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School Reform:
The Way We Learn
  
Shaun Kerry, M.D.
     
The key element of learning is FOCUS. It's much easier for someone to focus on a one-sentence question than it is for that person to focus on a chapter in a book.
   
The stimulus in learning should take the form of a question.  First, the question stimulates the person to think about an answer.

Second, the ability to answer the question provides an instant measure of the success or failure of the learning process.  If the student is unable to answer the question, it can be repeated until the answer is learned.  Learning is enhanced by maximum sensory stimulus.  If we simultaneously see and hear the question/answer, it will have a much greater impact on our memory.  If the stimulus is delivered in a more captivating form, such as with surround sound or on a wide-screen, the impact is even greater.

One of the biggest problems in the traditional classroom is distraction, both on the part of the teacher and the student.  Someone may be making a commotion.  Something might be happening outside the door.  Its hard to pay attention to a dull lecture or a textbook when there are other things occurring in the environment that affect all of the senses.  One benefit of the audiovisual presentation is that it can hold everyone's attention.     

     
In many cases, textbooks can be eliminated.  They are expensive and burdensome to carry.  Some books take three-hundred pages to say what could easily be said in ten.  Other books are overly terse and confusing.  Usually, only about half of the book is covered in a course.  It is more efficient and cost effective to use computer-generated printed handouts.  The savings in textbook expenses should easily cover the cost of the projection monitor and ancillary equipment.  The net increase in classroom budgets would be zero.

Lectures, unless given only occasionally,
are inefficient.  During lectures, students frantically take notes, translating what they hear into fact fragments.  Later, they must try to decipher their hastily taken notes, which
may or may not accurately reflect the meaning of the lecture.

After all of this, students are expected to memorize their notes.  The exception to this is the inspirational lecture.  In this case, the teacher is speaking from the heart, with the objective of sharing an experience from his or her own life with the students.

Many people learn best through self-initiated exploration.  This is fortunate, because knowledge, in and of itself, does not solve problems.  The most pressing problems that we face today will only be solved through discovery, thought, and exploration.   A solid foundation of knowledge is required, but the universe of information is extremely vast.  Except for the basics, we don't know what information we will need in the course of our lifetimes.  It makes much more sense to know where to look up the material when it is needed.

Excessive busywork and homework is counterproductive and makes students resentful.  Teachers often pass out homework as if their students were only taking one class.  If a student becomes ill and is unable to attend school, the work will pile up and the student may fall behind.  Examining our school system - our society’s primary institution of socialization - it is no wonder why we live in what has been termed, "the age of anxiety".

Let's suppose you were a manager in a company and you were lucky enough to hire a great employee.  He had the one quality that every manager wants most.  He was a self starter, and didn't require a lot of supervision.  Everything was running well.  Now let's suppose that you are replaced by a new manager, who has to control every move his employees make.  The self-starting employee becomes very frustrated because his personality is not adapted to that style of management.  He winds up quitting.

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