DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Am I in Control of my Learning

Written by: on October 18, 2018

I’m writing this on a plane to Australia, while watching Jurassic World (that’s honesty and multitasking!).

Ok, before I wax eloquent on Rountree’s helpful little book, LEARN HOW TO STUDY: Developing the study skills and approaches to learning that will help you succeed in university, [1] I thought it would be interesting to read about Derek Rowntree elsewhere. Consequently, having read Bayard’s book, How to talk about books you haven’t read,[2] I discovered that Rowntree spent much of his career teaching academics how teach and assess students they will never meet.[3] Now that, friends, is serendipity! It’s hardly surprising that he would be an expert in such affairs given that he was one of the founders of the UK’s Open University, specialising in distance education.

I find it difficult to critique helpful books like this, especially when they are interactive and there to provide a simple road map to study for new learners at tertiary level, which I think Rowntree does well. That is, of course, if the reader had a limited educational background missing the basics of learning, reading, research and essay writing. That being the case for me, if I had this book 35 years ago my academic experience would have been a lot less chaotic. Comparatively, I’m not sure Bayard’s book on ‘bluffing’ about books I haven’t read would have been that helpful early on. Thus, I propose that Rowntree’s approach to learning is a useful foundation for building the ‘inner libraries’ required to ‘bluff’ in the way that Bayard suggests.

The truth is, the online learning that Rowntree helped create has forced the old elitist academy to be more proactive in exposing the ‘dark art’ of academic research to the light of day. In doing so, mere mortals can now choose to engage, especially in the modern age of internet access.

What I think stands out about this books is Rowntree’s reminder that the idealised vision of the ‘perfect student’ is little more than a mirage.[4] For the most part, all students face the same self-doubt at some point, even the really smart ones. From there, Rowntree’s interactive self-questioning at the end of each section, helps to foster a sense of truth about our own situation at this current time: Do I know the difference between studying and learning? Do I understanding my own unique context? Am I comfortable with reading strategies, critical reading and listening? It is such good basic stuff, I showed the book to my seventeen year old daughter who is soon heading to university. She immediately rolled her eyes, put her hands on her hips and declared she knew what she was doing, thank you very much. I knew where she was coming from though. Lucy, like her father, is an intuitive, and we like to get ‘the vibe of the thing’ rather than mess with details. However, once she answered some of the interactive questions, it all made sense to her. It also made sense to me. It doesn’t much matter how intuitive we are, if there is a learning task to be achieved it needs to be tackled with some degree of order to feel like you are in control. And that I think is the point of Rowntree’s book. Learning as an outcome of study is about feeling like you are in control, and that control, like driving a car, is not mystical art, it’s something everyone can learn and refine over time.

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, Good to Great, he discusses a series of leadership principles that either encourage or hinder growth. The one I often think about is the Hedghog principle;  best described as ‘keep it simple stupid’. Essentially, Lencioni writes that we should always go back to first principles; why am I doing this? what am I doing? what am I hoping to achieve? and what should the outcomes look like? – don’t over complicate that which should be simple at its core. Go deep, but don’t go random.[5]

That being the case, in Rowntree’s guide, the section that captured my attention was chapter five’s, SQ3R. I’m not sure why? Perhaps it felt a little like a scene from a spy thriller; the acronym is quite alluring. Be that as it may, the simple approach to reading using SQ3R, along with the explanation, is one of those techniques worth remembering: Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Review.[6] But it hinges on something I often forget if not engaged properly, and it’s something Rowntree mentions early on when quoting Marton & Säljö and their research around education and learning: ‘students who did not get “the point” failed to do so simply because they were not looking for it’.[7] At the heart of learning, especially with reading, is to know what point the author is making by looking for it. It’s best to get the big picture, before scrambling for detail. In doing so, I’m less likely to ascribe meaning to the text that the Author never intended.

For the moment though, I’ll stick with the main point, ‘am I in control of my learning?’

 

[1] Derek Rowntree, Learn How to Study: Developing the Study Skills and Approaches to Learning That Will Help You Succeed in University — a Virtual Tutorial With Professor Derek Rowntree, 6 ed. (Amazon Digital Services : Kindle Edition, 2016).

