How Do You Learn?

how do you learn

When I taught primary children in classrooms, over 4 years ago, a method of pedagogy called VAK learning was encouraged to maximise the opportunities for all learners to access and engage with the curriculum.

#TallTartanTalks here … In this blog post I talk about VAK.

What is VAK?

The acronym VAK stands for Visual Auditory Kinaesthetic.

In my role as a classroom educator, I asked myself:

  • How can I use language, vocabulary and sounds to help this new material be remembered?
  • How could physical movement help?
  • Am I encouraging depth in the learner’s experiences, and encouraging questioning?

In my current role as a primary tutor, I ask myself the same questions.

How do children learn?

Some children find the ability to learn comes easily.  Some are able to concentrate for long periods, e.g. when reading. Some relish solving Maths problems. Some can hear and follow instructions efficiently; others need to fidget with something in their hands as they learn.

Children will not use one sensory approach to the exclusion of all others, yet they will learn more effectively if their needs are met.

How do adults learn?

By the time we are an adult, we have more of an idea which learning style suits the way our brains work.

For those of us continuing learning as an adult, we tweak our strategies to find the best way to study and to absorb new information.

If you understand which is your preferred learning style, then you’ll make it easier on yourself to study and learn.

Three main learning styles

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinaesthetic

What kind of learner are you?

Visual: If you lean towards this learning style, you will prefer to see and observe things. You’ll typically work best from lists, written directions, and instructions.

Auditory: If you lean towards this learning style, you will prefer the transfer of information to be through the spoken word, or through sounds, noises, or music.

Kinaesthetic: If you lean towards this learning style, you will prefer a practical, hands-on approach. You’ll prefer the physical experience, wanting to experiment first, rather than read the instructions.

Visual style of learning

visual learner

If you are a visual learner, you learn by reading or seeing pictures. You understand and remember things by sight. You can picture what you are learning in your head, and you learn best by using methods that are visual. You like to see what you are learning. You often close your eyes to visualize or remember something. You may have difficulty with spoken directions and may be easily distracted by sounds.

Auditory style of learning

auditory learner

If you are an auditory learner, you learn by hearing and listening. You understand and remember things you have heard. You store information by the way it sounds, and you have an easier time understanding spoken instructions than written ones. You often learn by hearing it or speaking it, in order to take it in. You need to hear things, not just see things, in order to learn.

Kinaesthetic style of learning

If you are a kinaesthetic learner, you learn by touching and doing. You understand and remember things through physical movement. You are a ‘hands-on’ learner who prefers to touch or move while you learn. You tend to learn better when some type of physical activity is involved. You need to be active and take frequent breaks. You often speak with your hands and with gestures.

You learn best by doing, not just by reading, seeing, or hearing.

learn

Ways to teach using VAK

The VAK approach engages different levels of cognitive challenge in every curriculum subject.

Once I taught a class who enjoyed using VAK to represent punctuation marks (Punctuation Karate!). Quite simply, they used their arms and hands to represent the marks, e.g. a full stop was a clenched fist thrust forward … Saying ‘full stop’ aloud along with the karate action helped them remember to insert a full stop at the end of a sentence.

The VAK tool is an effective way of ensuring that you balance and broaden your range when educating children (as a teacher or parent).

Teach children to see it, hear it, do it, and be curious about it!

how do you learn

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Further reading

In case you missed them, the other blog posts I’ve written on the theme of teaching, tutoring, and primary education are here, here, and here.

Here is a link to a learning style questionnaire from the Open University: https://help.open.ac.uk/learning-style-activity

Another VAK website resource: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/vak-learning-styles.htm 

Bibliography: ‘The Alps Approach – accelerated learning in primary schools’ by Alistair Smith and Nicola Call. Published 1999; Revised 2002; Reprinted 2003.

How I Teach English

Teach EnglishThere is a lockdown. Schools have closed for all except the children of keyworkers, with a rota of teachers. Parents are home-schooling their children, teaching English, among other subjects .

The pupils who I used to teach face-to-face have moved over to online tuition. I have been learning how to use Zoom, and how to share resources using screenshare.

I am #TallTartanTalks (was #TallTartanTells) … and my feeling now is that the information I share in this post about how to teach English is just as important now in the current climate. You will become more aware of just how MUCH there is to teaching English – and that’s just up to Year 6 (age 11) level – never mind GCSE or A level (which is not my area of expertise).

My background

To give you some sort of context, in case you haven’t read my blog posts before, I write about my freelance business. I have been proofreading and tutoring  since I left classroom teaching in 2016. This is the third post I have written about teaching and tutoring: I write about my experiences of tuition generally; and about how I teach Maths.

