Skip main navigation

Teacher’s view: How children learn

In this video, teachers Patrick and Michelle discuss with Helen their thoughts about how children learn.
Everyone has a view about school, partly because everyone’s been to school but it’s one thing to go to school and another thing to understand how children learn. Patrick can you share your views about how children learn? Yes. Fundamentally I think for children to learn they have to be interested, and to be interested and it has to be the right topic, or task, or activity for them. They have to be able to derive some, some meaning and connect it to something in their life. It has to be probably the right amount of challenge, not too challenging but it depends on the child, and I think they have to be successful as well. Michelle? I think children learn through being hands on.
They need be able to investigate their own learning. They need to be able to come up with their own ideas and their own questions, and just getting fully immersed in the learning. It can’t just be somebody sat at the front of a classroom, telling a child what they’re going to learn. They need to have to construct it themselves. Patrick, can I come back to you. You talked about, you had to have meaning? Can you give an example in your school of where you’ve done something where, where it has meaning to a child? Well, I can give an example of when I was eight years old and it didn’t have meaning.
And that’s when I learnt about polders in the Netherlands, and I still to this day have no idea what a polder was, and at that point, didn’t understand why the teacher was talking to me about podlers. And so, the one thing I’ve never forgotten is, I need to understand what it is I’m learning about and that’s always stuck with me. What are some of the things that adults do to help children learn? What are some of the things adults do which don’t help children learn? I think the first thing that they can do in a classroom, that has a big impact is get the climate right, and not just the temperature the, I mean the the culture in the classroom.
So, if children feel safe and they’re happy to take a risk, they feel secure, they’ve got a sense of enjoyment, then it’s all good for learning and it’s going to encourage them to, to learn. But near the other way if they feel uncertain about things, they don’t really want to take a risk, they’re not sure what’s going to happen, then you’re really never going to get the learning right at all. So, getting that culture right and that feeling in the class, right from the very beginning is key. It’s important for adults to be consistent as well with our expectations.
And, so the children know I’m coming into school, I’m going to be safe, I’m able to take these risks, I won’t be judged for it if it goes wrong. There’s that consistent attitude between the adult and the children and building it up between the peers in the classroom, so that they do feel confident to just have a go whenever they want. So, when you’ve got an adult another adult in the class, they have to mimic your way you are. Yeah, I think that’s really important.
It’s good to have a team, if you’re working with another adult in a class you got to be able to show to the children that you can work together, collaboratively, collaboratively with that adult and that you can make mistakes and the other adult won’t judge, or that adult can make mistakes
and you can support them through their learning, the same as you would with the children. It’s really good to be able to work as a team.
And there some practical things you can do in the classroom as well. The way you set your classroom out and the way you make resources, for example, you accessible to the children, that’s something that you can do, you can do really well and then the children will learn much better, it will flow better. And even thinking about where you put furniture and displays because the children will be drawing on all of those tools and all that support, you know, all the way through their day. So, a classroom that really works well, flows well, the children know where they do different things in the classroom, they know where to get different levels of support as well.
And they’re very practical things that you can do. I think where it goes wrong is where adults are too heavily scaffolding the children’s learning. If they’ve got that misconception or that preconceived conception that these children are going to really struggle here, they’re going to need a lot of support, you can be too much in child’s learning and you need to understand when to step back, and to let those children just have a go and do the best that they can do. Otherwise, they’ll become too heavily reliant on the adults, and that’s where things can start to go wrong. Sometimes in school we talk together about how much time we spend in the classroom in a particular lesson, for example, talking.
How much time is the adult spending talking? How much time as a child spending talking? We think of that as a percentage and we would like to see, a successful class we feel would be one where the children are talking for most of the time, the children are doing things most of the time, and that the adult is perhaps 10 or 20 percent of the time, you know, giving some instructions and some guidance. But sometimes when it goes wrong, it can be completely the other way round and it’s an adult talking for 80 percent of the time.

In our second round table discussion, hear Patrick and Michelle share their own thoughts with Helen about how children learn.

Please note filming took place in 2019. Patrick Pritchett is now at Floreat Montague Primary School.

This article is from the free online

Supporting Successful Learning in Primary School

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now