I remember the first time I watched Destin’s Backward’s Brain Bicycle episode in his show, Smarter Every Day. My biggest take away from his experience was realizing that learning looks a lot like failure. If he were being graded on performance he would have received a failing grade day after day after day until the day his brain learned the skill he had been working on. One of the big lies of learning that many children and adults believe is that if you are smart learning comes easy. Destin is clearly not deficient in brain capacity. He looked like a slow learner because developing new neuronal pathways in his brain is often a slow process. When pathways form, they are more like dirt roads. Traveling dirt roads is bumpy and slow. Only after that pathway are traveled over and over does it become paved by a process called myelination. Watching Destin’s video reminds me that
  1. God designed the brain to learn; Therefore: I can learn. This is why I’m not giving up in specific areas of my life where I have failed for decades. This also gives me hope in teaching others, even when they appear to fail over and over. What looks like failure is sometimes the path to success.
  2. Beware of assessing just what your students know about a topic. Instead assess actual skill in application. Remember Destin said “I had the knowledge of how to operate the bike, but I did not have the understanding. Therefore, knowledge is not understanding.”
  3. Grades given for effort may at times be more closely tied to actual learning than grades based on performance. Our progress may look abysmal while we are in the process of learning. Eventually we may need to demonstrate performance in a skill to get a passing grade or certification. However, some skills take some of us longer to grasp. We are not failing at learning, our brains may just need time to unlearn other pathways so that we can grasp the desired skill well.
  4. Motivation alone cannot make us competent in a skill. Destin offered $200 for audience members to ride his bike10 feet. The money was motivating, but they could not do it.
  5. Space practice wisely. Skill development is often achieved more in short bursts of focused effort. This is especially true when developing the skill maxes out our frustration level. Destin practiced 5 minutes a day for 8 months, not 8 hours a day for a few days.
  6. When we attempt to learn new ways of doing things, we go through a time when we don’t have our old rut or the new way. This is what makes learning new skills feel frightening. We want to learn something new in order to improve, but the acts of learning can make us regress instead of progress. Keep in mind (for you and for those you teach) that this regression is temporary and is leading to actual progress as long as we don’t give up.Thank you, Destin, for sharing your experience on the Backwards Brain Bicycle. Your persistence encouraged me to keep working at the skills I want to learn even when it looks like I’m failing.What failures have lead to success in learning for you?  

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