|Learning to Learn
In recent years there has been a keenness to consider how learning is achieved and to see whether it helps learners if they study specific learning techniques.
When you work on finding and then absorbing some information, maybe from the net or a book, you may feel, as many do, that you aren't a very good learner. Things don't make sense to you, even when you seem to work hard at them. Others find it sometimes easy (and sometimes not) to create their own understanding and meaning so that they feel they have made sense of something. How do you make sense of information? Do you prefer to read it, hear it, or work through something with someone else? If you need to remember this information or acquire a skill, how do you do so in order to be able to apply it to a related or new situation? You have learned some impressive things in your life, amongst them: how to talk and write your mother tongue, how to tie your shoe laces and tie a tie. All these are demanding tasks so you do have plenty of learning skills.
When you dip your toe in the water it might not be attractive to go further. How do you keep yourself going even though learning might be difficult for you at the time? What are your motivations to learn? How easily are you put off, looking for any kind of distraction? How do you learn best? Maybe you work well in a group:
Maybe you find it far easier to absorb information from the net, maybe in the form of a game or exercises where you can try to improve on a previous best performance. And maybe you realise you are a little different to other people and learn better through your own methods.
Professor David Hopkins, called learning to learn 'deep learning strategies' where knowledge, instruction and learning are inextricably bound together to create powerful learning experiences. The ideas of learning to learn are promoted nationally by Campaign for Learning, a charitable organisation which aims to stimulate learning that will involve people for life. In practice, for schools, it means adapting teaching strategies to not only convey facts, skills and understanding but also to consider and develop learning strategies as an entity of importance. Supporters of learning to learn propose that schools encourage students to focus on how they do their own learning. By doing so, it is argued, teaching will better help students develop the skills and attitudes required to adapt to an uncertain and fast changing future.
Two people in particular have worked to identify useful ways to help students learn to learn: Guy Claxton andAlistair Smith. Both have wanted to move on from the traditional learning aspects referred to as the 3Rs, claiming that these skills need augmenting for the 21st century - particularly with the ICT facilities that are available to access information very quickly and to communicate with others easily. Whilst not denying the importance of factual knowledge, they both claim that teaching that aims just to transmit knowledge will fail to adequately equip pupils for this era in which we live.
What makes a person a good learner? Can these skills be developed or are we stuck with whatever we are at the moment? Both Guy Claxton and Alistair Smith (amongst others) believe firmly that learning skills can be improved if they are worked on specifically. The belief is that by using learning to learn approaches students can achieve their core purpose, namely preparing themselves so that they can and will wish to and enjoy learning effectively throughout their lives.
What are the building blocks of such an approach? Guy Claxton identifies these five positive dispositions (adapted, maybe incorrectly):Guy Claxton's 5Rs of Lifelong Learning
Alistair is well known in the country for his work on accelerating learning. He has developed a similar set of five skills to think about learning to learn. They are, being: Resilient, Resourceful, Responsive, Reasoning and Reflective. There is a complete set of resources that have been trialed in schools. These materials are add-on rather than built-in. The basic principles of L2 consist of:
By considering these elements teachers and students can use a more sophisticated rubric to see where and how progress is being made. For some students, this might involve a focus on ways to curb initial responses to a problem or task; for others, it might involve overcoming fear to build confidence or assertiveness in a group discussion.
Lessons can be considered to be 'split-screen'. On one screen is the content or specific skills that is the focus of the lesson. On the other screen there are general learning skills they want their students to focus on, think about, stretch and develop.What else helps learning to learn?
In some schools students are provided with familiar assessments of their actual and predicted grades in each subject but they also get rated on their levels of resourcefulness, resilience, reflectiveness and learning relationships.
Allied to a focus on these aspects of developing learning skills are strategies that attempt to modify attitudes towards learning by ensuring that all students are clear about the purpose(s) and objectives of lessons and are provided with structured feedback. In terms of both ongoing and more formal assessment teachers are encouraged to be involved in dialogue, developing ideas with students rather than for them. By explaining grading and identifying misconceptions and mistakes, students have a sense of how their work can be improved. So they learn to become 'crew' rather than just 'passengers', and are able to take more control over their progress. As a result of this they have greater involvement in the development of ideas, and consequently greater engagement with these ideas.
Also importantly, messages there needs to be encouragement for the view that attainment is not fixed and that all students are able to develop. Methods of organising classroom tasks that involve worldly contexts and extended projects enable learners to apply and develop their skills, sometimes showing creativity.Key elements of what a good learner does (according to McCune and Entwistle 2000)
. Intention to understand
. There is an added dimension to all you do
An article by Guy Claxton for QCA
Guy Claxton, Building Learning Power
Alistair Smith's website (Alite Ltd)
Campaign for Learning, learning to learn