A conversation with Paul Rivas
Rivas lives in Washington DC, where we sat down for a talk. In helping students learn how to set goals, Paul sets aside the usual SMART goal concept. That is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Instead, he tasks students to ask themselves some core questions. For example, why bother improving? How will I benefit? Will I gain more free-time, will I be able to play on the baseball team, will if gain a skill that will give me more opportunities?
Goal setting. “The why is really important,” Rivas clarifies, “there has to be a reason behind every step taken, and it’s got to make good sense in the context of all the other steps. Goals without reasons. Well, those really aren’t your goals, maybe they’re your parents’ goals.”
“Reflection is probably the most important step in the process of committing to learning things more efficiently,” Rivas adds. This step is most often left out, especially when the task was successful. It’s crucial, he says, and the best way to make sure that you’re working towards improvement.
Creating Meaning. Rivas also encourages students to connect what they know. This is the secret to learning, he asserts. He compares making connections to new learning to a quilt, versus a junk drawer, of storing new information. Basically, we can throw our new learning into a junk drawer, which makes it really difficult to retrieve, or even ever use again. On the other hand, we can file that information by connecting it to something we already know or understand. Just like a quilt, where each patch is connected and organized to two, three, four or more other patches.
“There are always ways to make connections. What does what I’m learning have to do with my life, what does it remind me of,” he says. “The sillier and funner, the better.”
As Rivas explains, “School is hard – learning is hard – you’re supposed to be suffering, making faces and crying every now and then. If it’s not hard, you’re not actually learning.”
When it comes to learning, I found Rivas’s discussion of overconfidence really powerful. According to Paul, there are basically three ways for students to lose points on a test. First, they make a silly mistake, the kind that we’re all vulnerable to making. Second, they hadn’t been exposed to the concept because maybe they were absent that day. Third, and the best way to lose points, he contends, is that they were overconfident.
Image source: Paul Rivas – Twitter