Monday, August 7, 2017

Little by Little: How We Learn

Many students become overwhelmed when trying to learn something new. For some, math is a challenge. Others stumble over a foreign language. And for many children, reading feels like an insurmountable mountain.

As a teacher, I was naturally drawn to the ancient story of Akiva, an illiterate shepherd who learned to read at age 40. Akiva thought he was too old to learn to read but his wife, Rachel, encouraged him. She insisted that nothing was beyond his abilities. Akiva doubted himself until he observed a phenomenon in nature. He noticed a hole in a rock and suddenly appreciated the process in which water erodes stone.

“Water is soft,” Akiva thought with amazement. “And yet drop by drop, it has managed to cut through this hard stone.”

Akiva made a connection to himself. “My mind is not harder than a rock! I can learn—just like water cuts through stone—a little bit each day.”

Read Drop by Drop: The Story of Rabbi Akiva with your students and discuss how Akiva approached his studies. He was patient with himself. He decided to master one small thing at a time.

Brainstorm other metaphors for slow but steady progress. Examples: baby steps, crawling before walking, seeds growing into plants, one stitch at a time, saving pennies in a piggybank, etc.

Ask your students to write a personal narrative describing a time when they struggled to learn something new. How did they approach the subject? What made the topic hard to learn? Can they describe their emotions? Did someone or something make the situation harder? Did someone or something make it easier?

Write a class poem about learning a skill slowly, one step at a time. You could use one of the metaphors brainstormed above such as baby steps or growing seeds or you could tie in the science curriculum. Scientific experiments must be undertaken one step at a time. Cooking recipes require one ingredient at a time. Few things are accomplished all at once. There are metaphors for learning everywhere. Happy Writing!


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