From a perhaps surprisingly young age, we can teach children to learn effectively and successfully. Learning to learn is to do with training children to become responsible, self-aware, reflective, and increasingly independent learners. It is also to do with giving children opportunities to develop the learning styles and strategies that help them learn best. Given that we have no idea what the children we teach may want or need to learn in the future, equipping them to become competent and confident life-long learners is one of the most important things we can do.
Even with very young children, it is both possible and important to include ‘learning to learn’ as an integral part of our lessons and to get children to think explicitly about how they learn (the process) as well as what they learn (the product). We also need to mediate in our lessons in a range of ways which build up children’s confidence and self-esteem, lead them to set personal learning goals, overcome challenges, and regularly review and assess their own individual progress and learning.
In terms of knowledge, our goal is for children to develop self-knowledge and self-awareness (what I am like and how I learn best).
In terms of skills and strategies, our goal is for children to develop i) metacognitive strategies which involve reflecting on the learning process, such as planning, comparing, hypothesising, self-questioning ii) cognitive strategies which involve specific thinking skills and relate to specific tasks, such as classifying, sequencing, matching, predicting, deducing as well as reference skills and iii) socio-affective strategies which involve cooperating and collaborating together, such as sharing, turn-taking, active listening, working in pairs and groups, giving and receiving peer feedback.
In terms of attitudes, our goal is for children to develop attitudes such as initiative, responsibility, curiosity, interest, perseverance, confidence and positive self-esteem.
In order to support children ‘learning to learn’, here are 12 things we can do:
1 Strategy training e.g. through modelling, explanation, practice and transfer to new context contexts or tasks.
2 Reflecting and reviewing e.g. through the use of regular end of lesson and end of unit reviews, learner diaries, self-evaluation sheets or self-assessment questionnaires.
3 Talking about learning e.g. through class discussions, “conferencing” with individual children, always showing that you value individual views.
4 Negotiating e.g. establishing a class contract with agreed rules and codes of behaviour.
5 Establishing parameters e.g. clear routines and responsibilities, clear aims and learning objectives (also set by children themselves).
6 Opening eyes e.g. to different ways of organising learning such as, for example, using mind maps to record vocabulary.
7 Supporting planning e.g. through helping children plan work by using structured questions, brainstorming or mind maps.
8 Setting tasks to develop a range of cognitive skills e.g. prediction, hypothesising, comparing, logical deduction and which appeal to different learning styles.
9 Expansion e.g. through providing opportunities to extend and transfer knowledge, strategies and skills to new areas.
10 Building up skills for independent learning e.g. computer, internet, library, dictionary and reference skills
11 Helping children collaborate e.g. by structuring the way into pair and group work tasks, always showing that you value cooperation.
12 Evaluation e.g. initial evaluation to establish what children already know, what they are going to learn and how they are going to learn it; post-evaluation to relate learning and performance
There are many potential benefits of integrating ‘learning to learn’ into our overall teaching plan:
• It helps maintain motivation.
• It promotes children’s active involvement in their own learning.
• It builds up confidence and self-esteem.
• It encourages children’s awareness of their own progress.
• Skills and strategies are transferable to other subjects and areas of learning.
• It encourages children to set high personal standards.
• It helps to improve social skills.
• Children take on increasing responsibility for their own learning.
• Children become increasingly self-aware, reflective, organised and independent learners.
• Life in the classroom becomes easier for you!
It would be great to hear your views and experiences of supporting children ‘learning to learn’. Please do share!
Naughty Teddy and the water story review and picture are by Jamie Matthews (when he was 6).