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How children learn: 12 principles of learning – A checklist

Dr Christina Preston

How children learn: 12 principles of learning – A checklist


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This checklist is based on Stella Vosiniadou’s work.

You can download the checklist as a Word document.

Author: Piet Rodenhuis

Publication Date: 2010

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How children learn: 12 principles of learning

Based on Stella Vosniadou

Learning environment

1. Active involvementLearning requires the active, constructive involvement of the learner.   ü
I avoid situations where the students are passive listeners for long periods of time.
I provide students with hands-on activities, such as experiments, observations, projects, etc
I encourage participation in classroom discussions and other collaborative activities.
I organize school visits to museums and technological parks
I assist students in creating learning goals that are consistent with their interests and future aspirations.
I allow students to take some control over their own learning.Taking control over one’s learning means allowing students to make some decisions about what to learn and how.
2. Social participation 

Learning is primarily a social activity and participation in the social life of the school is central for learning to occur.


I assign students to work in groups and assume the role of a coach/co-coordinator who provides guidance and support to the groups.
I can create a classroom environment that includes group workspaces where resources are shared.
Through modelling and coaching, I can teach students how to co-operate with each other.
I can create circumstances for students to interact with each other, to express their opinions and to evaluate other students’ arguments.
3. Meaningful activities 

People learn best when they participate in activities that are perceived to be useful in real life and are culturally relevant.


I can make classroom activities more meaningful by situating them in an authentic context
I look for starting points in real live situations
I consider and respect cultural and ethnic differences and see them as strength to build on
I provide challenging and open learning situations

Cognitive factors

4. Relating new information to prior knowledge 

New knowledge is constructed on the basis of what is already understood and believed.


I  can discuss the content of a lesson before starting in order to ensure that the students have the necessary prior knowledge and in order to activate this knowledge.
I ask the kind of question that helps students see relationships between what they are reading and whatthey already know.
I need to go back to cover important prerequisite material or ask the students to do some preparatorywork on their own
I  can help students to grasp relationships and make connections. I  can do so by providing a model or a scaffold that students can use as support in their efforts to improve their performance.
5. Being strategic 

People learn by employing effective and flexible strategies that help them to understand, reason, memorize and solve problems.



I am aware of the important fact  that pupils differ in the use of strategies


I explicit in certain situations what strategies and models really work.

I let pupils reflect
I step back gradually to enable pupils to use strategies without my support
6. Engaging in self-regulation and being reflective 

Learners must know how to plan and monitor their learning, how to set their own learning goals and how to correct errors. 

I teach to plan how to solve problems, design experiments and read books
I teach  to evaluate the statements, arguments, solutions to problems of others, as well as of one’s self
I teach to check their thinking and ask themselves questions about their understanding— (Why am I doing what I am doing? How well am I doing? What remains to be done?)
I teach to develop realistic knowledge of themselves as learners—(I am good in reading, but need to work on my mathematics
I teach to set their own learning goals
I teach to know what are the most effective strategies to use and when to use them
7. Restructuring prior knowledge 

Sometimes prior knowledge can stand in the way of learning something new.

Students must learn how to solve internal inconsistencies and restructure existing conceptions when necessary.


I  need to be aware that students have prior beliefs and incomplete understandings that can conflict with what is being taught at school
I need to build on the existing ideas of students and slowly lead them to more mature understandings. Ignoring prior beliefs can lead to the formation of misconceptions
I find it important to create the circumstances where alternative beliefs and explanations can be externalized and expressed
I provide students with observations and experiments that have the potential of showing to them that some of their beliefs can be wrong. Examples from the history of science can be used for this purposeI.
I present scientific explanations with clarity and, when possible, exemplified with models
I give students enough time to restructure their prior conceptions. In order to do this, it is better to designcurricula that deal with fewer topics in greater depth than attempting to cover a great deal of topics in a superficial manner
8. Aiming towards understanding rather than memorizationLearning is better when material is organized around general principles and explanations, rather than when it is based on the memorization of isolated facts and procedures. 
I ask students to explain a phenomenon or a concept in their own words.
I show students how to provide examples that illustrate how a principle applies or how a law works.
I beliecve students must be able to solve characteristic problems in the subject-matter area. Problems can increase in difficulty as students acquire greater expertise.
When students understand the material, they can see similarities and differences, they can compare and contrast, and they can understand and generate analogies.
I teach students how to abstract general principles from specific cases and generalize from specific examples
9. Helping students learn to transfer 

Learning becomes more meaningful when the lessons are applied toreal-life situations. 

I insist on mastery of subject matter. Without an adequate degree of understanding, transfer cannot take place (see previous principle).
I teach for understanding rather than for memorization (see previous principle).
I help students learn how to monitor their learning and how to seek and use feedback about their progress.
I teach  applying what has been learned in one subject-matter area to other areas to which it may be related.
I show students how to abstract general principles from concrete examples
I help students see the transfer implications of the information they have learned.
10. Taking time to practiceLearning is a complex cognitive activity that cannot be rushed. It requires considerable time and periods of practice to start building expertise in an area   
I increase the amount of time students spend on learning in the classroom.
I give students learning tasks that are consistent with what they already know.
I do not try to cover too many topics at once. Give students time to understand the new information
I help students engage in ‘deliberate practice’ that includes active thinking and monitoring of their own learning
I give students access to books so that they can practice reading at home
I’ll be in contact with parents so that they can learn to provide richer educational experiences for their children

Teacher roles

11. Developmental and individual differences Children learn best when their individual differences are taken into consideration.
I  learn how to assess children’s knowledge, strategies and modes of learning adequately.
I introduce children to a wide range of materials, activities and learning tasks that include language, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, art, music, movement, social understanding, etc.
I identify students’ areas of strength, paying particular attention to the interest, persistence and confidence they demonstrate in different kinds of activities
I support students’ areas of strength and utilize these areas to improve overall academic performance
I guide and challenge students’ thinking and learning
I ask children thought-provoking questions and give them problems to solve. Urge children to test hypotheses in a variety of ways
I create connections to the real world by introducing problems and materials drawn from everyday situations
I show children how they can use their unique profiles of intelligence to solve real-world problems
I create circumstances for students to interact with people in the community, and particularly with adults who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the kinds of things that are of interest to the students
12. Creating motivated learnersLearning is critically influenced by learner motivation. Teachers can help students become more motivated learners by their behaviour and the statements they make   
I recognize student accomplishments.
I attribute student achievement to internal and not external factors (e.g. ‘You have good ideas’).
I help students believe in themselves (e.g. ‘You are putting a lot of effort on math and your grades have much improved’).
I provide feedback to children about the strategies they use and instruction as to how to improve them
I help learners set realistic goals
I provide novel and interesting tasks that challenge learners’ curiosity and higher-order thinking skills at the appropriate level of difficulty
I refrain from grouping students according to their ability. Ability grouping gives the message that ability is valued more than effort
I promote co-operation rather than competition. Research suggests that competitive arrangements that encourage students to work alone to achieve high grades and rewards tend to give the message that what is valued is ability and diminish intrinsic motivation

Albert Walsweer

Piet Rodenhuis

[You can download this casestudy]


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References & Contacts

None available

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