Tools for Learning

Tools for Learning

I’ve begun creating a table to organize my new learning about the Civil Rights Movement. I am finding that this is a particularly helpful tool at this stage of the game. Since we didn’t organize the trip in any sort of chronological way, and since the movement itself lacked an overarching, organizational leadership structure, the material I’ve learned has been sort of mishmash of disorganized people, places, and events. The table is helping me get an organizational handle on things.

The table, for now, has five columns. Here they are:

Year and Month of Event Name of Event Location What I thought before the trip What I learned Further questions

I am using the trip itself as a sequencing framework for constructing the table. In other words, the first entries in the table come from our visit to Memphis, the first city we visited. (See the post titled, “He Had Been to the Mountaintop.”) When I finish the table I plan to sort it by date so that it represents a timeline.

One of the things that makes this process so interesting is the comparison between columns four and five: “what I thought” compared to “what I learned.” The “what I learned” column is amazing. This is a reflection on the power of travel and on the power of field trips. In teaching history, I can think of nothing more powerful than a field trip to an historical location.

I am also struck by how easy it is to fill in column six, “further questions.” For each place that I’ve documented so far, I have a ton of further questions. I want to know more. I don’t have a column for questions I would have posed before the visit, but if I did, it would not have been nearly as long nor as deep as the column for further questions. This is evidence that learning provokes learning. The more you know, the more you want to know. The more you learn, the more questions you can generate.

I think everyone who is interested in learning can take these findings to heart. Teachers, parents, students, leaders, and others should consider the power of the following: (1) field trips – or travel, (2) the task of organizing your thoughts, (3) the task of reflecting on what you thought compared to what you now know, and (4) the task of posing questions for further learning. Taken together these four processes seem to me to represent a process of learning that is unbeatable.

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