Learning how to learn – the 4Rs

Guest blog by Richard Cross, Head of Middle School, The Perse School

Studies have long sought to group together different types of learner, the most common being the ‘VAK’ model of classification which divides learners into the following categories:

1. Visual – those who learn through looking
2. Auditory – those who learn through listening
3. Kinaesthetic – those who learn through physical activities

Proponents of the use of learning styles in the classroom recommend that teachers adapt their teaching methods to best fit each child’s learning style, although there is little evidence to suggest that this generates better learning outcomes. A recent article by Dr Hilary Leevers (head of education and learning at the Wellcome Trust) suggests that categorising learners into rigid groups of ‘learner types’, and thus delivering content to meet these needs, can actually stifle students’ experiences and may in-fact be detrimental to their learning. Pupils are then at risk of developing a narrow view of their own abilities and may be discouraged from trying activities that do not fit with the learning style with which they have been labelled.

Instead of teaching by the maxims of ‘learning styles’, a growing body of research suggests that adopting ‘learning to learn’ strategies helps students perform better and realise their learning potential. Rather than delivering content tailored to specific learning styles, students are instead encouraged to think about learning more explicitly.

Our Year 9 students will be exploring the skills of ‘learning power’ through the ‘4Rs’, described by the cognitive scientist Professor Guy Claxton. As part of their study skills programme in the coming weeks the students will look at: Resilience (the way you deal with yourself); Resourcefulness (the ways you think), Relating (the way you deal with others) and Reflection (the way you improve as a learner).

Several different elements work together to form each of the 4Rs, from perseverance and self-belief within Resilience, reasoning and memory in Resourcefulness, to listening and collaboration in Relating and planning and reviewing in Reflection – all highlighting habits of mind and learning skills.

Students will be asked to adopt a different method of learning for each of their subjects, including teaching someone else in maths, using diagrams and pictures in biology and using mind-maps in history. They will then be asked to assess how effective this method was in helping them learn, so that they can begin to understand how they learn, and develop strategies to adopt so that they can learn better. Students use a variety of different methods to learn on a daily basis, and it is important for us to encourage them to use as many of the methods they have at their disposal, rather than confining them to just one, as per the VAK model.

The 4Rs are based on the concepts of meta-cognition i.e. teaching students strategies to set goals in order to monitor and evaluate their own learning, and self-regulation i.e. managing one’s own motivation towards learning, all of which help our students understand their individual learning strengths and weaknesses, and provide them with strategies to utilise during their learning processes. Such strategies help students take responsibility for their learning and increase their understanding of what it takes to be successful.

By utilising the ideas promoted by the 4Rs, and revisiting the ideas throughout the Middle School, pupils will learn to become motivated, happy learners who are equipped with the tools and strategies to stick with their learning when it gets tough, developing their confidence to ask questions and talk things through. In getting our pupils thinking about learning now, we are helping to develop invaluable skills for their future learning experiences at school, university and ultimately, in the workplace.

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