Posts Tagged 'learning'

Getting It

It’s amazing how many people – often those who will happily spend hours rehearsing stunts with a football or the intricacies of a computer game – assume after a couple of minutes that they can’t answer a question in school.

Claiming “I don’t get it.” is rarely helpful. It’s hard to type this without it sounding like a pep talk, but some concepts are difficult for everyone. The question isn’t about whether you’re good at something or not, it’s more complicated than that. People’s intelligence isn’t a fixed quantity. We all learn things, all the time. Having a different approach can make a big difference, to your understanding and to your achievement. What you want is what’s been described as a ‘growth mindset‘.

So instead of claiming that you don’t ‘get’ something, try a few things out. This is not about getting it magically. You still might not understand it. But by going through this process, you’ll understand better what is causing the problem, and hopefully be able to seek more useful help or advice.


You might want to swap around the order of Buddy and Book – although there’s a big difference between asking for help and copying someone else’s answers. But this way by the time you ask a teacher for support, you’ll be able to tell them what you’ve tried. You might have narrowed down the problem a little. This might depend on the subject – maths problems can affect how you approach a science problem, or the use of words in sources makes history difficult. Once you start to recognise what is causing you to find it difficult, you can address it. Learning is about making progress in steps, not about having a flash of inspiration.

How about adding some prompts in the comments below? What tactics help you to figure out a question? Do you refer to a subject glossary,  highlight question words or something completely different?



Learn, Enjoy, Achieve

Although all teachers have different styles and methods, they all have the same basic aims for their students. How they rank them in importance will vary – not only between teachers, but between age groups, ability and setting. As a student it’s worth thinking about what you really want to get out of lessons, as opposed to what you say to your friends or parents about what you want. That doesn’t mean you need to be totally open with everyone about your choices – but you do need to be honest with yourself. If you really don’t care about your grades, then stop trying to convince anyone that you’re working towards an A*.

Teachers want their students to learn. They want to pass on knowledge, skills and understanding that matter. Sometimes they’re relevant in ‘real life’. Sometimes they’re important foundations for future study, either compulsory or optional. Sometimes it’s just a beautiful, fascinating fact that is beautiful for its own sake.

As hard as it may be to believe, teachers want their students to enjoy the lessons – if for no other reason than helping to manage the classroom. Teachers don’t want to be hated, and they don’t actively want students to be unhappy, any more than a football coach ‘likes’ seeing team members sweating and cursing. The hope is that the result at the end, the enjoyment of understanding the idea, is worth the hard work.

As a student, it often feels like the only reason to come to lessons, or to do any work, is to achieve in the exams. Of course they matter, and for some students they matter a lot. The truth is that exams don’t perfectly measure understanding or knowledge. You can understand the ideas but still answer a question wrong, or use the right words to ‘demonstrate’ an understanding you don’t really have. Coursework and practical exams are other, also imperfect ways, to show you know the subject. Doing well in any of them means knowing how the assessment works as well as knowing the material, and your teachers will also be passing these skills on to you during the course.

So, once you’ve thought through these ideas, ask yourself a question. Do you want to learn, enjoy and achieve? Forget for a moment whether you think it’s possible, or likely. Do you want to? Because if you do – and most students do, although perhaps not in that order – then you and your teacher have that in common.

Cornell Notes

Making good notes is one of the best ways to ensure that what you learn in lessons stays with you. If you are free to make your own notes, think carefully about how you will record the information you need without wasting time on unimportant details. There are many possible variations, such as mindmapping or shorthand, but you may find a particular format that works for you.

Cornell Notes

This layout is a way to produce notes and review materials all in one go, and there are several variants (see explanations at LifeHacker and Wikipedia). Brief notes are written in the main section during the lesson or lecture. As soon after as practical, add words – headings, questions or key concepts – to the ‘Cue’ column on the left. Then add questions or a summary paragraph below, as part of your review process. These prompts can then be used to test yourself when it is time to revise. Click on the image below for a pdf.

Cornell notes were originally intended for university lectures, not interactive lessons, but may still be useful. They are particularly well suited to making notes from videos or podcasts, or for researching new topics.

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