How Students Learn

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Laws of Learning

From my conversations with teachers around the country about how students learn and how teachers teach, I have discovered that certain laws govern the learning process. These laws apply to any student at any grade and in any subject area. Just as important, they are also supportive of what we know about brain growth and development. Although they have direct application for you as a classroom teacher, you'll note they are also applicable to adults who want to learn, too.

  • Law of readiness. Students learn more easily when they have a desire to learn. Conversely, students learn with difficulty if they're not interested in the topic.

  • Law of effect. Learning will always be much more effective when a feeling of satisfaction, pleasantness, or reward is part of the process.

  • Law of relaxation. Students learn best and remember longest when they are relaxed. Reducing stress increases learning and retention.

  • Law of association. Learning makes sense (comprehension) when the mind compares a new idea with something already known.

  • Law of involvement. Students learn best when they take an active part in what is to be learned.

  • Law of exercise. The more often an act is repeated or information reviewed, the more quickly and more permanently it will become a habit or an easily remembered piece of information.

  • Law of relevance. Effective learning is relevant to the student's life.

  • Law of intensity. A vivid, exciting, enthusiastic, enjoyable learning experience is more likely to be remembered than a boring, unpleasant one.

  • Law of challenge. Students learn best when they're challenged with novelty, a variety of materials, and a range of instructional strategies.

  • Law of feedback. Effective learning takes place when students receive immediate and specific feedback on their performance.

  • Law of recency. Practicing a skill or new concept just before using it will ensure a more effective performance.

  • Law of expectations. Learners' reaction to instruction is shaped by their expectations related to the material (How successful will I be?).

  • Law of emotions. The emotional state (and involvement) of students will shape how well and how much they learn.

  • Law of differences. Students learn in different ways. One size does not fit all!

Dimensions of Learning

Teaching and learning occur in dynamic environments. In these environments, teachers, students, materials, textbooks, technologies, and social structures are all related and interactive. Learning and teaching occurs across five basic dimensions:

  • Confidence and independence

  • Knowledge and understanding

  • Skills and strategies

  • Use of prior and emerging experience

  • Critical reflection

These five elements are known as the dimensions of learning. They cannot be treated individually; instead, they are dynamically interwoven. They describe the basic elements that must be part of every classroom learning (and teaching) experience. Students learn best when these five dimensions are addressed and incorporated into every teaching/learning experience.

Positive Attitudes and Perceptions About Learning

Attitudes and perceptions affect students' ability to learn. Learning occurs best when the development of positive attitudes and perceptions is made part of every learning task. Students learn to think positively about themselves, their peers, and the material they are learning.

Here are some suggested classroom behaviors and practices:

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher © 2005 by Anthony D. Fredericks. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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