Learning How to Learn
Since it’s the first month of school, I was talking to a parent about a flash card app called Quizard and the benefits of repetition in learning academic content. Children’s job is to go to school and learn as much as possible while there. In elementary grades, they get the skills necessary to read and write, and essential math concepts and facts. In fifth and sixth grades and beyond, they apply their skills to learn content.
I was teaching in a high school when I found an online flash card site called Studystack. Most of my kids struggled with biology, math concepts, and vocabulary. I showed the site to the biology teachers. The teachers or I made online flash cards on the website. In one class, using them was part of the homework assignments. In another, they were used in class during down time between units or during review time before tests, for instance. Eventually, some students learning office skills volunteered to enter the MCAS math vocabulary for a school-wide resource. By the way, the Quizard app can download vocabulary from the Studystack site; and you can add photos and use it on mobile devices.
But my biggest revelation came when I used this resource with my language-learning disabled students…
They would do pretty well on my preliminary matching activity on the website. They had some guessing skills. But once they hit the flash cards, they had trouble because you can’t guess a definition: you have to picture the ideas and remember the words in the definition and understand it. What almost all the kids did was try to guess and give up on the ones they didn’t know. Then they told me that they were “stupid” in that subject. They were surprised when I told them that I would show them how to learn the words. I told them that the second time through, I wanted them to think about what each definition meant and tell me if they didn’t know any words in the definition, so we could be ready for the third pass. Many were shocked to learn that it was normal to go over and over the same cards. They told me they thought they were just supposed to know the answers or not. By the third time, they were getting more answers correct and for the first time they understood what the smart kids somehow knew: how to learn. They thought that those kids just sat in class and automatically knew the information without studying. Of course, there are some students who learn this way; but very few. My students bumped along for years because no one had explained learning to them. These students need explicit instructions. I started talking to them that we may have some prior knowledge about things we learn, but sometimes we may not and there are techniques for learning new information. I told them there would be no schools if we were born knowing everything!
I think it helps children to be shown the school road map. “You go to school because, just like mom and dad, you have a job. Your job is to learn. If you have any trouble learning, your teacher’s job is to help you, so you need to tell your teacher whenever you need help.” Knowing school expectations sure would make more students speak up in class and ask for help. Participation is often a good part of students’ grades. Being able to say you don’t know is the beginning of the learning process. So let’s show all children the school road map. Let’s support our kids’ learning this year in school!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com