[2] Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman (London: Grants Books : Kobo Edition, 2008); Rowntree, Learn How to Study: Developing the Study Skills and Approaches to Learning That Will Help You Succeed in University — a Virtual Tutorial With Professor Derek Rowntree.

[3] Derek Rowntree, Assessing Students: How Shall We Know Them, Revised ed. (Nichols Pub Co, 1987).

[4] Rowntree, Learn How to Study: Developing the Study Skills and Approaches to Learning That Will Help You Succeed in University — a Virtual Tutorial With Professor Derek Rowntree. LOC 242

[5] Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, 1st ed. (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001). Chapter 5

[6] Rowntree, Learn How to Study: Developing the Study Skills and Approaches to Learning That Will Help You Succeed in University — a Virtual Tutorial with Professor Derek Rowntree. LOC 2091.

[7] Ibid. LOC 782

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. London: Grants Books : Kobo Edition, 2008.

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. 1st ed. New York: HarperBusiness, 2001.

Rowntree, Derek. Assessing Students: How Shall We Know Them. Revised ed. Nichols Pub Co, 1987.

———. Learn How to Study: Developing the Study Skills and Approaches to Learning That Will Help You Succeed in University — a Virtual Tutorial With Professor Derek Rowntree. 6 ed. Amazon Digital Services : Kindle Edition, 2016.

About the Author

Digby Wilkinson

I am currently the Vicar of the Tawa Anglican Church in Wellington, New Zealand. I have only been in this role since February 2018. Prior to this appointment, I was the Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which made me the senior priest of the diocese working alongside the Bishop. I guess from an American perspective this makes me look decidedly Episcopalian, however my ministry background and training was among the Baptists. Consequently, I have been serving as pastor/priest for nearly thirty years. My wife Jane also trained for ministry, and has spent the last decade spiritually directing and supervising church leaders from different denominations. We have three grown children.

5 responses to “Am I in Control of my Learning”

  1. mm Mary Mims says:

    Digby, I also liked the SQ3R because, one, it seems like a math formula, and secondly as you said, it provides an orderly method for studying. I am glad you are showing your daughter, since this would have been helpful if I had this book when I was much younger, heading to college. I plan on recommending this book and others to the students graduating and heading to college, hopefully we can save them some of the pain of learning we experienced.

  2. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    At my last call we used Good to Great a lot. We were constantly encouraged to ‘hedgehog’ into our field and rarely come up. The issue was always when the ministries of the church would clearly (providentially?) overlap. It was sometimes a struggle to merely work together because we were too focused on our one field.

    That issue came up because we didn’t go back to the foundational question ,”why are we doing this?” and “what am I hoping to achieve?” Thank yo ufor reminding us all to keep those important questions as focal points of our work.

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Digby. Your main point is also what I have to constantly remind myself of, the why of what I’m doing. The intrinsic motivation is going to be very important over the next two years especially.

    I appreciated Rowntree’s pragmatic approach while also emphasizing the main things about learning. I wish someone had exposed me to this work many years ago!

  4. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Digby. Your main point is also what I have to constantly remind myself of, the why of what I’m doing. The intrinsic motivation is going to be very important over the next two years especially. I appreciated Rowntree’s pragmatic approach while also emphasizing the purpose in learning. I wish someone had exposed me to this work many years ago!

  5. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    I also appreciated the ‘debunking’ of the perfect student; likely because I don’t generally fit the bill. Every time I succeed in academia, I’m honestly a bit shocked. I know this is because I just about flunked out my first year of undergraduate and thus spend the next two years on academic probation. (I can admit that since I’m already in this program.) While I appreciated Rowntree’s book, I do wonder if it would have been enough to keep me from failing when I started out in my science courses. While he clearly advocates for ‘deeper learning’, it was at the superficial level that I certainly failed. I did manage to wrap my head broadly around key concepts, but I couldn’t label the germ layers in developmental biology to save my life. Truthfully, even this text would not have saved me. So while he demystifies the ideal student, what might you suggest are the basic skills required to be a reasonable one? Also, if Lucy is considering science, she may need a different approach.

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