Learning to learn

This is a sort of sideways ramble inspired by the “rewrites” post over at Stupid Motivational Tricks

In my undergrad Baroque counterpoint class, the prof gave us these little 8-measure assignments every day. Tiny things, easy, right? But he’d grade them mercilessly, and three errors took that assignment into the “D” range.
The catch was that we could re-do every assignment as many times as we wanted until we got the grade we were happy with. I thought he was a total pushover for this, but I took advantage of the opportunity and was one of those who did every re-write every time I could throughout the semester, even though this meant that by the fourth week of class instead of 1 8-bar assignment I was doing not just that assignment but 3-4 additional rewrites of earlier assignments, and so on through the course. Others in the class figured they’d turn in rewrites at the end of the semester.


He was not a pushover–he was a very smart professor.  Because as I went with these rewrites, I was learning more and more, and I got better and better at the process as I went through. The people who just waited till the end to hand in all the rewrites generally didn’t get better grades the second time (those who know Baroque counterpoint know that it’s a house of cards, and if you change/fix one error you’re likely to be committing two new ones in the process), but as the assignments got harder and harder I found myself knowing how to rise to them…(and now I wonder in awe how many hours he used to spend grading the damn things…)
Seems like the best professors I have had aren’t the ones who taught me just about the subject I was taking a class in, they are the ones who taught me how to be a student. I know at the university level it’s a lot about just plain “let’s see who has the chops to make it through and not wash out.” And I am one of the first to favor those without the chops washing out early rather than spending four years and God-knows-how-much money trying and then failing two or three years later. But no one teaches you how to be a student in high school (or maybe some high school teachers get this too).  Teaching students how to learn, and finding the balance between babying them and dumping them unceremoniously into the deep end is, as far as I’m concerned, the most valuable thing we can teach…

Years later I ran into Dr. Strunk again, playing in a wedding band. It was fairly cool to see my old Bach professor jamming out to swing music…

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