Learning Adventures: Your brain is amazing.

Today I had a great experience proctoring a test for a student. She was working on a Spanish test and we were experimenting with having her read large portions of the test aloud. The idea was for her to talk out her thought process as she worked–and I hoped that she would discover that she knew a lot more of the material than she thought she did.

Things started out well, but she hit a speedbump early on in the test on a section about describing her daily routine. “I want to say she brushes her hair with the comb, but I can’t remember the word for ‘comb,'” she said, frowning. A hint of frustration crept into her voice.

“Leave it,” I reassured her. “Come back to it. It’ll come to you.”

We moved on in the test, and she plugged away on writing sentences and selecting answers to multiple choice questions. As we neared the end of the class period, we came back to that one troublesome sentence. More confident and gaining momentum as she neared the end of the test, she chattered away about the task at hand.

“Well, I want to say ‘hair,’ and ‘hair’ is ‘pelo’ because it goes with ‘peine’ which means ‘comb.” Startled, she sat back. “Wait! I know it! ‘Peine’ means ‘comb’!! That was so cool!” She was stunned–and she was thrilled. By letting her brain work on the problem in the background, she was able to finally access the word and use it. She finished the test, feeling suddenly confident that she knew a lot more Spanish than she thought she did.

From a cognitive perspective, there’s a lot going on here–and certainly more than I can adequately describe here. But it’s worth considering what an amazing processing machine the brain is. The human brain is an extraordinary multitasker–just not in the way that we try to look at phones, computers, documents, and other humans all at the same time. The brain can do many tasks at once, from keeping us breathing and blinking to working out complex problems in the background while we do other things. This student had studied hard for this test and she’d encoded some great connections between the things she’d studied. It just took heading down the right pathway (“‘pelo’ and ‘peine’ go together”) for her to access them again.

I’m not sure what grade this student got on her test. I’m mostly just thrilled that she came away from this test confident about her own mind. She studied hard, she knew a ton, and she found a way to show that. And that’s today’s small victory.

Nota bene: I shared this post with the student described herein, and she gave her permission for me to share this story. 

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