For the last four months my time has been spent following the CIEP (Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading) proofreading mentoring course, providing primary tuition, and editing a local monthly charity magazine. Now the coronavirus pandemic is happening. It’s time to take stock.

So read further to find out how I teach English.

English teaching

When I teach English to primary school children, I could be covering anything up to six areas of skills. They are:

  • reading decoding and comprehension
  • spelling
  • punctuation
  • grammar
  • handwriting
  • writing composition

Reading

The key skill in teaching English is the teaching of reading. Without efficient reading skills, children find it more difficult to access other areas of the curriculum.

By the time children leave primary school, they should be able to read and understand what they are reading. There are those children (below average) who can decode (break down) the sounds in words to help them recognise and pronounce them.

More able children can read challenging texts fluently. When I taught in the classroom, it was a pleasure to hear a child read with expression, or have confidence performing with drama. It was equally pleasing to see the progress a child made who was struggling with phonics. Those lightbulb moments are priceless.

Infer and deduce

It is intriguing to teach more able readers how to infer and deduce (read ‘between the lines’) by increasing their vocabulary, by prompting them to understand what that challenging vocabulary means,  by leading them to dig deeper into the text.

It is encouraging to watch reluctant readers laugh at the stories spun by authors such as David Walliams and Liz Pichon (Tom Gates). They want to read on … But it is also frustrating when they ignore an unfamiliar word, hoping it will just become invisible. I teach them to become inquisitive enough to want to find out why the author chose that word, investigating how that word adds to the story.

SPaG

Three elements of English – Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar – have been turned into a variety of acronyms by the Department for Education over the years: their incarnations have been SPaG, GPS, … In the 2010s, Michael Gove introduced intensive assessment of SPaG at the end of Key Stage 2 (Year 6), which resulted in children being taught far more about grammar than they need to know at that age.

Let’s begin with Spelling –

Spelling

I find that children generally fall into two camps: either they can spell, or they can’t. Some children really worry about spelling. Some don’t know what the fuss is about – spelling isn’t important to them. Or there are those who are proud because correct spelling comes easily to them – they learnt the weekly spellings with 10/10.

When tutoring my pupils, I ask them to look at the spelling of a word they have written. Does it look right? Does it match spelling patterns they know?

Spelling can be taught in fun ways using games, e.g. Scrabble, wordsearch, to name just two. ZType is a fun typing app which reinforced spelling. Try it!

Children with dyslexic tendencies are a different discussion. Thankfully now they get more recognition and help than in the past.

Punctuation

It was so frustrating when, in upper primary, children forgot to use capital letters and full stops to begin and end a sentence. Ironically, they could use more advanced forms of punctuation, but forgot the skills taught in Year 1. By Year 2 (age 7) children are taught to add to their knowledge of punctuation by using a question mark or exclamation mark. By Year 5 (age 9) children are taught to use a wide range of punctation, including semicolons (an elaborate comma) and colons (introduces further information).

When I wrote their ideas on the whiteboard or Learning Wall during Guided Writing, pupils were keen to point out punctuation errors (deliberate mistakes made by me) but they weren’t as observant in their own writing. Children had to be retaught to punctuate as they wrote, rather than put the punctuation in afterwards.

Which is why writers perhaps can’t see the wood for the trees, and need a trained editor and/or proofreader to find errors.

Grammar

Here are some terms you may not have come across before. They are assessed in the SPaG SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) for Year 6 (age 11) at the end of Key Stage 2.

Let’s try some … Can you identify the following? What is an adjective, adverb, fronted adverbial, modal verb, conjunction, subordinate clause, relative clause, and finally, active and passive voice? (The answers are below if you are curious.)

adjective: describes the noun

adverb: describes the verb (sometimes end with ‘ly’)

fronted adverbials: an adverb which starts a sentence pausing with a comma, e.g. ‘In the far distance, …’

modal verbs: verbs which show possibility or likelihood

conjunctions: used to be called connectives – links two clauses with ‘and’, ‘but, ‘or’, etc.

subordinate clause: a clause which depends on the main clause to make sense

relative clause: a subordinate clause introduced by a relative pronoun, e.g. who, which, whose

active voice: the subject of the sentence is doing or being, e.g. The cooks burned the apple pie.

passive voice: the subject is being acted on by the object, e.g. The apple pie was burned by the cooks.

However, this is not the place for a debate about which and why grammar rules should be taught to 7 – 11 year olds.

Right, moving straight on to something a little less controversial …

Handwriting

According to the National Curriculum, children should be joining their handwriting from Year 2.

I get much satisfaction from showing children how to form their letters correctly. Tall letters have ascenders (lines going up, e.g. b, d, h, k, l, t) and others have descenders (lines going down, e.g. g, j, p, q, y). Elegant ‘f’ should have both.

