Gail Ellis and Nayr Ibrahim
Session date and time:  2015-04-13 10:30

Summary : Gail Ellis & Nayr Ibrahim (British Council, France)
This talk will discuss the theoretical and methodological concepts of learning to learn in the primary English language teaching classroom. It will show how teachers can apply the 'Plan, Do, Review' routine systematically and explicitly to activities and to whole lessons, in order to help children learn how to learn and to gradually become aware of their own learning preferences and differences. (http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2015/session/teaching-children-how-learn)

I have very good memories when I have first met Gail Ellis in person in in Brazil. Her book Learn to learn English is an awesome and handful timeless source for teachers and leaners.  I have used it for years with my students (regarding learner training) as well as with teachers, when I am delivering teacher training sessions. She has worked together with Nayr Ibrahim at the BC in France for many years.

The book is divided into three parts:
1.        Rational and theory
2.       Activties for learners
3.       Teachers’ development activities

The theoretical background of learn to learn:

The presenters claim that the theory of learning to learn is based on the philosophy of constructivism which is a view of learning and teaching and has the concept that learning  at school happens inside the heads of leaners.  In other words, the teacher cannot learn from the learner.  So there’s a gap between teaching and learning and learners have to negotiate in order to construct new knowledge, skills and attitudes.  

It’s also based on the theory of social interactionism where teachers can help the process of learning by creating optimal conditions for teaching, learning and interaction in the classroom.
So what’s learning to learn? Basically it’s an umbrella term that comes with a wide variety of activities which is concerned with the processes of learning.

It aims to focus people’s attention on how they learn as well as what they learn.  It aims to lead them gradually to a constructive development and how to become more independent.

As for instructions, in the slide below they cite Bruner (1966).

Learning to learn is dependent on all learning in all areas of curriculum and life. Mostly, it’s linked to learner autonomy, one of the most important areas in a child’s educational development and it’s something that they start learning at very early age. It values diversity and take into account that children learn in different ways at different grades, and have different preferences regarding their activities and materials.  

Learning to learn is not a new concept

However, teachers tend to remain at abstract levels and official documents because they have very strong views about learning to learn:   
·         They didn’t learn like this - Teachers feel uncomfortable to implement an approach they themselves have not experienced.
·         They think children are too young for this aspect of learning
·         They don’t have time
·         They have to use the mother tongue
·         It takes a long time
·         Our materials don’t show us how to do it

Probably one of the greatest constraints is the lack of training and practical guidelines on how to implement learning to learn.

Different types of learning strategies:

The literature on learning strategies generally refers to four main categories:
1.       Metacognitive
2.       Cognitive
3.       Social- affective
4.       Communication

In the session they focused on the cognitive and metacognitive strategies.
Metacognitive strategies are those that involve learners in thinking about their learning.  It includes planning, monitoring and evaluating learning.

Cognitive strategies are task specific and involve children doing things with the language and their learning materials and relates to skill areas.
Leaners have a lot of implicit practice in developing cognitive strategies. They are usually embedded in the tasks they do such as sorting or classifying, listening for specific information, predicting, sequencing, and so on.  Unfortunately most classroom situations or materials rarely explicitly inform leaners about the strategies they are using and why, and they are not encouraged to reflect on their learning. In other words, the metacognitive dimension is missing as we can see from the quote below: 

So the teachers need to take an expanded world and incorporate this missing metacognitive dimension.
Suggested activities are designed to implement learning to learn which obey on the following pedagogical principles:

1.       Provide different modes of input by using  multimodal resources to present language and convey meaning and  with a large different types of responses such as physical, spoken, written, creative analytical and personal. It helps to create an inclusive learning environment which accommodates children’s learning preferences and differences.

