Teaching Students How to learn
What is the purpose of education? Some might say the purpose is to give students knowledge
about science, English, history, or math. Others might say the purpose is to build character. While these
are all valuable, at the heart of education, is teaching students how to learn. From the time of birth, a
person begins learning- they learn how to talk, how to walk, and eventually how to maintain a career
and become a successful member of society. At some point, whether it is in college or when they enter
the “real world,” learning will be taken into their own hands, and the student must have the
groundwork to know how to learn without instruction. 21st
century learning builds this foundation and
encompasses relevant skills, including collaboration, critical thinking, and digital literacy.
As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one,” and one of the best ways to learn is with
another person. In Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm Model, students work together by taking on
different class roles such as scribes, tutorial designers, researchers, or coordinators (November, 2012).
November explains that this type of collaboration “creates a culture of learning in which students feel
autonomous, masterful, and purposeful” (November, 2012, p. 383). This type of model is evident in
learning experiences and assessments that require students to share ideas, give feedback, and become
contributors. Studies have also shown that one of the best ways to retain content is to teach the
content to someone else. Therefore, instruction should not be a unidirectional flow of information from
teacher to student but rather a collaborative effort and one where the teacher takes on a facilitative
The ability to think outside of the box, solve problems, and analyze information is prized, and
these are the skills that have lead to many of the world’s greatest discoveries. Often times, educators
get into the habit of lecturing, choosing the learning activities, and instructing students through
everything that happens in the classroom. However, to develop critical thinking skills, the educator
must leave learning open-ended and let the students think for themselves.
With as many digital resources as there are today, evaluating, analyzing and creating have never
been so easy; however, a student can’t think critically with these tools if they don’t know how to use
them productively. With the growing prevalence and accessibility of smart phones, computers, and
other technologies, educators need to give students opportunities to practice using these resources for
empowerment. Ferriter and Garry claim that “Today’s students can be inspired by technology to
ponder, imagine, reflect, analyze, memorize, recite, and create-but only after we build a bridge between
what they know about new tools and what we know about good teaching” (Ferriter and Garry, 2010,
p.6). Heidi Jacobs in her book, Curriculum 21, claims “We should aggressively go out of our way to find
better ways to help our learners demonstrate learning with the types of products and performances
that match our time” (Jacobs, 2010, p.422). Tasks such as tutorial designing, making graphic organizers
and game-based learning can promote digital literacy and critical thinking simultaneously. “Moving
learning forward begins by introducing teachers to ways in which digital tools can be used to encourage
higher-order thinking and innovative instruction across the curriculum” (Ferriter and Garry, 2010, p.6).
To accomplish this, it is important to start small, making sure that each learning experience is authentic,
meaningful, and relevant.
While innovation takes change, and change is not always easy for students or educators, it is this change
that will drive learning forward, build lifelong learners, and give students the best chance at success
later in life.
Ferriter, W. M., & Garry, A. (2010).Teaching the igeneration: 5 easy ways to introduce essential skills
with web 2.0 tools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21 essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, Va.: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development. Kindle Edition.
November, A. C. (2012). Who owns the learning?: preparing students for success in the digital age. Bloomington,
IN: Solution Tree Press. Kindle Edition.