What is the best way to learn? It’s a question teachers grapple with on a daily basis. We have all asked it and we all still struggle to find the answer.
It is also the question that drove Ulrich Boser to devote his life’s research to figuring out the special formula that actually makes learning possible, resulting in his recently released book Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything.
Struggling during his early years in school, a nuisance to many of his teachers, and described as being “lost” by a school psychologist, Boser was placed into his school’s special education program where he appeared to not “know how to learn” (a student we teachers are all familiar with).
Considering himself a lost case for many years, it wasn’t until Boser was finally exposed to some effective learning strategies, strategies that he still uses today such as self-quizzing and metacognitive questioning, that he began to reconsider those years of being told he couldn’t learn.
As a topic that is often talked about, but rarely put into practice, Boser used his experience in school to figuring out what actually makes a better learner. Eventually, it led him to write this book, which is entirely dedicated to understanding how to guide yourself and others in the learning process.
In Learn Better, Boser uses personal anecdotes and countless researched examples to illustrate an outline of these six necessary ideas that, if followed, will provide a step-by-step guide to improve anyone’s ability to learn:
Dedicating a chapter to each of the items, the book is divided into six easy-to-read sections riddled with quirky stories and thought provoking, researched evidence. Though much of the information may not sound new to a teacher, I still found a long list of notable factors I could be using in my classroom to positively encourage greater learning.
The first two chapters focus primarily on the importance of developing the student’s drive to learn (Value) and then honing their focus on a particular learning goal (Target). This highlights the importance of breaking down learning into easily digestible pieces–the inherent reasons for why educators are so important.
Boser consistently revisits The Value of Educators theme throughout the book, claiming that a world without real, tangible teachers would be a world with far less learning. A great thing to read, especially at a time when everything from store cashiers to customer service representatives are quickly being mechanized and automated.
By the fourth and fifth chapters, Boser has the reader hooked with his small tips and habits (Develop). You find yourself planning to apply as many as possible to your own life or the classroom.
In the Extend chapter, Boser offers suggestions such as giving students the opportunity to teach, citing the “Protege Effect” as the phenomenon responsible for improving expertise when a learner is forced to explain newly learned information. And perhaps even using additional representations of information in order to better understand or Relate to said information. He cites the scientific method, the use of visual depictions of information and the value of analogies in providing greater opportunities to diversify the way we conceptualize new ideas.
Boser ends the book grappling with what I found to be the most intriguing section: the importance of Rethinking what we learn. Students (and teachers) often get caught up in a phenomenon called overconfidence.
“When people are overconfident, they don’t study. They don’t practice. They don’t ask themselves questions…If we think we know something, we’re simply not going to take the hard steps of relating ideas or elaborating on what we know.”
In other words, overconfidence and unwillingness to rethink what you know puts an abrupt halt to metacognition, which for Boser is the primary driver of an effective learner.
In a book so full of information, I took notes as I went along, jotting down various ideas for how to apply such rich research to my own teaching. Of course, Boser made it even easier to remember key points by inserting periodic quizzes, a game changer in terms of learning strategy, just to keep the brain active while reading.
Here are my four greatest takeaways and applicable classroom strategies from reading Learn Better:
1. Goal Setting: The importance of self-goal setting and monitoring during the learning process has never been made clearer. Allowing students to iterate exactly what they should be learning and where they expect themselves to be at different points throughout the year may have some surprising effects on their progress.
2. Structured Feedback: Allowing multiple opportunities for students to fail and grow are key to improving their learning. Without feedback, a student may never know if what they learned is actually correct. What’s even better is if that feedback is asking more hypothetical questions that automatically get them thinking about their thought processes.
3. Group Diversification: In order to battle overconfidence and encourage students to look at problems differently, deliberate diversification of partner and group work is necessary. Citing several cases, Boser suggests that diversity forces people to be skeptical, thus inspiring more varied solutions to the same problem
4. Revisit Old Information: If it weren’t already obvious, recycling already learned information into new lessons is the best way to truly help your students internalize details and not forget old information.
At first glance, Learn Better may appear redundant to teachers who have been studying their pedagogy for years. However, in an attempt to avoid that pesky overconfidence, this may be the book every teacher actually needs in order to truly rethink everything they thought they knew about learning.
For more, see:
- Professional Learning: The Power of School Visits
- What’s New in Leadership? Lifelong Learning + Project Management
- 8 New Ingredients for Innovative Professional Development
A copy of Learning Better was provided for this review. If you are interested in having GettingSmart.com review your product or book, please contact Editor@GettingSmart.com.
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