Think first, learn most

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Finding the right learning style can give students a head start as Jerome Monahan reports

By the time they sit their mock exams, students at Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge, Suffolk, are old hands at revision. First year GCSE pupils at the school get a day dedicated to thinking and learning in October.

Then, in the spring, 20 of them will take part in a special study skills conference involving student delegates from the seven other Suffolk schools in the Leading Edge consortium, which Farlingaye heads up.

Year 10s are on the receiving end of perhaps the most intensive programme of learning-skills training of any cohort, but the school is committed to cultivating an innovative programme of learning and revision support for all.

"It is embedded in our school improvement plan and central to our Leading Edge partnership programme," explains deputy head Sarah Bainton. "We have multiple initiatives in this area and we are always seeking to keep them up-to-date and lively. This is possible because of the freedom I have been given by my head to research new approaches and encourage their adoption in the school.

"For example, a recent continuing professional development session focused on David Hyerle's Thinking Maps (see diagrams), and this has been followed up with material in our staff "thinking and learning" bulletin and reinforced by the staffroom noticeboard dedicated to the same themes. I would not have introduced such ideas cold, without knowing good foundations exist in staff practice across the school."

The fact that Farlingaye students are constantly encouraged to consider their own learning is one of the school's great strengths, says Chantry High School philosophy and RS teacher John Lee who delivered a session on brain function and memory at the study skills conference. "Over and above all the talk of multiple intelligences and VAK (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) techniques, the key thing is cultivating students meta-cognition," he argues. "Encouraging them to become self-conscious about their learning and thinking is potentially hugely empowering."

"The other key thing is that this kind of work is not done in a tokenistic way," says Sarah Bainton. "It must be the kind of whole-school endeavour you encounter at Farlingaye. The benefits are reflected in our results and a recent Ofsted that underlined the quality of teaching and pupils' very positive attitudes to their work."

Talking to the students, it is obvious they are enthusiastic adopters of the school's approach. Jared Ehret, a Year 10 pupil, is a fan of word associations and is happy chatting about his preferred learning style. He's a mix, he claims, responding equally well to VAK teaching. And he is quick to applaud the school's efforts. "Most of my year group has benefited," he explains. "We are aware that there are ways of making our learning more effective and it helps knowing a bit about the way the mind works."

Year 11 pupil Joe Manning is equally positive. "I am a lot more organised now," he says. "I used to think revision was a matter of sitting endlessly reading and re-reading my notes, but now I see how useless this can be. I have a range of different strategies now - and it helps that they crop up in most lessons - I can see how they help most subjects."

Tel: Sarah Bainton, 01394 385720

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