To be a successful learner of any kind, whether this is academically or practically you need to have some key ‘critical skills’ and you need to develop behaviors that help you learn!
POSITIVE LEARNING behaviors are the foundations to being able to move yourself forward and learn any new skill but to develop and improve ourselves we also need to be able to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
This is not always as easy as it sounds because when we REALLY challenge ourselves it feels uncomfortable! It evokes a whole range of emotions! You can feel scared, reluctant, anxious, worried … all because you are trying something new or need to learn something different and you don’t know how to do it or where to start!
We also need to understand resilience, motivation, purpose and employ some self-discipline, and we also need to employ strategies that give us a route in and make us feel able to give things a try!
Once we have developed these skills we can apply these to any learning situation.
Can you remember the last time you tried something which was challenging?
It was last week and it was a 1000 piece MINION impossible puzzle that had been in the cupboard for about 4 years and was still in the cellophane!
We love a puzzle in our house and are regular puzzle doers… we have a big board which lives under our sofa and a 1000 piece puzzle does not phase us, we can do them in a couple of days and generally it enjoyable. However during this lock down we were doing them too quickly and they did not seem challenging… so out came the 1000 piece MINION puzzle we had been putting off for years!
Cellophane off… the first job was easy… edge pieces… so sifting through the pieces in the box and relatively easy to find, because of the distinctive straight edge. As I was doing this I tried not to think about what the next step would be after the edge, (as this felt overwhelming and all the other pieces looked the same) I collected all the edge pieces and put the edge together! Ta dah! I felt smug… how hard could the rest of it be…
Well let me tell you there were now about 900 pieces which all looked the same. In an attempt to be positive I decided that the next step was to sort into pieces which were mostly shades of blue, mostly shades of yellow, and pieces with eye balls and goggles… I sorted every single piece into 3 piles. Sadly this was still not much help… but I decided to go with eyes to begin with. Casting the other mountains of pieces aside I begun to lay flat each piece with an eye ball hoping I could put some pieces together and after an hour and a half I had put just 6 pieces together… this was not working.
When we are learning something new… or doing something challenging we need to experience some success to keep motivated… I knew this would be challenging but was not expecting it to be this difficult and I certainly wasn’t experiencing much success . I was feeling frustrated, fed up and annoyed and was incredibly tempted to put it back in the box…
HOWEVER I didn’t because I’m self-motivated and I am not a quitter and I am also stubborn and impatient. I know this about myself so could use this to help me… I also knew this puzzle was going to be challenging and wouldn’t be easy so this also made me feel better…
The next day I relooked at the pieces… as I had been looking at the eye balls I noticed that some had quite distinctive mouths on them… so next plan MOUTHS… so I shifted through all the pieces again. I now had 4 piles… Mostly yellow, mostly blue, eye balls and MOUTHS! Working on the mouths I was able to put about 20 pieces together and began to work out roughly where in the frame these pieces would go… I was sort of getting somewhere but then it got tricky again and I could put any more together.
Exasperated at this point I noticed I was regularly using the words, ‘This is too hard,’ this is ‘impossible!’ we will never do this puzzle.’ ‘I want to give up!’ this is a natural reaction when something feels challenging – but it wasn’t helpful and it was making me feel like it was unachievable…
So I decided I would google to see if anyone had ever actually completed this PUZZLE! Thanks to YOU TUBE I found 2 time lapse videos of people completing the puzzle… This gave me HOPE because it could be done, but also enabled me to see how they had done it! I noticed they had started with some of the bigger minions at the bottom and worked from the bottom up… so here we go another strategy…
Working through the pieces again bit by bit I managed to some how complete the first few rows! When I normally do a puzzle I rarely use the box and the picture, but was puzzle was very reliant on matching pieces to the picture box and using this as a key strategy… however it was still taking a long time in between placing pieces and I had to be really RESILIENT and keep PERSEVERING… my motivation was to prove to myself I was not impatient and that I could do it!
So the next strategy came into play… one I had considered from the beginning but that felt too ridiculous at the start, however it felt like it was now the only way as I had probably only put about 200 pieces together and there still about 800 to go! It was a strategy I had used in sections of puzzle in the past were pieces were all the same colour… sorting the pieces into shaped pieces – it was time consuming but pretty reliable!
Out came all the trays I had an I sorted into shaped pieces… can honestly say that I touched every piece of this puzzle multiple times and probably spent more time sorting the pieces than I did actually putting them in… but there we go! So with all the pieces sorted into shaped pieces off we went… methodically putting in one piece in at a time… looking at the gap, looking at the box and then searching along each line of possible pieces… it still took a while, but this way I was experiencing success more often and I could see progress… sorting into shapes helped because it immediately eliminated some pieces I didn’t have to look at each time which immediately it more achievable!
Gradually it became easier and quicker, and as there were pieces left only on 2 trays it was possible to put pieces in without looking at the picture… and as there were even less pieces it was possible to just find the pieces you wanted scanning quickly… and before I knew it I was putting in the last piece!
So what did I learn? That I need to be patient, that sometimes you have to re-evaluate your thinking, sometimes you need to search for help and that perseverance, resilience and determination are skills that help us achieve difficult or more challenging things…
All of this applies to academic learning and for many of the children I support who struggle… they don’t have the strategies or the route in… they just feel overwhelmed. Learning for them is like massive piles of puzzle pieces that all look the same. They have no idea where to start … so have no idea how they will finish, they rarely experience success and lack motivation because they have no idea of what is even possible or what success can feel like
When I teach children and work with parents we don’t just work on the academic stuff… we work on these key skills too… we think about what strategies we already have that we can draw on, what do we already know that can help us work out what we don’t yet know and how are we going to work through it a bit at a time…
So set yourself a challenge… big or small but something which feels too challenging or takes you out of your comfort zone. Then as you do it notice the skills and strategies you use and how these can be applied to learning and supporting your child or to other situations… you might surprise yourself with what you learn and if you would like help in understanding how your child learns best or where you need to start with teaching your child then message me because I might be able to help.
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Author of ‘Don’t Forget to Smile: A memoir uncovering the hidden difficulties of dyslexia.’ Available on Amazon