by Shannon Cambell
It’s extremely difficult for me to comment on life after a concussion.
There’s two reasons for this. First of all, head injuries manifest in many different ways. Often, the symptoms and recovery period vary from person to person. Furthermore, I have very little specific memory of the months immediately following my accident.
In the aftermath of my concussion, I experienced the typical physical symptoms: fatigue, headaches, nausea, balance problems. Thankfully, these symptoms were fairly short-lived and I returned to seemingly normal life quite quickly. The funny thing about concussions, however, is that they can have a resounding impact on the deepest levels of the human brain. As a result, concussion victims often forget how to learn. In my case, I think it was probably the dangerous combination of the inability to retain information and the inability to concentrate that made this true.
Rebuilding the Foundation
I struggled through more than a year of a full-time course load before I realized something was off. It didn’t seem to matter how much time I put into readings and other studying; nothing ever stuck. The only measurable progress I was making was in my study of Portuguese, which I was pursuing on my own time.
Wait a minute.
I was making progress?? There had to be a reason why I was successful in this area of study over all my others. It was extremely frustrating, struggling to no end in school while achieving inexplicable success in a subject that would have no direct impact on my academic standing.
Learning a language requires a special combination of many methods of absorbing information. Any experienced student of languages will tell you how important it is to interact with other people in the language that you are studying. That is, you must immerse yourself. I had dedicated myself to this method of learning. I was spending a significant amount of time each day essentially living my life in Portuguese.
It took me a while to realise that it was this approach to learning to which I should attribute my rapid jump to conversationalism. I dawdled, entertaining the unapologetic notion that it was my natural ability with languages that had contributed to my early success. Eventually, I came around to the fact that learning something new comes down to one thing: the concept of immersion learning.
The next step I took was to apply this approach to my other subjects of study. It’s not always clear how to accomplish this, but I’ve developed a pretty good technique. When learning a language, you try to live your life as if you are a native speaker. The language needs to become a part of your everyday life. This means that you should incorporate whatever is it you’re trying to learn into your day-to-day activities. For me, this meant addressing each problem that my life outside of the classroom presents as if I was already an expert in my subject of study. This frame of reference not only changed my attitude towards these issues, but also had me seeking out new information beyond what was taught in the classroom. The involvement of my own life drove me to be a more thorough, creative and positive student.
The use of practical application is not an unfamiliar concept to many experienced educators. Problem-based learning is a self-directed form of study in which students work to solve a problem for which there is no defined solution or answer. This encourages critical thinking, personal research and continuous learning.
Immersion learning that many language learners recommend is a form of problem-based learning that forces us to address communication issues before we have the capacity to do so. When we don’t know a specific word, we learn to talk around it and describe what we mean. Our approach to learning other subjects should reflect the experience of learning languages. First, we encounter a problem. We must then discover what knowledge we need to directly solve the problem, and determine other potential solutions.
Immediately following my concussion, I believed that my mental capacity had been permanently damaged. My discovery of problem-based learning showed me that I wasn’t damaged. I was simply different. While this approach to learning is certainly useful for all students, my hope is that it will be specifically relevant to other concussion victims. Anyone who has suffered a concussion will be familiar with the despair that comes with post-concussion syndrome. Remember that recovery is always possible when you embrace the person you have become.
"Times of great calamity and confusion have been productive for the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace. The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm."
Charles Caleb Colton
Sources and further reading:
Towards a language-based theory of learning, M.A.K. Holiday.
Foundations of Problem-based Learning, Maggi Savin-Baden and Claire Howell Major
Place-based Education: Learning to Be Where We Are, Gregory A. Smith