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Personal Learning Experiences

Elementary School: Boredom Punctuated by Terror

Mexican hat dance at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida during the Traditions Festival. 
-By State Library and Archives of Florida, 23 March 1986. Public Domain.

My earliest learning memory is from Grade 1, as a new immigrant to California. The class was Introductory Spanish, a mandatory requirement in public school. It was the first time I had a secular teacher, rather than a nun teacher. The Spanish lesson was intensely boring, rote repetition -- Behaviourism at its worst. My six-year-old self saw no reason why I could not also complete my Math homework at the same time, which of course got me into trouble. How much better this language lesson could have been if Constructivism was at its heart. My Spanish teacher could have brought in realia, like a piñata, and Mexican food. She could have played Spanish songs or taught us to dance the Jarabe Tapatío (Mexican Hat Dance, shown above). She could have used dictation or a Cloze passage. Instead, she marched up and down our columns of desks like a martinet, forcing us to recite for 40 minutes straight, from her towering height.

High School: Home of the Face-palm

Mrs. Jane Jacobs, chairman of the Comm. to save the West Village holds up documentary evidence at press conference at Lions Head Restaurant at Hudson & Charles Sts. 
-By Phil Stanziola, 31 December 1960. Public Domain.

The first time I was actually interested in learning was in Grade 12. It was a Geography class on urban sprawl, based on Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities. My teacher was very contemptuous of adolescents and loved to pontificate at length. His lectures really put the tedium back into redundancy. I cut eight classes to do library research on Geography -- a subject I had formerly found boring, but an easy credit. I discovered I really liked being outside of the classroom, hunting for current statistical information independently. I flourished when allowed to relate Jane Jacob's benchmarks for effective urban planning to my own lived experience. Rather than seize this opportunity for Cognitivist teaching, the administration decided to punish my initiative. Of course, I again got into trouble, this time for cutting class to perform unsupervised research.

Workplace Learning: L'esprit de l'escalier

Post-mortem pathology; a manual of post-mortem examinations and the interpretations to be drawn therefrom; a practical treatise for students and practitioners.
-By Cattell, Henry Ware, 1862-1936. [from 1905 Lippincott catalog] No restrictions.

My missed professional learning opportunity was in Toronto's morgue. It was the ideal of Andragogy. The pathologist, who ran the private lab where I was working weekdays, asked me to watch his autopsies on Saturdays. By standing next to him at the table, I learnt to distinguish blood clots formed before and after death. I learnt to identify tissue damage associated with bladder infection and smoke inhalation. I saw deaths by hanging, burns, suicide, and alcohol poisoning. I had agreed to attend on my spare time only because my boss asked me, and I didn’t want to be rude. Now I realise what an ingrate I was, in the arrogance of youth. I should have returned for more unpaid observations, as he requested. The pathologist offered me an opportunity to better myself that few technicians receive.


These three learning memories still inform my teaching strategy:
  • Use realia
  • Limit lectures
  • Scaffold the student
  • Applaud initiative
  • Tell how the student will benefit in future