How many of you have taken a plethora of tests? Iowa Basic Skills, California skills test, Army battery, Calculus test, Broker test, CPA exam, Medical Boards, the Law Bar exam, all of them have a basic set up: Give you a set of questions you must answer. Some of them have a paragraph or two of background information and then ask you questions based on the text. It’s like the Reading Comprehension part of the standardized tests. Word problems in Math are like that as well.
Mary has 15 apples and 12 oranges. John is traveling from New York to Syracuse on a bicycle. Fred is taller than Mary. Which one has purple shoes?
- Mary because boys don’t wear purple shoes
- John because there are blueberry bushes on the bike trail
- Fred because he is fashion conscious
- 11 because ice cream has no bones
I have observed people taking tests like this and they read and read and read and take notes and then try to answer the questions at the end. That is BACKWARDS! The first thing you should do is look at the question! After you ascertain exactly what information you need to glean from the paragraph, you can look specifically for what you need to answer the question.
Imagine you are a history teacher. You believe it is vital that the students know the period of the Renaissance in Italy. You design the curriculum to help them understand the cultural, political, and economic events during the time and how they related to each other. The time honored method of assigning the 1st chapters and requiring papers and giving tests doesn’t give them the information that is bigger than the facts, namely why did these events occur and what effect did it have on the rest of western society?
- Why DID Columbus sail to what he thought was India?
- How did his discovery change the way Italy, Portugal and Spain did business?
- What were the challenges he faced when mounting his first trip?
- Did his discovery solve the problem his sponsors needed to solve?
What would happen if you, the teacher, were to give the students the questions first? Then hand them the text book and some references in the library to investigate to see what they come up with. Imagine the discussions you could have with your students then! Would these students see the larger perspective? Would they remember the lessons they had to data mine to learn? Would they be able to apply the principles and ideas to modern society? The text book and the tests that are currently given focus on dates, names and places. The purpose of the dates is to give timely context. For instance: Beethoven was writing his Symphony #3 and dedicating it to Napoleon when Napoleon declared himself Emperor. Beethoven became enraged and renamed his symphony Eroica (Hero’s Symphony). This happened about the same time as the Louisiana Purchase, the 1st non-native settlement in Oklahoma, and Ohio taking the first steps toward statehood. How many times have you taken a history course and seen any of those things related to each other?
Filling your brain with trivia and information doesn’t promote personal growth. Reading all the Maxwell books will not make you a better leader, it just fills you with information. However, going to the Maxwell books to answer a personal question about leadership focuses your thoughts so you get the most out of what you read. Reading the Bible cover to cover, and even memorizing scripture will not make you a better Christian. Going to the Bible with a spiritual question, however, will make you diligent in your quest, and will allow you to search for the meaning beyond the meaning. Memorizing the periodic table will not make you a better chemist. Studying the periodic table to find out why your lab blew up will help you to retain the information you discover long enough to avoid unintended explosions.
How do you go about personal growth then? Sit in a quiet place with no distractions. Ask yourself questions in the area of growth you wish to address. Is it communication? Is it self discipline? Is it vision? Draw a picture in your mind of what you want to be and do 5-10 years from now. It has to be in color with sights, smells, sounds, and colors. Then think about the person you have to become to reach that point. If you get stuck, ask someone that is at that place now to sit down and have a conversation with you. Get a feel for what kind of person it takes to be that future you. Ask for recommendations for books/seminars/groups and especially questions to ask yourself. You could also get a coach. NOW you can do purposeful reading and activities to improve yourself and grow.