What does the research say?

Randy Barber

The three basic principles of How People Learn

While educational programs and fads come and go, BVSD is focused on research-proven instructional practices.

“Teaching is probably one of the hardest things to do because, not only do you have to understand these general principles about how students learn but, each learner comes with their own unique strengths and weaknesses,” Messier said.

About 20 years ago, the National Research Council released How People Learn, a report that brought together all of the psychological research about what we know about cognitive science and the way that people learn things. Its findings were distilled in three basic principles:

  1. No human being’s brain is a blank slate. Every learner comes to the situation with pre-existing ideas that shape the way that they integrate new information.

  2. Learners are forming a conceptual framework of knowledge and ideas.

  3. Good learners are conscious of their own learning process.

For this reason, BVSD teachers work closely with individual students to surface pre-existing ideas, before helping students to construct meaning around factual information.

“The power of our pre-existing ideas can be incredibly powerful,” Messier said. “Sometimes you have to present multiple pieces of evidence and help people to assimilate concepts that might not be consistent with the pre-existing ideas.”

Collecting facts and knowledge alone, however, isn’t enough. Messier says that we must introduce the information in engaging instructional learning experiences that help the students to piece facts together into a comprehensive picture.

“What brain researchers know about people who are experts in a topic, is that in addition to having a rich body of facts, concepts and skills related to that area -- they also have a conceptual framework that they hang it on, so that it is easier for them to retrieve bits of information when they need it,” Messier said. “It is kind of like having a great set of organizational drawers for your closet that helps you find the pieces of the wardrobe that you need.”

She says it is a bit like learning a sport.

“When you are learning a sport, like tennis, you practice the serve over and over again and you practice your forehand over and over again and you practice your backhand over and over again, but you don’t become a really good player until you learn how to put all of those pieces together in the context of a real game,” Messier said.

Finally, in BVSD we empower our students to lead their learning.

“Good learners know how to use tools to access their own understanding and to assess how well they’ve understood something,” Messier explained. “The more that we build those metacognitive processes into the learning, with kids, the stronger learners they become. So, we often will ask them ‘ok, how well do you understand that?,’ ‘how do you know that you understand it well?’ and ‘what is telling you that you know it well?”

READ MORE: BVSD strives to provide learning experiences ‘worthy’ of our students


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