Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Over training

I think training is a good thing. You focus your mind on one certain thing and learn all you can about it. Once principles are learned, you apply them on a regular basis, to reinforce the knowledge you've gained. I drill this into my students' heads all the time. Repetition and review are keys to learning. When my students learn a new vocabulary word, I encourage them to use it in conversation. I make them write sentences using the word. The more it's used the more it becomes ingrained in their vocabulary. Eventually the word will feel and sound natural when they use it.
But sometimes I wonder if it's possible to be over trained in something. In high school and college I took shorthand classes. I know, no one uses that anymore, but twenty (plus) years ago it was required for any secretarial major. I took dictation at 80-90 words per minute in high school, and 120 wpm in college. That's pretty fast. And I could actually read what I wrote when I was through. I also used shorthand for taking notes in other classes. I never missed a point, but my seatmates got annoyed. They'd ask, "What was that last thing he said?" as they looked over my notes. Then I'd get a weird stare before they turned to the person on their other side.
Anyway, shorthand worked out well for me and I still use it occasionally. But at the height of my training, I noticed something odd. I was thinking in shorthand. If I was listening to a lecture or sermon and I wasn't taking notes, the shorthand forms of the words I heard still wrote themselves out in my mind. It happened while watching tv, or even in casual conversations. It really started getting annoying because I couldn't think without the shorthand version coming to the forefront of my thoughts. Thankfully, as my use of shorthand faded, the intense response went away as well.
Now I'm teaching English for sixth through twelfth grade. I cover the same material on nouns, verbs, pronouns, etc., at least 5-6 times a day. I've always had a good grasp of grammar, but this daily exposure to rules and regulations started honing my abilities. At first it was irritating. I'd start writing and have to stop and ask myself what the rule was for that situation. I knew the correct thing to write, but I started questioning my knowledge unless I had the rule at my fingertips to back me up. Eventually, that lightened up and then my writing really started to fly. Not only could I avoid mistakes, but my brain would whisper the "why" of what I wrote as I was working. Part of my problem now is that my brain doesn't work as fast as my mouth does. I'll say something and then start correcting myself if I realize that my grammar was wrong. The other day I was trying to explain something to my husband. I made a statement that he didn't understand. At his puzzled look I said, "Oh, sorry! I forgot the preposition." I said the sentence again with the preposition properly in place. It made my sentence clear, but by then he wasn't listening anyway. He was staring at me as if I'd sprouted dictionaries out the top of my head.
Seriously, isn't it a little odd if your brain whispers the following to you as you write, talk, or communicate? "Subject. Predicate nominative. Direct object. Comma follows each word in a series of three or more." It's happening now as I'm writing this blog! I think I need to go focus on something mindless. I'd watch tv except that I'd find myself diagraming the actors' sentences. Maybe I can find a test pattern playing somewhere.

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