Teaching Students How to Learn

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A recent article in Business Insider discusses a big problem with most classrooms: Teachers do a good job of teaching students what to learn, but they tend to neglect the important step of teaching students how to learn.

It’s probably not a coincidence that I believe one of the most important roles of a school psychologist is to help students – and their parents and teachers – understand how they learn in order to provide the most effective classroom support possible.* Teaching students about metacognition can have a huge impact on their ability to succeed.

[Y]our ability to learn is such a huge predictor of success in life, from achieving in academics to getting ahead at work. It all requires mastering skill after skill.

The article goes on to offer learning strategies that can be used by anyone. These are:

1) “Force Yourself to Recall”: Work hard at learning, don’t stop at the spot where it’s easy for you. Use flashcards!

2) “Don’t Fall for Fluency”: If it feels too easy while you’re learning something, it probably means you didn’t learn it.

3) “Connect the Old Things to the New Things”: Relate new learning to prior knowledge.

4) “Reflect, Reflect, Reflect”: Reflect on what you have learned.

Read the full article, along with lots of great embedded links to supporting research, here.


*As an aside, this is one of the shortcomings of a strictly RtI approach to intervention. RtI does a good job of showing us what a student has not learned, but does not tell us why the student has difficulty in certain areas or what the best teaching approach would be for that student. It’s true that RtI interventions gives us implicit information, but I maintain it cannot give us explicit information about gaps in learning. This is one reason I believe individual assessment is so important.



Weekly Roundup 3-3-13

School: An NPR story explores the use of technology in schools. Schools across the country are spending billions on technology initiatives, despite a lack of evidence that technology furthers education in any measurable way: “In some districts where schools have invested heavily in computers and e-readers, test scores have remained the same or fallen.” Without a specific plan for how the technology will be used, the benefits of its use are not exactly clear. Put another way: if your school’s plan is just to put an iPad in every child’s hands, then you’d be better off investing in spiral notebooks.

Psychology: We all know neuroscience is the white-hot topic of the moment. And while genuine scientific progress towards understanding the human brain has been made in recent years, there is also the pitfall of “folk neuroscience.” Vaughan Bell’s recent article for The Observer talks about how Folk Neuroscience has led to lots of popular misconceptions about the brain. I’m going to coin my own phrase for this phenomenon and call it Urban Brain Myths. Bell cites examples such as:

  • The “left-brain” is rational, the “right-brain” is creative
  • Dopamine is a pleasure chemical
  • Low serotonin causes depression [this one he attributes solely to pharmaceutical companies’ advertising in the 80’s and 90’s promoting Prozac]
  • Video games, TV violence, porn or any other social spectre of the moment “rewires the brain”
  • We have no control over our brain but we can control our mind

Scholarship: A new study describes the most effective learning techniques in a school setting. Specifically, 10 learning techniques are discussed, as well as their “relative utility.” The techniques were designed to be easy to use by the average student, thus easily adopted. The original paper is dense, and at 54 pages I doubt many of us will be clamoring for a personal copy. But here is a nice visual summary of the data, as well as a description of each technique (neat graphics, too!).