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Wernham and West Centre for Learning teaches “learning how to learn” skills

Education expert Tony Buzan writes that, “learning how to learn is life’s most important skill.” To help boys develop learning skills, the Wernham and West Centre for Learning works with all teachers to teach executive functioning skills to our students — the cognitive processes needed to hold onto information, pay attention and work flexibly. These skills are best developed through intentional teaching and practice. The Harvard Centre for Child Development has recently shared new evidence that identifies executive functioning as a set of skills essential for school achievement, for the preparation and adaptability of our future workforce and for avoiding a wide range of population health problems. Here’s a snapshot of what this work looks like at the Prep:

Helping students with executive functioning in the primary classrooms varies from grade to grade. In early primary, students are introduced to using agendas, given the task of listing homework and items to remember as well as have their parents sign them each evening. Schedules, checklists, and step-by-step instructions are clearly visible for students in all of the classrooms to scaffold the development of important skills such as initiation, organization and planning.

In the older primary grades, the building of agenda skills continues with whole class lessons and in homework club where breaking down tasks, study skills and prioritization are highlighted. Whole class “challenges” and visuals offer students the opportunity to strengthen important executive functioning skills, such as the organization of materials and self-monitoring, and experience success in these areas.

Desk Before

Desk After

We often share aspects of psychologist Adam Cox’s work as a way for boys to understand what executive function means. At the middle school level, we use the metaphor of us all being like lobsters when we speak about this concept. We have a big claw, our executive function strength and a smaller claw, those executive function skills that need to be practised to build over time.

We teach executive function skills and embed them in many aspects of our program so that students have the language to talk about their learning strengths and challenge areas. Practical tools like how to use google calendar, and chunk your work to plan for a test helps to make the academic day run smoothly. We recognize that both academics and wellbeing can improve when boys take the time to reflect upon and practise their executive functioning skills.

Our Top Executive Function Strategies

  • Teach students how to record and prioritize homework and co-curricular activities to manage time
  • Teach neuroplasticity so that boys understand that you can change your habits
  • Learn how to use your breath to stay calm and regulated in difficult situations
  • Attend extra help when teachers offer to clarify thinking about concepts learned
  • Think about active study strategies one can use to remember and consolidate learning
  • Check in with a homework buddy if you are away to find out what you missed

Parent Resource
That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life – Ana Homayoun (2010)

This is an insightful and user-friendly book to help educators and parents provide a map for the success many boys have difficulty finding.

Homayoun explains how to:

  • Identify a boy’s “disorganized style”
  • Help him set goals that matter
  • Establish the “tools of the trade”
  • Complete schoolwork in a reasonable time frame
  • Help him with social pressure and anxiety

Polly Baxter and Tina Jagdeo pbaxter@ucc.on.ca tjagdeo@ucc.on.ca
Coordinators, Wernham and West Centre for Learning