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Created: September 18, 1999
Latest Update: August 1, 2002; July 17, 2003, July 22, 2003
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Site Teaching Modules Discovering Your Identity in Learning

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, July 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

In this draft we're trying to give you a sense of how some of our students have shown us evidence of their learning. But those few measures, though helpful, don't begin to adequately measure anyone's learning. They are perhaps indicators along the way for students who have not yet developed such indicators for themselves. This is meant to let you see that there is an identity in learnng, and maybe inspire you to find your own.

Learning, because it takes place in the midst of everything else going on, is not neat, linear, simple even to understand, never mind to measure. Let's take a simplistic example. Vocabulary. Most K-12 teachers give vocabulary tests, or used to in my day. There are hundreds of vocabulary books. Ten words a day, and you shall be the master of the written universe. Hah! I don't think I ever got past the second chapter. I particularly liked "I always look up the word Egregious," but I didn't go through it. Not then. Not ever. I just taught my students the word "egregious."

Merriam-Webster Dictionary Search:

Studying vocabulary doesn't work for me. And I believed every one of those persuasive arguments about how important a large vocabulary is. I just couldn't find the motivation to learn with what was offered. But then in law school I discovered that I didn't have to learn vocabulary their way. A German friend and I were so desperate we carried pocket dictionaries about. Unfortunately, lots of the words they used were not in the dictionary. But she was learning English, and I was fascinated. Since I had this dictionary always with me, I put a little check mark beside each word I looked up. As I had suspected, I was looking up some of the same words, like "egregious," time after time after time. And soon, I learned that about the 17th check mark, I didn't have to look it up anymore. The word was mine! I had discovered a measure of my own latent learning. Now when there were eight check marks by a word, I could tell that that word was 8/17 mine. No more affect. No more guilt. I knew now that every time I looked the word up, it went a little deeper into my apperceptive mass. That's a measure of learning. Not one your teacher is likely to use on a test, but one that will give you much greater assurance that you ARE learning, and WHAT you are learning, compared to you, and you alone.

Once I've discovered such techniques, I can share them with you, and maybe they'll work for you. Only you can be the judge of that. But if you manage to articulate such measures, you will be much more convincing when you claim that a vocabulary test has incorrectly measured what you have really learned.

The matter is one we discussed in another essay on identity in the narrative of learning. That is, that students often know they have learned "something," know that they "studied," but don't have a good measure of that "something" even for themselves. That was my problem with vocabulary. Once I found a way to measure it that fit with my needs for vocabulary, I was comfortable letting the learning take its natural course. And with that comfort came the ability to explain to you what that measure was. Before that all I could do was take vocabulary tests, which never seemed to make me feel any more confident even when my test scores were good.

That's because having someone give you a ranking of Fair, Good, Excellent, having someone tell you how well you tested on their instrument is conclusionary. It doesn't give you the kind of feedback that 8/17 of the way to owning that word gave me once I understood it. Many students complain that the comments on their papers don't help them. They are conclusionary. Something like "not college writing" doesn't help a lot, when you're trying to figure out whether you're 3/17 or 6/17 or 15/17 of the way there, wherever there is. Conclusionary. No evidence to support the conclusion, and none that will help you figure out even if you're on the right track, never mind how far along that track you are.

In law, we teach that adversarial argument must balance statement of the facts, which, of course, includes an interpretive perspective, and statement of the law, which includes an interpretive perspective to the way the law should be interpreted. Law, facts, law, facts. Learning should be treated in the same way. Learning: I have gained confidence. (conclusion) Facts (how I know that): can read faster now, understand some concept better and can state it succinctly now, or maybe I can't define it, but I'm pretty sure what it means. I feel less intimidated by it (affect is a valid component of learning). Some of you hit on this when you show up in our offices, only to say:" I was scared to death to come here."

Learning is difficult to prove in an adversarial climate, for there are so many immeasurables. All of status characteristic theory supports that people perform as we expect them to perform, and that we experience negative affect (meaning that we are annoyed or unbelieving) if they do not perform as we expect, even if their performance is better than we expected. (Katz, Bi-racial Groups, Cohen, Elizabeth, at Stanford) And sensing that we expect a poor performance, people are more likely to perform poorly. This means you may be stating your validity claim of learning to someone whose expectations you are going to violate. That's adversarial. And you will be more convincing if you give solid factual detail to support your claim.

This means that your job in a class is to think about what you are learning so that you will be able to communicate that learning effectively. It helps if you do this in a collaborative environment. Sometimes what works for others will work for you. But not always.

This is who you are. How open to learnng you are and choose to remain. This is your identity. That part that defines your learning, but nonetheless and importantly, a part of your identity. To the extent that you accept the passive measures of the Other you have attempted to deny your own responsibility for defining that learning identity, or accepted the Other's domination of you in that denial. Such denial is a project that must fail, for it is your identity and no Other can define its essence. Only you. This is why we refuse to give tests. Tests designed by us reflect our vision of your learning and deny you the necessary freedom to define your own learning.

The easiest way I know to find measures that work is to tell the story of your learning. If you tell us what happens to you, how it feels, in sufficient and focussed detail, sometimes we can help you conceptualize the measures. That is what we call the in depth piece of good faith listening. When you listen to a validity claim in good faith you try to help the Other communicate that claim in terms that the community can relate to.

Original draft for Text on the Identity Narrative of Learningby jeanne curran and Susan R. Takata, Copyright, June 1999.