5 Terrific Tips for Students

Core Messages from Win Wenger, Ph.D.

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A very ancient saying we made up just a few years ago:

“Anyone, even a fool, can learn from someone wise. But it takes someone pretty wise to be able to learn even from fools.”

  • If you have a wise teacher, make the most of it.
  • If your teacher or school is somewhat less than wise, still make the most of it.
  • Those who learn the best are their own best teachers.
  • Along your way, notice, by example or by contrast, anything you can use to learn or to eventually become a wise teacher. It’s easier to discard options than to gain or build them — give yourself room to become a wise teacher. Keep your options open and create more options.

#1 Key to Effective Learning:  What you learn is wholly up to you.

Have you been blessed somewhere along the way with a wonderful, wise teacher? Most of us have not. Yet, we can learn usefully from a rock, a cocked eyebrow, someone’s pause or hesitation, a word not said.

Indeed, we can learn from anything we notice.

Part of you already knows the stuff you’re trying to learn. The trick is to match up conscious knowledge with your deeper understanding. Make a habit of asking yourself these questions:

  • Question A:  What can you do with what’s in front of you, to line up a spark of connection between your experience and inner wisdom?
  • Question B:  What can you do inside yourself to make your unconscious wisdom more accessible to your experience and your conscious mind?
  • Question C:  How can you use your physical senses to make more of the matter more conscious for you? Are there any parts of Question A above that can’t be answered directly through your physical senses? — If so, what?
  • Question D: How can you use your imagination to make more of the matter conscious for you, to spark your senses and inner wisdom into thought?

#2 Key to Effective Learning:  Turn “dry facts” into memorable experiences.

Use your imagination and involve all your senses.

Visualize or make a song, make a drawing, apply your senses, or write about it. When you study historical events, imagine your way through them as a participant. For math, use your body as a way to measure off diameter, radius, pi, or mathematical quantities and formula relationships. In any subject, imagine being the person who discovered the information you are now dealing with. How did he or she experience that discovery, at that time?

#3 Key to Successful Learning:  You get more of what you reinforce.

Success tip: Do more of what you do well, you’ll do more well. Build from your strengths. Discovering your strengths — often we take these so much for granted that we don’t even notice them, but you have some. What is it in yourself you’d like to see more of? How can you reinforce it when it happens?

Rising to a challenge is also something you want to be able to do more of. But while that sometimes meets with success, sometimes things go other than intended. How can we gain more benefit from, and learn from, our mistakes without giving them the kinds of attention which reinforces us into more mistakes? Past mistakes, we’ve already “paid our tuition for,” can we get our money’s worth of learning from that tuition, without punishing ourselves or otherwise reinforcing in us what went wrong instead of what went right? (Even punishment is reinforcement, not only rewards. The main natural law of behavior and psychology is the law of effect: “you get more of what you reinforce.”)

#4 Key to Successful Classroom Learning

This classroom tip is also a reflection of the law that “you get more of what you reinforce” — Everyone likes to be heard and listened to.

  • The listener can be very powerful. Just by listening a little more intently in one direction than another, he steers the person talking into one direction rather than another. The person talking often talks himself into something.
  • By your apparently listening intently, the teacher soon finds himself or herself talking more to you when he or she is teaching the class. By your listening intently more in one direction than another, you can steer the teacher’s discussion without his or her noticing. When you give the teacher the feeling — subtly, not in CAPITAL LETTERS! — that you are listening intently, the teacher will respond to you much more, without even knowing he or she is doing so! And give you more of the attention that assures, from his or her end, that you really do get to understand the point of the lesson.
  • Among your friends, your intent listening — more in one direction than in another — will let you control events much more than if you were overtly the leader of the pack.
  • Not everyone who gets such special attention from teacher or classmates knows this consciously. Somewhere along the way, unconsciously, they’ve learned that to listen in a certain way gets results that they find pleasing.
  • To listen is not necessarily to obey. You are still your own person. If you’ve appeared to listen intently, then followed your own path, and appear to have good reasons for your choice, you will win respect — which will get you better listened to.

#5 Key, a Major Tip for Learning and for Life

Talk your way through the key points or issues, WITH someone. The more you describe, the more you will see. Especially if you describe more of what you are actually seeing, less of what you “know.” You know both more and less about the matter than you think.

Talk problems through with a pal, whether these are math problems, science problems, problems of the school, at-home or personal problems. Many of those crucial little things people miss, no one discovers until he or she has actually said it aloud, to a listener. You’ll be amazed at what you pick up this way, that you had no hint or realization before that you were missing.

Take turns. Going through the problem, one of you describes everything that’s going through your awareness as you do that, not just what you’re “supposed” to be talking about. This gives the rest of your mind the chance to relate in its own way to the problem or issue.

Your pal is listener, not interrupting, just listening and urging you on if and when need be, until you hit your “a-HA!” instead of letting on how he’s already figured things out. In your turn, if you see an obvious answer to your partner’s problem, resist your urge to blurt it out, even if he’s missing the overwhelmingly obvious. The more he wrestles with it himself, the more likely it is that he will not only find the answer that is best for him, but will become able to answer all such further questions of that type. He may even think of that answer days later, while doing or thinking about other things, thanks to having truly wrestled with the matter.

When it’s your turn to describe freely and to have a go at solving the problem, allow your own ideas and perceptions, and descriptions of your ideas and perceptions, to surprise you — because often the best answer comes from unexpected directions if you let it. Nearly all of your brain thinks in sensory images at the back of your mind, very little of that fits readily and immediately into words. It’s when we can bring conscious words and back-of-the-mind impressions/associations into one focus that our understanding flowers.

Your understanding can indeed flower — indeed the sheer JOY of your understanding can flower. The beauty you see in a diamond or a dew drop or a flower, you can also discover in an idea of how things fit together — and sometimes that understanding is useful, not only beautiful.

You are brighter than you think. Much brighter. That idea of how things fit together, go together, work together, combine into something new together, is a perceptual act, and not an act of rote memorizing of information. Schools and many teachers can’t appreciate that.

We opened this by observing it takes someone pretty wise to be able to learn even from fools, which is what we all have to do at least a little of the time, in a world whose provisions for your generation are something less than perfect. It’s wonderful when you HAVE a wonderful teacher, but you can’t expect to have that all the time. Only YOU can make sure your learning is rewarding and effective. You can do that by making your learning mean something.

A great way to do this is to have a study buddy or co-explorer, or a professional, working with you.

You can be proactive to get the most out of studying. These have been some of the many ways you can do that.

For more on some of these and other suggestions for learners, see

Win published Core Messages for specific audiences. Click the links below to view them.