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  • PeterMcG

    I had a love/hate relationship with education from the day I was born. There was no way I could pay attention in any class in my elementary school. Consequentially, I couldn’t do my homework, and my grades and behavior were not good. My teachers kept telling me I was smart enough and if I would only apply myself I could go far. I ended up attending eight (8) high schools. I kept dropping out, and my mom would force me back in. My last HS was a trip, a cross between a mental institution, a prsion, a hippy commune, and a drug rehab center. I graduated but never took any classes.

    Then I got into Antioch College at age 22 and everything changed. First of all, no grades. It was pass/fail. Secondly, only attendance at the first and last class of any course was required. Thirdly, they had a program that made sure that every first year student took classes on how to learn and succeed in college. I learned paper writing, studying tips and techniques, how to give a presentation, etc. etc.

    Now I could learn! The lack of grades and the attendance rules meant that I could learn the content in my own time through doing the required reading. I could read the same page over and over again till I got it. Then I could follow up in the classrooms with questions. Finally, Antioch allowed me to set up my own major and actually my entire academic program. I discovered photography and designed my own educational program around that. I became darkroom manager, College newspaper Photo Editor, and took many independent study classes on techniques and creativity. I graduated.

    A year or two after that I decided to go back to college to study sciences. I took psych courses and biology. It was here that I developed my techniques for learning and getting As.

    Here are the rules I obeyed:

    1. Sit in the front row to minimize distractions and to be better located for instructor interaction.
    2. Take copious notes for at home reading to reinforce the classroom lessons. Pay particular attention to clues from the instructor on what might be on future exams.
    3. Ask questions about anything not understood.
    4. That night read the assigned reading and write down any questions I might have about the content.
    5. Then, transcribe the notes from the last class into a computer neatly typed with a focus on writing notes that show that I have a good grasp of the material. Write down any questions that are still unanswered.
    6. At the next class, ask the questions I have brought and take copious notes on the answers.
    7. Several days Before an exam, review the typed notes over and over until I feel confident I understand the material.

    About two decades after that I decided to enroll in a graduate-level education program. It turns out I have no patience for teaching elementary school kids. But I graduated from the program with a 3.90 (almost perfect) grade point average using the techniques outlined above. Having a masters degree helped me land a tenured job teaching computer stuff to adults at our local community college. I did that for thirteen years and then retired early with a pension do to an unrelated health problem.

    I have moderate to severe ADHD and spent most of my teen years depressed and suicidal. But learning how to learn literally turned my life around.

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