Most teacher training still focuses on teaching, rather than how children and students learn. But the tide is turning, and if you’re in a primary school teacher job or seeking jobs in schools, it is becoming more and more essential to understand the learning experience from the pupils’ point of view.

‘Learning to learn’ has been around for a long time, but it is still on the fringes of pedagogy. Because it doesn’t fit neatly into the curriculum, active lessons on ‘learning to learn’ are sometimes taught as one-offs in isolation: ‘revision skills’ just before exams in secondary schools, or a special ‘Learning Day’ in primary schools. Such sessions are often fitted in wherever convenient, rather than strategically planned.

Maybe a teacher will give children a quiz for children to discover their learning styles or learning preferences: Visual, auditory or kinaesthetic (there’s also AD – auditory-digital, but not a lot of people know that). Maybe it helps staff to understand their pupils better. ‘Ah!’ so that’s why Luke can’t sit still! It’s because he’s kinaesthetic!’ But it’s not all about labelling people with learning styles.

In fact, one contentious argument mentioned in the TES in November 2014 is that ‘Learning styles do not exist,’ according to Daniel Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, US, claims that people are confusing learning styles – by which people learn better through a particular medium – with ability to remember certain types of information. “Teachers plan lessons with these styles in mind and the lessons are effective,” he says. “But myriad other factors could be contributing to this success. It could be the teacher’s enthusiasm or emotional sensitivity, for example.”

Good planning certainly helps, and education could go a lot further if what teachers know about learning was fully integrated into teaching – for best results.

Teaching for learning demonstrates the integration of teachers’ practice with that is known about how people learn. This focus is used by many effective, experienced teachers, and is growing more important in teaching jobs.

Teachers, rather than concentrating on the role and delivery (or what teachers say and do), need to focus on the experience of learners. ‘How will they learn this? What will they experience in the classroom? How can they be supported in learning from their experiences?’

Plan for the learner to go through four phases (Do, Review, Learn and Apply) for each of the aspects that promote effective learning (Active learning, Collaborative learning, Learner Responsibility and Learning about Learning). This is explained in the table below.

How can you use these ideas for planning classroom activities or other aspects of your teaching to ensure that you teach for learning?

Table content from: Meeting the individual needs of each child - New2Teaching website,


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