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A Bottom Line re: Teaching and Learning
Adventures in the Obvious

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.


I challenge anyone here to meaningfully counter any of the four theses below, or the conclusion I draw from them. I most cordially invite your interaction with these points and with what you think ought to be done with them.

THESIS #1: What matters is what is learned, rather than what is taught.

Only bureaucrats and politicians might be expected to argue otherwise, certainly not educators, psychologists, students and parents. Yet I have attended education conferences where what happens to the learner was completely forgotten or dismissed in favor of other considerations. As a human being, do you support or reject this simple thesis, that it is the learning which matters?

THESIS #2: Learning-with-understanding is an associative process.

Indeed, little if any learning happens or can happen, except through associations. We understand current experience only through previous understandings and previous experience. Since the work of Jean Piaget, Jerome S. Bruner and other great cognitive psychologists and developmentalists, and since the work of Lev Vygotsky and other great psycholinguists, you may be hard put to find any professional prepared to argue against this thesis, that just about all human learning is through our prior experiences and associations.

THESIS #3: Each student has his own unique lifetime-accumulated wealth of associations to draw upon, to engage and understand what he is being taught. It is better - AND EASIER!!! - to have the student make and draw upon his own associations for what is being learned.

The best teachers, trying to make learning meaningful to students, try to find and point out to them associations which most students are likely to have experienced, yet every student is unique and few teacher-or-text-cited experiences really grip and engage everyone or even the majority of those in the classroom. The student who supplies his own associations for a learning, is engaged thereby and finds that learning to be meaningful and memorable. For a start on finding out how to get the student to search out and find and engage his own experience, understanding and associations with any learning, see Dynamic Format, the instructions for highly-focused, well-structured, easily sustained-on-target "buzz-grouping" or interactive learning, freely yours to use from this website. See also the short article on Socratic questioning in Winsights No. 63 (November/December 2002).

THESIS #4: We learn more and better through what we ourselves express and gain feedback on, than by what we are directly taught.

See the work of great educators John Dewey (“learn by doing”) and Maria Montessori (learning from a rigged environment), and of sociologist Omar K. Moore, founder of the Clarifying Environments Foundation which further refined Montessori’s theory and practice. See also the work of the father of neuroanatomy, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, who demonstrated that while genetics, proper nutrition and stimulus help, they are not the main thing which develops neural and brain cells, circuits and the brain itself. What mainly developed these is feedback upon the organism’s own activities. See also the work of the greatest neurophysiologist of our time, Marion Diamond, who demonstrated that stimulus without feedback has NO developmental value, it is not stimulus but interactive environments providing feedback which develop the brain and nervous system. See further discussion of these absolutely crucial-to-grasp points in Feeding the Loop

CONCLUSION: Socratic learning, especially modern forms of Socratic method, whose practice throughout 2400 years of history has ALWAYS resulted in higher-level intellectual performance, does so by causing the student to examine his own first-hand awarenesses, understandings and prior experiences and search out his understandings from there. The best-demonstrated form of accelerated learning ever known, Socratic Method always produces such leaps of learning and understanding that most of its practitioners became convinced that ALL knowledge and understanding are already there in each learner and need merely be "drawn forth." (We don't have to assume it's ALL there in order to acknowledge that a LOT is "there," and the leaps of genius accompanying use of the method are so widespread an experience that "education" itself is named after that “educare - to draw forth" principle.

With Dynamic Format, the start of an astonishingly easy way to get learners to dig for and make their own, most-meaningful-to-them associations for what is being learned, modern Socratic method is profoundly easier to use and more effective than are the conventional teaching methods now in current use.

POINT-OF-INFORMATION: We now have an entire school teaching by our modern Socratic methods. Data is in from Spring 2009, where for two months a third of the faculty was teaching by forms of modern Socratic method. See the remarkable Test Results.

BONUS POINTS: Currently there are hundred of different methods for creatively and ingeniously solving problems, which are successfully in professional use around the planet. (We originated some of them.) Unbeknownst to most creativity professionals and unbeknownst to most educators: EVERY ONE of these hundreds of creativity-related methods can also serve as a profoundly accelerative/enhanced learning technique!

To turn any creativity-related or CPS (creative problem-solving) method into an accelerated learning method, make as its problem statement any one of these four or similar questions and start the focused "buzz" a la Dynamic Format;

  1. "What are the ramifications of the main point in this lesson?" or—

  2. "What main point in this lesson do I most need to give further attention to, and why?" or—

  3. "How do the various points in this lesson relate to one another?"

  4. "What in my experience - or in my whole life thus far - does the main point of this lesson somehow remind me of? I wonder why that somehow reminds me of that...."
For details on how to turn such methods into superlearning methods, see our article, A Huge Untapped Resource.

To more than double the rate of long-term retention of contents of any unit of learning,
  1. As a classroom:— invest 5 minutes at the end of class in a "buzz with the person next to you" as to what YOU felt might be the most important point of that lesson and as to why you think it is that you feel that way. —And/or:

  2. As an individual learner, invest fifteen minutes of freenoting and/or generating ideas, rapidly as possible, uncritically, flow-of-consciousness without pause or hesitation or editing, whatever comes to mind in context of the lesson just absorbed. Don't worry about being right or wrong, just bring out whatever comes to mind and, in so doing, getting to those associations which are most meaningful to you.
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COMING SOON — the instructions for how YOU can get several times more information and understanding from a given unit of learning than the instructor or author put into it!!!

Sounds impossible, but think about it. Some of our brighter readers have already figured it out from this current article above. I'll also spell it out here if there is much interested discussion here on any of the above... otherwise, this may remain a deep dark mystery to some of you. I can guarantee that if the discussion here reaches that point, you will get to see how, precisely and easily, you can get several times more understanding and learning from whatever lecture, text, chapter, topic, etc., than the instructor or author put into it! Cheerio!

For further reading:

  • A Huge Untapped Resource
  • Super Skills for Students
  • Dynamic Teaching

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    Win Wenger

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