Teaching Children How to Learn: Plan, Do, Review! Paperback – 18 Oct 2015
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The book is divided into 3 main sections. Section 1 (32 pages) focuses on key issues relating to developing metacognitive awareness and learning strategies with primary age children. This is presented clearly and is very readable and easy to follow. There are very useful sections on teacher roles in a systematic programme of learning to learn – including how to encourage reflection, reviewing and the creation of learning portfolios. There are also sections on encouraging parental involvement, learner motivation and key pedagogical principles relating to primary age learners.
Section 2 takes these principles and shows how they can be applied with groups of primary learners (with a few for early years and lower secondary - making it a flexible resource for a range of YL ELT contexts) in the form of 25 lesson plans, following the plan do review format. Each of the plans is based on an age appropriate theme and the recipe format (including useful information about age group, learning aims, learning strategies and curricular links) allows the teacher to quickly identify which would be most suitable for their purpose.
The plans are easy to follow and review stages to encourage learner reflection are really detailed. The inclusion of a mascot - Wilbur the worm – is an interesting and age appropriate technique for signalling the focus on learning to learn and the multiple roles he plays are clearly explained in the notes. It’s clear that the authors have put a lot of thought into how to incorporate the topic in classroom context as the plans are ready to be used immediately – with accompanying worksheets for learners and teachers (all of these are included in reduced form in the appendices and are also available in full size as downloadable resources). The fact that the plans are topic based is helpful for teachers wanting to make links with topics the children are already studying – this is particularly important for systematic application. I particularly like the suggestions for topic related storybooks which can be used to supplement each of the plans – very useful for planning series of lessons in an engaging, age appropriate way.
The 3rd section focuses on the role of reflection on classroom practice as part of professional development and contains practical teacher development activities. There are plan-do-review sequences focussing on one of 10 key principles, teaching strategies and on-going development. This section covers a wide range of relevant topics and provides very clear structure and tasks for guiding reflection.
Overall, I think this book is a great buy for anyone who wants to integrate a more systematic focus on learning to learn with classes of primary age children and I am really looking forward to using this myself in the new year.
Part A covers the ‘plan’ stage of the framework and equips teachers with the necessary theoretical background to approach learning to learn with primary English learners. The authors explain how learning to learn is based on a philosophy of constructivism and social interactionism. They clarify terminology associated with the processes of learning and ways to focus children’s attention on both how they learn and what they learn. This background convincingly highlights how learning to learn underpins all learning in the English language classroom and how its link with learner autonomy is one of the most important aspects of a child’s overall educational development. The case is also made for ways learning to learn values diversity and takes into account that children develop in different ways and at different rates and have different learning preferences.
A number of key pedagogical principles influence both the design and use of learning to learn activities in this book:
• varying modes of input and types of response
• using an English language portfolio
• including assessment for learning opportunities
• listening to children’s voices during the learning process
• informing children about the purpose of activities
• making learning to learn a core part of classroom routines
• positioning parents / caregivers as essential partners in the learning process
• promoting positive attitudes and developing values
• incorporating useful cross-curricular links
• ensuring activities have a main outcome
These 10 principles resonate clearly with the pedagogical innovations I introduced as a Manager of Young Learner English Language Programmes in Myanmar. When I arrived in 2010, the syllabus was heavily structural, coursebook-based with decontextualized, summative assessment tests at the end of the course. To move toward sound age-appropriate practice, I introduced outcomes-based syllabi with ongoing assessment and portfolios to demonstrate evidence of learning throughout the academic year. By embedding a ‘learning to learn’ section in each syllabus document with concrete reflection activities and learning record sheets as part of the portfolios, the teaching team were able to provide ‘space’ in their classroom routines for learning to learn. Also, when I embarked on the YL Manager post, there were no opportunities for parents / caregivers to meet with teachers and discuss their child’s progress and achievements. Introducing parent / caregiver consultations each term using the portfolios and learning outcomes gave us concrete ways to promote home involvement and foster greater understanding of how children learn languages and our methodology. We also incorporated a weekly ‘value added’ lesson based on a story-based syllabus using story notes from Tell it Again! The Storytelling Handbook for Primary English Language Teachers and Promoting Diversity Through Children’s Literature (both downloadable free of charge from the TeachingEnglish website). This enabled us to incorporate a rich ‘values’ and intercultural learning / understanding dimension, which was also based on a main outcome and embedded in our syllabus documents.
