Fun way to study skills
In the first of four special curriculum pages Jenny Des Fountain shows how the feelgood factor helps learning.
Introduce your students to the Learning Made Easy materials, and you will notice a shift in their vocabulary and attitude. Complaints along the lines of "Oh no, please don't teach us study skills again, boring!" transform into comments about their "learning power" and an awareness that they need to feel good about their learning to do it well.
Learning Made Easy is a box of resources with an interactive CD-Rom, a poster providing an excellent summary of the nine most important things we know about learning, eight booklets containing information, advice about learning, and many resources for teachers, pupils and parents.
The Environment, for example, provides staff development activities which can lead to work with pupils in class and with their parents, exploring learning environments in school and at home.
The helpful "at a glance guide" outlines the key activities and suggests appropriate age ranges, from the nine-plus "Let's Get Quizzical", which encourages pupils (and their parents) to become aware of the power of the brain with questions such as "How big a building would you need to house a computer the same size as your brain?", to "all ages", with most activities recommended by the authors for 10 to 16-year-olds.
This makes the pack, with its earlier sister publication, Creating a Confident School (The Learning Game, vol 1), perfect material for looking at learning and teaching in primary-secondary liaison groups.
Schools will decide how to use these rich resources and with whom. Not all teachers will feel comfortable with the unfailingly upbeat tone of the materials, nor will everyone find it easy to lead some of the activities with a wackier feel - although it is these which often capture young people's imaginations.
It may help to employ a Mindstore trainer to get things started, as Linda Kirkwood did, headteacher at Oban High School. One of the school's S1 induction days used materials from Creating a Confident School to support a positive basis for pupils' transition. For their primary and secondary teachers the day provided a common experience on which further liaison on personal and social education (PSE) and on learning and teaching can be based.
Senior pupils at Tobermory High prepared for their prelim exams with Learning Made Easy sessions le by Jamie Russell from Mindstore. Erin Logan, S5, says: "The conference day was fantastic. When I found out we had to sit for a whole day learning about how not to get stressed, I thought that was a bit of a contradiction, but it was great fun.
"Jamie made it easy and interesting to learn about ways to relax and study, knowing that you're working great and feeling great."
The materials can be planned into class or subject-based work, to PSE, or they can be raided to meet schools' particular needs. S6 pupils at Tobermory High spent time in June preparing to Study Buddy younger pupils, using a selection of Learning Made Easy resources.
"The super highway of the brain" provided them with an understanding of the human brain's development and how, by an understanding of brain chemistry, we are also able to appreciate how our moods affect us and how we control them.
Using resources like the positivity pyramid, Douglas Malcolm reflected on his own attitudes as well as helping younger pupils. "I discovered that I was positive most of the time; I should aim to be positive 100 per cent of the time as I would benefit from it. I also enjoyed making up my own positivity pyramid because it allowed me to come up with ways to find out if someone was more of a negative or positive nature."
Christine Turnbull's favourite activity came from "Learning in Style", which invites discussion about how we define intelligence and raises awareness of individual learning styles.
"I found the quiz 'What Makes You Tick?' really interesting. Discovering whether I was a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner was not only surprising, but helpful. It gave me techniques to revise with, which were specific to my type of learning, visual learning - for example, using coloured pens and paper to increase my learning power," she says.
What do you think is the brain's most important job? What occurs once in June, once in July and twice in August? The "Deck of Cards" game stuck in Hazel McInnes's memory. "Some of the questions really got our brains thinking, which made it fun."
Others focused on "Learning is Emotional" or on the practical "A Perfect Memory", with its "magic memory methods" and step-by-step guide to mind mapping. This pack is informative, practical and offers a highly flexible framework for work on learning. As the poster says, "Learning is learned. We can learn (and re-learn) how to be more effective learners".
Jenny Des Fountain is headteacher of Tobermory High, Argyll and Bute