How to bea better student
FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2020 - 12:00am

I admit it, I was the obnoxious Asian girl at the front of the class who knew all the answers.

It’s excruciating to remember those days, now that I’m a student in formal education again. True to form, it turns out I know a lot of the answers at my Tagalog for Beginners class at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. I apologise in advance to my classmates for being such a pain. We’re covering basic conversation on a range of topics which isn’t so hard for me, having learnt to BS my way through a conversation with my colleagues during my years at ABS-CBN. Back then I was the obnoxious kid with the weird accent, veteran journalists were mostly kind to me and I provided comic relief with my frequent mistakes though I realise now how much patience they exercised, to put up with me. It means that I have basic vocabulary but I’ve always puzzled over grammar and native speakers couldn’t really answer my questions about it because it just comes the patterns of the language come naturally to them.

It’s a real joy finding the answers to questions I’ve had for years with the motley crew that makes up my class. Four of us are partly or fully Filipino but because we’ve grown up overseas never learnt it properly. The rest are learning because they want to make an effort for their Filipino partners or are doing postgraduate research, from as far afield as China, Germany, Colombia and New Zealand.

According to SOAS, it’s the 6th most spoken language in the US and the 18th in the UK where interest in learning about Philippine culture is growing steadily. There are an estimated 250,000 Filipinos living here, and there is an increasing number of second and third generation Filipino-British heritage-learners.

I really admire everyone, but particularly the non-Filipinos in the class for committing the time and mental space to learn a new language. I think it requires an open mind and heart to put yourself in a position where you don’t know anything and take yourself out of your comfort zone in the first place, even before any actual learning takes place.

Learning can be a consolation in itself. “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

I’m joining the rest of my household becoming a student, both my children are in full-time education and I’m benefiting from the scholarly atmosphere. I’ve been thinking, through and with them, about what it takes to be a successful student. Of course some people’s brains are simply wired to be clever, they’ve won the genetic lottery for a cognitive edge and are born with perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning. But there’s a lot that every student can do to improve their performance, and even that’s something to learn.

Students nowadays have a lot more support with the actual process of learning, identifying non-cognitive skills and how to develop them in really practical ways. It’s so much better than nagging the kids to do more homework or practice!

There’s a lot of literature out there, but the most accessible I’ve come across so far is from author Steve Oakes who’s co-written several books. He’s been a teacher for more than 20 years and is the father of three and bring all his life experience to bear on the way he thinks about encouraging students to do better.

There are five aspects to what he calls “the student mindset”: vision, effort, systems, practice and attitude, or VESPA for short. None of his ideas are rocket-science but they are solidly backed by psychology and education research and he sets out a toolkit activities for transforming student commitment, motivation and productivity.

For vision, the question is how well do you know what you want to achieve? It’s the thing that gives you purpose and passion. For effort, how many hours of independent work do you do? For systems, how do you organise your time and different kinds of learning? For practice, what kind of work do you do to practice? In other words how strategic are you about what kind of learning suits you best? And for attitude, how do you respond to setbacks?

It’s the approach to learning that I really appreciate, very considered and realistic about the psychological challenges involved in learning that can eliminate the awful sense of doom that I certainly felt as a student when I realised I hadn’t studied anywhere near as much as I was supposed to.

I’m definitely going to see if these ideas can help me create a way of studying that really suits me and that will have me speaking perfect Tagalog. There are exercises I can share with my children about dealing with dips in motivation and actively shaping what kind of studying is best to do according to their actual level of attention at any time and the urgency of the work according to deadlines and test dates. I just need to put together a strategy to get them to listen to me.

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