creativity, critical thinking, problem solving

 4) Do our schools currently equip our children with the right learning skills?
Every school is different but in my experience of working in over 200 high schools world-wide I
have yet to find one school that has a fully integrated learning skills programme in place. Most
schools that want to place an emphasis on the direct teaching of learning skills do so by bringing
in outside experts to run courses of ‘study skills’ for their students. 

This is an approach which
usually has a short term benefit for most students and a long term benefit for some students
but the most effective way to make sure that every student learns how to learn to the best of
their ability is to have a fully integrated programme of learning skills incorporated within the
Across the world there is a growing recognition of the importance of teaching what I am calling
‘learning skills’ within the standard curriculum:
Singapore MOE International Baccalaureate -
3500 schools world-wide

 accepted to date by
46 states
Competencies for the 21st
Approaches to Learning Elementary Integrated
Curriculum Framework
Civic literacy, global awareness
and cross cultural skills
Critical and inventive thinking
Thinking Skills
Social Skills
Critical Thinking Skills
Creative Thinking Skills
Information and
communication skills
Social Awareness
Relationship Management
Responsible Decision-Making
Communication Skills
Self Management Skills
Research Skills
Academic Success Skills
Singapore is also a founder member of the Assessment and Teaching of 21st-Century Skills
(ATC21S) project hosted by the University of Melbourne and sponsored by Cisco, Microsoft and
Intel which is looking at the teaching and assessing of 21st-century skills in the classroom.
ATC21S has defined the essential skills of a knowledge-based economy as those that promote
collaboration with others and connection through technology and has categorized 21st-century
skills internationally into four broad categories: 

Ways of thinking - creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and
Ways of working - communication and collaboration
Tools for working - information and communications technology (ICT) and information
Skills for living in the world - citizenship, life and career, and personal and social
ATC21S is now in Phase Four with wide-scale fieldwork trials being conducted in Australia,
Finland, Singapore and the U.S., with associate countries joining in to help test how language
and culture affect the 21st-century teaching and assessments. This stage will lead to Phase Five
where resources will be placed in the public domain. Government policy-makers, teachers,
school systems and assessment institutions will be able to use and modify the existing research
and materials to bring the two 21st-century skills into the classroom and utilize the model to
build out the remaining skills.
Once all these current projects are complete and implemented there will be curricula based
approaches to the development of learning skills available across the world for millions of our
children to access but until then it will come down to enthusiastic teachers and parents and
forward looking schools to design and implement their own approaches.
5) The ATC21S recommendations will come too late for the current generation of
secondary school students as they will take several more years to implement; so what
can parents do to help their children in secondary school? 

There are many things parents can do to help their children succeed well at the secondary
school level.
First there are two key principles parents need to understand and adopt in order to put their
focus in the areas which will yield the best results:
1) Successful learning requires the application of good learning skills - successful learning
in any subject depends on the use of the most effective learning processes - skills,
strategies and techniques
2) Failure is feedback - any failure to achieve an academic goal, to learn well, or do well in
a test or exam is simply giving you valuable information on which processes are not
working and which processes need to change, any failure needs to be seen as a failure
of process not a failure of the individual. 

The remedy to ineffective learning is not to do more of it! The remedy is to change.
All too often I see parents whose children are not performing well in a particular subject who
get extra tutoring in that subject for their children which does not improve their child’s
performance and they just don’t know what to do. The problem in that case is most likely that
the child has a learning skill problem rather than a lack of the correct information to study from.
Giving them extra tutoring in that subject will just perpetuate the problem unless the learning
process problem is addressed first.
A learning skill problem is not the same as a learning disability. In my experience, having worked
with over 150,000 students around the world, I have found that every student can improve the
efficiency and effectiveness of their learning. 

That does not mean they had a disability to begin
with it just means that they had not previously been exposed to or taught the most effective
learning skills. When they practise the best learning skills their learning always improves.
Some subject tutors will of course be addressing the correct problem by first exploring the
child’s present thinking and learning strategies with regards the subject matter and then
providing training in more effective methods before exposing the child to the subject matter
again. Other tutors may address the problem more subtly by exposing the student to the subject
matter through a range of different activities and experiences, different media, different sensory
processing modes and helping the student to assess the effectiveness of each processing
technique or strategy in order to work out the processes that work best for them.
Other, more process focused tutors will have in place a specific learning skills programme which
teaches the most effective cognitive learning skills eg:
Making effective notes – in class and for studying
Organising ,transforming and summarising information – mind mapping, spider
diagrams, graphic organisers
Using structural writing planners – for different types of essays, scientific reports,
academic papers, research reports - organizing, writing, editing, and revising
Timetabling – general task mapping and specific use for assignments, assessment
preparation, goal setting
Memory techniques – mnemonics, multi-sensory techniques, visualisation, review
Calibrating own learning preferences – mental representation, environmental and
experiential preferences
Self assessment
If it is a thorough programme it will also address some of the affective learning skill areas like:
Developing focus, concentration, persistence and perseverance
Overcoming distractions
Reducing anxiety
Practising delayed gratification
Managing self talk
Developing resilience
Sometimes process focused training is provided by external tutors around specific learning tasks
for a student during the school year, eg. preparing for exams. In which case a specific course
which teaches your child the most essential skills for exam preparation can be very helpful.
See for such a course t be held in Singapore in May
There are also blogs available which give process tips to parents throughout the year – see
And also books available which focus on the processes of effective learning – see
In terms of practical tips for parents the key is developing meta-cognitive awareness. 

To do this I
suggest parents need to:
focus your praise for their achievement on observed effort rather than ability, focus on
the work they did to achieve the grade they got rather than the score or the grade itself
if your children have difficulty understanding or learning something new, help them to
focus on the process - the strategies they are using - as the best source of improvement
if they are having difficulties encourage them to try new ways of learning, to find the
information they need to learn represented in a new way, a different style or sensory
mode from their teachers methods of delivery and see if they can learn it better that
way. There are many good websites for every school subject where subject matter is
represented in different ways – see for a list of
good websites
help them to learn from their mistakes
encourage them to take on new challenges and to use failure as feedback
use role models, biographies and your own stories to show them that failure, resilience
and perseverance are the keystones of success
make sure they get good training in effective learning skills

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