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A Real Learner

by ANURAG NAMBIAR, Tai Chi student, age 12

Introduction and comments by Mackenzie Hawkins, founder/teacher, Wuwei Princeton Academy

12-year-old Anurag has been learning Tai Chi at the Wuwei Princeton Academy (for SuperKids!) for the past three years with his teacher Mackenzie Hawkins. In the Spring semester of 2019, they used The Art of Learning themes to explore how they learn Tai Chi in order to empower themselves as learners generally. At the end of the semester, the students each gave a talk at their Being Your Best Summit to share with parents and friends what they thought were the most important lessons. Below is SuperKid Anurag’s speech with explanatory commentary from Mackenzie.

12 year old Anurag Nambiar

SuperKid Anurag: This semester we learned about learning about learning. To practice this skill, for four weeks I worked on applying what I learned to improve my skills in basketball, and my improvement was more significant than just trying to do it.

Mackenzie’s note: As a final challenge, the children could pick any skill that they wanted to get better at (most selected playing a sport or a musical instrument) and design, do, and journal for 12 independent practice sessions using TAOL themes in order to be awarded the Declaration of Independent Learner Badge.

SuperKid: I understood my practice more by not just doing it but by also using the Guiding, Discovering, and Applying themes I learned in class. With the themes I expanded, connected, and found ways to improve the quality of my practice.

Mackenzie’s note: The children learned 16 of the unifying TAOL themes this semester, and we found it helpful to see the connections between them by having 4 Guiding themes, 4 Discovering themes, and 8 Applying themes. Our aim was to explore in order to empower our learning (as stated in the vision of TAOL Project), so this Independent Learner challenge was a critical test for us! We wanted to make sure that learning about learning wasn’t just interesting or something that we used to help our Tai Chi practice in class but that it also helped us find ways to improve our learning process on our own—no matter what we wanted to get better at.

SuperKid: This semester we were taught the themes by learning the stories of a man named Josh Waitzkin, a chess champion and Tai Chi Push-Hands winner and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt. But what inspired me most about Josh Waitzkin was his ability—his skill—of mastering how to learn. By learning about learning, he mastered three sports and is working hard on another. In a way, he is a real learner.

Mackenzie’s note: We read many passages from The Art of Learning over the semester. We also read 8 “Josh Stories,” illustrating each of the 8 Applying themes, that I wrote with younger readers in mind. In this way, Josh Waitzkin could be our role model, even though the students were a bit young overall for the book itself. By the end of the semester, though, several of the 12-year-old students became quite determined to read the complete book!

SuperKid: “But what is a real learner?” one might ask. “What is a student and what is a teacher?” A learner is a student who learns from himself and is a teacher who teaches himself. Also the best teacher and student is a learner.

Mackenzie’s note: All through the semester, we had an ongoing discussion about what is the role of a teacher, what is the role of a student, and what is the role of a learner. This was inspired by yet another quote from Josh Waitzkin: “And when there is no one to look in; no one to give feedback or cheer us on, a keen but relaxed focus will enable us to motivate and monitor ourselves.” That made a big impression on our SuperKids. They talked about how it was like you had to be your own teacher. During their independent Tai Chi practices in the second half of the semester, the children began to experience how important—and actually fun—it was for them to be “captains” of their own learning process. In these practices, we focused primarily on the four Discovering themes: All-In, Slow-Repeat, Inner-Compass, and Ever-New. (We gave TAOL themes more immediately descriptive names with easier words for kids, so these themes correspond to The Power of Presence, Making Smaller Circles, Intuition: Developing the internal compass, and Beginner’s Mind.)

SuperKid: My favorite themes by far were the Guiding theme Work-Together and the Applying theme No-Walls. Work-Together is everything. It is the parts of the whole and the whole of the parts. It is working All-In and the Basics-for-Everything. It is Ever-New and Respondable-Flow, and Slow-Repeat and Dig-in-Deep. It is all the themes in one. And No-Walls connects to it. No-Walls is connecting everything you learn, which, in a way, is Work-Together.

Mackenzie’s note: In class we had some great debates about how the themes were very interconnected. For example, Josh Waitzkin advised Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion Emily Kwok to remember this before her finals: “At my core, I am dynamic quality.” In many ways, one could see the 4 Guiding themes as perspectives to better understand that; the 4 Discovering themes as perspectives to better perceive it; and the 8 Applying themes as common—and often critical—scenarios in learning and life where we can tend to have a more stressed or fixed perspective so it’s really important to apply it!
If translated back into the original theme names, Anurag’s speech would be as follows:

SuperKid (translated into original theme names): My favorite themes by far were the Guiding theme Bringing It All Together and the Applying theme Breaking Down Walls. Bringing It All Together is everything. It is the parts of the whole and the whole of the parts. It is working with Power of Presence and Master the Fundamentals. It is Beginner’s Mind and The Soft Zone, and Making Smaller Circles and Learning Macro from Micro. It is all the themes in one. And Breaking Down Walls connects to it. Breaking Down Walls is connecting everything you learn, which, in a way, is Bringing It All Together.

SuperKid: All in all, I learned a lot about learning about learning that can help improve my learning. Next year I am planning to do this to try to work on other skills. This semester was very fun and interesting and was the perfect end to my SuperKid Tai Chi experience.

Mackenzie’s note: I’m so glad that we were able to have this semester together before SuperKid Anurag and his sister SuperKid Anushri moved to another state. For the past three years, they had learned Tai Chi with me twice a week, all through the academic year, from age 9 to age 12. If it weren’t for this semester’s focus on learning how to learn, I would feel some deep regrets about how much I hadn’t been able to teach them. But with TAOL themes, I feel that I was able share to with them the most important thing I could as a teacher: how they could be empowered learners—real learners. They are ready for their next learning adventure.

Rudresh Mahanthappa, pictured above with the SuperKids and Mackenzie, was the special guest at the children’s Being Your Best Summit 2019.

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