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‘Eastwooding’: the quick way to test and improve your understanding

When it comes to demonstrating comprehension of concepts or definitions, the gold standard is the ability to explain them to other people. Being able to take ideas and put them into your own words requires an unmistakable clarity of understanding.

This is a fantastic technique for a study group to use together because it helps everyone to learn. We often just think about the benefits from the perspective of the listeners, but the speaker stands to gain even more.

What would a maverick director and legendary actor do?

The act of articulating the relationships between ideas reinforces them and makes our understanding more robust. It also shines a spotlight on the limits of our knowledge. When we get stuck for words, other group members can help fill in the gaps.

This is all very good, but it requires other people for the method to work. What can we do if we’re on our own? What would a maverick director and legendary actor do?

The obvious answer is to use the same technique but talk to an empty chair. Sure it looks a bit peculiar and you might feel a bit self conscious, but nobody is watching. It’s really convenient to do this in the car, talking to the passenger seat, so long as you don’t lose focus on the road and can do this whilst driving safely (for ass-covering legal reasons, this is entirely at your own risk).

It can be hard to get started but there’s an easy training wheels approach. You can refer to a list of keywords, or a concept map for your first attempt. Once your confidence grows you can try again without any help.

The wrinkle with the technique I’m calling ‘Eastwooding’ is that we only have an empty chair to turn to for help. This means that we need to develop good troubleshooting skills for when we’re alone. A deceptively basic but very powerful asset for this is a alternative textbook. Because we’re concerned with concepts and definitions, it doesn’t matter if this is a few years old — the fundamentals of a topic will still be there even if the syllabus has changed slightly. Sometimes that second perspective is all we need to work it out.

Try it out. Even if you don’t like it, at least you’ll have somewhere to sit.

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