Career & Education

Teaching kids how to learn

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, April 09, 2017    

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Part of the job of educators is to impart knowledge to students. It is our aim that students listen, absorb and assimilate this material into memory, and that at the end of the day we can say that “learning has taken place”. To what extent is this true though? How can we ensure that students are actually learning if they have never been taught how to learn? It is a fact that after many hours of teaching, followed by the assumption of learning, many students still fail or earn low grades in examinations.

Traditionally, schools emphasise the knowledge that students need to learn, but little prominence is placed on the techniques needed to learn the material. As modern-day educators, in addition to imparting knowledge, we must encourage students to be intentional in their learning and to use their time wisely and efficiently, rather than rely on ‘swatting’. Additionally, we must be active in promoting affirmative attitudes towards learning. Therefore, if a student is doing poorly, there is no point in making him/her feel worse by cursing or belittling him/her. Instead, make constructive comments and help students to develop positive attitudes which are more likely to make a big difference in their academic performance.

Common assumptions

• Assuming that students will identify critical information in a lesson. While teaching, be sure to tell them when something is important and emphasise that it should be written down.

• Assuming that students know how to make notes. Many students feel that it is best to write down every single word the teacher says. This can be ineffective as it prevents them from actually listening to what is being said. It is more effective if, firstly, a discussion is had on the topic, after which a few salient points are written down. Discuss different styles of note-taking such as the use of:

i) Venn Diagrams

ii) Hierarchal Structures

iii) Highlighters

iv) Index cards

v) Rewriting notes

• Assuming that students know how to study. Many times students simply stare at an open book without actually absorbing content. Talk to your students about effective study habits. Explain the value of consistency, repetition and use of practice for learning techniques.

Promoting Active Learning

Active learning involves the use of instructional activities that go beyond listening, reading and memorising. Studies show that engaging students in the learning process increases attention and focus and enhances learning. Active learning requires participation of students in their education and can only occur when the teacher creates the appropriate environment. Rather than sitting passively and listening, students play an active role in their own learning. It definitely requires deeper planning by the educator, but is definitely worth it.

Teaching Tips to Support

• Pose thought-provoking questions to the class and allow a few minutes for students to think about this challenge. Then ask a few students to answer.

• Most times the same few students in a class will answer questions. To change this, have all students write down the answer to the questions and then you can call on the students who do not volunteer willingly. These students may feel more comfortable responding if they are reading their answer.

• You may form small groups within a large class, have them figure out their own questions and then present their answers to the entire class.

• Depending on your class size, try to call each child by name at least once in a session. Students will be more engaged if they believe that you recognise them as individuals.

• Students can act as teachers for clear-cut topics. This is not the same as a student presentation. The student must actually give a lesson that includes discussion, question and answer, practice, and evaluation.

• Use student-generated test questions. Challenge each student to write a test question based on a topic that was just completed. Share the better questions with the class.

Dr Karla Hylton is a graduate of the biotechnology programme at the University of the West Indies. She operates Bio and Chem Tutoring, a Kingston-based teaching programme which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at 404.4506,, or





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