• Making Large Tasks Small
    me and mitt
    (Andrew helping me finish)

    Last week I finished reading a book entitled, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. It was written by a concentration camp survivor named Vicktor Frankl. The novel chronicles Frankl’s life in the concentration camp. Throughout his time in the camps he hung onto the belief that maybe someday he would see his wife again. He knew that the chances were very remote that this would happen but hung onto the belief none the less. This belief gave him purpose in life and helped get him through this horror. He made a profound statement. “ If man has a why; he can bear any how”.

    Last Sunday I attempted something that I felt was quite impossible. I ran in the Blue Cross Broad Street Run. This was a ten mile race. I ran as much as I could and walked when I needed to. I felt that this was impossible because at my age all of my high school injuries from the sports I played were rearing their ugly heads. My knees were basically shot. My left knee feels like bone on bone.

    Two people who I considered heroes helped get me through this. Steve, a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. He is a very courageous man. He is a wonderful father, husband to his wife Kathy, worker and friend. When I got up Sunday @ 6AM I doubted I could this. Seeing my “Super Steve” race shirt gave me the incentive to try. The other hero who helped me was my son Andrew.At the time he wass finishing his student teaching experience. He wanted to become a teacher and make a difference in kids lives. He had a very difficult semester with an uncooperative co-op. Most people in his position would give up but he didn’t. He felt a greater calling and joined the Army. He later finished top of his class at his AIT. Toward the end of the race, I felt that I couldn’t go on. Andrew appeared and ran the last mile  or so with me. He got me through this. Steve and Andrew became my “why” which helped me with the “how”.

    You may ask, “what does this episode do with learning and cognition?” At the beginning of the race, I was overwhelmed by the distance of ten miles. I walked 3K and 5K fundraisers before but never attempted something like this. My hope was to finish and not become road kill, run over by the others and left to be cleaned up by the medics and trash men. I applied some of the learning strategies that we use.

    I began to chunk the race. I would pick out a person about two blocks ahead and make a goal to catch up with them by the time we reached a certain traffic light. I continued to do this throughout the race. By cutting the large task into smaller ones I found that I became less overwhelmed. The race became a personal challenge or game.  I found inner strength by reflection.

    I prioritized other activities. I would keep myself hydrated but would not drink more than I needed. I made sure I didn’t run through the fire hydrant as this would cause my clothing to rub together and cause blisters. (not to mention that running water would increase my trips to the port-a-potties)

    My wife had given me a fanny pack with special gel packs to use when I felt my energy become low. I needed to plan when would be the best time to use these and make sure I didn’t run out.

    Most of all I looked to others for inspiration. I saw my friends (specially Steve) on the sidelines and drew great strength from them. I also realized that is it ok to accept the help of others (Andrew going the last mile with me)

    Students, when you feel overwhelmed about the size of the task (Assignments/tests/or tons of work) do what I did. Break the big tasks down into smaller chunks. Find ways to challenge yourself and make the process fun. Prioritize what you need to do. Set a goal to complete it. (Like I did with the traffic lights) and don’t be afraid to ask for help or accept the help of others (Like I did with Andrew)