Learning strategies help students organize their thinking and be successful learners. Sounds simple, but there’s a little more to it than following a recipe for instruction. Read on to learn about important research and how this directs instructional practices.
What Are Learning Strategies?
In education, we define learning strategies as techniques used by students to become familiar with information. In other words, it’s how we take in information and apply it to other areas of our lives. Without good strategies, students can struggle with acquiring and using the information they are taught in the classroom.
Luckily, educators can directly instruct students on how to become active learners by teaching learning strategies, those strategies that show students how to take in new information and use it in valuable ways.
Teachers bring a lot of instinct to their classrooms, but they aren’t born knowing what is best for all students. Educational research helps illuminate what has been shown to be effective so teachers can use the best methods of instruction in their own classes.
Research can be broken down into two categories: brain science and teachers.You may have heard the words ‘cognitive research’ when determining student needs or preparing professional papers. Brain science, also known as cognitive science, is the area of research that looks into the brain, sometimes literally, to help us understand how it works. The information gleaned from cognitive research steers instructional methods.Separate from cognitive science is research based on the experience of teachers. Master teachers are a great source of educational research. The depth of their experience in the classroom provides researchers with valuable information about how students act and react to instructional methods and content.
How Students Learn
Educational research shines the light on how children learn. There are three viewpoints that can help determine whether a student is using learning strategies or not. The first learning strategy asks the question, ‘How do you remember new information?’ There are a range of tools used by active learners that help them retain information that is new to them.
These tactics include:
- Putting key information into your own words
- Making mental images, or pictures, of new information
- Asking questions and making predictions about the next piece of new information
- Recognizing unknown words and seeking out the meaning
Successful students use all four of these learning strategies to make sense of new information.Our second strategy is framed by the question, ‘How do you study information?’ Once information has been initially stored in the brain, active learners utilize a separate set of techniques that help push the surface knowledge to long-term memory. Strategies for study are:
- Coming up with word games to help memorize facts
- Developing associations between new vocabulary words and learned words
- Using the information in more than one way, such as making index cards from notes or making a web of new data.
And, finally, the third strategy to active learning asks, ‘What do you do with your new learning?’ Successful students don’t just take in new learning; they use it in expressive ways like:
- Writing it in stories, sentences, and paragraphs
- Drawing pictures to connect visuals
- Rereading and checking for errors and monitoring for understanding
Teachers can encourage students to incorporate active learning principles into their own studies by assigning some of these tools in class. For instance, as students begin to learn about the American Revolution, they might start the unit by not only memorizing facts and dates pertinent to the war, but also rephrasing the information into their own words and visualizing it.
Before the test, create word games to help your students remember important names and facts, and link new vocabulary to words they already know. Finally, review the unit at semester end by having your students rewrite events from the war into narrative stories, create a fact web or timeline, or draw pictures of their favorite tale from revolutionary times.
Effective Learning Strategies
Teachers play an important role in successful learning, as does consistency.
Effective teachers can set up instruction strategically so students are more effective learners. Research shows teachers who use the following teaching strategies have more successful learners:
- Each new lesson begins by reviewing the previous lesson. Circling back to yesterday helps young people make connections to their learning.
- New material is presented in small increments and followed immediately by practice. Teach in small chunks to maximize understanding.
- Question all students throughout the lesson.
Don’t assume students understand; verify their understanding frequently. If you move on without their understanding, you’ve lost them.
- Assign practice materials and be a part of the practice.
Practice materials allow students to interact with information and make it their own. When you send students off to practice material, it is vital you interact with them to be sure they’re using the new information correctly and staying focused on the task.
- Scaffold learning. Plan for misunderstandings and have a strategy in place for how you can support all learners, including those who go beyond and those who struggle.
- Recap, review, and connect. End each lesson by recapping what was learned, reviewing how it connects to prior learning, and connecting it to future lessons.
Learning strategies are techniques used by students to become familiar with information. Educational research comes from two sources: brain, or cognitive, science and teacher experience. Brain science, also known as cognitive science, is the area of research that looks into the brain, sometimes literally, to help us understand how it works.
The information gleaned from cognitive research steers instructional methods. This research tells us how to teach students strategies to make learning more sustained. It asks questions such as:
- How do you remember new information?
- How do you study information?
- What do you do with your new learning?
How teachers instruct can make a difference in how students learn as well. Strategies teachers can use to strengthen student learning include following a prescribed step-by-step method of teaching that stresses the need to connect small teaching moments, supported practice, and a plan for all learners.