Learning how to be a better learner

As educators we are always looking for quality feedback from our students and parents on their learning experience. What are the big “take aways” that our graduates carry forward with them as they pursue new endeavours, whether it is a gap year involving travel and service or a competitive program at university or college?

Coming off the heels of our last post on the value and benefits of reading, I was so pleased to read the following words by Jesse Sarkis ’13, now in his second year as a photography student at Ryerson University in Toronto. He describes some of the “big take aways” related to his learning experiences in Advanced Placement (AP) and other English classes at Lakefield College School.  His words reflect well the confident, curious and critical thinker that he is. They are also beautifully aligned with the key 21st Century Learning goals we strive to meet as a school. Great feedback for us, and a positive indicator that we are on the right track.

Jesse Sarkis ’13 (fourth from left) with his peers in his final year at Lakefield College School

From Jesse Sarkis ’13

As a student at Lakefield College School, English class was one of my favourites. Reading and writing helped me to be a stronger critical thinker, to be more empathetic and to be both a better writer and speaker.

Thanks in no small part to my English classes at LCS, I submitted a successful letter of application and essay to a competitive university program and was accepted.

Despite loving English as a subject, I never realized just how much my classes were teaching me at the time. In university, my program’s classes are primarily technical and require little writing, but the benefits of being able to express through writing what I am doing conceptually is invaluable: regarding my work I am more confident, clear and precise.

When I started reading academic and theoretical books to supplement my technical classes in school, it was easy for me to switch back into ‘active reader’ mode and take to the books with a pencil, organizing the information I needed to better understand and think critically about its ideas. I wasn’t daunted – as many of my classmates were – by writing the two art history papers assigned in first year. I wasn’t worried about how I would ‘do.’ Instead, I was excited to do the research because I was confident in my skills and judgement thanks to Mr. McGowan’s Writer’s Craft class and Ms. Brown’s Grade 11 AP Language and Grade 12 AP Literature classes.

They taught me processes to effectively read, research and communicate. They taught me to love academic reading, researching and writing, and to be unafraid of any text no matter how complicated, poorly written, or dense.

Learning about literature can help a reader with any kind of text. As a reader I appreciate writing not only for what is expressed within it, but how it is expressed. AP Preparatory English classes helped me understand what I liked about the ‘how.’ Our rhetorical analysis of speeches and essays in class was especially helpful. So were our timed essay assignments designed to prepare us for the AP exams.

Even though, in class, I often found the close readings, Harkness table discussions, or ‘reading-alouds’ tedious and frustrating, what they taught me went beyond the texts and skills we were immediately focusing on. I remember Mr. McGowan telling me after Grade 12 Writer’s Craft class one day, after I had been particularly frustrated, that being dissatisfied with your environment isn’t always a bad thing – that frustration can lead to positive changes if you examine and act upon it. He encouraged me to write a supplement to my final Writer’s Craft assignment (which contained angry and weak writing) on Socrates’ thoughts that the unexamined life was not worth living. Despite never finishing the piece, I considered the advice it had to offer a lot.

By becoming frustrated with the processes of learning and grading in class, and reflecting upon it, I learned how to be a better learner.

The bulk of my experiential learning experiences at LCS helped me, more than anything else, to become a more conscious person. Life is experiential learning. As a boarding and day school, LCS creates a positive community environment for healthy, active, social, and engaged living. This promotes a 24/7 learning experience that never stops and can be consciously tapped into whenever you wish – in mind, body, and spirit. This is what I learned from English classes at LCS: The medium and format of class is like many other things in life – it’s not perfect and it could create some frustrating expectations.Having an open approach to learning that is reflective and moves beyond format and content is valuable. Staying open to learning as a continuous or ‘lifelong’ process helps me to learn from everything that is happening in the classroom, not just the topic being discussed.