Learning how to learn

Posted 24 August 2017 6:56pm

A colleague recently shared the following quote and confided that she had a ‘light bulb’ moment when she grasped the great divide between talking about WHAT students learn and HOW they learn it, and what learning IS.

I had always expected my students to learn. I provided them with strategies to learn. However, I had not taught them what it meant to learn. I had been relying on an assumption that learning was what happened at school, and since we all knew that, there was no need to learn about learning itself.

The Writing on the Classroom Wall, p.8.

So, do we need to teach students (and ourselves) about learning itself?

I believe we do, and fortunately, there is an extensive body of research into learning and the brain we can reference to guide us, and programs we can adopt to map the way.

I am most familiar with the work of Professor Guy Claxton and his team who pioneered the program “Building Learning Power” (BLP). Claxton talks about us building our learning muscles like we build our physical muscles. “Just as fitness is a basic springboard for all kinds of more specific physical skills, so learning power is a general-purpose launch-pad for all kinds of more specific learning activities – both in school and out.”

Programs that teach us how to learn typically provide a curriculum framework and give scope for educators to make their own developmentally appropriate resources. It is wonderful to see that even the youngest students are able to take control of their learning and talk about their learning, developing the dispositions of good learners in a fun way. I have had the experience of wandering through Prep classes and having the children speak to me about how they are being Polly Perseverance, Diana No Distractions or Norman Noticer. Teachers would use the language, for example, to remind children to persevere when challenged, manage the distractions that are ever present in a classroom, and pay close attention to details in their reading, writing or mathematics.

Norman Noticer and Diana No Distractions 

Norman Noticer and Diana No Distractions

The broad benefits of understanding learning for all student is that it:

  • provides students with a coherent picture of what it takes to be a good learner, thereby empowering them
  • grows a student’s learning character and habits
  • develops the appetite and ability to learn in different ways
  • transforms the culture of the classroom and the climate of the school
  • shifts responsibility for learning to learn from the teacher to the learner
  • engages teachers and students creatively as researchers in learning
  • gives schools the opportunity to track students’ learning power
  • provides the whole school community with a language to discuss learning

I look forward to continuing discussions around learning how to learn and sharing brain based research with students and staff in the Junior School.

Angela Whitaker
Head of Junior School

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