Learning to learn in the primary classroom

Author: Tom Barwood
Published: 20/08/2020

Learning in the primary classroom

Younger children are innate and incredible learners. From birth to early years there is a torrent of synapse building as their neural architecture is constructed. How can you capitalise on this period of cognitive construction, or help where the process has been impaired or delayed?

You only have to take children to the pantomime to realise that they are immensely curious. There is only one cure for boredom; curiosity – and fortunately there is no cure for curiosity.

So how can you stimulate and utilise this innate desire to find out? Without doubt, the starting (and continuing!) point is by engaging the five senses, all with a sense of mystery.

  • Put anything in a ziplock bag, hand out latex gloves and magnifying glasses, and suddenly whatever is in the bag is a forensic test, not just a lesson.
  • Try to see how many colours you can come up with by tasting different sweets (even if you don’t actually do it). Does a Parma Violet make you think of purple? Does a Polo ‘taste’ of white or just look white?

Think of ways to engage all five senses, not just the big three: sight, sound and touch.

When using the senses combined with a sense of mystery to stimulate curiosity (and, by default, learning), you can begin to use questioning techniques. You can ask questions that need to be solved, and children might ask or come up with questions which will take them to the next level.

This all allows for reporting, recording, feeding back and team reviewing (especially with a view to how activities could be done better next time), and developing higher order thinking skills with good questions. Using ‘pose, pause, pounce, bounce’ for questioning can make the technique fun, less threatening and something over which children can have control.

When children have a perceived sense of control over what they’re doing, you can piggy back onto their natural capacity to learn. Use clear instructions aided and abetted by WALT (What are we ‘really’ learning?), WILF (What am I ‘really’ looking for?) and WAGOLL (What ‘I think’ a good one could look like!).

Getting children used to the idea of continuous improvement using WWW and EBI (especially for each other) allows you to ‘scaffold’ a process and show them what a growth mindset looks like in practice.

At this stage, children are always learning by adding the unknown to the known and seeing it as a building process. Learning = Understanding + Memory!

This is a rich and fertile time in which to allow children to learn through endless amounts of experimentation. But you also need guides and pointers to help you decide on and utilise the best strategies to guide this process.

Download the Learning to learn resource for teachers. 

Tom Barwood

Tom Barwood is an experienced geography teacher and author of the best-selling Learning to Learn from Teachers’ Pocketbooks. He is the founder of Likeminds Consulting www.likemindslearning.co.uk.