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Learning to Learn

21 September 2017

How do students learn how to learn? Does your child know how they learn best? Learning is a lifelong process. It is important that children understand that learning is a process not just a product.

It is important that students are aware of how they learn best. This is well documented with Howard Gardner’s work on Multiple Intelligence theory and further research. Gardner states that, ‘there is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is that they are studying, unless they learn to ask questions, to do things hands on, to essentially re-create things in their own mind and transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear.’

The theory of Multiple Intelligences was proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983 as a new model for understanding how people learn. He identified nine different types of intelligence, of which each person has their own unique combination.

One of the greatest benefits of this theory is seeing more parents and educators recognise, appreciate and nurture the different strengths and skills children call upon when engaging with the world. It informs how we can best communicate and interact with each child to help them learn and grow.

Respecting individual intelligences and learning styles means offering your child a variety of ways to learn. This does not mean that you should shy away from helping him develop certain skills — almost anything can be taught in a way that works well for a specific intelligence. When you identify and respond to children’s intelligence and learning style, you help them approach the world on their own terms. Playing to their strengths can make mastering new skills less frustrating — and can help them develop a lifelong love of learning. It is a great gift to understand the unique ways children learn. When we understand what speaks to our children (and to ourselves), we are in a much better position to guide their development and help them reach their potential.

Since the release of Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ there is much talk and focus on the 10,000 Hours Theory. Gladwell’s book and subsequent research suggests that it takes 10,000 hours for someone to become an outlier or expert in a given field. The truth of the matter is that it only takes approximately 20 hours of practice to learn a new skill and to become competent at it. So, if you were to pick up a new musical instrument today and practice for 30 minutes everyday, it would take you 40 days to learn the new skill of playing that instrument. You would not be an expert or master; however, you would have learned the new skill of playing that instrument. It is important to remind children of this and that it does not take very long to learn a new skill if they are focused and dedicated with their time.

In school, we focus on building the confidence and capacity of the individual learner – in a sense, empowering the learner. This is usually interpreted as giving the learner a sense of their own value as a learner; developing personal skills and strategies to enable self-management and direction; building a repertoire of learning strategies to offer a range of learning options; developing transferable skills for further flexibility, study and employability.

In today's world, how students learn is just as important as what they learn. At The British School Warsaw, students are taught the basic skills in all the fundamental learning areas. They are also taught to be active seekers of information and constructors of knowledge. This is accomplished through teaching methods that emphasize the following strategies.

Engaged Learning - Students are engaged in active learning when they read, write, listen, speak and view in a variety of settings to gather information and develop concepts important to everyday life. These concepts, together with basic facts, form the foundation for all learning.

Problem Solving - Problem solving is fundamental to all curriculum areas. Students construct knowledge of the world as they recognize problems, formulate solutions and arrive at conclusions.

Communication - Communication is central to learning to express ideas and understand the ideas of others. Clear communication involves use of standard grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalisation.

Collaboration - Collaboration is an important process in a democratic society. Learning is often a social process that requires students to value and work with others.

Seeking Connections - Knowledge does not exist in isolation. Students learn that the content areas are connected. Such learning is essential to forming a comprehensive understanding of the world in which we live.

Technology - Technology allows students to reach beyond the walls of the classroom to obtain information on a wide variety of topics. Technology permits students to be active researchers and communicators in the quest for knowledge.

Children learn from everything they do. They are naturally curious; they want to explore and discover. If their explorations bring pleasure or success, they will want to learn more. During these formative years, children form attitudes about learning that will last a lifetime. Children who receive the right sort of support and encouragement during these years will be creative, adventurous learners throughout their lives. Children who do not receive this sort of support and interaction are likely to have a very different attitude about learning later in life. For parents of young children, the goal should be to support the development of motivation so that there is a proper foundation for optimal educational growth. Allow children to explore and discover their world. Around every corner is an experience just waiting to surprise and excite young, growing minds; all they need is a small amount of direction and a large amount of freedom. Remember, the habits and attitudes toward learning that are formed in these early years set the mood for all future learning.

Mike Waterhouse
Head of Primary