Friday, June 24, 2011

No Man is an Island

Today marks the end of Week Two for the Summer Greek guys, right? How's it going so far? What's working for you? What's giving you trouble?

I haven't really introduced myself yet on this blog, and this isn't going to be a full introduction either, but I started at Concordia Seminary in the middle of Summer 2009. I made my decision to apply to seminary in Spring of 2009 (having graduated from Mequon in December of 2006 as a Theology major and Philosophy minor). I didn't give myself enough time to study for the New Testament and Old Testament qualifiers (they had been used in one or two undergrad classes for finals or midterms, or something, and I had passed them, but it had been a few years by the time I took two cracks each and them). I did fine on the Doctrine qualifier. ANYWAY, I didn't take Summer Greek, I took the two-week course in OT and the two-week course in NT. I took Greek in the Fall of 2009. And they were good classes. I don't regret having taken them (though if I could have done it over again, I would have passed the qualifiers before seminary so I could have taken Greek in the Summer, but again, that's not important right now).

Much more below the fold...

And I made a lot of mistakes in Elementary Greek. I'm not talking about accidents, or mix-ups, etc. And for the record, as you've read elsewhere, I did not have perfect classroom attendance. (I actually made arrangements with my Hebrew professor to NOT attend his class and study with a tutor, but I won't go into details on that right now because it's irrelevant for our purposes.) I won't tell you all the mistakes I made (too many to list). I will tell you one, but I will put it in the form of a prohibitive imperative: DON'T JUST STUDY BY YOURSELF! You should also, as a regular part of your daily routine, study A) with only one other person, and B) also in a group no larger than four students. My failure to do this was probably one of my most critical errors, and one that if I had corrected early on, could have prevented a cascade of other mistakes I made throughout the rest of the quarter.

Some reasons to not just study by yourself (this list is not exhaustive):
  • Forum to ask questions outside of class
    • Classtime is precious, your class has a lot of ground to cover every day and you're worried, rightly or not, that your question will hold the entire class back, waste time, etc. (On the other hand, maybe you should just ask in class anyway)
    • You're worried that asking the question in class will make you look stupid (again, sometimes you should just ask it in class anyway)
    • You did ask the question at least once in class, but you still don't get it (someone you study with can help you make sense of it)
  • Test each other on vocab flashcards, paradigms, various grammar rules, etc. These things can be, by yourself, boring, but you can make them less boring by doing them with a fellow classmate.
  • Some people learn better not by passively absorbing information, but actively dealing with the material, or learning by doing. You can explain how a manual transmission works all day long, but for some people, the best way for them to learn to drive stick is to just get behind the wheel and kill the engine twenty times, making progress along the way.
  • Meet to discuss where you got stuck on the homework
  • Moral support, encouragement, mutual accountability, etc.
You don't want to put yourself into a position where you feel like you are all alone, that you're beyond repair, that the ship has sailed without you, that it's hopeless, or that even if you put your mind to it you're too late. Or as I called it, Weeks 4, 6, 7 and following, of Elementary Greek.

Very long story, very short: I withdrew during the Fall quarter of 2010.

And while I was in the process of withdrawing, I made it clear that I want to get back in the game later down the road. I'm down, but I'm not out. And so for at least the next two years, I'm looking back on my failures as feedback (plus, I have learning disabilities which were not, until after withdrawing from seminary, specifically diagnosed, but that's not relevant to this blog post). I'm looking at the mistakes I've made, asking myself "What can I learn from this?" or "How should I adapt now that I have this information?" In this instance, "failure is feedback" is just a fancy way to say "learn from your mistakes." And since I started examining a number of things (and I'm just getting started) that went wrong on a number of fronts, and testing out different approaches, researching alternatives, looking for ways to be more successful.

And one thing that I have found helpful, relating to my what I called my "biggest mistake" and the basis for the title of this blog post, is this: for something that I find to be a challenge, I am much more likely to succeed if I can, in some way, collaborate with others. I still see Greek as a big challenge. But that's alright because I have two years to poke, prod, test, adapt, improve, research, discover, a comprehensive strategy for my future success. And even if I do make tremendous success over the next two years and then I reapply to seminary, I'll still probably take Summer Greek, just to really nail it down. (And for the record, I DID pass the Greek qualifier in the summer of 2010 despite not being enrolled or attending the Summer Greek class, because I couldn't afford to). So I'm preparing myself to do this all over again, just this time knowing better what I'm up against and how I can overcome.

