The Toughest Final Exam I Never Took

During the student phase of my life, I rarely enjoyed test days. Each exam brought a sense of concern and anxiety that seemed monumental at the time. Now, years later, the details of those unpleasant memories have faded into a blur that lessens their pain . . . with only one exception: Freshman year at BYU. Beginning Social Dance. Final exam.

I suppose a final examination was to be expected. After all, it was a college class. But this class was supposed to be a fun class, and I could not believe what our instructor said when he outlined the exam procedure.

As class members we had two weeks to find a willing participant to whom we would teach the steps we had learned that semester. We were then to bring our participant to our scheduled individual exam time. We were not to perform ourselves or to coach our participant. Our final grade for the class would be based on how well our participant performed. When we complained that this was a learning class and not a how-to-teach class, the instructor simply told us that the best way to learn is to teach.

Much to my relief my participant remembered what I taught her, performed well and I passed the class. Whew! Having my final grade based on someone else’s performance was handing over a little more control than I felt comfortable giving!

Knowing that my grade was based on her performance I made sure I explained everything clearly. And more than just once. We repeated the steps over and over, until I was absolutely certain she understood the technique. My recollection of the steps now, some thirty years later, is a bit hazy, but the ‘lesson’ is still very clear—teaching others does help us learn more deeply.

For the organist, teaching others could be through group or private instruction, introducing a Cub Scout or youth group to the pipe organ, or simply spending a few minutes at the organ console with a young pianist.

There is a need for instructors and assistants of all experience levels. As you consider how you can teach others, please remember that we do not need to be an ‘expert’ before we reach out. In fact, if we really want to become more accomplished, we need to reach out to others first. For it is in teaching that we truly learn.

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How has sharing with others helped you learn more deeply?