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Slow Learning

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

By Elisa Morgan

At the beginning of the year in a new elementary school, I remember my teacher testing each student to determine our reading level. From the front of the class, she shouted, "Begin!" while simultaneously punching a stopwatch (remember those?). We'd all open the book in our hands and race our eyes through the paragraphs. Ten minutes later when she stopped the watch, we put our books down and reported the page number and even the word we reached when time was up. After tallying our progress, the teacher subdivided us into groups by accomplishment and then provided new books of varying levels. One year I heard the label "slow learners" attached to the "bottom rung" of readers. I wondered what that meant and determined that it must apply to reading speed but later I learned that those with such a label simply absorbed things slower than others. In that day, there wasn't any emphasis on different learning styles. Rather, the grouping explained that these students took a bit longer than others to both read words and then comprehend their meaning. I remember feeling smugly proud that I could read at a better than average speed and report back on my findings accurately. I checked off book after book on my annual book tally. I spent less time on homework and in test-taking. But over my lifetime, I've come to realize that faster than average reading doesn't necessarily translate into better comprehension. Or even being any smarter than anyone else as I don't always remember or synthesize what I read. When I pause to think about this - pause, get that? - I realize I prefer fast over any other speed. Okay, full confession: I think I actually judge fast as innately better than any other speed. I queue up ahead of announcements to be first in my group to board a flight even when I have no carry-on to squeeze into the in-demand overhead and regardless of the fact that all passengers arrive at the destination at the same time. My makeup is applied in five minutes or less. My dinner prep usually takes less than ten and is ready in thirty. I squirm at when my husband says, "Just a sec," when we're almost out the door. I analyze how to fix bottlenecks when standing in a fast food line. (They should use numbers. They should separate pick-ups by cold and hot orders. They should have the pre-made salads packaged with the dressing so it's only one step instead of two to hand them out.) I don't like to do anything slow or even less than fast. I have two speeds: on and off. One of my friends once laughingly commented to me, "You do everything fast. It's not necessarily right, but it's fast." True. I look around at others and wonder, might I be missing something with all this speediness? In my quieter, unhurried moments of "down times" I slow to observe what I can't see in my fast. I take in a phrase of a fellow airplane passenger, ponder it, and turn it into an article. As I begin my turn to check out at the grocery, I invest my attention in the clerk, inquiring about her day. She looks up and answers with sincerity and something shifts in us both. I linger with my grandson for one more book, one more kiss, one more smile. My heart softens. I choose a slower-cooking recipe, let my gaze wander to the window framing an orange, pink and purple sunset and stir the soup as it simmers rather than boils. Lots is accomplished in fast times. To-do's done. Tasks completed. Projects finished. And yes, books read. But learning? Learning takes time. Layer after layer, lesson after lesson, year after year; learning evolves as one thing touches another and slowly turns it into something different. Something richer. Something deeper. Something remembered. Here's to slow learning.

Elisa Morgan is an author and speaker and the cohost of Discover the Word and contributor to Our Daily Bread. Her latest book is When We Pray Like Jesus. Her other books include The Beauty of Broken, Hello, Beauty Full, and She Did What She CouldConnect with Elisa @elisa_morgan on Twitter, and @elisamorganauthor on Facebook and Instagram.


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