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  Classroom Compass Volume 3, Number 2
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The Ways We Learn

There are multiple reasons for studying how people learn. By learning about how people learn, students may be able to learn more effectively themselves and to know what difficulties they may face. Also, knowing about the limitations of human learning can help people to anticipate problems (their own and those of others) in learning how to teach children better.

Kindergarten through Grade 2

This level is the time to be sure that all children know that they can learn almost anything they want to. Children are most interested in learning about their surroundings. They should be encouraged to notice how they learn by asking them how they learned something in the past or how they might learn to do something new or by having them teach a skill to someone else.

Grades 3 through 5

As children's self-awareness increases, they want to know more about their personal capabilities, what they might be able to do and know. They should be given many opportunities to explore areas of personal interest and develop new skills. By the end of 5th grade, students should know

  • Human beings can use the memory of their past experiences to make judgments about new situations.

  • Learning means using what one already knows to make sense out of new experiences or information, not just storing the new information in one's head.

Grades 6 through 8

Emphasis should now be placed on how to figure out what learning has taken place as a consequence of studying something. Students can design various tests and administer them to individuals and groups as practice for longer studies of learning. They can investigate different ways of learning different things and compare the results they get.

By the end of the 8th grade, students should know that

  • The level of skill a person can reach in any particular activity depends on innate abilities, the amount of practice, and the use of appropriate learning technologies.

  • Learning often results from two perceptions or actions occurring at about the same time. The more often the same combination occurs, the stronger the mental connection between them is likely to be.

Grades 9 through 12

Now is the time to consider some explanations of how learning takes place. Claims of sophisticated learning by other animals, such as language in lower primates, can be considered in light of available evidence.

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

  • The expectations, moods, and prior experiences of human beings can affect how they interpret new perceptions or ideas. People tend to ignore evidence that challenges their beliefs and to accept evidence that supports them.

  • Human thinking involves the interaction of ideas, and ideas about ideas. People can produce many associations internally without receiving information from their senses.

This excerpt is from Chapter 6, "The Human Organism: Learning" in Benchmarks for Science Literacy (1993), reprinted with permission from the Oxford University Press.

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