WWW Site for John Lawrence Bencze, Associate Professor (Emeritus), Science Education, OISE/University of Toronto


Developing Expertise for
'Learning Ideas'
(Skills Education)

Welcome! This page provides perspectives, general practices and links to resources for helping students to develop expertise (e.g., skills, attitudes & knowledge) for learning ideas. Students might, for instance, develop skills for note-taking and for cooperative strategies, etc.). If you have comments, questions, suggestions, resource ideas, etc. about anything here, please write to me about them. Thanks.

Rationale for Developing
Learning Skills

According to constructivist learning principles, although learners may have various useful pre-instructional conceptions, they also may lack knowledge, skills, attitudes, etc. that would serve them well in their life choices. And, based on the apparent problem with induction, learners may not (or are likely to not) 'discover' useful principles, theories, etc. from specific experiences. Therefore, learners may need direct instructional approaches in order to gain access to important and useful ideas. This does not, however, imply that learners should (or can) be passive recipients of instructional methods and information. Indeed, they are likely to be active participants in learning processes.
Specifically, students need to learn how to learn. In the systematic educational situations ('formal' and 'informal'), that implies: i) developing metacognitive skills in association with directed instruction and ii) eventually, becoming an independent learning. Metacognition means to think about your own thinking (and also involves actions to improve thinking & learning). Those who develop metacognitive abilities tend to be more successful learners. It serves them well during directed instruction and allows them to become independent life-long learners. This is particularly important in societies like ours, which have seemingly endless products and services that, in essence, minimize the need for independent thinking and learning.
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Based on the pedagogy outlined at Skills Pedagogy, some specific suggestions for helping students to develop skills that they could use for learning ideas are provided through the links at right. Note that no resources are provided for the 'Students Apply Skills' phase, since they would do that in the 'Learning Ideas' phase of my constructivism-informed pedagogical framework.

Expressing Learning Skills
Because students have been learning from the time of their birth (and some say before that, in utero), they likely have developed some conceptions about how they learn and ways in which they might improve their learning. Based on constructivist learning principles, many educators recommend that learners begin teaching & learning sessions by expressing their pre-instructional perspectives and practices. This can make students conscious of their pre-instructional conceptions and, if necessary, revise them.
  • Students can become conscious of their current learning strategies by encouraging them to become in effect metacognitive. At the outset, it may be important to simply remind them that, eventually, they will not have many or any teachers and, therefore, will need to know how to learn on their own. They also might be reminded that the more they can learn on their own, the more free they might be from control by those such as people in business & industry who would benefit from selling them products and services. One basic metacognitive strategy to promote is reflective journalling. Students could be asked, for example, what they feel they have learned, how they learned that and what they might do to improve their learning.
  • It is important to note, however, that students' responses must be accepted and, indeed, celebrated. These activities are intended to be mainly student-directed and open-ended, since they are meant to encourage students to express their ideas rather than encouraging them to state what teachers expect them to state.

Developing Learning Skills
In the Learning phase of my three-phase pedagogical framework, the main aim is to provide students with ideas, perspectives, skills, etc. that they might not otherwise discover. It is intended to ensure they have access to a broad repertoire of ideas, perspectives, etc. A general principle of this phase of my learning cycle is that instruction should be teacher-directed & closed-ended (TD/CE). Otherwise, students are unlikely to 'discover' important ideas, skills, etc. Having said that, teacher-directed instruction sometimes is somewhat ineffective, for various reasons, including that an essential aspect of successful student learning is student participation. Accordingly, in most cases, I have broken down the Learning phase of my teaching & learning model into two sub-stages; that is, i) TD/CE Modelling and ii) Teacher-guided Student Practice. In other words, I recommend that after the Expressing stage (above) teachers first 'teach' (e.g., through demonstrations, films, drawings, etc.) particular skills and, then, guide students through some practice activities regarding the same skills. To teach people to throw a ball, for example, we might first demonstrate this but, then, let them try it on their own (with guidance). In reality, teachers may need to repeat cycles of demonstrating a skill and encouraging student practice. Some skills to teach in this manner, along with some relevant resources, are suggested at right. In addition, some suggestions for integrating NoST and STSE teaching & learning into these skills lessons are provided.
Help students to appreciate the value of metacognition and, then, teach them ways in which they may develop greater metacognitive abilities. Some sites that have resources for doing this  are located @ Metacognition.
A major aspect of helping students to develop metacognitive expertise in formal teaching situations is to help them to understand the nature of the teaching & learning strategies that you are using. Teachers need to be explicit about explaining and giving rationale for these strategies. On this website, there are several places where perspectives & practices relating to teaching & learning are provided, including through:
I have been emphasing constructivism-informed teaching & learning. Not everyone would use such an approach or use one all of the time. Whatever teachers use, however, they should be explicit about it and, then, encourage students to use metacognitive strategies to map and plan their progress.
All rights reserved, J. L. Bencze, 2008.
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