Should we teach children how to study?


See here for how (How we Learn: What Works, What Doesn’t)

But how is this different from programmes and language like ‘Learning to Learn‘ or ‘Building Learning Power‘?

Programmes such as these seem to sit more in the affective domain, than the cognitive.  They tried to be a theory of everything, bringing in motivation, academic self-concept, meta-cognition, relationships with every stakeholder imaginable, and the so-called ‘soft skills.’

At the same time, they communicate next to nothing about what to actually do if you want to learn something.  ‘Learn from your mistakes’ might be sage wisdom, as you’d imagine dispensed from a village elder, but it hardly tells me what to do today so that I still recall all that lovely history tomorrow, or 20 years hence.  They appear to make the mistake of conflating output with input, providing a description of what we see when we look at a ‘good learner’ rather than what went in to making them a good learner.


Learning to Learn


Building Learning Power

Dunlosky, Willingham et al. have put together a super-simple guide to what probably works, and what doesn’t.  It’s short, it’s actionable.  Here it is:

Gold Stars (definitely do)

  1. Self-quizzing
  2. Distributed practice

Runners Up (maybe do…)

  1. Elaboration
  2. Self-Explanation
  3. Interleaved Practice

Don’t Do!

  1. Highlighting
  2. Rereading

Notably, it is *not* a theory of everything, and here’s where the word ‘study’ becomes important.  For my part, I see study as an activity that a person will engage in with relative independence from the teacher.  It might be entirely on their own, it might be with others, but I would expect it to take place mostly outside of a classroom.  I see ‘studying’ as the act of either working to ensure content it retained for the long-term, or elaborating on existing knowledge to build connections, meaning and therefore deeper understanding.

While knowledge of the above is of course important to teachers as well, teaching is not studying.  I know that sounds obvious, but often distinct activities within, or without, a classroom, become conflated with the entire enterprise of teaching.

The ‘independence’ is important, because it involves choices on the part of the student, therefore the student needs to know how to make good choices, therefore we must teach them how to make good choices.  Whether or not they will make them is another matter, which can be dealt with by other theoretical models and practical approaches.  But they do need to at least know how to study effectively, independently, and we need to teach them.  It would take very little time to do, rather than taking over the curriculum.


About Kris Boulton

Teach First 2011 maths teacher, focussed on curriculum design.
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