Each school usually has their own handwriting policy. Some schools advocate teaching cursive handwriting from EYFS Reception (Early Years Foundation Stage). That’s fine if the child demonstrates good fine motor control with the pencil, but I’m not convinced. Then again, I never taught in an EYFS classroom. (I was too tall to get my legs under the tiddly tables!)

Another tip I offer is to dot the i’s and cross the t’s after the whole word is written, rather than lift the pencil/pen and stop the flow of the word to finish those letters. Try it with the word ‘little’. Oh, and remember that those l’s are ascenders, so will be taller than those standard i’s and e’s.

Neatly joined handwriting has its place, and does look absolutely exquisite in the right setting. But, the quality of the handwriting should be appropriate to the audience. For a quick visit to the shops with a list just for one’s own viewing, a scribble is sufficient. On the other hand, perfecting the greeting on a card to granny is the opportunity to be proud of slowly-joined, cursive script.

handwriting paper

An example of a student handwriting sheet which encourages the use of ascenders and descenders.

Writing composition

There is nothing more thrilling than to have a child show their learning by incorporating features of writing you have taught into an unaided composition.

Whether the genre is myths, legends, historical, comedy or horror, their ability to show understanding of the features of that genre is a mark of their progress and success as writers.

Their skills at writing are enhanced if they are reading a wide variety of genres. If they can also build believable characters, with imaginative speech which moves the story on, and they can talk directly to the reader, their writing becomes a sheer joy to read.

By Year 6, most children can include a wide range of devices in their writing: plot structure; description of setting and characters using vivid adjectives and adverbs, similes and metaphors; action between characters; speech (using the rules of speech punctuation); and punctuation. Even showing contrast of types and lengths of sentences, e.g. ‘long/short/long’ or ‘short/long/short’ for dramatic effect.

The hardest concept for some children to grasp is how to lay out paragraphs. They are taught to start a new idea on a new line with a small indent. Each paragraph should have a new idea. One example of a model to help understanding is to show children fiction authors’ work where paragraphs have been jumbled. The task is to rearrange them so that the meaning of the overall text makes sense.

So, all these elements are taught in a module lasting several weeks over a half term, building up their skills, until the children get a chance to show that they can apply their learning.

At the end of an hour’s composition, the children are given the opportunity to read their work back to themselves. In the classroom, they would whisper aloud. So they can hear it. Hearing it spoken is a tip for the checking of any errors. Editors and proofreaders do it as a proven strategy!

All the best

To finish, you will find some helpful websites below about the teaching of primary English. They will be especially useful if you are home-schooling.

 

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Website resources on teaching primary English:

How I Teach Maths

teach maths

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again … one of the things I love about my freelance business is the variety. As well as editing, I particularly enjoy teaching primary school pupils. Maths is one of the subjects I boost in tutoring. Don’t worry, nothing as complicated as BitmoAnnie is doing in the image!

This blog post follows on from my general blog post  About Tutoring. In this post, I continue to share tips from the 30 years I spent in the classroom teaching 5 – 11 year olds.

Who is this blog post for?

Proofreaders are asked to proofread not only educational reading and writing texts for publishers, but also materials in Maths and Science, the other core subjects. With the latter subjects, the ability to fact-check that answer books are correct, and marking schemes match, is a definite advantage and sought after skill.

This post is also for  ex-teacher freelancers who are considering adding tutoring to their portfolio of jobs. Many of the newbie editing freelancers I have come across are already offering tuition. Indeed, it’s a no-brainer to apply our finely-honed skills to running a freelance tuition business, over which we have sole control.

Maths lesson

Now here I describe how I tutor an hour’s Maths lesson. I enjoy using particular resources, described below, to encourage engagement and learning.

This Maths lesson is aimed at an average 8-year old in Year 4. It is divided into three parts: mental warm-up, written practice and reinforcement, finishing with a fun game to wind up the hour.

Pre-requisites for this lesson:

  • Mental number bonds to 20.
  • Times tables knowledge of x2, x5, x10, x3, x4, x6, x8 (according to the National Curriculum 2014, children should know all times tables by Year 5). Notice I have listed them in the order they are taught from Year 1.
  • Some division tables knowledge of ÷2, ÷5, ÷10, ÷3, ÷4.

Resources for games:

  • Wrap-ups (I’ll come to these in a moment)
  • dice
  • playing cards
  • iPad or Android tablet device

teach maths

Mental starter (10 minutes)

Use mental maths strategies to add quickly and efficiently. The purpose of this is to settle into a focused frame of mind, and warm up the little grey cells. So, a speedy game of Snap with playing cards for hand/eye agility and coordination is a thrill.

Or throw two dice and add, or multiply, with speed. Extending this, throw three dice and add by finding the largest number first; or find two numbers which make ten; or near doubles.

