Velcro Learners

41 Strategies

 What is learning?

Robert Coe points out here that, “learning happens when people have to think hard.”  Similarly, Kirschner et al. suggest here that, “If nothing has been changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.”   

Learners matter

In Preparing for Renaissance Assessment, Hill and Barber point out that, “It is unquestionably the case that the greatest proportion of variance in learning outcomes is at student level... high-achieving students make steady progress, but low- achieving students make very little progress over time.”

How do we create Velcro Learners?

American research reported here argues, “A long history of research literature suggests that mindsets are a product of the interaction between students and educational contexts, rather than being predetermined characteristics of individual students.”  Similarly in Why Don’t Students Like School? Willingham argues that “it is differences in ... environmental experiences, especially over the long term, that have large cognitive consequences.”  In other words, what we do in the school and classroom environment can make a difference.

1. Focus the behaviour policy on academic behaviours

Unsurprisingly, the American research reported here found that,academic behaviours play a central role in determining students’ grades.” 

It identified the academic behaviours with greatest impact as:

  • Attendance
  • Homework completion
  • Relationships with teachers

The PISA Report Does Homework Perpetuate Inequalities in Education? found both that advantaged students (and students in schools predominantly composed of advantaged students) spent more time doing homework than disadvantaged students (an average of 5.7 compared to 4.1 hours per week across OECD countries), and that Britain had one of the widest gaps.  The results also suggest that the net payoff in Maths from attending a school where more homework is assigned is particularly large.  Similarly, the success of Western-born children of East Asian descent is partly attributed in research here to “hard work ethics” with students studying 66% longer per week.


  1. Attitude determines Altitude @Teaching: Leading Learning

  2. Classroom habits that improve academic behaviours @Hunting English

  3. Build successful learning habits @Matt Bromley

  4. 68 strategies to get homework in @Love Learning Ideas

  5. 7 things to try before you almost give up on a student @PernilleRipp.

  6. Evaluate change in behaviour rather than attitudes.  Point 3 @Evidence into practice

  7. Towards impeccable behaviour together @Headguruteacher

2. Ensure that all students feel they belong

The American research reported here found that, “A student’s sense of belonging in a school or classroom has a strong impact on academic performance... The degree to which students value an academic task strongly influences their... performance at the task.”

Yeager et al. point out here that, “When students worry about belonging and something goes wrong… it can seem like proof that they don’t belong. This can ...undermine students’ motivation and engagement over time... It is thus essential to intervene early, before a negative recursive process has gained momentum.”

PISA research into ‘resilient learners’ reported here found that resilient students:

  • Have confidence in their academic abilities.  This is a stronger predictor of resilience than motivation
  • Have higher levels of perseverance and motivation and are “physically and mentally present in class
  • Enjoy reading
  • Have positive relationships with their teachers

However, Carl Hendrick warns here against dependence on "missives in mediocrity" like the motivational poster that "signal a larger shift to the trivial," and "whole school assemblies exhorting kids to embrace failure and choose a more positive mindset, often reductively misrepresented as 'you can achieve anything if you believe."  Similarly, Evidence into Practice points out in Growth mindset: What interventions might work and what probably won't that "successful interventions are subtle and brief."

Marc Smith points out here that academic self concept is state-specific “related to our past experiences of ourselves as learners” in a particular subject.  This explains why it might vary across subjects.  Similarly Carl Hendrick writes here that "student self concept is both academic and non-academic and can be broadly categorised into seven sub areas such as physical ability/appearance and peer relations as well as academic ability (Shavelson, 1986.) So tying to manipulate these domain specific issues through ‘all-purpose’ positive interventions attempting to boost general self esteem are likely to be ineffective."


  1. Review how your systems and language give all students a sense of academic belonging

  2. Consider Early Affirmation Interventions: Addressing achievement gaps with psychological interventions.  Harry Fletcher Wood has written about his experiments with this here

  3. Use student-led conferences to involve students in their progress.  Idea from Ron Berger here

  4. Expect magic from every student @Alex Quigley

  5. Focus on the normative influences within the school culture. Point 4 @Evidence into practice

  6. Use Personal Learning Strategies to involve students in their learning @Love Learning Ideas

  7. Use book polishing to encourage students to value their work @Love Learning Ideas

  8. Develop a Scholarship Form programme to build academic involvement @Love Learning Ideas

3. Promote academic mind-sets that thrive because not despite of difficulty

Too often in education we aspire to easiness.  In Make it Stick, Brown et al. point out that, “when learning is harder, it’s stronger and lasts longer...If you restudy something after failing to recall it, you actually learn it better than if you had not tried to recall it.”

Students with a ‘growth mind-set’ are more likely to be successful: Research here finds, “Students who believe they can increase their academic ability by their own effort are more likely to work toward building competence, more likely to be self-motivating and persistent, and more likely to exhibit behaviors associated with higher academic achievement.”


