Opinion
Curriculum Teacher Leaders Network

Teaching Secrets: Teaching Students How to Learn

By Cossondra George — July 19, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Great teachers not only have a firm grasp of content but are also adept at helping diverse learners master those concepts and skills. It can be a lot to manage, and new teachers sometimes lose sight of another important aspect of our roles: guiding students to become responsible for their own learning.

Even veteran teachers sometimes tell students to “take notes” or to “study” without ever sharing strategies for doing so. Modeling techniques for reading, note-taking, and studying can take time, but it is a worthwhile investment. By encouraging students to be intentional in their learning, you can equip them with the tools they need to be successful in your own classroom and in the future.

Awareness of common pitfalls and effective strategies can support your efforts to help students “learn to learn” throughout the school year:

Pitfall #1: Assuming students will be able to identify important information and take useful notes. Note-taking activities can be fraught with problems, particularly if the text is above the student’s reading level. Often students start writing immediately, taking wild guesses about what might matter. They blindly gather bits and pieces without a sense of how the facts relate to one another.

Avoiding the Pitfall: Work with students to demonstrate effective reading and note-taking strategies. Read selections aloud. Model (and have students discuss) how to select information that is worthy of inclusion in notes. Demonstrate techniques like previewing the reading, examining bold words and headings, putting main ideas in your own words, and being attentive to captions.

Explore different styles of note-taking, and discuss how to match note-taking styles with the content covered. For example, help students learn to recognize when it might be appropriate to use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast two topics, or when an outline’s hierarchical structure will help organize the study of chronological events. Introduce a range of note-taking tools (including highlighters, sticky notes, and index cards) that meet the varied needs of all learners. Practice taking notes as a group, engaging students in discussion about what is important and how to record it.

Pitfall #2: Assuming students know how to “study.” The truth is that many students do not know how to go about learning material on their own.

Avoiding the Pitfall: Once students have learned to read carefully and take meaningful notes, you can guide them in using those tools to study effectively.

Set aside small chunks of class time each day to intentionally teach students about strategies for studying. Demonstrate that repetition is critical to retaining new material. Introduce different ways of using their notes: quizzing themselves with note cards, playing review games, and creating test questions for one another. Practice vocabulary together every day. Work on creating mnemonics to remember difficult sequences. Help students realize that learning is a process, not a night-before-the-test memorization activity.

Pitfall #3—Assuming students understand the link between studying and academic performance. Students who have never learned to identify important ideas, take useful notes, and study effectively may not “believe in” studying to enhance their academic performance. They may even assume that higher-performing students are “just smarter.”

Avoiding the Pitfall: Set the stage to show students the dividends they will reap from their efforts. As you guide students in learning to take notes and study effectively, give them opportunities to evaluate and reflect on these techniques.

Ask students to set learning goals for their unit (perhaps based on pretests, if you use them). Regularly review those learning goals and have students reflect on their own progress. Prod students to discover what they still need to accomplish in order to be successful. As you monitor individual students’ progress, make adjustments in your instruction and help them plan how to meet their own learning needs.

After the unit test or other assessment, have students reflect on their own progress from the initial pretest to the final product. How did the process of studying lead them to success? Which study tools do they find most useful? In what areas do they need to find new tools to help them learn? Asking students to think about how they learn (and to make adjustments accordingly) will help them feel more in control of their own academic progress.

As you work through the process together over the course of the school year, “learning to learn” will become quicker and more automatic for students. And you will have shared a valuable gift with them: the ability to encounter, organize, and internalize new concepts in their academic and professional lives.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum From Our Research Center Privacy, Porn, and Parents in the Room: Sex Education's Pandemic Challenges
After more than a year of instructional shifts and social isolation, students need sex education that is media-savvy and relationship-wise.
7 min read
Conceptual image of students feeling isolated, but also trying to connect.
Mary Haasdyk for Education Week
Curriculum Calls to Ban Books by Black Authors Are Increasing Amid Critical Race Theory Debates
Books about race and the experiences of Black Americans are being challenged by parents who claim they make white children feel uncomfortable.
8 min read
Fans of Angie Thomas, a Jackson, Miss., resident whose book, "The Hate U Give," has been on a national young adult best-seller list for over 80 weeks, show off their copies at a reception and book signing for the author, in Jackson on Oct. 10, 2018. Thomas' novel has crossed over to a wider audience than simply young adults. The reception honored her writing as well as the coming release of the big screen adaption of the first novel.
The young adult best-seller "The Hate U Give" was one of the top 10 most challenged books of 2020.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Curriculum District That Banned Diverse Books Reverses Its Decision After Pushback
A Pennsylvania district voted unanimously to reinstate a four-page list of resources from some of today's most acclaimed creators of color.
Tina Locurto, The York Dispatch, Pa.
3 min read
Image of books on a library shelf.
iStock/Getty
Curriculum He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He's Fighting to Get His Job Back
Matthew Hawn is an early casualty in this year's fight over how teachers can discuss with students America's struggle with racism.
13 min read
Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn sits on his couch inside his home on August 17, 2021.
Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for lessons and materials he used to teach about racism and white privilege in his Contemporary Issues class at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, Tenn.<br/>
Caitlin Penna for Education Week