2.       The English Language Portfolio: Each activity is linked to an English Language Portfolio – The use of portfolio is an integral part of the learning to learn methodology. A portfolio helps children organise their work, monitor their progress, take pride on their work and help them to talk about and account for their learning. They are supposed to teak their portfolios home to encourage family involvement and maximise their time. It lays an important role and fosters home involvement.
3.       Assessment:  Assessment for learning is incorporated and it is based on the principle that children progress best when learn aims to make explicit and share them and they know what to do to succeed in that activity by negotiating success criteria. Assessment for children also involves children in peer and self-assessment.
4.       Value the children’s voices.  Children are encouraged to talk about their experiences.

5.       All activities are informed so that there’s a spirit of transparency. This means teachers share information. For example, they tell the aim of a lesson and the activities, they explain the purpose of an activity so that children understand what they are doing and why, they negotiate success criteria together, and they explain strategies use.

6.       ROUTINES: All activities are structured around routines as routines are a central part of a primary classroom.  They help children feel secure, they help children value a sense of time, develop what’s going to come next ,  and provide exposure to repeated language and familiar situations.

7.       Home involvemvent : Which includes children and parents awareness of the possibilities of conserve English outside the classroom in order to maximise earning.

8.       Beliefs: Learning should promote a philosophy based on valuing self, others and the environment and 5 values on the pillar of activities: Accountability, caring, flexibility , resilience and tolerance.

9.       Cross- curricular activities : Activities can and should be linked to other areas of the primary curriculum to provide a broader view of learning English and of the world . It moves away from the traditional and sequential view of English as a subject approach to a holistic approach.

10.   Each activity has a main outcome :  Children are informed at the beginning of each activity where they work is leading  in order to make this more purposeful, meaningful and motivating.


These three stages provide a framework in which children can be systematically and explicitly helped to learn how to learn by combining cognitive and metacognitive strategies training through reflection, experimentation and further reflection.

The plan stage: Children are involved in the learning aims of the activity and they are encouraged to reflect on what they are going to know and how best to plan for the activity. They then identify and negotiate the success criteria with their teachers.

The do stage involves children with experimenting and doing things with the language and the language materials.

The review stage involves children in reflecting on their learning by responding to five reflection questions* and participating in a variety of  familiar activities such as Simon says.

1.       *What did you do?
2.       *What did you learn?
3.       *How did you learn?
4.       *How well did you do?
5.       * What do you need to do best and why?

As for the DO stage, it gives opportunity to further extend and consolidate learning. Gives children opportunity to work independently and personalise learning.

The share stage takes place when children take their portfolio home to share with their families and are also given an activity to do together,. They aim is to maximise time and get families involved.

The presenters believe learn to learn is best developed in the classroom context as learning is considered to be affective, emotional and a social process which requires a face to face interaction.

As a teaching learning aid, they’ve chosen a mascot which plays 4 roles:

1.       A procedural role
2.       An affective role
3.       A behavioural role

4.       An interactive role 

The presenters then demonstrate some activities with worm the puppet that aim to :
·         Integrate learners
·         Develop awareness
·         Express the experience of learning English through the five senses
·         A variety of presentations and representations by classmates

Children are always informed about the aims of the activities
Example:  Learning English looks like, sounds like, tastes like, etc… (all represented by students’ drawings)

At the end of the activity or the lesson, children are involved in reflection  through reflective activities or the completion of a “my activity record page “ which they organise in their portfolios and share with their families.

They conclude the session giving the teachers a rest at their mind regarding the use of mother tongue and shared classroom language: 

As stated at the beggining of this post ,  the presenters say that teachers also concern they haven't experinced or been trained to learning to learn. So it's important to have teachers' development activities designed around the plan-do-review routine.  This is to enable them to also experince this approach as related to their own personal and professional development. The share stage encougaes teachers  support t, exchange and collaborate with their colleagues, their key source of information , inspiration and ideas. 

The TD activities should :

Involve the learning to lean Pedaggical principles
Be a long term and ongoing project
Include action research, peer observaton, self assessesment and the development of an action plan. 

Teacher development activities help the  teacher: 

Their new book will be available soon but can be seen on DELTA website  , including the download of sample pages. 


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