The Power of Patience

Power of PatienceI am often inspired to re-read an article from Harvard Magazine: The Power of Patience: Teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention. In it, author Jennifer Roberts responds to the question, In this time of disruption and innovation, what are the essentials of good teaching and learning?

Roberts, an art history professor, describes one of the first steps she requires of students researching a piece of artwork: spend a “painfully” long time—three full hours—looking at it. She writes:

At first many of the students resist being subjected to such a remedial exercise. How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of incident and information on this small surface? How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of things to see and think about in a single work of art? But after doing the assignment, students repeatedly tell me that they have been astonished by the potentials this process unlocked.

What this exercise shows students is that just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it. Just because something is available instantly to vision does not mean that it is available instantly to consciousness. Or, in slightly more general terms: access is not synonymous with learning. What turns access into learning is time and strategic patience.

“Strategic patience” is such a refreshing idea. Our society is addicted to the consumption of information—limitlessly available on the piece of glass in our pocket—and we delude ourselves into thinking we’re smarter because of it. With so many schools scrambling to get iPads in the hands of every kid (and answers Tweeted at every opportunity), it is so easy for schools to forget the difference between the consumption of information and the construction (or discovery) of meaning.

The latter—true learning—always takes time.