A recent article, “Test Anxiety – Learner Empowerment From Sarah and Augie,” was well received with positive feedback, and helpful to some experiencing test anxiety. The etiology of the anxiety, which for some is true “panic,” lays in perceived judgment of mistakes we might make. Mistakes are an integral part of learning; judgment impedes learning. Mistakes are healthy and productive so long as we learn from them. Judgment is neither healthy nor productive.
I’ve recently placed two articles into teaching forums on LinkedIn (LI) – “Characteristics of the Most Effective Teachers” and “What Makes Chemistry Difficult?” One LI forum is represented mostly by professors of chemistry, while the other forums consist of a broad range of primary and secondary education teachers. Hands down, there is universal agreement on the traits of exceptional teachers. There is agreement with the article, and there is agreement amongst the participants adding to the discussion. There is a universal lack of agreement, however, as to what makes chemistry difficult. The purpose of this article is to report the results, and to provide a common framework for both secondary and university teachers to discuss how our educational system might be improved so the experience of students taking chemistry, genetics and physics (“non-memorizing” disciplines) is more positive overall.
“Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.”
“We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.”
“One might think that the money value of an invention constitutes its reward to the man who loves his work. But… I continue to find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.”
Thomas Alva Edison is one of my all time favorite scientists. He wasn’t the same type of genius as Albert Einstein or Gilbert N. Lewis, however his sense of optimism makes him stand out amongst scientists, some of whom are cynical and pessimistic. Edison knew the value in making mistakes because he learned something from every mistake. Had he succeeded in making a light bulb on his first attempt, one can only imagine how much knowledge would have been “lost”.
Since 1987, I’ve realized a major impediment to learning is a fear of making mistakes. Somehow we’ve associated mistakes with failure and judgment. Personally, I believe it’s the judgement we fear more than the mistakes. My students know well of my “Solemn Law” that judgment has no place in a learning environment – it’s forbidden.
I was recently taken by an eclectic article written by Sarah Ross-Lazarov entitled Feldenkrais: Increasing Learner Empowerment? She struck me as a Gestalt “liberal arts scientist” having a verbal acumen that charms with enthusiasm and optimism. I was so impressed with her article that I asked her to write one with my students in mind, particularly the ones who wrestle with making mistakes and the consequences laying in judgment.
I’ve just finished reading Mistakes are a Learner’s Best Friend (Augie, Me, and Scientific Thinking), and I really enjoy the clever and creative way the story has been told. It’s best to read her article, to understand subtle ways we make “mistakes” without judgment, and how we easily incorporate them as learning experiences.
Mistakes are an integral part of learning; judgment impedes learning. Mistakes are healthy and productive so long as we learn from them. Judgment is neither healthy nor productive. Those with genuine test anxiety are pulling “double duty” when it comes to learning. They must push themselves to learn everything that everyone else is expected to, and must also face the “panic” of the exam. Instead of sleeping, they frequently stare at the ceiling of their bedroom the night before an exam. Instead of collecting their thoughts when the exam is placed in front of them, they have to focus on keeping their palms dry and remembering to breathe.
Sarah’s article is being sent to several of my students. I hope they read it at least twice, and think of Augie’s response to Sarah’s mistakes – “Woof”. What did I learn from Sarah? That I have a lot to learn about properly key wording my articles.
Many kind thanks to Sarah Ross-Lazarov and Augie!
© 2012 Joseph Lennox, Ph.D
This blog article was brought to you FREE by Lennox Organic Chemistry & MCAT Tutoring of San Diego, where “Total Comprehension = Key to Success”™.
Those who teach in primary or secondary schools obtain degrees in a variety of subjects. With many schools, one need only take two college level courses to be certified proficient in the subject at the high school level. Career non-university teachers must take course work beyond the baccalaureate level, including education, in order to obtain their teaching credential. Quite ironically, professors at Universities are not required to take a single course in education to teach the subject most related to their Ph.D.