My favourite starter is the Wrap-up.

Wrap-ups are available as all four operations (+ – x ÷) as well as fractions. The photo shows the times tables version of a Wrap-up.

Each key has a separate times table, with answers mixed up on the back, for self-checking. A string is wound matching the question to the answer, while saying the question out loud. For example, 4 x 3. The child winds the string around, matching the question to the answer.

I vary the vocabulary used to ask the question: 4 lots of 3; 4 sets of 3, 4 groups of 3, 4 times 3, 4 multiplied by 3.

Rotating the string round and round, at the same time as vocalising the question, is known as the VAK approach – visual, auditory, kinaesthetic. The child uses the strategy they feel best suits their learning. It is especially appropriate for children who can’t keep still as they learn. (One of my tutee clients has ADHD.) Wrap-ups are available from this website.

Main session (30 minutes)

Written short multiplication method: carry out multiplication calculations using the following as an example, 854 x 4.

Vocabulary

It is vital to use the correct vocabulary when describing a strategy. Children tend to use the word ‘sum’ to describe any operation involving numbers! ‘Sum’ describes addition only – it means ‘total’. The answer to a multiplication question is the ‘product’. So, we could re-write the above question as: “What is the product of 854 and 4?” (This extends the question level to Year 5, as the word ‘and’ confuses the concept; a common error is for children to read the question as addition.)

Method

On squared paper, set out the 3-digit number, 854, (with one digit in one square) in the column values HTU, drawing two horizontal lines underneath as the place to write the answer. It astonishes children that the = sign means the same as those longer lines in a written strategy.

It’s hard to describe the method here, but I’ll have a go. Set out x4 underneath with the 4 in the Units or Ones column. Multiply 4 by the 4 Ones, making 16. Write 6 Ones in the space for the Ones answer, and ‘carry’ the 1 Ten into the Tens column. Multiply 4 by the 5 Tens. This equals 20, then add on the carried Ten to make 21 Tens. One Ten stays in the Tens column, and ‘carry’ the 20 Tens into the next column as 2 Hundreds. Multiply 4 by the 8 Hundreds to make 32 Hundreds, then add the carried 2 to make 34 Hundreds. The completed answer is 3,416.

Linking the calculation to a real-life problem gives the answer more context:  “If four people each made £854 in one month, how much was earned altogether?”

Mastery

If children can explain how they got their answer using the correct terminology, then it shows they have a secure concept of the method.

A common error is to forget to add on the carried digits, so I reinforce this aspect repeatedly. More able mathematicians can check the answer by using the inverse operation, division. Skills can be extended by multiplying ThHTU by a single digit.

One of the most common parental comments is that methods have changed since they were at school. So they feel it’s hard for them to help their children. Ask your child’s teacher for clarification. Some schools produce a handy leaflet for parents with how the Maths methods are taught.

Lesson plenary (10 minutes)

My pupils love using a Maths app on my Android tablet to round up the session and relax. These include Card Match, Solitaire (which I knew as Patience when I was young), and Countdown. They often beat me, too.

Why I tutor … part 2

Having been a classroom teacher, with many conflicting demands on time, you find that, simply, there are not enough hours in the day to spend quality 1-1 time with each child. Improving reading skills is probably the highest priority.

I find doing private tuition much more rewarding: I can choose the resources I want to use; planning for one child takes so much less time than for a class; children feel more relaxed to ask questions when there are just two of you. If you’re thinking about tutoring … what are you waiting for?

Feedback

Finally … positive feedback … makes it all worthwhile. Here is a comment from the parents of a 6 year old boy: “Annie is a fun, calm, creative and experienced tutor who immediately put my son at ease. He looks forward to her lessons and loves her ideas and games. We would definitely recommend her.” Really chuffed!

Read on to the end to find links to Primary Maths websites I have found useful for resources. Let me know if you are a tutor and share resources you find useful.

 

 

 Kindly proofread by Lisa de Caux, SfEP Intermediate Level Member, https://www.ldceditorial.co.uk

 

Useful Primary Maths website resources:

  • https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/51240 – this podcast is one of a number of excellent resources from the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Maths (NCETM) which supports Maths across all school and college phases.
  • https://whiterosemaths.com/ – This month White Rose Maths are running #Barvember. This to encourage everyone to use the bar model. They believe that the Bar Model is a useful tool for helping children visualise and then solve maths problems. Even some of the most complex problems can be seen much easier when represented visually.

Teacher bloggers

  • www.mrspteach.com/ – primary teacher and Deputy Head, Jo Payne. Pearson Teaching Awards winner for use of IT.
  • www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/blog – known as Ross Morrison McGill, the most followed secondary teacher on social media and top UK blogger of 2018.