Do we land in school, equipped and ready to learn at the age of four or five, or do we need to learn how to learn? And if we must learn how to learn, is this something we do once and are then forever equipped for the learning challenges ahead of us? Or do we need to hone our learning skills as we travel through the curriculum year by year? If we are to offer children the very best chances of success in their school careers, we really need to be able to answer these questions.
Unsurprisingly, there seem to be no clear-cut answers. For some the notion of “learning to learn” is a fiction to be consigned to the bin alongside the teaching of critical thinking. For others, learning to learn is a core element of excellent teaching and learning to be focused on throughout a child’s life at school. But is it not obvious that, as teachers, we need to think about learning how to learn, and we need to encourage our students to think about learning how to learn? Do we not need to understand tenacity and commitment and not giving up?
In his recent book, The Joy of Not Knowing, (Routledge) Marcelo Staricoff writes of developing a whole school “joy of not knowing” culture for learning. He identifies six key areas of influence which together make up the school’s culture for learning. These six ways of being are as follows:
- Values: Being safe by being thoughtful, caring, understanding, empathetic and respectful with each other.
- Vision: Being aspirational and feeling that the school’s vision makes anything and everything possible for every individual.
- Children’s rights: Being responsible for ourselves and being aware of how our actions contribute to everyone’s rights to be met.
- Lifelong learning dispositions: Being intrinsically motivated by feeling equipped with all the characteristics associated with effective thinking and learning.
- Global sustainability: Being environmentally aware and conscious of the impact of our actions on our world now for future generations.
- Community links: Being socially connected and feeling that we can all function successfully as individuals and as members of the home, family, local, national and international communities. (P. 25)
At the heart of the six ways of being are the lifelong learning dispositions. As Staricoff explains in his book, “The explicit teaching of how to learn is the most precious gift that schools can give.” For Staricoff, developing a joy of not knowing can lead to an intrinsic motivation for wanting to know. He writes, “Once learners become intrinsically motivated to want to know and learn, it is very important for them to feel that they know how to learn what they know they want to learn. Knowing how to learn therefore needs to be taught.
In order to address this need, Staricoff proposes a Learning to Learn Week which is designed to:
- Place the processes of thinking, learning and knowing at the heart of the teaching and learning process
- Create an inspirational and motivational learning to learn culture in the classroom
- Equip all learners with the tools, skills and dispositions of successful lifelong learners and creative and critical thinkers from the outset of the academic year
- Provide the practitioner with the opportunity to gain an in-depth knowledge of each child in the class as an individual, learner and creative thinker. (P. 74)
By focusing on these learning aptitudes before the main work of the year begins, children gain confidence in their ability to learn and to navigate their way through the learning challenges that may lie ahead. Learning to learn may also help to instill the notion that learning does not stop at school. The inquisitiveness and questioning that we all need in order to make sense of our world and our lives does not and should not stop at the school gates.
As children grow older and move on through school, learning to learn will become more sophisticated. They may learn about the retrieval of what we read and digest, spacing and repeating learning, testing and quizzing, and how best to learn in a remote environment. If children are learning to learn throughout their school careers, they are becoming more sophisticated as young academics and may even find exams less stressful and demanding.
Moving children on in their learning, helping them to become more independent and to love the very act of learning is a key part of the “job” of schools. Whether we do this through specific and targeted days or weeks, such as Staricoff’s “Learning to Learn Week”, or on an ongoing basis throughout the school year, or a combination of the two, we need to ensure that all children acquire the skills they need to be successful life-long learners, inquisitive, questioning and thinking critically.
Find out more…
Marcelo Staricoff’s book, The Joy of Not Knowing published by Routledge, can be found here: The Joy of Not Knowing: A Philosophy of Education Transforming Teaching (routledge.com)
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.