Teach the Art of Learning to Learn?

“Must I, have such a long title?” You might wonder. The above is a question I am currently processing.

It is one thing to learn how to learn but a different ballgame to Teach the art of learning to learn. I was challenged by an article written by Alan November ‘Interview Questions for teachers in the 21st Century’. The questions posed spurred me to reflect on my teaching practices as a parent and a teacher. Here are some questions that hit the nerves. I shall change teachers to parents for my sharing here.

1.Current question: How do you teach (your kids) to solve problems?

New question: How do you teach (your kids) to become problem designers?

‘I asked Stephan, “What do you think is the most important skill for students to learn, given their access to a knowledge engine?” He immediately said, “The ability to ask good questions. Almost all of the answers to traditional school problems are on the internet—What is not on the internet are the questions.”’

It shed a new light to what I was doing with my kids. When they were young, I loved creating together with them. Now, they are creating on their own. Recently, I was wondering how to help them review their multiplication tables more effectively. I wondered what could be done other than me providing a solution to help them? I wanted them to learn how to learn for themselves.

I knew how J loved creating with his hands. I placed a challenge for him. ‘Is there any way you can help yourself review your multiplication table after you have memorised them? How about creating something fun to help you remember better?’

J asked

“What thing should I create?”

To which I responded in kind,

“What are some fun and exciting ways you can do to help you get interested in learning?”

This triggered a brainstorming on what kind of games they wish to invent for their particular learning ‘problem’. I saw the gleam not only in J’s eyes, the emphatic ‘I also want to do!’ from A and E were music to my ears. All were excited to create something for themselves to learn better! In the midst of the exam preparation period, kids were eager to brainstorm their own games. I knew this spark would fire further than the pending exams. Actually, it was because of their exams that I found it necessary for kids to take ownership of their own learning as students. I am slowly learning how to teach them to ask questions – a step closer to problem designing and inventing – I hope. They are in the midst of working on them. I will share more when they complete their games.

2. Current question: How do you assess (your kids) work that is handed in to you?

New question: What are your expectations for students to self-assess their work ….?

‘ Giving students the tools to self-assess their work helps them develop a sense of autonomy, and research suggests it can lead to deeper self-reflection. ‘

I was excited when I saw self-assessment as a key to independent learning. There must be clear rubrics before the kids can do any self assessment. We need to model how we assess them by making ‘thinking visible’. We either verbalise our thought processes or draw/write out what and how we assess a piece of work. When our kids see how we do that, they will then learn the hows and whys of assessing oneself. e.g. After kids self mark their work (assessment exercises), I will randomly select a correction to test and inquire how he had arrived at the answer. In the MCQ below, we discussed why the 3 options were incorrect by elimination. Then I discovered he was unsure of the sequence – flowers first or fruit first. So we revisited the basics before answering the question. My assessment has moved to a higher level – assessing an executive function (i.e his self assessment) instead of merely marking his answers.


Another area of focus: Instead of racing through many pages of assessment exercises, I  allocate marking and correction time as an important process to ‘learning to learn‘. For instance, instead of completing 3pages of exercises, he only needs to do 2pages and self mark that portion focusing on correcting any mistakes made. If he still does not understand the rationale to the corrections, he will check with us. (November even suggests ‘students go to WolframAlpha, type in the equation, and then compare their work to the steps that WolframAlpha provides. They can reflect on how their own work compares and where they might have gone wrong.’) NOTE: WolframAlpha is a mindblowing answer machine to all academic woes! Why do we even need to regurgitate answers now??  In an age like this, our moral values, work ethics and creative learning will play a crucial role more than ever before!

By spending valuable time for self checking and self correcting, it drives the message across that self assessment is an important component in any learning process. This will in turn cultivate a habit of self reflection and increase ownership for our kids’ own learning.

Unfortunately, in the name of ‘no time’, we often take the shortcut of autonomous learning by marking for them and providing them the explanations behind the solutions for regurgitation. However, I am not advocating self assessment for ALL lessons. There needs to be a balanced curriculum of both types of assessment. The harder thing to do will be checking on the self-assessments of the kids. When we do that, our children will develop the executive functions of self monitoring and self reflection.

3.Current question: How do you manage your (home learning environment)

New question: How do you teach (your kids) to manage their own learning?         

Learning how to learn.

‘In a teacher-centric classroom, students are dependent on the teacher for direction. But compare that to a teacher who has taught her students to be self-directed and collaborative learners. Our society needs people who can figure out ideas from all over the world and manage their own work. This is a really important skill.’

Are we equipping our kids to learn how to learn? A simple and practical way of teaching this self directed learning is through cooking. This was the march holidays.

Usually, my domestic helper will do the groceries and they will cook. This time, we started with groceries. In order to occupy them while I brought E to the dentist, I got them to compare all the prices in the grocery list between 2 supermarkets next to each other. It took care of the idle half hour. From this, I saw how each one handled information and how systematic or not they were. One had to scurry back and forth because short term memory was not working well. Another wisely informed me about how an item was not worth purchasing because it was not fresh. We then discussed on the value of the items in terms of it’s quantity, quality, and it’s value for money.


We ended up buying only 2 items from one place and the rest from the other supermarket. Korkor took the lead in assigning items and the rest had to check and report to him for comparison.

I think watching Jamie Olivers and Masterchef Junior helped heighten their desire to cook! We recorded the cook shows and the kids decided on the recipes they wished to try. The pancakes were successful, but the salmon salad was a failure. I am inclined to think that the visual baking book below borrowed from the library helped A along in his DIY attempt. Looked deceptively simple but the control of time was to the T! By the time J took out the beans they were overcooked and the salmon were unevenly steamed. Nonthless, we were proud of our attempt!

pixlr (1)


The highlight of cooking was when their big auntie Chef brought them to do grocery and baked fresh bread for burgers! It was a 1 meal feed many mouths especially to celebrate another Big Aunty’s birthday. But it felt more like a kids’ party menu. ; p


The real test between a sincere baker and a practical baker was this – The real baker a.k.a meimei bothered to help aunty Chef despite the TV on, while the bakers who baked for food to be fed, were glued to the TV.


I recently bought The Family Meal : Home cooking with Ferran Adria (it was half priced!). It had beautifully captured all the preparatory steps from the ingredients to the cooking processes in a clear photo layout. By providing them with such a vivid resource, kids can learn better the ‘how tos’ of cooking that dish other than watching Youtube. Of course, the hands on learning from the real cook is the best- you! There are so many ways to learn! When exposed to different avenues regularly, I hope my kids will catch the art of learning how to learn for themselves in time to come.


Alan November’s article stoked the fire in my quest for learning how to teach better. All the readings and studying done throughout the past year and months connected and made a deep impression in the recesses of my mind. The below are just 2 of the theories gathered. There is another set of theory which I am still working on applying.

  1. The Growth Mindset theory
  2. Making Thinking Visible. 

I share this post as a form of self reflection and a record for my future reference in our progress. I am excited and look forward to impart the art of learning to learn! Let me know what is your view and if you have more resources I can grow from?!



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