The Learner’s Dictionary

CB029654It’s a beautiful moment we’ve all experienced: a teacher or coach says something and all of a sudden – like sunbeams cutting through a cloud – we get it. We understand deeply.

The question is, how do we make these moments happen more often?

I think one of the best ways is by using more precise language.  Too often, teachers and learners alike settle for vague instructions, like “do it like this,” or “try it again.”  These are well intended, perhaps, but in essence they are squishy, meaningless words that create squishy, meaningless actions.  What learners need isn’t cheerleading – it’s information on what sensations they should feel, what techniques they should use, what goals they should aim for on the practice field or the classroom.

With that in mind, here’s a semi-serious list cobbled together from various talent hotbeds, and stolen from business, sports, art, music, and academics.  Some are undoubtedly more useful than others, but all reflect a simple idea: to reflect the sensations and goals of the way the brain really learns.

  • Brick (v): The simple beginner’s errors that feel clumsy and stupid, but in fact form the crucial building blocks of future progress. Usage: “During the initial round of presidential-primary debates, Obama spent most of his time bricking.”
  • Lego (v): To break a desired task into its most basic component parts; akin to chunking. Usage: “Little Wolfgang struggled with the chord changes until his father helped him lego it out.”
  • Hack (v): To analyze the components of ideal performance with the goal of replicating it. Frequently assisted by the use of YouTube.
  • Hi-Def (v): To deeply and completely memorize the image of an ideal performance. Often used while hacking. Usage: “Kobe spent hundreds of youthful evenings staring at the posters on his bedroom wall, high-deffing Michael Jordan’s jumpshot.”
  • Ping (v): To send a short, concise instruction; typically from a teacher to a student. Usage: “Coach Wooden stalked the sidelines during practice, relentlessly pinging the team as it ran through its fast break.”
  • Rainman (v): To productively obsess on a tiny, crucial detail until it is dialed in with 100 percent accuracy. Usage: “The calculus test was Friday, so Albert started rainmanning his derivatives on Wednesday night.”
  • Sandwich (n): A three-part demonstration where a teacher vividly shows the right way to do something, then the wrong way to do it, then repeats the right way to do it. Usage: “In the movie ‘Stand and Deliver,’ Jaime Escalante teaches algebra by sandwiching.”
  • Suck-cess (n): A surprising favorable outcome; typically occurs following the combination of bricks, hacking, and pinging.
  • Vex Education (n): The process by which people grow familiar with the central paradox of learning: that being willing to be bad makes you good.

(What other words should we add?)