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More than one way of learning

So, what is the best way to learn? It’s complex, there’s still so much we don’t know. In many ways it depends on what you want to learn, to know how to learn.

As an example, if you have some complicated chemical formula, it may be better to use some mnemonic to commit it to memory. If you’re needing to learn about how to behave in a certain situation some of it may come down to imitation by watching others. If you’re wanting to play a particular song on the guitar, some of it’s about simply doing it until you get it right. This illustrates the point that there isn’t one best way to learn. Here are some points to note when it comes to learning:

  • Accepting every child is different
  • Make learning accessible, straightforward and possible for all
  • Don’t assume schooling is the same as educating nor learning
  • Schooling assumes four walls and desks. Not all children necessarily learn best in those circumstances.

An example to illustrate the last point is outdoor teaching. Some children (not always boys, but often boys) will become very keen about reading if they are allowed to take books outside to read. Being outside appeals to some children as it makes them feel less tense and possibly less likely to feel they are being judged. It may be more comfortable for a child to learn something as risky as reading in an outside environment. And the word risky is used for a reason. Learning to read is very difficult and if you’re anxious about making mistakes (which you’ll do a lot as you learn to read) you need to feel as relaxed as possible, and for some children being outside makes them feel relaxed.

Some children at whatever age may need to build and create to understand. For example, a four-year old took six crates and one child-size ladder as they wanted to make a bridge with the ladder resting on two stacks. They spent 20 minutes doing this because initially they had one stack of two crates and one stack of four. Then they put the stacks too far apart so the top (ladder) couldn’t rest on the stacks. However, during this time, the child was learning about science and maths, calculating width, estimation, symmetry and equity. They couldn’t have learned this if they’d just been given a piece of paper, the child had to do it to understand it.

Children learn when the concept/idea/skill/knowledge is just out of their grasp but close enough to be possible. Vygotksy calls this the zone of proximal development, in other words, those skills that the learner is close to mastering. And its a real skill to ensure and know when a child is nearly ready to master the next thing. I sometimes experience children who have given up because things are often so far out of their grasp that they are struggling.

Therefore, when you’re helping someone else learn and they say “I don’t get something”, “I can’t do it”, or “I’m not clever” tell them to not worry and start with what they can do, what they do know and build on that. Going back to what a child can do, helps us help them, rather than trying to teach them something which is too hard or confusing and putting them off learning.

Have you experienced an instance where grasping a concept in class has seemed just out of reach for a child? What actions did you take to stop the child from giving up? Share your thoughts in the comments area, below.


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Supporting Successful Learning in Primary School

University of Reading

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