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Understanding What’s Involved in Learning

What if someone who had a lot of professional knowledge in an area said something you disagreed with? What if the path you were on was ready to take a turn, and you had not seen it coming?

A Life-Changing Podcast

Last week I listened to a podcast where an author, Dave Schmittou, read one of his books over several episodes. It's Like Riding a Bike:  How to Make Learning Last a Lifetime available in print, but out of his generosity to spark opportunities to get a message across and offer professional development to the educators, he had decided to read this book over a few podcast episodes. I love the opportunity to listen to a book, so a free book sounded like a deal too good to pass up. Dave Schmittou bothered me with several things he said at the beginning of his book, but yet found a way to remind me that his thinking was at the level I wanted to achieve next.  

He Said it Would Spark Debate.

Almost immediately, he said that there would be parts of his book to debate and most likely parts that would spark discussion and might have people disagree and be upset with what he said. At first, I wondered what could be that controversial that might bother people that much? I figured that the topics would not rattle me very much, and I assumed I would continue listening without missing a beat.  

And then, he threw down a few statements that shook me at the core.  

Dave Schmittou said, “I Don’t Care if My Kids Read Books to Get Information.”

Ahhhhh! As an educator, parent, and avid reader, this statement tore through my heart! My first response was how dare he say that! Reading has changed my life in so many ways, and some of the best things started happening once I became a reader. I also thought about the vast amount of research I have read, which bothered me on so many levels.  

But, I kept listening. 

I figured Dave Schmittou, author and educator would definitely redeem himself and say something that I agreed with, or I would abandon his audiobook pretty quickly. Frustrated and very opinionated and even filled with judgemental thoughts at this point, I decided to hear more, probably out of spite, because I thought I could definitely prove him wrong. And then I heard the rest of the story. He encouraged his readers to disagree, get upset and start a conversation about what they might not agree with. I wondered at this point, if this was just a persuasive technique to keep me listening. And again, I heard the rest of the story. I realized what he had not said yet.

Dave Schmittou also said, “Learning and Engagement can Happen in So Many Ways.”

Sometimes a book will do it, but sometimes, it is a video, or an experience that sparks real interest or learning. I thought about the fact that before I read a new author, or delve into a topic that I am a little unfamiliar with, I almost always type the author or idea into YouTube, or a podcast search to see what I can find out before I begin reading.The more familiar I am with words, key ideas and a story, the easier time I will have reading something new. Then, when I go to read something new, it feels familiar. And sometimes a book is not the best way for me to learn something new. I remember when I learned how to play chess. I knew my best hope was to have a live teacher. I also remember that it was a Netflix series, (The Queen’s Gambit) that got me interested to learn more.

Books are part of my journey as a chess player, but were not used until I had gotten to a certain point. 

Lastly, Dave Schmittou made it Clear that We Have to Change Our Approach

Educators and parents spend incredible amounts of time trying to get kids to read and then fall in love with it. As a parent and English Teacher, I cannot tell you how many times I have made that my mission for a period of time. But, then what Dave was saying, hit me in the gut when I realized how true it is.  We put more effort, energy and focus on creating readers by pursuing the same approach over and over again. If kids don’t fall in love with reading, or are not good at it; it simply means that we need to have them read more. 

What if we put the emphasis on as Tara Martin says in her book, Be REAL: Educate from the Heart, that the goal is on learning through life.  

Learning through life incorporates reading, but does not end with books. The pursuit of knowledge is not only about books. Dave Scmittou continued to state that he is a reader himself, and loves recommending books. However, he has realized that reading is not the only way to embrace learning.  

In addition to a focus on redefining the purpose of reading, I love that his book gave me permission to disagree. 

It’s Okay To Disagree

I make a point of telling my students that one thing I value is people having an opinion. It might not be the same one that I have, nor make sense to me, but I am really excited when someone feels passion for something. I love it when an author writes something or designs a character that gets under my skin.The worst thing a writer can do is keep me from feeling anything while I am reading. I love the moment when I realize I really dislike a character! It is then that the author has done the job of reaching me! 

One of my favorite educators, mentors and avid readers I follow recently reminded me of this gift in one of her live book talks. As she explored several books that she was reading, Rachelle Wynkoop mentioned something about one of the books that didn’t particularly work for her, followed by an opinion that supported her perspective. 

We have to remind students that it is okay to disagree with something or someone.  

Model Effectively Disagreeing with work or Perspectives

And, not just tell students that it is okay to disagree with content or resources, but to model what it looks like to use our voice to explain our thinking. Each class period, I share a book with my High School English class. Recently, I shared one I liked a lot, and then talked about another one that I was only able to read a few chapters in before I set it down. I explained that it might not be the right time, or the right author for me, but it is just not working for me. I also plan to share some of my discoveries about learning “It’s Like Riding A Bike” with my students.  

It’s Like Riding a Bike Changed Me as a Teacher and Parent

Everything I thought I disagreed with, I came to appreciate what Dave Schmittou said on a new level. While I still very much support reading as a way to gather knowledge, and plan to continue recommending reading as Schmittou does, I will re-defining my mission as knowledge gathering, or “Learning through Life” and focus on providing opportunities to show students that learning requires us to be relentless, and we should not limit ourselves to one resource. There is space for excellence.

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