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“I don’t get it”

by Shannon Naylor

“I don’t get it” is a sentence I used a lot as a student. Sometimes it was uttered in exhausted frustration after hours of striving to understand a challenging text. But more often than not, I said it reflexively when I encountered something new, and it became shorthand for “I don’t want to make an effort.” When I said “I don’t get it,” I refused to engage with the material, so I never had any hope of gaining understanding, and I risked doing poorly in those classes.

The trick I developed for getting past that roadblock-type thinking was to tack one little word to the end: “I don’t get it…yet.” Yet is a promise that there is hope, that there’s an opportunity for change. But the material wasn’t going to suddenly make sense all on its own. I had to change how I approached it.

So how do you make the change happen? Here’s one method: Ask questions.

  • When you encounter difficult material that you “don’t get,” start by writing questions.
  • Keep reading or listening to see if they get answered. If they do, jot down the answers.
  • Identify questions you can answer for yourself: words you can look up definitions or key concepts you can Google or find in an encyclopedia.
  • Find questions you can puzzle through or make a hypothesis about, based on what you do know and understand.
  • If it’s appropriate, ask a peer or your professor any questions left unanswered.

This is a simple way to engage with difficult material. You move past the generic, dismissive “I don’t get it” and start to identify the gaps in your knowledge and understanding. Once you know where the gaps are, it’s a lot easier to begin to fill them. This doesn’t mean that it the material suddenly becomes easy and you don’t have to actively work at learning it. It will probably remain a challenge, but I hope that this strategy will make the work seem less daunting.

Shannon is the CTL post-graduate intern.

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