How Do You Maximise Learning?

I spend a lot of time researching some of the most innovative teaching and learning ideas from around the world. This blog aims to showcase some of these ideas.

How to maximise learning is a question that lies at the heart of every student’s individual success, school improvement and even national economic growth.  For a student to survive and prosper in our fast-changing world they need to be good at continuous, effective learning.

No-one has all the answers, but our contribution to this topic will lie in three main areas:

We must train students to be better at the process of learning

We now know what learning strategies have the most positive effect on learning outcomes. So we should demonstrate and embed those techniques into classes day by day, to create self-managed, skilled learners.

The result is that students can at least partially teach themselves and their peers – so you get more learning from the same amount of teaching.

But it does more. If a student is skilled at the process of learning he or she can be motivated to learn independently from the increasing amount of high quality digitised anytime anywhere learning resources outside the classroom. So you can also get more total teaching at no more cost to the school – increased productivity!

We must personalise learning

I am an unashamed supporter of what has been called the digital school. Good teachers have always done their best at differentiation but in a class of 30, that can only go so far.

But now in schools where each student can have his or her own tablet or computer, and feedback from teacher to each student and from student to teacher can be instant, true personalised learning IS possible. Teachers can see where each student has got to on a topic, and what he or she doesn’t yet understand. Then appropriate content can be delivered to that student so he can master it before moving on.

Technology in schools is not about ‘cool’ stuff, but about how to invest wisely to create higher quality learning.

Lessons need to be as enjoyable, motivating and memorable as possible.

Of course that is what all teachers strive for.

Best practice examples of the Digital School

The idea of 1:1 education is further developed in the USA, so I’ll take some examples from there.

Pennsylvania’s 1-to-1 computing initiative Classrooms for the Future

It has supported 12,000 teachers and 500,000 students statewide. The programme equips English, maths, science and social studies classrooms with internet-connected laptops and advanced learning resources.

A key finding is that success revolves around training to ensure that teachers had the skills necessary to fully take advantage of the new devices that were available. They received professional development that helped them elevate their capabilities beyond traditional teaching techniques, enabling them to better support personalised learning.

Training should also be treated as an ongoing process, not a one-time event. It takes time to learn to teach in a 1-to-1 environment. By providing ongoing support and coaching, key skills and competencies can be cultivated most effectively. And by providing a mix of virtual and face-to-face training, teachers are most likely to acquire skills that stick. Once teachers become digital teachers they can’t go back to being analogue teachers!

In addition, Pennsylvania ensured adequate IT support staff with tools to enable them to remotely diagnose and repair hardware problems. Teachers are not computer technicians!

Quakertown Community School District in Pennsylvania

They created a “self-blend” learning environment for students. Some take online classes at home, and others work on them during free periods during the school day. There are cyber lounges, where students can work comfortably in a cafe setting between their face-to-face classes. The online courses allow students to move at their own pace and complete courses based on competency rather than being tethered to the traditional semester timeline.

Carpe Diem a secondary school (US grades 6 to 12, ages 11-18) in Yuma, Arizona

It uses a ‘flipped’ model. In 35-minute increments students rotate from online learning for concept introduction and instruction to face-to-face for reinforcement and application. In 2010, Carpe Diem ranked first in its county in student performance in maths and reading and in the top 10 percent of Arizona schools.

San Diego school district

They equipped their students with 1:1 computers and, significantly, they highlight the speed of feedback on student understanding as the key immediate benefit.

Says Blake-Plock, who writes the popular Teach Paperless blog:  “It’s this model of deeply analyzing the data in a way that no human teacher would have time to do, and mapping lessons to kids’ abilities, that’s fundamental to what education is going to look like in the future. Technology allows students to go in their own direction, which is really difficult to do in a classroom with 30 different kids at 30 different levels in 50 minutes.”

New York City’s School of One

A fascinating experiment based at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Middle School in Chinatown, New York, it provides maths lessons that are customised every day to meet the individual needs and progress of the 80 incoming 7th-graders (12-year-olds) who volunteered to attend the five-week session.

The School of One combined face-to-face instruction, software-based activities, and online lessons designed to move each new 7th grader through a defined set of maths benchmarks at his or her own pace.

As students entered school each morning, they could view their schedules for the day on a computer monitor—similar to the arrival and departure boards at airports!—and proceed to the assigned locations. A student’s schedule could include traditional lessons from a teacher, small-group work, virtual learning, or specific computer-based activities. After each half-day of instruction, teachers entered data on students’ progress and instructional needs into a computer program that recommended the next day’s tasks.

Preliminary data showed significant student progress toward mastering the skills targeted in the scheme. The school—named one of the 50 best inventions of 2009 by Time magazine—has now expanded to three middle schools in the city as an after-school programme.

