The Astonishing Power in Learning How to Learn

Learner Voices   07 July 2017
By Victoria Tidwell

 

If it weren’t for Pike Road, I don’t think I would’ve become anywhere near the leader I am today. I know for a fact that it has shaped my life for the better.

Victoria Tidwell
Learner, Pike Road School

For 12 years, I lived in the same house and attended the same magnet program. My peers and I were more academically challenged than learners attending other public schools in our area, but our teachers still utilized traditional methods. We did worksheets, took tests, and worked either alone or in the occasional group setting. In the magnet program, my work was vigorous, and the teachers were strict. At the time, I was quite content with this style of learning because I knew exactly how my academic world would operate—arrive at school on time, sit at my desk, and quietly do my work with no questions asked.

Desperately Searching for Familiarity

At 13-years-old, things rapidly changed. I moved into a new house, transferred to a new school, and transitioned into a new way of learning. Completely closing myself off from all the change, I was convinced of one thing: I was going to be miserable at this new school. Soon enough, I had to say goodbye to my old friends and say hello to the one place I had no interest in being: Pike Road School.

Over the summer, there were a few people who tried to convince me something good was going to come of this school—it wouldn’t be all bad. I didn’t know it then, but their message planted a seed of hope and open-mindedness in me, which would later sprout into a beautiful tree of pride and love for my school.

 

As the semester came to a close, I knew I would have to relinquish a part of my stubborn self to openly explore the idea of rethinking learning.

Victoria Tidwell
Learner, Pike Road School

The first day of school came quickly, and when it did, we were all confused—teachers, students, and faculty alike. The chaos that ensued was overwhelming. There were no grades, no worksheets, and no order. I went home exhausted and skeptical about it all, but I decided to give Pike Road a fair chance. I supposed they were trying to make it work, and so would I. But, my leniency quickly faded.

On more than one occasion, the disarray of the first semester brought me home in tears. There was no structure whatsoever, and I refused to believe there could be learning without structure. I was unwilling to find the good in my situation. My traditionally-wired brain was not impressed. I desperately wanted to go back to my old school with my old friends, but that was clearly not what God had in store for me. As the semester came to a close, I knew I would have to relinquish a part of my stubborn self to openly explore the idea of rethinking learning.

A New Understanding of Organized Chaos

The beginning of a new semester brought about many changes, including my newfound willingness to grow. My superintendent and principal instituted a new group of leaders for the school: the Trailblazers—20 learners who were tasked with expressing how learning worked best for them and how they thought PRS should operate in years to come. I was chosen to be one of them. As the oldest learners in the school, we were supposed to take initiative in designing what our learning should look like. We were tasked with blazing a trail for younger Patriots (something we call learners at PRS) and be examples for them to follow in years to come.

It was at one of the first Trailblazers meetings that everything finally clicked. I realized these people—the administration, the teachers, and all of the faculty—actually cared about us. They wanted to help us learn. They wanted to help us grow into the leaders they knew we were. Suddenly, it was like I had found the missing piece of the puzzle.

 

This world can seem disordered, but that’s the beauty of it. We get to create the order, or lack thereof, to subsequently make things better for those around us.

Victoria Tidwell
Learner, Pike Road School

The faculty wanted us to retain and apply the information we were acquiring, not just memorize dates and names for a test. The project-based learning, the profusion of collaboration, and the extended use of technology had seemed so odd before. Then, I finally saw it was all for the betterment of ourselves. The PRS leaders knew the limitations of traditional schooling and wanted to see to it that our education prepared us for the real world—a world where you don’t do worksheets, receive grades, or work in isolation.

This world can seem disordered, but that’s the beauty of it. We get to create the order, or lack thereof, to subsequently make things better for those around us. We are the ones who get to blaze the trail and lay the groundwork for generations to come.

The Trailblazers opened my mind to a new way of learning, and I was ready to internalize the Pike Road mission—“to create a culture of intellectual curiosity where all students have ownership over their learning and are inspired to think, innovate, and create.” I was taking ownership of my learning, and I was eager to learn. I was no longer studying because I had a test. Rather, I was studying because I knew the material would be relevant in the real world, and because I genuinely wanted to know more. It’s a different way of thinking, and it works. By the end of that semester, I had fully immersed by in learning how to learn.

When it became time to go back to Pike Road the following August, I was ecstatic. In previous years, I had always dreaded going back to school after the summer months off, but at Pike Road, learning is fun. I started to become more and more of a leader in my school, church, and community. I was stepping into the person God called me to be.

Combining Personal Passion with High-Level Learning

Once everything finally came together in my mind, I realized that, as students, we could incorporate our passions and interests into our learning. For me, that meant music. Singing has always come naturally to me, and I pick up on instruments faster than my music teachers can keep up with. In the last year and a half, I have learned (for the most part) to play piano, guitar, and ukulele, and I want to keep learning as much as I can to prepare myself for a career as a musician—specifically writing worship music. Right now, I’m a worship leader in my youth group’s worship team, and I absolutely love it. I’ve also performed some of my original works at school events.

I find confidence in my music, and it is how I best express myself. History, on the other hand, has never been one of my strong points. I’m by no means bad at history, but I’m not particularly good. My humanities teacher, Ms. Austin, assigned us a project at the beginning of this year that was designed for us to assess ourselves on our knowledge of the Renaissance. We were supposed to come up with our own way to prove that we knew the information. So, having realized my passions could be used to learn, I wrote a song.

Writing this song was very different from most of my songwriting experiences, which usually start with an event in my life that has provoked a strong feeling that I want to express through the melody. This time, there was factual information that had to be incorporated into the lyrics, not just a feeling. I studied the information long and hard and began to formulate a song I knew needed to both get the information across clearly and appeal to the listener’s ears.

Turning the events of the Renaissance Era into a song transformed the learning experience from being boring and tedious to being fun, exciting, and interesting. The material I learned had never stuck in my head more than it did with this project.

At Pike Road, we are assessed based on whether we meet learning expectations, instead of receiving a letter or number grade. On this project, I was given an “exceeding learning expectations,” and I was elated.

Not everyone thinks they can handle the type of learning happening at PRS, but once you get a hang of it, it will bless you with so much more than just knowing numbers, names, and dates. It taught me how to think and how to learn, and it taught me more about myself than I knew would be possible. If it weren’t for Pike Road, I don’t think I would’ve become anywhere near the leader I am today. I know for a fact that it has shaped my life for the better.

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