What I learned in boating school is…did I actually learn?

When I started going to primary school at the age of 5 years old I was optimistic. I thought I was going to this wonderful place to learn great things. Knowledge that seemed useful and would help me for the rest of my life. I then proceeded to learn for the next 5. Throughout Elementary School I maintained this optimistic attitude and thought that what I was learning was actually useful for me.

I then entered middle school where I started to slightly struggle with learning. Match and science stayed relatively straight forward to me since I was simply learning new facts, applications, and concepts. However, I began to struggle with learning Literature and Writing. I understood what the different types of figurative language were and how to find them in works of literature and I understood the 5 paragraph format and difference between persuasive and informative writing, but my optimism about school started to falter. In literature class we would learn vocab each week and have a vocab test at the end of the week, then proceed to learn new vocab without ever revisiting the old vocab. I realized that I couldn’t remember a single word from the previous weeks and started to question why I was actually learning this. Now I’m not saying that it isn’t important to learn vocab, I think that it is something incredibly important in order to allow people to properly express themselves, but the method in which it is taught seems problematic. The 3 and 5 paragraph formats however did not cease to confuse me. It was incredibly formulaic and repetitive, which I had never seen in any published work at the time. I would then go to follow the formula and use the templates provided by my teacher and would then receive poor grades. Look back at my writing I understand my low scores, but at the time it confused me. I would then go to the teacher an ask what was wrong with it and how I could do better and they never gave me a great answer. The typical answer I would get were “you need to follow the rubric better” or “make sure you are proof reading better” without actual substantial guidance of how to do it. I continued throughout middle school never actually understanding how to improve my writing, but it never really bothered me since I could keep my grades up with vocab tests and presentations.

Finally I reached High School where again Math and Science were straight forward for the first couple years learn and understand new concepts. The content got harder and I would need more help to keep pace and understand the material, but if I was doing something wrong it was easily identifiable and I could simply practice and get better. The content however was pretty easy so I had no trouble keeping up. Literature however had never been any where as hard. The class demanded that our writing be much better. However it was drastically different from anything else I had been in up to that point. We were told to completely throw away the 5 paragraph formula that we had learned in middle school. I would say this was the year where I learn the most out of any year of English in all of my school year. I credit this mainly to my teacher who actually wanted to help. The class was structured like this. We would read books, plays, or poems analyze them and then write about them. It was in this class that our teacher taught us methods of how to analyze and how to look at literature to see how the stylistic elements shaped the meaning. I learned many different methods and strategies to analyze a piece. Then, when writing an essay we had free reign on the structure. This was difficult at first because we were at a loss of what to do, but by the end of year we were able to make decisions on how structure our essays. It all seemed great even though it was demanding. I had felt like my writing had never been better. But then my scores were at their lowest ever. Don’t misunderstand me I definitely felt like my writing was far better than before, but I had no idea what I was doing wrong. Again when I asked the teacher what I was doing wrong the guidance I received didn’t feel to substantial and I didn’t know how to improve. The worst part about this though was that fact that all of my scores weren’t bad. I didn’t slowly improve throughout the year but instead my scores were erratic. sometimes they were great and sometimes terrible and I could not understand at all the difference between them. When we got back our essays and saw that we all received low scores we would take a day to go over what the entire grade did wrong, but never really how to improve. When we asked how to improve the answer we got was “write more.” This made sense to me, but there was no time for it. The class would move on to a new unit and start analyzing a new type of literature. So I just attempted to analyze something and was told my writing was poor and why it was poor, but then we moved on and I would just live with the fact that I did bad with a certain type without ever having the opportunity to get better.

This is where my skepticism for education started to grow. Then in my next year of high school we did not learn a single thing within our literature class. I am not trying to sound unappreciative. We simply did not have a single lesson in the class. We were simply told that we have a project or we have an essay, then we would work on it for a couple of days submit or present our product and then be given another assignment. The structure of this class left even less room to get better at our writing. I would write an essay on a play for example, get low scores, and then move on writing about poetry without ever getting good at writing about plays. The class started to seem more like busy work. Now I don’t believe that literature is a useless class, it seems incredibly valuable, but it is not taught properly at all. This problem started to arise in other classes too. Currently in my junior year this problem as started to arise in mathematics. I currently take linear algebra a completely new kind of math than the algebra I am used. It is an advanced class and is incredibly fast paced, but I was starting to have trouble. I didn’t really understand the concepts too well and when I try to ask the teacher about them I usually get the answer “you don’t need to understand it that much just know that if you get a question like this do this.” So I wasn’t learning a concept as deeply as possible which maybe isn’t so bad. But these concepts were fundamental concepts used for anything deeper. So I would start understanding maybe 50% of the fundamentals and then we would go to a concepts that builds on this and I would understand only 50% of that and then to another concept building further and understanding on 50% of that. But because I don’t understand the concept prior fully I understand each subsequent topic even less and less. Again We were taught information practiced it and then tested on it. We receive good scores because we know how to handle the test, but our actual understanding of the concepts are terrible.

I feel as though currently I am not going to school to learn, but simply to go to school. In literature class I don’t learn I just do assignment after assignment. I have even approached the teacher and asked if we were supposed to learn how to get better at writing or anything at all and the answer I received was “no, not really.” the only thing that we learned last year was what an IOP was a type of assignment in the IB curriculum. Not how to succeed in it or what makes for a good one, just what it was.

In my classes I am learning less substantial material and if we are learning new concepts we aren’t actually developing proper understandings of the concepts

I don’t get taught in literature anymore. In math I am learning how to do well on a test without actually understanding the material. Other classes suffer as from this too such as french class where we do have occasional grammar and pronunciation lessons, but if you can’t learn to adopt these concepts when they are initially taught you are left behind.

School doesn’t seem like it is built to teach us anymore. It seems like schools are simply required to present us with information and not worry about if we actually understand it or not.

If schools actually want us to learn they need to start focusing on getting students to understand and rather than just getting through the information.

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