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Beyond The School Newsletter With Michael Fordham Principal TTA

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I’m going to turn in my column this month to a question I am often asked: how do people learn? There are lots of myths that circulate about how people learn. One myth is that we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, and so on. Another myth is that the left half of the brain is responsible for logic and the right side of the brain is responsible for creativity. Yet another is that some people are “visual learners” and others “audio learners”. Despite being all over the Internet, there is very little scientific evidence for any of these theories, but they seem to hang around as they provide simple answers to complex questions. So what do we actually know about the learning process? I’ll share a few examples with you which might be useful for those who are looking to help children (or adults) learn.

A key component of learning something is meaning. If something means something to us, which could be an emotional connection or a link to things we already know, then we are more likely to remember it. This is what makes stories a very powerful way of learning because stories bring individual things together into a meaningful whole. Another important idea is “little and often”. It is better to learn a small amount and repeat that frequently, rather than trying to learn a large amount of information in one go. Anyone who has used a language-learning app such as Duolingo will know that it picks a small amount of new knowledge and then gets you to practise it repeatedly in lots of different contexts.

A very important part of the learning process is being willing to make mistakes. I often tell my own students that I will not be annoyed if they get something wrong, but I will be annoyed if they don’t try. This is because the very act of trying helps the learning process. Copying from a book is mostly a waste of time. You are better off reading it, trying to answer some questions about it, and then checking to see if you got it right. If you want to know more, there are lots of resources accessible to a non-specialist that can be found on this site:


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