Authors: Gail Ellis and Nayr Ibrahim

Publisher: DELTA Publishing 2015

ISBN: 978-1-905085-86-6

A teacher flicking through Teaching Children How to Learn might mistakenly think that it is simply a book of lesson ideas and activities to take and use in the classroom. But if one takes the time to read through Part A (the theoretical and methodological concepts) before getting to Part B (the classroom activities) and Part C (the teacher development activities), one will soon come to realise that this book is so much more! From pedagogical principles to lesson plans and opportunities for the individual teacher’s professional development, this book tries to provide the complete package: a systematic framework that allows the teacher/education manager to truly help children to learn how to learn.

As English solidifies its position as a global language, there is a greater need for children around the world to be introduced to the language at an earlier age. But with diverse language levels and needs in the same classroom, it can be challenging for the teacher to manage everyone’s learning process and cater to each student’s development. By encouraging learner autonomy and collaboration, and getting students to become more aware of their learning strategies, teachers enable their students to become effective at managing their own learning.

Those involved with primary education might already know of initiatives that try to promote learner autonomy, and the benefits of conscious reflection and self-monitoring. However, the national curriculum in the UK is not always quick to embrace the practical application of such an approach, perhaps because it requires an overhaul of how education managers, teachers, parents and students see the learning process. So what does this approach entail?

Learning to learn involves implementing a wide range of activities that help learners to reflect on their learning, expand on their learning strategies, and develop a metacognitive awareness that would lead them to becoming self-directed.

This book does not attempt to deny the multifaceted challenges that this approach faces, but does not shy away from them either. In Part A, it tries to cover every base, explaining the theories underpinning the approach, addressing the more traditional views on teaching (‘We don’t have the time!’, ‘Children are too young for this aspect of learning’, ‘You have to use the mother tongue’, etc), outlining what it means to help learners learn to learn, dispelling misconceptions and providing information not just for the teachers but also for the parents, so that parental involvement in their children’s learning is maximised.

The activities in Part B cover a range of ages and proficiency levels, and take on a plan–do–review structure. In the ‘plan’ stage, the students are encouraged to think about what they already know and what they want to learn, thereby involving them in negotiating their criteria for success. In addition to a step-by-step lesson plan in the ‘do’ stage, there is an extension option to ‘do more’, allowing the students to work independently and take their learning a step further if they choose to do so. The ‘review’ stage gets the students reflecting, using five questions: What did you do? What did you learn? How did you learn it? How well did you do? and What do you need to do next?

Aside from teaching students to reflect on their learning and become aware and self-sufficient, it also teaches them useful learning tools, such as mind-mapping, concept webs and ways of recording vocabulary, while promoting skills like collaboration, making use of prior knowledge, following instructions and problem solving.

In covering lesson suggestions for a large range of age and proficiency levels, the lesson plans do make certain pedagogical assumptions about English language learning that might not be too warmly embraced by some teachers, eg concentrating explicitly on specific phonemes or word stress, the occasional focus on Anglo-centric topics like Guy Fawkes Night and Hallowe’en and the usefulness of some of the new vocabulary items. However, the writers themselves call these lesson plans ‘models’, and that is exactly how they can best serve the teacher, as the plan and review stages provide a clear idea of how we can get children reflecting on their learning.

After reading a few lesson plans, you will gain the confidence to apply the same plan–do–review cycle to your own classroom activities and materials, adapting them to the approach.

And if the bank of ready-to-use teaching materials does appeal to you, these materials are available online as photocopiable handouts, with reduced versions shown in the book itself. There is also a ‘Teachers’ toolkit’ in Part C of the book.

Teaching Children How to Learn successfully combines theory and practice with a well-thought-out framework, and I’m sure it is a long-awaited book by many.

After all, as the famous proverb says: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’