Understanding the Need for Individualized Learning: A Runner’s Guide

I hated running.

I wanted so much to love it and I just didn’t. My parents were runners for many years. I had friends who went on about how much they loved it. I read articles about how running was like meditating; it gave people a sort of Zen experience away from the hassles of adult life. I wanted so much to love it and I just didn’t.

Two years ago I decided to get this zombie running app that I’ve blogged about before. Someone had suggested it and, while I’m not a zombie fan, it sounded fun with listening to a story and your own music while running. So I tried it. I liked the app. I fell in love with the story and the characters, almost breaking down in tears at one very moving story line. But it wasn’t helping me to run. I started off with the goal to run one song, walk one song. It worked pretty well for a while though sometimes near the end I would walk more than one song but I could never get myself past that point. I tried making goals of running two songs, walking one, but could never sustain that past the first few. I tried running every second song plus running during all the story bits but again, I couldn’t manage that during the end of the run. I tried adding new music. Nothing seemed to work.

There were a few things that in hindsight I can see I was doing wrong. One: I was running from my house on the same route every time on concrete sidewalks with some hills, especially at the end. Two: my route was too long for starting out like I was. I was running out of story long before I got home and found it hard to keep motivated when the story mode was done. Three: I didn’t know how to set realistic goals for myself and felt discouraged when I didn’t meet my unrealistic goals and that disappointment made me hate running. Four: I decided that I needed to run with other people for motivation so I went running with two friends who were not runners and I felt really terrible after because my two non-runner friends could run faster and farther than me when I had been plugging away at this whole running thing for months. So I kind of gave up.

Two summers of trying and I thought that maybe running just wasn’t for me. Maybe my body just wasn’t built that way. Maybe I needed to find some other exercise outlet. But people kept posting about their “great runs” and how much they loved it and so I decided to give it one more try. In April I bought a Zombies Run 5k training app – again, I’ve blogged about it before. It started me off SUPER slowly. 15 seconds of running to a minute of walking, again with some story thrown in and TONS of encouragement. I started going to a trail around a lake nearby that goes through the woods so I had some nicer scenery to look at and the trails were easier on my knees. I still had some set-backs. There were times that I wouldn’t quite do all the things they were asking me to do in the app (squats, stretching, skipping) but I kept at it and finally managed to jog 5k without stopping in June. Today I ran my 3rd 5k race and I’m getting faster. I’ve started adding some running in to my slow jogging and, surprise surprise, I love it. I get why people love it. I feel better and I’m getting back in shape and it’s awesome. I’m still much slower than most people but I’m okay with that.


So what has this got to do with teaching and Individualized learning? While I was running and really getting into the “zone” (cause I can do that now) I was thinking about how this experience has been very much like a classroom learning experience and very eye opening to me that it’s not just a theory that everyone learns differently. I mean, I’ve seen it before, in dance rehearsals for example where some people need to count it out, some need to watch it a million times, some need words to remember and some just need to do it. But I’ve almost always been on the faster end of picking things up. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who tries something and really goes at it full tilt and if I find it too challenging I tend to give up.

We all learn at our own speeds and our own ways. The problem being in our classrooms while we say we recognize this fact, we’re still pushing the whole class to, say, master their multiplication facts by March or be reading at a level R by the end of the year. And that’s not realistic at all. As a teacher, we’re like a coach. We need to find something to motivate each student to learn whatever skill we’re meant to be teaching as well as find which ways they learn best at their own speed. And we have to do that for all the students in our class and somehow have them come out with all the same skills?

Like running or exercising, learning is good for you. No doubt about that. It is in your best interest to exercise, just like it is the students’ best interest to work hard and learn. But just because something is good for you, that doesn’t mean you want to do it all the time, every day in the same way. I feel like a lot of these things are pretty obvious and should be self evident but in the reality of the classroom it’s insanely challenging to follow sometimes. There are things, like reading for example. I let my students read anything they want whether it’s “at their level” or not because sometimes you want to read easier things and sometimes having subject matter that’s fascinating is enough to bring you through a challenging read. But as a coach maybe I need to do a better job of helping students to make those realistic goals for themselves so that they feel they’ve accomplished something and don’t feel discouraged too often if they don’t reach their goals and how to help them bounce back when they don’t meet a goal on their first try.

I also hope this learning experience will help me empathize with students who need to go slower with their learning. Sometimes it’s too humid and you just need to walk or take a rest day. And sometimes your brain is just not there yet and is making connections in the background you can’t even see yet, but it’ll happen at it’s own pace.


4 thoughts on “Understanding the Need for Individualized Learning: A Runner’s Guide

  1. sarahmebent says:

    That was a very interesting read. The other bit to remember, using your running to learning analogy, is the people like me. I can’t run. Just can’t. But I can walk, most of the time, and I like to be included as much as possible. 🙂

  2. Carol says:

    Very cool! I’m impressed that you kept trying for so long. I’ve long ago decided that I am meant to swim, not run. The problem is finding the time away from the kids to do it, even though the pool is 5 steps from my door. I love the idea of the zombies run app. Would be great for walking the dog except I have the kids with me then, too…

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