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Metacognition lesson 2: How to be a romantic scholar

October 5, 2010

As part of my effort to create a deliberate metacognition curriculum that gets my kids thinking about their goals, how they learn and what understanding means, I assigned my kids two excellent articles by Cal Newport:

An Open Letter to Students on the Danger of Seeing School as a Trial to Survive

The Romantic Scholar: A New Approach to Student Life

I then asked them to answer the following questions in Webassign (question #s in [], if you want ’em):

  • This question is about the “Open letter to Students on the Danger of Seeing School as a Trial to Survive.”
    What are the author’s three main suggestions for students to lead a less stressful, more successful life?

  • Consider the suggestion to Do Less. The author, in his book, How to be a high school superstar, Cal Newport explains that students should aim to have around 2 hours each night free from any obligated work (like Homework), to simply be free to explore things of interest to oneself, as this time is critical to discovering deep interests that lead to real engagement and ultimately changing the world.

    Do you agree with having 1-2 hours of free thinking time as a reasonable goal each night (the author would also say you need 8-9 hours of sleep to be successful as well)? Are you achieving this goal?

  • If you are not achieving this goal, the author would say you should “Do Less.” Is there something in your life that you can do less of in order to be able to have more “free thinking time” to discover and focus on your deep interests?
  • Question Details do better [1581324]
    Consider the suggestion “do better.” Is the author simply encouraging you to get better grades or achieve higher performance in your activities?

  • Why do you think the author so closely couples the advice of “Do Less” with “Do Better”?
  • Is there an area of interest in your life where you think you can “Do Better”? If so, what is it, and what is one measurable step you can take to “Do Better?”
  • Question Details Know Why [1581709]
  • The third part of the author’s advice is “Know why.” What does this mean?
  • How do you think the author would respond to the answer “I want to get A’s so I can go to a top college.”
  • So why do you do what you do?
  • Question Details Romantic Scholar [1581716]
  • According to the article, what is a “Romantic Scholar?”
  • What are the advantages of being a “Romantic Scholar?” as compared to a more traditional, stressed out and misanthropic (look it up) scholar?
  • Can you think of a moment where you’ve behaved like a Romantic Scholar? If so, describe this moment (with some detail, please).
  • What steps can you take to be more of a romantic scholar?

Most of my answers looked something like this. Remember—these are 9th graders (not burnt out juniors).

  • Do you agree with having 1-2 hours of free thinking time as a reasonable goal each night (the author would also say you need 8-9 hours of sleep to be successful as well)? Are you achieving this goal?

    Response:
    I think that maybe two hours is a little excessive, but maybe an hour is a reasonable goal. The only problem is that this isn’t possible with the amount of homework I am getting. School ends at 2:40, I stay for backwork and work on homework and ask questions. I take shuttle home at 3:40, and I get home around 4. I only come home this early on days that I don’t have sports or anything going on at school, which is typically only 1-2 days a week. At 4:15 I start my homework, and sometimes I don’t even finish by dinner. I try everyday to go on a run. I run for about 30minutes and that helps me release all of my stress, and clear my mind. But somedays, I don’t even have time for that. And not only do I not get those 1-2 hours of free thinking, but I certainly don’t get 8-9 hours of sleep.

  • Can you think of a moment where you’ve behaved like a Romantic Scholar? If so, describe this moment (with some detail, please).

    Response:
    I’m not sure that there has been a moment when I have been a Romatic Scholar. Typically with hard assignments that take over an hour I get really frustrated over one problem that I can’t figure out, and I can’t move on. I go crazy asking everyone in my family if they know anything, I do research on the internet, and I take way to long on one problem. Though, with very long assignments, that may not be as hard, I behave like a Romantic Scholar, approaching the work with a positive attitude, ready to work through the assignment, and learn something new.

But, there are rays of hope, and signs that this is working.

  • Do you agree with having 1-2 hours of free thinking time as a reasonable goal each night (the author would also say you need 8-9 hours of sleep to be successful as well)? Are you achieving this goal?

    Response:
    I think that’s really reasonable… you could do a lot in the time. Make a video of something you like doing, blog about thoughts you have, e-mail a person who is working in something you’re interested in.

    I’m probably not achieving this goal every day. I definitely don’t get that much sleep each day, especially days when I have a good amount of homework. I’m definitely achieving the 1-2 hour free time goal though. I’d much rather spend time on stuff I like doing and want to know more about then homework and sleep.🙂

  • If you are not achieving this goal, the author would say you should “Do Less.” Is there something in your life that you can do less of in order to be able to have more “free thinking time” to discover and focus on your deep interests?

    I know I could do a lot of homework at school if I got right down to it, but most of the time I’m just tired of having school and want to chill for a bit. I’m beginning to work out a system though, to get all my stuff done by the time classes are over and then have abundant free time for the rest of the day. Plus, I also feel a lot better if I don’t have unfinished homework looming over my head after I leave school.

  • So why do you do what you do?
    Response:
    I’m working on it!
    I’m making as much free time for myself as I can and trying out all kinds of stuff. Reading about things that might interest me, practicing stuff I already like (piano!) and exposing myself to all kinds of activities. I’m not sure what I want to do just yet.

  • Can you think of a moment where you’ve behaved like a Romantic Scholar? If so, describe this moment (with some detail, please).

    Response:
    All the time.
    Just this Friday, Mr. Souza put up a weird looking arc problem we’d never seen before. So, I just copied it down and started to work at it. At first I was thinking, “Gaaaaa, this looks so impossible!” But once I started applying the concepts and lessons we’d had earlier, I started figuring out how to do it in my head, step by step. And out of no where, I knew exactly how and I was thinking like, “This is sooo COOOOLLLL. I love this unit!” I felt so proud of myself. And then I just started doing everything in an excited frenzy; I even finished my homework in class. I love constructing arcs.🙂

Incidentally, the second kid told me she read Cal Newport’s book, How to Be a High School Superstar, a week or so after I mentioned it. Not surprising at all, based on her responses.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2010 1:10 pm

    I came across your blog when a track back link appeared on my posts. I’m following your assignments with interest.

    – Cal

  2. gabriel permalink
    July 16, 2011 2:33 pm

    i love the last response , its so beautiful

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