And what all of that has to do with collaboration, is that I don't want to be a hermit doing this all by myself, keeping everything to myself. I want to share my findings with others who could also benefit from what they read here. And, I want people to learn from my mistakes, so that they can avoid making those mistakes in the first place. It's possible to use someone else's failure to receive profitable and useful feedback. One of the things this blog allows me to do is collaborate with others who are working on Greek full time, namely, the Summer Greek guys (and gals if any Deaconess or Graduate students are reading). Your feedback is appreciated. Are you trying the treadmill vocab method? Did you think of anything else you could measure? Maybe you come across a trick to learn a certain paradigm. Or you had a problem getting two words mixed up and came up with a handy way to remember which was which. Do you have a trick to remembering the genders of various nouns? Let me know! THAT'S a great use of the comments section! Also, you could send me an email, or catch me on twitter or facebook. At any rate, I find it easier to get to work on something and stick with it if I have others to collaborate with. We're not working face to face, but we can interact here, bounce ideas, ask questions, attack challenges and problems, and so forth (and no, surfing my blog does not count toward your daily 4-6 hours of studying outside of class, nor does it count toward your daily studying with one other person or in your group no larger than four students - those are only done IN PERSON).

And it doesn't have to just be my failures (emphasis on failures) that you learn from. I mean, I passed along the blog post about the guy who studied Chinese characters while on the treadmill, and in his own research, he found it was 40% more (or whatever) productive in that he learned faster and retained better than sitting down. Does your professor care whether you learn the words sitting down, standing up, lying on the couch, or jumping on a trampoline? What's important is that you learn the info, remember the info, and use the info. If the treadmill has the potential to help me noticeably boost acquisition and retention, why not give it a try?

We're not trying to come up with corked bats to artificially increase the speed of your swing, steroids to cheat, calculators to avoid learning how to do long division, and so forth. But if it snowed overnight and your sole objective is to clear the walk, and you're just using your bare hands, what you need is a shovel. Or, if you've got a shovel, here's one with a bend in the pole so you don't throw your back out. Or, if you're short on time, you need a snowblower. That's not cheating, it's just being smart about how you do the work. Do borrow a phrase, it makes your input more efficient. Pointless inefficiency is not a virtue. (However, something thought of as inefficient can sometimes be beneficial IN OTHER WAYS. If you have the time, and need the exercise, shovel the drive instead of using the snowblower. Building a hamburger in your kitchen from scratch could be healthier, or designed to your preferences, or an excuse to exercise your creativity, or a way to put less miles on your car, compared to driving to McDonalds to grab a Big Mac, which, while efficient, comes with its downsides). Not to get too far off topic here, but I can think of one instance where I DO advocate something considered less efficient. Don't buy the pre-printed Greek vocab cards. Buy blanks. The reason is that going through the process of physically writing the cards out is beneficial from a cognitive standpoint. (This backs up what Dr. Gibbs told my class that writing out your own cards is a way to "make them your own" in more ways than one.) There are other practical reasons to do this, one of which is that some cards may have too much (or not enough) information printed on them for your specific purposes. Especially with verbs. At any rate, flash cards is one area where you want to be "inefficient" because the process of actually writing out the cards helps your brain learn the words (a process you miss out on if you don't).

Other than the cost of treadmill and electricity, there's no downside to learning vocab on the treadmill.

ENOUGH WITH THE TREADMILL ALREADY! Okay, okay. I'll just say this: Greek is going to be a challenge no matter what. Even the linguistic whiz in your class (and there always seems to be one, right?) will have his challenges. I just don't think it should be any MORE difficult than it already is. I don't think it is naturally difficult enough. Our goal is to hack away at the places where we find it's artificially more difficult.

At any rate, this blog allows me to share some of my experiments with you, other info I come across, and so forth. Are you trying any of this stuff out? Let me know. Have any insights or ideas to share? I'd like to learn from what you all are doing, too. If you find things that work really well, I can test them out myself to see if they would work in my situation (what works for you doesn't necessarily work for me and vice versa). Like I said, I'm doing this blog, in part, to focus on Greek (and other subjects) over the next two years, possibly more, so that I can try it all over again, and this time do so successfully. I'm using my failures as feedback. It also lets me share mistakes I made in seminary, so that you can learn from my mistakes, hopefully sparing you from unnecessary frustration, inefficiencies, mistakes, and so forth, and it lets us all collaborate.

And, if you have ANY learning disabilities, or EVEN SUSPECT that you have any learning disabilities, you need to tell your professor right away. Don't wait. Don't put it off. Just do it now. If you're reading this at 3:00am, send him an email and talk to him later.

Finally, to emphasize my big rule above, don't go it alone. Don't allow yourself to become isolated. Don't allow yourself to fall through the cracks. You're shy? You're intimidated? You're worried? No, what is 1000x worse is to be alone, whether your isolation is self-inflicted or not. You need to study with one other classmate, and with a small group of classmates. Every day.

PS - I'm not completely satisfied with this blog post. I might make some changes to it later, but you know what? It's good enough. And I'm not writing this just for a grade. And I finished it before my self-imposed deadline (barely). But this will be the topic of a blog post some other time: There is no perfect paper, there is no perfect presentation, there is no perfect thesis, there is no perfect sermon. Because what you produce, one way or another, could always be better.