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Three actions to help learners ‘get in the zone of learning’

This blog is written for anyone who has a vested interest in helping someone else learn.

One of the most important aspects of helping someone else learn is how the learning event is set up.

According to an Israeli psychologist called Reuven Feuerstein three things need to happen to help a learner engage with the learning moment.

It starts with the ‘what?’

‘What am I learning?’ In my work in schools, I will sometimes ask a learner what it is they are learning about. Surprisingly often, the learner doesn’t know. This isn’t to say that what is being learnt and what they will be doing hasn’t been communicated. It means that the leaner doesn’t know despite this information (hopefully and probably) being shared.

Perhaps the information about what is being learnt was shared too quickly or only happened verbally. It is always worth checking in with a learner, do they know what they are learning about and what it is they will be doing. Knowing this helps the learner focus in on what they are doing. If the learner doesn’t know, tell and if needed show, them.

Why they’re learning this, right now

Next, does the learner know why they are learning what they are learning? It’s common for learners to be learning something, but not know why. Too often with my own children I find that I am explaining a possible reason as to why they are learning something in school. It is important for motivation to understand why we are learning something.

Check in with the learner and ask, ‘do you know why you are learning this?’ It could be the learner is practicing a skill (such as planning or organising) so they can become more independent in the use of that skill. It could be they are learning something more content based, such as about their own bodies or physical environment which will help with their general understanding of the world.

Where else could this skill be useful?

Feuerstein called this ‘transference’ and other psychologists have called it ‘bridging’. Both these words capture the importance of understanding the use of what is being learnt and openly discussing where else the skills or content of the learning could be used. Importantly, the ‘where else can I use this learning?’ should be answered from the point of the learner, drawing on their interests and life experience.

For example, when learning to tell the time it could be framed as ‘then you’ll know how long until dinner… seeing a friend…playing a game’. For some, the joy of learning something new is enough and the need to know where else that learning could be used seems less necessary. However some learners do not readily make the links of using skills learnt in one situation or lesson (e.g., maths) to other lessons (e.g. science) or everyday life. For most though, especially learners who find some things tricky, knowing where else a skill can be used is helpful for motivation.

The 3Ws

The above three points can be summarised into the 3Ws:

  1. What am I learning?
  2. Why am I learning this?
  3. Where else can I use this learning?

Try doing the above next time you are working with a learner, especially if the learner is finding things tricky. Take time to check out the learners understanding of what is going on by asking these questions, listening to the answers and ‘filling in the gaps’, if there are any. Reflect on the conversation you have and the impact on the leaner. I would love to hear your feedback should you do this.


Mary and the team behind the Mediating Learning Support Assistant (MeLSA) intervention have also created a range of videos about various aspects of learning.



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