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How might we teach the Approaches to Learning?

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

Original post 25/2/2017

Learning to Learn

The IB Primary Years Programme highlights five sets of transdisciplinary 'learning to learn' skills known now as the Approaches to Learning skills (AtLs). They are: research skills, communication skills, self management skills, social skills and thinking skills. In the past I've sat with teams of teachers diligently choosing AtLs to address during our units of inquiry. If I'm honest, what was written on the planners didn't always manifest as planned in the classroom. Practically speaking then, how do we make AtLs come alive? Some ideas are embedded in these videos. 

Social Skills or 'Social-Lies'?

Before we run off and start writing learning intentions about 'collaboration' and 'sharing' to weave with into our units, perhaps we should first look to nature. No one explicitly taught me to collaborate at school, yet somehow I learned to work with others. As David Gearly points out (thanks Cristina Milos), students don't need us to explicitly teach all of these learning to learn skills. Some of them we acquire perfectly well and efficiently on our own through our social interactions.

​In the documentary Lost Adventures of Childhood there's a great study (see 31.55). Researchers placed props such as pieces of silk and cardboard boxes  in the playground. Children had to 'think with' these provocations and create their own play. They had to organize themselves, make decisions, manage themselves and ... you guessed it... socialize!

What is really interesting however is not what went on in the playground, it's the affect this creative play had on the students' learning  once they were back in the classroom.

Risk taking, problem solving, participation and collaboration all increased! Perhaps the answer to learning social and self management AtLs isn't more explicit teaching and AtL curriculum, it's providing longer recess, facilitating creative, open-ended play and standing back and observing! 

Time to Rethink Thinking Skills?

Perhaps the trickiest of all of these skill sets to teach are the thinking skills. Can we really separate analysis from synthesis? How the heck do you teach dialectic thought? Most important how do primary students access these tricky terms? ​These sets of skills seem to have been influenced by Bloom's Taxonomy. In the book Making Thinking Visible, the authors explain that Bloom's taxonomy isn't a practical way to categorize thinking. They describe more user friendly categories that provides a context: 

1. Observing closely and describing what’s there

2. Building explanations and interpretations

3. Reasoning with evidence

4. Making connections

5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives 

6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions

7. Wondering and asking questions

8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things.

Not only would this be more tangible and user friendly way of categorizing thinking skills,  if IB did decided to go this way, we would have a ready made, free, set of thinking routines (endorsed by Harvard University),to help us teach thinking AtLs!

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