Not all students are alike – they differ in their strengths, needs and abilities. Understanding how students learn informs us and strengthens our ability to select specific instructional strategies and tactics for struggling learners. In turn, we see increases students’ academic achievement and also engages and motivates students. However, there is nothing simple about this level of differentiated instruction.
Understanding how students learn means that the teacher anticipates the differences in students’ readiness, their interests, and their individual learning profiles, and, as a result, creates different paths to learning so that all students have the opportunity to learn as much as they can, as deeply as they can. The underlying ability a teacher must have to orchestrate this level of individualized instruction – assessing her teaching and her students’ responses to that teaching and adjusting strategies and tactics moment by moment – requires considerable knowledge and skills. It requires that teachers not only understand the nuances of the curriculum/subject matter; they also understand each student’s individual cognitive profile that in turn informs them in selecting effective and appropriate instructional strategies and tactics.
CDL has strong expertise on how students learn and how to use that information to determine how best to reach and teach every student, and especially those who are struggling. Learn more below.
Learn more about CDL’s Professional Learning on How Students Learn and How Teachers Should Teach:
Learning is a complex cognitive act consisting of five primary processes that interact with one another in school: attention, memory, language, processing and organizing, and higher level thinking.
At least six additional factors impact learning – emotions, behavior, social skills, teachers, school and classroom climate/culture, and family. These factors can enhance or shut down learning.
The cognitive learning processes interact with each other and are also impacted by emotions, school and classroom climate, behavior, social skills, teachers and family. Thus, the learning graphic becomes more complex:
If teachers are to teach and motivate all learners at optimal levels, it is crucial that teachers (a) understand how learning takes place in general, (b) understand each student’s individual cognitive profile, (c) use evidence-based instructional strategies and tactics that are effective for specific learners, and (d) use strategies and tactics that are broadly effective for all learners.
Teachers will benefit from a deeper understanding of each of the five primary processes of learning – what the processes look like when they are working, and what the specific subcomponents of each look like when they are breaking down. Teachers will also benefit from a rich repertoire of strategies and tactics from which they can pull the exact strategy or tactic that will address a specific breakdown for a specific task for a specific student. Using a great strategy at the wrong time, or mismatching a great strategy with a breakdown for which the strategy will yield no gains will frustrate students and teachers alike when the strategy fails to produce the desired result.
It takes considerable time and investment to reach the level of sophistication needed to merge the science of neurodevelopmental learning processes with the selection of the best strategies or tactics – but the payoff is big. Principals report that when whole faculties engage in professional learning on the neurodevelopmental processes, and are able to recognize specific breakdowns and match the breakdowns with strategies and tactics that directly address the breakdowns, then students’ engagement, motivation and learning increase.
Hattie, J. (2013). Visible learning and the science of how we learn. New York: Routledge.
Thomas, A. (2013). Retention is not the answer. www.cdl.org.
Thomas, A. (2010). How minds work: The key to motivation, learning and thinking. www.cdl.org.
Thomas, A. and Thorne, G. (2016). Learning 6.0: How students learn and how teachers should teach. Metairie, LA: Center for Development and Learning.