ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Matt Swift

Why some students "get it" and others don't when it comes to learning is a problem that many educators struggle with at some point. Betty K. Garner discussed what can help these struggling students achieve and overcome the obstacles that cause their struggles. Garner offered practical tips as her audience at ASCD's Annual Conference learned how to get their students to do the same.

Garner started the session by asking the audience to close their eyes and think of a beautiful thought, a practice she uses in the classroom. This allows endorphins to release and gets students to use their imaginations and be creative. Getting students relaxed and creative can help them learn in other areas.

"When do we ask kids to wonder? When do we ask kids to reflect?," asked Garner about this practice. "This allows students to be still for a few minutes ... it's just a valuable tool."

Garner told the audience to come up with lesson plans that "provide and encourage" students to learn on their own. These lesson plans should ensure students are doing the work and learning their subjects and not expecting the teachers to do all the work for them. Many audience members responded when she asked them whether they had ever spent hours on a lesson and had the students take just a few minutes to finish it. This, she said, was the educator doing the work for the students, and this is not a true learning experience.

"Let them do the work," she told everyone.

Throughout the session she said that sensory input, visualization, reflective awareness, and prior knowledge will develop cognitive structures in students that ensure they know how to learn by themselves. This will create what Garner calls "metability." This is a concept she developed that is the "dynamic of learning, creating, and changing" and will help struggling students.

"Learning is created by the learner," Garner said. This, she stressed, is the most important thing everyone should take with them after the session. "What we will do is see how to equip the students with the ability to learn how to learn."

For more information from this session, please check out Garner's session handout (PDF).

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