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How We Learn

mmanzone's picture

How We Learn

In my elementary school, we had a day devoted to diagnostic testing.  They had tests to determine what level of different classes we should be in.  Tests that could show whether we were left-brained or right-brained.  And they had tests that would determine what type of learner we are.  I was determined to be a visual-kinesthetic learner with a strong preference toward logic and mathematics; I needed to be shown something and to do something with my hands and could solve problems more easily than many of my classmates.

This classification has lasted my entire life.  I still learn best when I can see or touch what it is I am learning about and numbers and science still make much more sense to me than symbols and metaphors.  This does not mean that I cannot learn through sounds or that I cannot understand the deeper meanings of certain things, it just means that I must work harder at it.  

Different assignments in Play in the City allowed me to see these differences and recognize why some did not work for me.  

When we were reading NW I struggled to believe what Zadie Smith said.  I took all of her words at the dictionary definition because I never knew what was meant to have a deeper meaning and what was not.  I wrote a paper on how Smith was wrong.

“Though seemingly realistic, Zadie Smith’s NW is loaded with inaccuracies.”

“In addition to the flawed character depictions, Smith also included many inaccuracies with geographical concepts.”

I could not accept her descriptions as anything but the settings of a story she wanted to tell.  Her Willesden does not match the Willesden in the data and, in my head, she was wrong because of it.  It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, it would not work.  I was frustrated because I could not connect to a place where I want to live, England.

When we started to discuss deep play I finally saw what the problem was.  Every time I classified something as “deep play” I was interacting with some thing.  It was never an idea or an activity, it was objects.  The moment in the Titanic exhibit when “the young girl’s shoes before me were suddenly filled and a young man from third class was standing next to me.  I could feel all of these people with me even though I was completely alone,” I was interacting with the artifacts from a disaster.  Or when I was in the Barnes Foundation and “I [saw] the street in France where this hung.  High above the street over the door to the locksmith’s shop, alerting people to its presence.  It goes unnoticed,”  I was connecting to a giant key.  They were objects right in front of me.  I could look at them from all angles and read the descriptions. 

I wondered when I was looking at the locksmith sign “Why do I only have these feelings with artifacts?” but I now realize that it is because of the way I think and learn.  Objects make sense to me because, like numbers, they are constant.  The young girl’s shoes have looked as they do now for more than one hundred years and the sign for a locksmith has looked more or less the same since it was created in the 1800s.  But Willesden, or depictions thereof, changes.  I can not get a good idea of what the area is like because it is constantly changing and I need stasis.

Our first trip into the city, to experience “The Quiet Volume”, was another moment when I could tell that I was missing something.  “The Quiet Volume” was interesting but it did not make me think about the world around me that differently.  One of our last trips, to Eastern State Penitentiary, affected me much more.  Both experiences involved listening to a person speaking directly into my ears, something that, as a visual-kinesthetic learner, is not particularly useful, and both involved observing my surroundings.  So why was walking through Eastern State was a much more moving experience for me?  


Yes, during “The Quiet Volume” I had to touch the books and the table and turn pages, but at Eastern State, all of the touches were deeper.  I touched a wall where a guard once leaned.  I sat on the floor of a cell where a prisoner once paced.  I was walking in history, touching it and feeling it, as opposed to sitting in a library with someone whispering in my ear.  

The Titanic exhibit, the key and Eastern State, though very different, each provided me with something tangible.  They were all things.  Physical objects that take up space and can be seen from different vantage points.  They are unchanging and touchable.  I can interact with them.

It is not that I cannot understand that Smith’s novel presents one person’s view of Willesden or that “The Quiet Volume” makes people notice sounds around them.  It is just that I do not think that way.  I understand things through sight and feeling, numbers and logic not sound or symbols.  I need the experiences and sights not the stories and pictures.