Learning to learn

Author: Tom Barwood
Published: 20/08/2020

Learning to enjoy learning

Revision, knowledge, learning, exams. Not words that fill anyone (especially students) with excitement, but ones which are important. Yet, when it comes to something that is interesting or of significance to life, e.g. a driving test, students are desperate to find out what they can, and pursue any avenue to remember the important facts.

Not having a sense that what you are learning is taking you somewhere you want to go can be ‘all check in, no holiday’. And who would do that?

Asking students questions can help kickstart the learning process. Here are a few examples.

  • What is it that will make you feel successful?
  • Who do you know that does something you would like to do?
  • If you could do any job for a day, what would it be?

Ensure that students’ brains are tuned to the right station for learning. Listening to ‘Limiting Beliefs FM’ playing tracks like ‘This is boring’, ‘I’m too thick’ or ‘I am rubbish at Maths’, etc. will get students nowhere. Re-tuning to the hit tracks available from ‘Growth Mindset FM’ is really worthwhile. As with the radio, it’s up to students which station they tune into!

There is no set way of learning – what many perceive as the ‘proper’ way of learning works for about 10% of the population. Students who class themselves as ‘good learners’ normally use a cocktail of different ideas and techniques to get there.

Remember though that one student’s preferred cocktail may not suit another student. So, ask students to experiment with different styles of learning such as mind mapping, note taking, reading aloud, playing a recording back, singing and dancing the words, putting actions and movements to text, using brightly coloured pens and post-it notes to highlight the work, until they start to find the right mix that works for them.

Students have five senses – try to put them all to good use rather than just relying on the big two (vision and hearing). Maybe ask yourself how you might teach to a group that was blindfolded or unable to hear?

Once students start absorbing or registering more, they will find that they are retaining more. This process may be helped further by using well-established memory techniques such as mnemonics, the journey technique, or making what students try to remember into vivid and lively pictures as part of a story they tell themselves. Remember, memory is a learned technique. The more students practise, the stronger the ‘muscle memory’ becomes.

If students review what they have learned at intervals of 30 minutes, 24 hours and 1 week,  it should arrest their natural function of ‘memory decay’ and can boost their ability to recall by a huge amount.

When it comes to revising, as in sports training, students learn best when they do it in concentrated bursts. Encourage them to use the ‘Test/Reward’ model, e.g. a sprint followed by a rest to break their learning into 20-minute bursts (using the alarm on their phones). At the end of each burst, they should briefly test themselves to see what they have remembered and then reward themselves with a five-minute mini break. Ask them to do this in blocks of about one and a half hours (three sets) up to four times in the day, but with a substantial break involving fresh air and activity in between each one. This way, students should find that they are learning lots and remaining happy! 

Download the accompanying resource to help students begin their learning journey.

Tom Barwood

Tom Barwood is an experienced teacher, author of the best-selling 'Learning to Learn', and founder of Likeminds Consulting.