become a permanent part of their repertoire.” This pillar was successful because all those corrections were seared into my memory. I will now never forget that Mrs. Blewett (with two Ts) was the one who wanted to take Anne off Marilla’s hands. And finally the fourth pillar is to note that “all of these processes are embedded in social and cultural contexts inside and outside of school.” It is this last pillar that has had the most influence on my own P.L.T. In my moment of failure, I was humiliated. I humiliated myself, in front of, myself. What?
One more time: I was the only one who knew the extent of my knowledge of Anne of Green Gables. I was the only one who set my impossibly high expectations for success (was there a grade other than a 100?). I was the only one who knew exactly how I “prepared” for this test. So when the results came in, I was so ashamed of myself for being so… foolish? Or was there a better word? Arrogant. Yes, arrogant is a better fit. My own pride stopped me from really learning this assignment. So, while I totally agree with Hoy, Davis, and Alderman about their 4 pillars to quality learning, I think there is something more physiological, spiritual even, that is required for learning: humility.
Before any teacher can design a lesson, or any student can jump from pillar to pillar, it is imperative that we have that acknowledgment of our own ignorance, a realization that we do not know something. Without this revelation we come to class, to training, to professional development with a closed mind and closed spirit. We are not open to trying to understand the content, nor are we willing to remember it. There’s nothing to remember since you already know everything, right? Applying the knowledge is just wasting time, and it certainly won’t apply to any aspect of my “social [or] cultural contexts inside [or] outside of school.” Humility is required in order to move towards understanding instead of standing still in our pride.
In summary, my personal learning theory starts with owning the fact that I do not know everything. From there, I can actually move forward to those four pillars, to that “complex process” of struggling and wrestling with concepts in order to grasp them, apply them, and be changed by them. Because, if we are not changed by them, did we really learn?
Hoy, A.W., Davis, H. A., and Anderman, E. M. (2013). “Theories of Learning and Teaching in TIP.” Theory into Practice, 52(sup1), 9-21.