Learning Strategies that really work

Teaching effectively is more important than ever. Unsurprisingly, increasingly stretched resources, increasing class sizes, and the use of ineffective learning strategies can have a huge impact on teacher workload and wellbeing. Ineffective learning strategies also have detrimental effects on the outcomes for children.

Carl Hendrick, head of Learning and Research at Wellington College, has written extensively on bridging the gap between research and teaching practice. In his book What Does This Look Like in the Classroom?, he points to mounting evidence suggesting that a lot of what teachers have been asked to do in the classroom has been at best ineffective, and at worst a waste of time. He goes on to say that this has led to an unsustainable level of workload and teacher burnout.

Hendrick shares his views in an article written for The Guardian. Here he argues there is significant evidence suggesting that teachers should prune what they do in the classroom and create conditions where children can gain long-lasting knowledge that can be applied across a broad range of subjects and situations.

In a book review by the Chartered College of Teaching, Hendrick’s publication is being lauded as an incredibly timely book. “Interest from teachers in educational research has never been greater, but understanding how to apply it in the classroom can be a minefield.” They recommend that all teachers read the book, both those new to the profession and the really experienced.

Hendrick distils effective learning strategies into six main areas. Here are his key principles for creating effective learning strategies in the classroom:

1 – Revisit learning: It’s not enough to teach a subject and expect pupils to remember everything. Effective learning requires teachers to expose children to new information a number of times.

2 – Check understanding: Teachers need to know their pupils well and recognise common misconceptions. Judicious questioning to test students’ knowledge is imperative.

3 – Provide meaningful feedback – On students, not work: Feedback needs to enable children to do a better job next time. If the feedback doesn’t help them do that, it’s pointless.

4 – Create a positive classroom environment: Expectations in terms of behaviour need to be clear. If what is expected is clear, it becomes the norm, not an aspiration. Creating an environment where children are respectful and understand the privilege of learning is paramount to effective learning.

5 – Offer lots of support and guidance: When children encounter difficulties in learning they need encouragement and support. Limitations in memory can be problematic for some students and usually only expert learners are able to work independently. Guidance in the form of additional explanations and examples, along with sufficient instruction are crucial for enabling students to succeed and work independently in the long term.

6 – Avoid overloading learners: While too little cognitive load leads to diminished learning, overloading learners, especially in complex tasks, has been shown to exceed cognitive bandwidth. New information should be presented in small steps with worked examples in order to provide the building blocks required for effective learning.

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