Project Red

is a good resource on what works and doesn’t work.  It has pulled together the experience of several thousand early-adopter schools in the USA and created 9 steps to successfully using the new technology.
1. Getting the commitment of the senior leadership group
2. Timely professional development
3. Use the technology daily – not occasionally
4 Use it to promote more student-to-student collaboration
5. Use it to personalise learning
6. Get students using technology to create their own e-books, digital presentations and digital stories
7. Be realistic in specifying devices that stand up to the stresses of daily student handling
8. Use it to extend the time and place for learning – ie outside school hours and school walls
9. Create quantified expected outcomes for your investment in advance,  measure against them and refine your program accordingly.

Outside USA

South Korea has created a National Virtual School and switched to digital content from textbooks. China with 100 million new students has a Digitized K-12 curriculum  and is training Master Teachers to teach online.  In Singapore 100% of secondary schools use online learning and all teachers are trained to teach online and viaBlended Learning Environment.


Secrets of discipline for young children

How is it that when you visit a pre-school nursery class there can be 10 -12 toddlers sitting quietly, raising their hands politely to talk and actually cooperating?? How do the nursery school teachers do it? Here are some of their secrets.

Use language that assumes compliance
Saying “If you stop painting, we can go out for a walk,” suggests that maybe your child won’t stop. Say instead: “When you stop painting, then we’ll go to the park.” It establishes cause (cooperation) and effect (something pleasant).

Build consistent routines
The reason children co-operate at school/nursery is because they know what’s expected of them. They essentially follow the same routine day after day, so they quickly learn what they are supposed to be doing. Of course you can’t have that level of formality at home, but the more consistent you are, the more cooperative your child is likely to be. So embed some ‘house rules’ or routines into the day and stick to them:

  • You get dressed before breakfast.
  • When you come in from outside, you wash your hands.
  • No bedtime stories until you have brushed your teeth and are in your pyjamas.

Eventually, following these routines will become second nature.

Don’t delay discipline
Your child is misbehaving in the supermarket – and you instinctively say ‘You wait until we get home …’. But by the time you get home, your child has forgotten the incident, because they don’t have the same time frames as adults. If you need to discipline your child, do so immediately – as soon as you see him misbehaving. Cause and effect again. In the same way never cancel a trip to the cinema on Friday because of a tantrum on Tuesday. It won’t prevent future outbursts, it will only feel like a random punishment and cause resentment.

A magician works by re-directing the audience’s attention. Try a little magic. If your child is teasing the cat, or interfering with another child’s game, re-direct her attention by asking if she’d like to play with modelling dough or read a story together.

Give choices that lead her to choose better behaviour
If it’s a comparatively minor infringement, you may offer a choice. So if your 3-year-old is refusing to sit properly at the dinner table try: “You can sit properly and get dessert. Or not sit properly and miss dessert.” Cause and effect. At first, your child may not make the right choice, but eventually she will, because she’ll see that the wrong choice isn’t getting her what she wants.

Expect more
Nursery school teachers expect the kids to tidy away their toys, to hang up their jackets and to pour their own drink at break-time — and they do. Then, as one nursery teacher said to me: “They’ll walk out of the classroom, climb into a buggy, stick their thumbs in their mouths and start whining.” People tend to perform to what is expected – and kids are people. Really! Raise expectations and your child will usually meet them.

Give advance warnings!
We have all seen our kids throw a fit when it is time to stop playing and get ready for bed or turn off the TV. At nursery school, teachers let kids know in advance when a change is going to happen, so they have time to finish whatever they’re doing. So, if she has five more minutes to play, announce it in advance – even set a timer – and then she knows when the time is up and must stop.

Let him solve as many problems on his own as possible
If your child is struggling to build a house with wooden bricks or reach a book from a shelf with a chair, wait before helping. Within the bounds of safety, a success through her own efforts, especially after a struggle, teaches her independence, pride in achievement and the value of effort. It will usually be quicker and easier to do something yourself, but it won’t make your child more self-sufficient. Ask: ‘Do you want me to help you – or can you do it yourself?’ The kids always want to do it for themselves!

Make him responsible
Make your pre-schooler responsible for a task – feeding a pet, tidying away his breakfast plate or watering a plant. That builds his confidence and sense of competency. In a similar way if she was painting on a wall, make sure she helps wash it off. The rule is: You clear up your own mess. (A rule many adults would do well to follow!) When they have done something on their own, resist the temptation to re-do it! Whether it is dressing himself, laying the table or making his bed (!) he will notice if you re-do it. And that will discourage him. But you can make a subtle suggestion of how it could be improved after a few attempts.

Catch her doing something right!
Praise to reinforce good behaviour and effort. Children – and adults! – tend to repeat behaviours that are noticed in a positive way.

Use humour
My daughter Cathy used to shut her mouth tight whenever I tried to brush her teeth. Then we played a game which I learned from an American nursery teacher – Let’s Guess What You Ate Today. She would happily open up so I could pretend to search her teeth for signs of peas, raspberries, cereal or cheese.

My son hated to traipse around art galleries – until we played the game ‘Which room has the most willies in it? Let’s count them.’ Of course being a more sophisticated parent, you may want to modify the theme of this game, but I can assure you it made for a very quiet museum visit with a high degree of concentration!!