I had an exhilarating week in St Gervais les Bains in France hurtling down steep slopes on 2 bits of wood. Inelegantly, but fast. Glorious. The sun blazed down; the sky a cerulean blue; the powder soft and luscious; the pine trees and mountains pure chocolate box.

The vin chaud was pretty good too.

I have avoided any form of sport since I learnt that lingering in the locker room saved me from the humiliation of being almost the last to be picked during games lessons. (I wore glasses but was not fat and therefore was the penultimate choice). Even now, participating in anything more strenuous than taking a stroll along the prom on a sunny day ranks only marginally more attractive than cleaning the toilet or watching a film by Werner Herzog.

I make an exception for skiing.
However, I am scared of heights and so try hard to take my mind off the precipitous chasm between me and the ground when on a chair lift in the Alps. So I thought about metacognition and learning.

David Perkins writes about the idea of understanding as ‘performance’. The performance view basically says that real understanding of a topic depends on what you can do with it. Can you reason about it? Can you explain it in your own words? Can you view it critically? Can you relate it to other topics and ideas? Those and many other kinds of “doing” both show a learner’s understanding so far and push it further.
To convey the spirit of the performance view, Perkins suggests a sports metaphor:
Learning for understanding is more like learning to skate than like learning about skating.
This metaphor spoke to my condition up there on the swinging chair lift a million miles above solid ground. I know a number of things about skiing — what it looked like, where it was done, what you wore, and so on. But it took me years of intermittent holidays to get the hang of it, to understand it in the sense of being able to perform fluently and flexibly.
Perkins develops the idea: Real understanding lies not just in knowing things about it but being able to “skate it.” That is, being able to put it through its paces. Take the French Revolution, for example. If I only know about the French Revolution, I can tell you some things about it and that’s all. But if I can skate with it, I can compare the French Revolution with other revolutions, say the American Revolution or the Russian Revolution. I can ponder what causes led up to it and whether things could have happened in another way. I can explore its influence on other times and cultures. And in doing those things, I’m not just repeating back a canned story but thinking new thoughts, at least new to me. I’m doing some of the skating, not just telling you what I know about skating.
Powerful stuff, particularly relevant to the learning of those young people who don’t naturally make connections, hypothesise, explore ideas. They – like me on the slopes – need a great deal of rehearsal and repetition along with the support of a considerate (in my case handsome too! ‘Bend ze knees’ never sounds as good as in a French accent) instructor.