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  • Robin Horsfall

I can't do this!

I can’t do this!

A few days ago, I had a brief chat with an old friend named Mark Dawes he wrote a very good book called ‘Quantum Thinking’. Mark is an extremely good lecturer and coach. Many years ago, I attended one of his coaching courses at the National Sports Centre at Lilleshall. It was a good course and well attended but of all the data that I absorbed during that week one item stood out. Mark talked about ‘The learning process’ and explained that all learning starts with confusion – only after confusion is understanding possible. This one point is of immense importance for teachers and students.

A teacher or coach must understand that students do not immediately grasp and understand information. The brain has to be given time to absorb and organise the new data. The information has to be reinforced with repetition. Teachers or coaches who think that something said 'once' should be enough are failing to understand how the brain works. It is impossible for us to hear a song once and then sing it. People don’t learn by being told - they learn by being taught.

I understood that learning required time and repetition but the truly enlightening part of Mark’s lecture was understanding how my brain functioned as a student.

I grew up thinking that if I didn’t get the sum right the first time I was failing. I never did understand why something as precise and demanding as mathematics had a time for completion in an examination. Surely being correct was more important than being correct quickly. If I missed something rarely, would the teacher go back and repeat what I hadn’t understood. Confused and unassisted I often gave up. I thought 'I can't do this!' Thousands of students who experience this confusion when they are given new information also think ‘I can’t do this; it’s too hard for me.’

In 2010, I sustained a neck fracture and was unable to continue work as a karate teacher. I applied to go to University as a mature undergraduate student. Thrust into academia among smart, top of the school, young adults I felt somewhat disadvantaged. The academic method was a new language for me and I struggled. However, I knew that this struggle was normal I understood that my confusion was something I had to go through and I knew that if I persevered I would succeed. It was only in my third year that I really got it and it was in that year that I raised my grades to a good level.

I am currently learning to speak Czech. It takes a child five years to be reasonably colloquial in their native language; I am trying to achieve that in a year. Every time I sit with my teacher she provides a new confusing piece of information for me to absorb. Sometimes I walk away from the lesson knowing that I didn’t understand a thing that she told me, however, I also know this is normal. I sit down do my homework and repeat pieces of the class - a few days later it starts to germinate. I love study and I love learning because I understand how to learn and how my brain learns - the confusion no longer frightens me.

So, if you are a teacher slow down, return to the start, repeat the information and give it time to germinate. If you are a student, slow down, return to the start, repeat the information and give it time to germinate. Relax accept the confusion and persevere, you will succeed.

(c) Robin Horsfall 2018.

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