Learning to learn
There are three things which have to happen if pupils are going to do well academically.
First, they have to be taught properly. That means being told about the subject content in a way which they can understand and find interesting. Some subjects are easier to make interesting than others. History is a subject which can quite easily be made interesting. French and Spanish are harder. Websites, short films, online quizzes are all useful. But so is a passionate and highly knowledgeable teacher.
Part of being taught well is assembling good notes. The best notes are those pupils make themselves – they are always easier to learn than notes simply dished-out by a teacher.
What are notes? Notes are a summary of the material you have to learn, presented on the page in a way which is easy to memorise. The main points are made using an arrow to make the point, the sub-points going under it; for example:
—– 1998 earthquake created damage:
……300 people killed
……45 miles of roads destroyed
——response of the govt was slow:
……road access was poor
……disaster was unexpected
……scale of the problem was not understood for two days
……it is a LDC
This method means leaving plenty of white space which has two advantages – it means the notes form shapes on the page, which helps with learning, and it leaves space for adding extra notes later.
Notice that the notes do not lack detail – details are one of the things you need to learn. But the notes are not complete sentences. Abbreviations are used – govt for government and LDC for Less Developed Country. It is also a good idea to give notes some colour…to underline the main points in red, for example.
If any work has been missed the student must copy notes from someone and fill the gaps. No student can do well without complete, high-quality notes.
One good notes have been made they must be put in a ring binder IN THE CORRECT ORDER and card dividers used to divide up sections of the notes.
Secondly, pupils need to be willing to memorise the notes and, especially in the case of maths, practice questions. People talk about ‘character education’ as if it is a new thing. ‘Grit’ and ‘resilience’ are simply words which in the past were encompassed by the term ‘work hard’.
How do you get pupils to work hard? There are three methods.
1 High expectations by the teacher who has personality characteristics which mean pupils want to do well for him or her. Good teachers expect all their pupils to do well and are intolerant of failure. They have belief in their pupils.
2 You make it worth their while because the consequences of not working hard are so horrid. They know that if work is poor, they will have to repeat it.
3 You make it worth their while because the consequences of working hard are so pleasant. They must learn that if they work hard, they will succeed – and it is the teacher’s job to make sure this happens. They have got to appreciate the importance of exams – good exam results lead to a better job, more choices, a higher income.
Finally, the pupil needs to know how to learn well. There are several methods one needs to pass on:
1 Revising notes once, however long it takes, is not as good as revising three times on three separate occasions. It is the COMING BACK time and time again to the same notes that drives them into the long-term memory.
2 In the run-up to an exam it is important to have a revision plan, a plan which allow you to revise everything at least three times before the exam.
In the holidays before an exam term you should revise all your notes at least once. Divide each subject into topics (say, 10 topics per subject). Then divide the number of days you have into two-hour sessions. Plan which topics you are going to do on each day and put a completed timetable up on the wall. Work for two hour sessions with a 30 minute break.
3 Simply reading notes or texts is not the best way to learn. Learning has to be ACTIVE. Review the whole section you are about to learn in order to get the overall picture. Make notes from the notes or text – writing helps to cement information in the memory.
In Maths and Physics work through model answers and then do practice questions.
In languages test yourself every day, writing out mistakes on paper and continue self-testing until you get everything right.
Use a highlighter pen on notes and texts.
Number the main points.
Summarise notes in diagram form.
Above all, test yourself. Testing yourself, however laborious, is the best way of driving material into your brain – as well as telling yourself whether you know the work.