Random Thoughts on ‘Learning to Learn Again’ 1: Progress Descriptors & ‘Independence’

I haven’t been much of a blogger in the year 2011. I have mostly populated this ‘garden’ with my Project 365 photos. Even for that, I have slacked in the past month. So, every time I return, it’s like jumpstarting the engine again (and again).


But, frankly, I’m not guilty at all.  It’s simply where I am at this stage of life.  No doubt, Facebook and Twitter have taken some attention away, but it’s more that I was on a big ‘learning curve’ to learn how to learn again. 


A highlight for me tonight was to sit down and have a dialogue with Elysia and Gareth on their progress at school.  The basis for our discussion was a five page progress report with 1 page self-report from both of them (with some color and pictures of course). 


Walking with them through the process made me think about my own progress as a ‘learner’.  I’ve always seen myself as a ‘life-long learner’ but it’s an interesting experience to pause and revisit this simple and yet profound notion of ‘learning’.  This is significant especially when to me and I suppose many of us, we see ‘learning’ more than just stuffing the head with loads of information, but rather a way of discovery and even creativity.


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The four ways of describing one’s progress caught my attention: Emerging, Developing, Proficient and Independent.  The linear movement is clear, the goal obviously is to be ‘independent’ in a particular area. For me, there was this urge to add a fifth column, and also the idea of a kind of spiral where we return again and again in a given area. 


The fifth column or way I’d add would be ‘interdependence’. This is because I see after the freedom and excitement of ‘independence’, one finds that in actual fact, we are still ‘dependent’ in a different way then the way we understood our ’emergence’ before. The ‘independence’ ironically should help us at least recognize and appreciate how we are not isolated in this journey of learning.


For example, even when I’ve gained some confidence in a particular theory, and method regarding subject X, and now I may have something to say, I’m still dependent on the works of those before me, and the work that is still going on.  It sounds so like obvious doesn’t it? But then, it’s nice to return to the obvious.  Keeps us humble.


Furthermore, the value of independence becomes even more valuable when it leads to the ability to collaborate, to engage in conversation critically with other independent learners, and then creative possibilities emerge, and then develop, and then now two become proficient as collaborators and a new kind of independence is achieved.  The ‘Learning spiral’ continues when the ‘two’ multiples this process with another two or three or more.


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I found myself using different ‘descriptors’ for different areas of my learning thus far. Perhaps in the area of seeing connections and the big picture, I could use ‘proficient’ or even ‘independent’.  But for the area of detail and nitty gritty it’s more of ‘developing’ towards ‘proficiency’.  


When it comes to being open and flexible, I’m pretty ‘independent’ and even able to be ‘interdependent’ and have a capacity to work well with others. At least, in most situations :-). But when it comes to focus and keeping my attention on one thing, one concept, and one theory, it’s been a greater effort to works towards greater proficiency.


So, a more meta-view would even mean, I’m growing in my own ‘independence’ is seeing how to describe my own progress using the language of these descriptors. And in conversation with my advisors, and fellow PhD colleagues, a certain ‘interdependence’ is acquired as well.


now the focus of the progress report for my children are more ‘individual focused’ and that was the purpose of the assessment for them. I’m merely extending what started individually but with a communal tone without losing individuality.


I think it’s possible.  And it’s a good idea to be conscious about it.


‘Independence’ is a great value, and especially in the environment I’ve grown up in like Malaysia, we do not have sufficient push towards more critical thinking.  There are times that we are trained well and are skillful in many areas, but lack independence in our thinking.  This doesn’t mean we are incapable of it, but perhaps on one hand we have not emerged from our dependence on ‘authority’ figures whether from home through to education and even politics. On the other hand,  it’s some how not allowed to blossom because of our own lack of confidence, lack of the language to enable us to let our thoughts grow. 


I wonder whether it might actually be more about our ‘imagination’ being stifled by numerous factors, that has caused us to fear imagining ‘independence’ at all.  “You mean, that idea is actually valuable?”, we might think. Too often, it’s less about self-censorship, but more about self-silencing even before a seed thought could ’emerge’ and ”develop’ into something we can be ‘proficient’ about.  We’re not even talking about ‘independence’ yet, and ‘interdependence’ seems too far away?


But deep down, at least when it comes to learning, we want to take steps forward.  We want to be ‘independent’.  It’s important to us. The ‘descriptors’ give us some vocabulary to talk about it.  In the case of my kids, two words emerged, ‘thinking’ and ‘confidence’.  Now we have something to work with, now we can imagine a little bit more.  ‘Dream a bit’ – whether in the night, or even in broad daylight. 🙂


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Other words are embedded in these four (and in my version five) descriptors: support from others, understanding and application within one’s learning,  and then understanding and applying to other areas of learning.  My addition is merely that ‘we are not alone’ in all this, why should we?  And even when I’m sitting alone in reading a book, or thinking, am I really doing all this independently? 


In the last 8 months, even when I was in solitude, there are some ‘saints’ helping me along with their words,, their language, their theories, their concepts, their methods, you name it, it was ‘hauntingly’ fun! Boo! I needed all the help I could get.  Even help from watching how my children ‘learn’, because at heart I’m still a kid, ‘learning to learn again’.


More in another post.  I put (1) in the blog post title, that’s supposed to nudge me to have another blog post (2). 🙂


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About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
This entry was posted in Academics, Blogging, Family, Learning, Malaysia, Personal, Philosophy, Random Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

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