“Chew and Pour, pass and forget” was a learning strategy that I and most of my mates adopted for my primary and secondary school education in Ghana (elementary and high school here). In Ghana, the term “chew and pour, pass and forget” is a metaphor which means memorizing to pass a test and not necessarily understanding the concept. And because of this experience, math has always been my favorite subject; give me the formula, and I will be your Eratosthenes (world-famous Mathematician). However, writing, not so much because the critical thinking required in academic writing was not incorporated into the curriculum in my early years of education.
This method of learning has contributed to several failures in my schooling here in the US from 2015 to 2018. I had dropped out of eight general education classes in two different community colleges and withdrew from a GED class as well. I did not realize at the time that “chew and pour” was the problem until I enrolled in the Bay Path Practical Nursing School in Massachusetts last August.
One September evening, I took my first exam on medical terminology which was straight to point. Most of the questions were definitions and in my area of expertise because I “chewed and poured” I nailed it and had my first A.
For the next couple of weeks, I felt like Florence Nightingale. My thought was, “Oh, this is going to be easy” until I sat for my next exam which was a 3-page, 60-question fundamentals of nursing paper. I had no idea it would primarily be based on patients’ safety (what would you do as a nurse?). I had “chewed” only the key points. The questions were presented in the form of multiple choices and select-all-that-applies. Unlike the medical terminology test, it required critical thinking and a thorough grasp of the concept to answer them.
Immediately, my sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight mode) activated: my heart rate elevated, and my palm was sweating. The fear of failure creeping into my mind made matters worse. Not even an educated guess could save me on this test. My mind was blank until I filled in the bubbles to the end. The results came a couple of days later, and of course, I had blown it.
One of the things I admired about Bay Path Practical Nursing Academy was the opportunity given to students who could not make a pass mark to review the test. And so, the following Monday, I set up an appointment with the school director, Dr. Bolandrina, to review the fundamentals exams. When I arrived for the appointment, I parked my car at the usual spot at school. My heart was beating frantically as I made my way to the main entrance of the school. I entered the small, cold yet vibrant office. There were tiny details like jars of candies on the desk. Behind the secretary’s desktop computer were colorful little turtle souvenirs she had collected on her trips to California and Florida. In addition, the walls were covered with clipboards and calendars with schedules of lab and exams, highlighted in red, yellow, and green according to priority. The office appeared small for an office that served 31 nursing students. On the left side of the white walls was a banner with the school’s name in the official school colors of purple and gold. Underneath that was a cluster of books and a wall mount of shoe holder with 40 four-inch square compartments used as a mailbox for students. I said hello to DeeDee, the secretary, who ushered me in and offered me a seat on the jet-black bench where I waited anxiously.
While I was still waiting, I caught a glimpse of a paper with a bold and large print of previous years’ students. The paper listed the number of students who applied, were admitted, and graduated from the program. The cohort of 2021 had 150 students who applied and 31 admitted. I was part of the 31 chosen. Feeling so privileged to be chosen and considering the distance I drove every weekday from Manchester, CT to Charlton, MA and the fact that the world desperately needs nurses due to this pandemic, it dawned on me that I cannot fail this time.
Dr. Bolandrina was certainly someone that I did not want to disappoint. She had been a nurse for over 30 years and came from a family of educators and nurses, very efficient, and a good role model. If you are looking for a prudent nurse to model, she is the one. She has a sweet and kind personality. She and her family volunteers and raise funds for many nonprofit organizations. She is barely a 5 feet tall Filipina-American woman who walked confidently with a stern look and commanded an audience like a giant. Being the school Director made her extremely strict about holding students to the standards of the Board of Registration in Nursing (BORN). Her position required her to probe and rectify until a student is molded from a civilian into a nurse. But behind all this you could still see the kindness in her deep brown eyes, even in her most serious look. It was her words of encouragement during the initial phone call a few months earlier that motivated me to proceed with my application since I was so far behind. That day in her office she again encouraged me and reminded me of how far I have come. She told me in her warm and soothing tone like a mother talking to her child, “it all depends on your can-do spirit.” These simple words touched my heart and persuaded me to get over my fear of failure and investigate alternative ways to learn.
Following the review of the exams, Dr. Bolandrina identified my problem and had me complete a learning strategy assessment to figure out my learning style. After completing the learning strategy book, I realized that watching videos on YouTube to make wigs, to sew clothes, and to do makeup made me a visual learner. I barely read hard copy books. I prefer audiobooks and devotionals, which made me an auditory learner. I learned to do most activities such as cooking and crocheting hats and mittens by using my hands which meant I am a kinesthetic learner as well. I incorporated all these learning strategies into my academics. I spent my commutes to school listening to the textbooks that came with audio versions. I watched videos on YouTube and practiced skills in lab and on my family members and friends until I had mastered them.
After the several failures in my academic journey, I had finally found an antidote by adapting a new strategy that works for me and the current education system that I am in here in the United States. I completed 45 credits in nursing school and passed NCLEX-PN on my first try. I cannot believe all the accomplishments I have attained. Now, I appreciate learning new things. I do not “chew and pour” but I comprehend the material being presented and can apply them.
My academics have transitioned from incomplete classes to graduating from a ten-month intensive practical nursing program all because I have become a better learner. This awareness has empowered me to go for an associate degree in Nursing and even further. Hopefully, I will be celebrating my 40th birthday in a few years with a master’s degree in nursing education. I can picture myself on the podium in front of my loved ones and thousands of graduates as I walk proudly to receive my degree fighting back tears of joy. I am confident that I can achieve all that I have set my mind to.
Course: ENG 095
Assignment: Literacy Narrative
Instructor: Kevin Lamkins
Instructor comments: Isabella tells a great story about how sometimes we need to adapt to a new educational environment. Her vivid details throughout really bring the story to life.
Photo Credit: “Learning” by Allyssa Milan (Creative Commons License)