“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught” – Churchill
Make learning stick, why does it matter, if you can learn something in your short term memory and ace a test is that all that matters. Why does learning something long term really matter?
As in the Churchill quote we can all recall a bad learning experience, the teacher spoke at you and your brain drifted with the result none of the information was retained.
My own experience of learning can possibly explain why it matters and why I try so hard to make learning stick for others.
I did not learn to read until I was 10 years old, it just did not stick. The concept did not seem fun and no-one really explained what it would give me. There is an assumption that you understand what reading will give you, however at infant school age, painting a picture or diving into the dressing up box seemed to me far more enticing.
I started on the Peter and Jane books and then seem to spend an eternity on some Pirate books. I am not even sure to this day why the Pirates were used and if I am honest I don’t think I even knew fully what a Pirate was.
We were encouraged to take the book home and practice with our parents, there was no diary to monitor whether this happened and therefore no structure. As you can imagine those Pirate books stayed in my bag and were only read at school.
Once you have hindered your own development you get labelled very quickly. My lack of reading made all my other subjects harder and before I knew it I was in the “Learning difficulties group”. I can now laugh at the title, but at the time they used to call that title out openly in the class “All those for the Learning Difficulties Group follow Miss Webster…”).
Over a period of time you then develop a fixed mindset around your experience. I was the third daughter “the creative one”, I did not need to be the clever one, so it was OK not to be fantastic in class. Professor Carol Dweck’s brilliant book on Mindset explains that it is easier not to stretch yourself if that is the role you are fulfilling. Whereas some-one with a growth mindset will constantly put themselves at stretch and reach out for new opportunities and risks.
The reasons I was not mastering reading could be summarised as follows:-
- The benefits were not understood
- The concept was not fun
- The resource (books) were of no interest
- Fixed mindset around reading
- No structured practices
I guess you are now all wondering whether I am still on the Pirate books and how I turned it around.
I was very lucky as there was that one teacher who made it her mission to get me to read. Instead of sending the “Learning difficulty group” out of the class she focused on them within the class. We all had times with her where we read out loud whilst the others were working with a gentle hum, therefore no public humiliation. She set up the right space and comfort level to make it happen.
With me specifically she commented on how expressive I was, and how good I was at reading out loud. She had spotted a talent within the confusion of interpreting the words. She also selected books specific to each child or encouraged us to bring books into school.
The book that made it all happen ironically was “George don’t do that…” by Joyce Grenfell. It was funny and was littered with illustrations and somehow just clicked, it was the first book I read on my own.
I now understood what reading could give me and I have never been without a book a testament to the struggle to get there.
What was it that finally made the learning stick?
- Being encouraged and identifying a talent other than reading
- The right environment, making learning comfortable
- Being given choices and making it relevant to me (individualised)
- Regular practice and a routine that became normal and comfortable
- Developing a growth mindset (where would reading take me)
Making learning stick is all about the experience, the memory and the relevance.