Integrating Learning How to Learn into a High School Setting


The high school teachers at the American School of Doha (ASD) in Qatar have done a fantastic job of integrating the ideas of Learning How to Learn into the curriculum. This is proving highly beneficial to students, as Barb discovered when she was overwhelmed by excited-about-learning ASD students during her visit.

Videos Selectively Embedded into Powerpoints that Include Active Exercises (Age-Appropriate Questions to Be Answered through Table Talk)

Basically, the videos of Learning How to Learn were downloaded and integrated into four Powerpoint presentations with selectively embedded videos followed by a short set of age-appropriate questions to be answered through table talk. Each presentation/lesson takes approximately 1 class period to present. Day 1 contains the truncated selections from Week One from the MOOC, Day 2 contains truncated selections from Week Two, and so on. The ASD classes have a mix of 9th and 10th graders–in this age range, students are very open to learning how their brain works and the idea that ‘they are now in high school’ and have to step up and take ownership of their learning seems natural for them.  Students like to talk with each other about the material, and teachers in the many sections of biology just walk around the room, listening and sometimes engaging with one of the discussions as the slide is being discussed.

Spiral Slide with Concise Notes

The 3rd slide in the series is the spiral slide where they are given the opportunity to draw and write about the preceding vignette.  This helps students learn to write concise notes right from the beginning and models how to do it.

As teacher Pamela Keigley notes, “I have had to truncate the Dr. Oakley’s MOOC material considerably over the past three years but with each tweak I feel like it is closer to containing a focused, efficient, age-appropriate level for the high school setting.”

Use of the Pomodoro Method

The teachers set a 25-minute timer whenever they start new learning sessions. When the bell rings the students have to go outside the classroom doors, and not talk about the learning. They come back in about four minutes.  They chat, check their phones, go to the bathroom or get a drink. When they come back the teachers focus and finish the learning session.  Initially, there is a pushback from some teachers who mistakenly believe that they would lose the kids’ attention if they let them do this. But students are more willing to reengage and actually concentrate better due to the break.  Plus this, once again, models how to use the brain wisely, i.e. focused mode and switching to diffuse mode for consolidation. Both teachers and students love this approach.

Commitment Sheet

At the end of the four days, the students are given the commitment sheet that they read, sign, and then glue the sheet on the front of their spirals. This sheet contains a condensed listing of what they have learned–the students sign to commit that they will use these skills and apply this knowledge to their brain development throughout this class and school year.

Use of the Learning Management System to Reinforce the Learning

The ideas about learning are also integrated via a blended learning style into the class itself, through ASD’s Learning Management System (Moodle). When a new learning lesson is given, it is listed in the class column and then the Homework column gives them two items, a link to the “text” pages for exactly that lesson and a link to the “practice questions.”  They learn and practice handling reading material by adding details from it to their spiral.  By taking the Practice Question Quiz (random selection of 10/30ish question bank) which they can take an unlimited amount of times, they practice recall and retrieval, gain the power of the ‘testing effect’, as well as support interleaving and spaced repetition).  An “extra opps” column on the right side contain extra opportunities to learn including the Stuff to Know list of vocab and sometimes news articles, or a dedicated crossword, etc.  This tends to fill in any needed differentiation for students who are performing at different levels.

Low Stakes Quizzes

The following day the first activity in class is a low stake quiz. Five questions, worth 2 each if a student gets it right and only 1 off if they get it wrong.  These can be questions from any time in the past, that is, the quiz is cumulative.  Knowing that this will occur and test their whole knowledge basis each day seems to be highly motivating to get deeper longer learning outcomes from 15-year-olds. After the low stakes quiz, the new learning for the day takes place and the process repeats. Of course, sometimes the teachers add a lab or reinforcement activity for concepts that need more practice and experience.  Experiments are handled similarly in terms of reinforcement, quizzes, and testing for outcomes.

Teachers find they get better, immediate and individualized feedback about where they are in their learning from the quizzing via the computer for basic concept attainment then they would ever be able to give one by one. As Pam notes: “I see this as the future of education, i.e. the offloading of the mundane simple terms and concept reinforcement to an adaptive learning or competency-based program on the computer. This leaves the teacher more available to help with making connections, focusing, directed and providing real-world experiences where possible… The underlying learning strategies need to be front and center for the students, however, because for them it is brain building time in high school.  Most everything is new learning here.  So the sooner they learn how their brain actually learns the faster they can become competent, confident learners and test takers.”

[Thanks for these ideas and approaches to innovative teachers Pamela Keigley and her colleagues.]


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