This week begins a series on how to help young people develop as ‘Reflective Learners’pdf-4825323

Effective learning table.pdfpdf-4825323 Notice it.pdfdoc-6008364 Reflective learners diagram.jpg

It is becoming widely appreciated that, in current times:

  • the knowledge base in society is increasing rapidly, and now doubles every 373 days – teaching knowledge is an anachronism;
  • a wider range of the population process and generate knowledge – information is not the possession of a few ‘experts’;
  • employment prospects relate more to the ability to enhance and transfer learning – the accumulation of qualifications is not enough;
  • the landscape of learning is much wider and richer, involving multiple contexts, modes and sources – learning is no longer the province of special institutions: it is a way of being.

In such a context, our understanding of ‘effective learning’ is developing: of the four items defining ‘effective learning’ in the attached table, the first three could be found in reviews of effective classroom learning half a century ago. The fourth, however, ‘learning about learning’, is one of the crucial additions for our developing understanding of learning in the changing world. Crucially, it involves a reflective mindset; a capacity to monitor and review your learning and, in particular, your learning process.

Very many schools and teachers are now striving to create the sort of learning experiences that help young people not only to develop new knowledge and understanding, but also to develop reflective ‘know-how’.

Helping learners make sense of their learning

There are three broad sorts of classroom practices that help learners gradually to develop a more reflective mindset and the capacity to take ownership of the learning process. These practices build on each other as the learner’s understanding and language for talking about their thinking and learning develop. Making sense of learning has parallels with how we make sense of other things: we do it gradually, we do it by focusing on experiences, trying out explanations, uncovering general principles and applying what we have learned. The three kinds of classroom practice outlined below aim to guide learners through this ‘sense-making’ process, while at the same time making the process visible and explicit.

1) Noticing Learning
This requires that we occasionally stop the flow of classroom life and activity in order to notice. Notice what we did, what the effects were, how it felt, what helped, how we persevered, what we thought we might do with the learning. In these moments we highlight experiences needed to build up a language for noticing learning.

Concrete examples of activities to help students ‘notice learning’ are shared here.

2) Conversations about Learning
This can start with pupils discussing in pairs what they have noticed, or with teacher prompts that help learners reflect on why they were doing certain things that are normally taken for granted: ‘How come that we [did X] yesterday?’ ‘Did you find out anything new?’ ‘How?’ ‘How could you find out more?’

Reflection and dialogue can also be supported by writing in a ‘learning log’ – a notebook or other format for jotting down thoughts and things noticed, sometimes with the help of specific prompts. As three of my former students wrote:

‘These log entries help me a lot. As I write I notice and understand more too’ (Ellie, Yr8)

‘It’s only when you start to write these things down that you think, “Well I could do something about that’’’ (Peter Yr9)

‘..and when you share your thinking out loud… you make connections that you didn’t know you knew.’ (Lucy Y9)

We will look further at strategies for scaffolding this type of learning conversation in the next issue of this bulletin.

3) Making Learning an Object of Learning
When learning can be talked about in some detail, can be reviewed, and described more richly, explicit experiments can be set up to adapt some part of it. It can be done in any context, any classroom, by adding a cycle of ‘learning about learning’ to the cycle of learning about ‘content’ as illustrated in the diagram.

For example, on one occasion we might review, examine and experiment with how we go about remembering – why we remember some things and forget others, and what strategies we can develop from our shared insights. Or we could look at how we handled feelings. Or how we engaged others and how best they help. Features of the context could be reviewed and improved and general principles established for future use.

Examples of running ‘learning experiments’ with young people will be the third area that we will explore this term.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2010

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.