  1. Incorporate growth mindset into the teaching sequence @Class Teaching

  2. Failing to Succeed assembly @Love Learning Ideas

  3. 8 Habits of Highly Effective Learners assembly @Love Learning Ideas

  4. Consider teachers' implicit theories of intellect.  Point 5 @Evidence into practice

  5. Use ICE awards to reward students for independence, curiosity and engagement

  6. Learning Contract @ Love Learning Ideas

  7. 37 Ideas to Grow Gritty Learners

4. Reframe ‘success’ so that all students can achieve it

The American research reported here found that: “When students believe they are likely to succeed in meeting academic demands in a classroom, they are much more likely to try hard and to persevere in completing academic tasks, even if they find the work challenging or do not experience immediate success. Believing one can be successful isa prerequisite to putting forth sustained effort.” 

Yeager et al. point out here that, “When students achieve success beyond what they thought possible, their beliefs about their own agency often improve, leading them to become more invested in school, further improving performance.”

Ron Berger writes here that we need to “build into every student... the confidence that he or she can improve through hard work – and a passion for becoming a better person.”

This means reframing ‘success’ to include making mistakes.  Brown et al. point out that “students who have a high fear of making errors when taking tests may actually do worse on the test because of their anxiety... [because] a significant portion of their working memory capacity is expended to monitor their performance.”  Conversely, Marc Smith reports research here that “those who experience most positive affect manage to better safeguard themselves from setbacks through their ability to re-frame failure in more positive ways.”


  1. Develop an ethic of excellence @Class Teaching

  2. Don’t Settle for Good Enough assembly @Teaching: Leading Learning

  3. Inspirational role models for growth mindset here

  4. Ideas for how to use pupil premium funding here

  5. Use models and critiques to create quality work here.  Andy Tharby has written about his experiments with this here

5. Ensure learners know how learning works

Much effective learning is counter-intuitive.  Dunlosky points out here that, some effective techniques are underutilized... many students do not use them... Also, some learning techniques that are popular and often used by students are relatively ineffective.”

Brown et al. point out in Make it Stick that ‘high structure builders’ and ‘rule learners’ learn new material better than ‘low structure learners’ and ‘example learners.’


  1. Encourage students to isolate key ideas and organise them into mental models

  2. Use interleaved examples to encourage ‘example learners’ to distinguish underlying rules

  3. Ensure that learners are familiar with key concepts of learning

4. Support learning through effective revision techniques @Class Teaching
5. Provide Quality First Teaching @SupportAAli
Investigate metacognition and self-regulation here
How to Avoid Procrastination assembly @Teaching: Leading Learning
How to Pass Exams assembly @Love Learning Ideas

6. Teach learners procedural knowledge

Procedural knowledge is the knowledge necessary to perform a task, in this case the task of transferring learning to the long-term memory.  Teaching students this procedural task is the real ‘learning to learn’.  Considering one of his students, Alex Quigley writes in Growth Mindset – So what’s next?Can David learn more effectively if he explicitly understands how to better plan, draft, monitor and evaluate everything he does? I expect so. I think it is the crucial next step.”

When studying the efficacy of self-regulation theories, Burnette et al. found here that one of the strongest mediators of the link from implicit theories to achievement was “the adoption of mastery-oriented strategies”

The American research reported here found that “students learn more effectively when they monitor their own learning... knowing and understanding how and when to use learning strategies are associated with higher overall learning and better academic success...Teaching such strategies inthe context of the subject-area classroom is much more effective than teaching strategies or study skills in isolation.”

Yeager et al. point out here that, “making students optimistic about school without actually giving them opportunities to learn could not only be ineffective but counterproductive... Effective growth mindset interventions challenge the myth that raw ability matters most by teaching the fuller formula for success: effort + strategies + help from others.”  

Similarly, research by Muijis and Reynolds here found that, "the effect of achievement on self-concept is stronger than the effect of self-concept on achievement."  Carl Hendrick argues that "there is a strong case to say that that focusing our efforts on students being taught well (surprise, surprise) and given clear and achievable paths to academic success creates a more positive perception of themselves anyway than those given unproven interventions such as the kind of pop psychology churned out in so much of school life."

Strategies for self-regulated learning include:

  • Time management
  • Goal setting
  • Elaboration strategies
  • Organisational strategies
  • Rehearsal strategies

Marc Smith writes here that “Setting goals can be a very powerful tool, particularly if those goals are incremental and represent a ‘better than last time’ or ‘personal best’ approach.”


  1. Teach students success strategies @John Tomsett

  2. Create a mastery oriented classroom

  3. Use Lab Time @chronotope

  4. Model thinking for students @John Tomsett

  5. Teach students how to acquire and retrieve knowledge.  Idea @Improving Teaching

  6. Teach students the language of learning @Headguruteacher

Finally, 10 areas that must underpin Growth Mindset @Hunting English

Posted on February 14, 2015 .