Tree of Knowledge – Study Skills

A week ago today we had another day working with Tree of Knowledge; this time our S4 pupils worked with the brilliant Daryl on study skills.

Some of the S4s missed the session and I promised that I would write a summary for them. Of course, notes like this are a poor substitute for the session because, with Tree of Knowledge, you get so much more than the content. The organisation thrives because of the highly inspirational, motivational and entertaining speakers that they engage and it is just as much about the way in which the ideas are presented as the what of the ideas.

Daryl was just as amazing in this respect as Tony who had been before him. Half stand-up comedian, half philosopher, he had an amazing way of relating to every single young person in the audience.

Below is a summary of the what, with an invitation that anyone reading gets along to a TOK session whenever they possibly can.

Daryl started by talking about his own background and education:

school, physics at St. Andrews and then a masters in theoretical physics.

He then spoke of how he had been inspired to work for TOK by 2 things: 1. a memory of witnessing an amazing TOK workshop as a school pupil; and 2. a TED talk based on the idea that you can only really be content in life if you do a job that helps others.

These 2 factors led him to decide that his vocation should involve helping young learners to be the best that they can be.

He noted that it can be hard for young people if they don’t have an idea of what they want to be in the future (approx only half of our S4s surveyed in the room indicated that they had a clear idea.)

However, he stated that the workshop was about giving everyone the knowledge and techniques in order to be able to overcome the challenges and hurdles that might arise along the path to a successful future.

 

He began by talking about brain science and outlined ideas on left and right brain, brain connections and the need to master skills through practice. A few practical games like “do as I say, not as I do” and rub tummy/pat head showed everyone the importance of practice and repetition in learning. Daryl elaborated on this and talked about the importance of connections in the brain that need to be repeated in order for a process to be learned and instinctive. He used a very helpful metaphor; when you learn, your brain makes connections. The more you repeat an activity, the deeper the learning. Think of walking a path through a field of grass. The first time you walk it, it is hard work. As you repeat walking the path, it gets easier. If you stop walking, the grass grows back and it gets hard again. This, he stated, is the brain science behind “practice makes perfect”.

He then went on to talk about other elements of neuroscience that related to learning, such as the need to engage both the logical left-side brain as well as the creative right-side brain when learning. Logic alone will not lead to effective learning and the study of all subjects is enhanced when we engage both sides of the brain.

 

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein.

 

Daryl spoke about the fact that when we are children we engage imagination all the time as we learn but that, as we grow up, we tend to discourage and avoid play; however if we are to learn effectively, we need to break this cycle and re-engage the imagination. Songs to learn the alphabet, rhymes to help with the compass points (never eat shredded wheat) all helped us as children and can help us still. The irony of education is that we spend years teaching young children to walk and talk and then formal schooling often seems to be about getting children to sit down and shut up!

Daryl then engaged the group in an imaginative story telling task that enabled them to memorise 10 items on the board and the results were astounding! The key elements were use of imagination, repetition, visualisation and exaggeration.

Whilst the technique may not suit everyone, there will be a technique that DOES and the key is finding the right one for you.

The brain is a truly extraordinary thing from the moment you are born until the moment you die and you need to find ways to make the most of it for you.

Daryl then went on to talk about the fact that sometimes, young people have difficulty with expressing what they know, even though the information and ideas are in there somewhere. He referenced the work of Dr Paul McLean and the Triune Brain (http://www.thebrainbox.org.uk/triune_brain_theory/triune_brain_theory.html) and explained why it is crucial for us to be creative, happy and relaxed if we are to learn well. This had links with the S3 and S2 workshops on Mindset and the Chimp Brain and looked at the idea that stress, reptilian fight or flight responses and the release of cortisol are all detrimental to learning.

 

Daryl went on the highlight the fact that being calm and happy comes from being well-prepared ad organised in our study (at which point Mrs Carter was punching the air as this has been THE key S4 message this year ….Eating Elephants included).

He then talked about some more advanced psychological theory about the need to ensure that learning is embedded in the deeper part of our being if it to be sustained. He referenced ideas about conscious, subconscious and unconscious learning and the way in which psychophysical influences and subconscious impulses can all affect our ability to learn.

The last part of the session, focused on the idea that we can talk ourselves in and out of being able to learn (again linking with the S3 workshop on Mindset). If you tell yourself negative things, there is evidence that you are more likely to fail as the negative messages filter through to your subconscious. Daryl noted that Scotland has a particular issue with negative self-talk and its consequences on confidence; in a 2088 Guardian survey found Scotland placed 24th out of 25 European countries in terms of self-confidence rating, above Bosnia and below Northern Ireland!

 

The key message here? We need to tell ourselves that we can succeed.

“I like school. I can do it. I will enjoy today at school with my friends”.

If you do not set yourself up to achieve your potential, you probably won’t. You need to decide what you want and go for it.

If someone asks you “how are you?” (as they do about 47 times each day!), try answering “fantastic”. The more you say it, the more you will feel it.

Positive words, positive thoughts, positive actions; the key elements to being the best version of you.

Huge thanks to Daryl and Tree of Knowledge for the inspiration.

More top tips can be found at the Study Ninja app: https://treeof.com/blog/2017/01/09/amazing-study-ninja-review-in-teach-secondary/

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