Improving learning skills of low-achieving students

iStock_000014442615XSmallHelping low achievers develop better learning skills was the goal of a recent experiment conducted by John Quicke and Christine Winter, Division of Education, University of Sheffield, England.

A group of eighth-grade students who were described as low-achieving by their teacher was selected for the study. Quicke and Winter sought to help these students take control of their learning by introducing them to strategies that could improve their understanding of the material they were studying. The researchers rejected abstract discussions on “how to learn” in favor of pragmatic discussions that helped reveal to the students what they themselves were thinking and doing as they worked on a class assignment.

At the outset, most students agreed that learning was something they received from the teacher. They believed they could only improve their learning by concentrating on what the teacher was saying, and remembering what she had told them. They also acknowledged that they were easily discouraged, especially if the teacher, or other students, criticized or teased them.

As the group worked on assignments in class, Quicke and Winter pointed out good learning strategies as the students exhibited them, praising them and discussing how a particular comment or behavior reflected an effective approach to learning. During these discussions, the researchers were careful not to usurp control of the students’ activities.

Strategy card helps students remember

Working together, researchers and students designed a strategy card for the students to use to help them remember ways to improve their learning. Using the students’ own words, the card consisted of eight points:

  1. Get ourselves into a learning mood.
  2. Talk about what we have to do.
  3. Look and listen carefully.
  4. Decide who is going to do what.
  5. Stop and think — work for several minutes without talking.
  6. Work on the task: allow everyone to speak, listen to what they have to say and ask them questions.
  7. Check our work.
  8. Think ahead.

By the end of four weeks, Quicke and Winter report, these low-achieving students were able to constructively evaluate their own performance as well as the performances of others in the group in terms of good or poor learning strategies. They showed that they were able to use essential features of the strategies effectively. They were able to set up and carry out learning activities by themselves and, moreover, were able to think about and discuss learning as a topic separate from the subject they were studying.

Students attributed their success in part to the strategy card, which they said helped them work independently. Quicke and Winter are currently working on guidelines to help teachers provide effective strategy training to low-achieving students in their own classrooms.


“Teaching the Language of Learning: Towards a Metacognitive Approach to Pupil Empowerment”, British Educational Research Journal, Volume 20, Number 4, Fall 1994, pp. 429-445.

Published in ERN March/April 1995, Volume 8, Number 2

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