For anyone keen to implement age-appropriate pedagogical innovations in a similar way to those which I led on in Myanmar (2010-2013), Teaching children how to learn provides excellent support for this. For example, learning to learn is made fully accessible to primary-aged children using the class mascot ‘Wilbur the worm’ who encourages learners to become independent, provides information about language and content, creates an atmosphere of trust, builds the classroom community, models both language and learning strategies, encourages the children to talk about their learning and to interact. As part of the Delta Teacher Development Series, Teaching children how to learn also incorporates extensive additional downloadable materials from the Delta Publishing website (unlike any of the other titles in this series). Part B i.e. the ‘do’ stage of the framework contains a set of learning to learn activities with detailed descriptions for the teacher. In addition, there are great scaffolds for self-assessment and reflective reviewing such as ‘My Activity Record’ sheets which can readily be used for portfolios and assessment for learning throughout a course / academic year.
As a Cambridge Young Learner Extension tutor, I dedicate a session to ‘Learning to learn for children’ on the course timetable to emphasise its importance to candidates and provide them with practical ideas. Teaching children how to learn was particularly useful for me when crafting a learning to learn input session last year in Singapore. I used a loop input approach with one of the activities from Part B: ‘Writing a senses poem’ entitled, ‘English feels / smells / looks / sounds / tastes like…’ After demonstrating the activity cycle, I used the routine reflection questions from the book to run a teacher-led review stage:
• What did you do?
• What did you learn?
• How did you learn?
• How well did you do?
• What do you need to do next?
This enabled course participants to experience first-hand what it is like for primary English language learners to engage in a learning to learn activity and ways to implement the Plan-Do-Review routine in classroom practice. We ensured it was incorporated into lesson plans during the teaching practice phase of the course. By taking a pro-active approach to learning to learn in the context of teacher training and development, I found we can really enable primary ELT practitioners to implement it in a confident and principled manner. Again, Teaching children how to learn provided superb support for this, by also using a loop input type approach in Part C – the ‘review’ section of the framework. This has a variety of professional development tools which are experiential and promote significant reflection including: a focus on pedagogical principles, teaching strategies, ongoing development strategies, self-assessment and drawing up a personal action plan.
This book makes an extremely important contribution to primary English language teaching both for learners and teachers. Having used activities from the book in lessons with primary-aged learners in Thailand over the past four months, the benefits for the children are numerous. They have become active and questioning participants in and contributors to their own learning process as well as more reflective through the development of the ability to review and self-assess. This in turn has enabled them to take control of their learning and gradually become more independent learners. Greater involvement in classroom-related decision-making has increased their motivation and supported the development of their collaborative learning and communication skills. The most far reaching benefits I have observed is how the ideas in the book promote positive attitudes and self-esteem and as the children learn to account for their learning, this has made a real contribution to their sense of progress and achievement.
As a primary ELT teacher trainer for in-service teachers, including those taking Delta Module 2 with classes of primary, I have recommended Teaching children how to learn to my trainees without hesitation. Benefits I’ve observed include the insight they have gained into what children think as well as concrete support for fostering relationships between teachers, children and parents / caregivers. For candidates specialising in Young Learners for Delta Module 3, the book has really helped my tutees plan the next steps in learning as well as understand the way children learn and their learning preferences. For all the teachers I have trained who have used this book, it has encouraged them to become more reflective and aware of the importance of routines and time management when planning their lessons.
Overall, Teaching children how to learn is not only a must read, but also a ‘must use’ and the authors are to be commended for such an outstanding achievement. Whether you are a primary English language teacher, a Young Learner teacher trainer or a materials developer, order a copy now!
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