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Who Wrote That Autobiography, Anyway?

Davinci_self_portraitOne of the benefits of being married to a high school teacher is that I get to be on the front line for the "teenagers say the darnedest things" recap at the end of the day.  My all-time favorite story was when my wife was teaching a unit on the Renaissance period in preparation of starting Romeo and Juliet.  Her students were assigned to do a presentation on some aspect of the period... the food, the fashion, the art, the science.  Two freshmen girls were doing their presentation on Renaissance art, sharing various works on their PowerPoint, the artist, when they were created, and any other contextual information.  They arrived at a specific slide in their presentation and delivered the following quote:  "This is a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci.  We don't know who painted it because the book didn't say."

Um... yeah....

I tell my clients and my students alike that it's generally equally important for them to know HOW to find the answers as it is to answer.  Maybe it's the Zen in me, but I've always to believed the journey to be on the same plane as the destination.  This applies to project management, to office politics, to leadership, to creativity... you name it.  It doesn't surprise me that students do worse on open-book exams; they don't think about how to think.  They don't care about looking for answers before the test, because they assume they can think about the search when they're under the gun.  And then they realize it doesn't work that way... all too late.  I relished a recent post by blogger Stephen Simmonds:

I really appreciate being able to find answers.  I find before me niggling little questions all the time, in all aspects of life and knowledge.  But on another level, it's about integration - of knowledge, of facts, and understanding.  For the first time in my life, I can find out most of what I want to know; I can fill in all the little gaps that have been outstanding for ages.

Beautifully put, Stephen.  In the quest to Carpe Factum, we sometimes forget to think.  We don't find the answers because the "book didn't say."  There are a alot of times when we're called upon to SEARCH for the answers.  When the book doesn't say what the answers are, that's the time to close the book and look everywhere else... including inside ourselves.  And as Stephen points out, it goes beyond just looking for answers, life is about integrating all of the questions into something that makes sense for us. 

Where can you shift the emphasis from the answers themselves to the search for the answers?


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It's important to be skilled and to practice "critical thinking" which is putting into practice the act of integrated assessment. In today's techno-savvy environment, answers are readily available through multimedia means. But know what to do with the answer and how it fits and informs the situation, that requires critical thinking. Writing a paper that regurgitates the facts but not interpreting what you've gathered is not saying what you have "learned" about the research, either the arrival point or the act of searching. Make sense?

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