A Practicing Student
Despite claims to the contrary, I do not think that anyone is all that good about being a professional student. Learning is hard work. The best contexts for learning occur amidst space for exploration and pursuing one’s interests. It can be helpful to have a guide, but sometimes the main function of a guide is to point you in the right direction. Being absolutely inundated with mandatory reading can stifle the learning process. The more convoluted the texts, the less likely you are to learn anything.
But I think there are ways to practice as a student. Some are easier than others. And I would be a total hypocrite to suggest that I successfully do all of these things.
1. Consider your courses relative to your goals. Taking time to figure out how a particular course might speak to your goals can go a long way in helping you aim for a learning target. Sometimes the best you can do is to assert a general skill goal such as “I hope this class will allow me to write strong papers about complex ideas.” Other times you can put your goal as a critique, “I hope this class will prepare me to respond when people argue for a use of a particular technology.” At least you have asserted something that guides your process.
2. Read something you’re interested in personally on a regular basis. I’ll admit to being an avid reader. I try to balance what I have to read for classes with something totally unrelated that I want to read of my own volition. Sometimes it is course-related, sometimes it is a non-fiction work that I am generally interested, sometimes it is a devotional resource, sometimes it is children’s fiction. But such a habit keeps me from getting too locked into one perspective, and occasionally my brain makes random linkages between really diverse concepts. Who knows? You may stumble upon the Medici Effect.
3. Embrace questions. Listening to people and trying to discern a question worth asking can be a great way to take advantage of even stale lectures. Hunting for a good question can be like a scavenger hunt. And even the most dry material can take on new life when you try to grease it with a good question.
4. Write regularly. You might have a flash of insight worth following up on even if it is just an awareness that you have a jumble of words trapped in your head that you would much rather vomit out on paper. Word vomit can offer a diagnostic for your thinking. If you think an idea could be worth developing further, write it down. If you have a question that has an elegantly simple sense about it, write it down. If you have a broad concept that you’re trying to think through, start writing. St Theophan the Recluse offers this relative to the writing process: “Always write straight from the shoulder. Write what is on your mind, and take care to state fully the questions which are stirring in your head and begging for an answer.”
Do you have anything to add to my list?