Teaching students skills

We must teach skills as well as content.

Generic Skills are skills vital for success in assessments. For example the skills required to succeed in assignments, essays, exams, coursework etc This includes widely used ‘study skills’ and many ‘Key Skills’ but also includes subject specific skills such as writing a laboratory report, doing a comprehension exercise, or evaluating a marketing strategy.

These skills are not content, and so often don’t find their way on to the Scheme of Work. Yet they need teaching and they need class time! They are more difficult to learn than the content usually. So don’t just teach the easy bits (content), and leave the hard stuff (skills) for the students to work out for themselves!

The best way of teaching skills is to integrate them into your lessons.

A research review by Hattie Biggs and Purdie has shown that these skills are best learned by integrating them into the course – teaching them ‘up front’ only works about half as well. Teaching these skills well can add a grade and a half to student acheivement.

  • Download Summary of Hattie Biggs and Purdie’s review on how to teach study skills
  • Download Approaches to generic skills teaching

Make sure your students believe the can improve their skills.

Hattie Biggs and Purdie found that a very important factor affecting the learning of skills was ‘attribution’. Do students attribute their success or failure to factors over which they have no control such as intelligence or talent; or do they attribute success and failure to factors they can control, such as the time and effort they spend learning. Professor Carol Dweck has written a book on this which is sumarised very briefly here.

One of the best ways of getting students to attribute their success to that effort and time spent learning is the use of self and peer assessment, and perhaps spoof assessment. Methods for doing this can be downloaded in a handout called ‘formative teaching methods’ available on the active learning page.

Make time to teach Generic Skills

In order to teach a generic skill you need to set students tasks in class that allow them to practice the skill. For example students could plan an essay on some new content they are learning, then they learn the skill of essay planning, but they also become more familiar with the content. You need to teach them the ‘how’ of the skill: the process; as well as attend to the work they do when practising the skill: the product. Process is particulary important, all skills are processes that can be learned, not genetic or God-given gifts.

Bridging helps students to ‘transfer’ their learning of skills

The downloads on this page show strategies that you will need to adapt for your subject and your students. In particular you will need to use ‘bridging’, see the Learning from Experience chapter in Teaching Today Third Edition. The Feuerstein handout mentions bridging briefly. Feuerstein’s methods, when used to teach students with moderate learning difficulties have typically added 20 or 30 points to their IQ in four years leaving them with an IQ of 100 which is average. His methods use special methods and materials, and you require training to use them. However, some methods anyone can use, such as bridging. Download A handout about Feuerstein and bridging here.

If you are interested in devloping your students’ creativity or Independent Learning then visit : the creativity page and the independent learning page

Meta-cognition helps the learning of skills

The study skills activities below are suitable for tutorials or for teaching subject specific study skills in your class. They come from an excelent book by Graham Gibbs called ‘Teaching Students to Learn’ Open University Press. The experiential and ‘snowball’ approach he advocates has many adantages, do try it. Hattie Biggs and Purdie’s review found that the study skills programmes that had the most beneficial effect on achievement made use of ‘meta-cognition’. This is thinking about your own thinking and learning, and self-regualting your own skills strategies and their improvement. Gibb’s book makes use of a brilliant meta-cognition strategy called snowballing. Both the book and this strategy is very highly recommended. Here are two adaptions of his methods to help teach students to write, and for teaching them to read for understanding: