A Learning Model for Skill Acquisition

Posted on Feb 04, 2013 |

Typically a student is shown a skill or new concept in a lecture environment as a teacher demonstration or explanation. Sophisticated models in science or economics are introduced in a generalized way with details incrementally layered into the model. This general process occurs in the 2nd grade, the 12th grade, and in college.

From a teacher’s perspective, it typically follows the “I do, we do, you do format.” In 2nd grade the teacher follows the process carefully to ensure that students understand the skill or the concept. As students become more self aware the majority of students will implicitly absorb this process and its subtleties. For most self aware students their understanding of the learning process means that they will be able to judge their own level of understanding of a concept or their progress in the acquisition of a skill. In the upper grades, teachers become less involved with their students individual progress in learning concepts and skills. This is certainly the case in high school and college. High school and college students are expected to be self aware and seek help or support in learning concepts or skills when needed. For ADHD and NLD students the implicit understanding of the learning process does not occur frequently. As a result of their lack of self awareness, they are not able to judge their own level of understanding of a concept or their progress in the acquisition of a skill.

iStock_000000698570XSmallThe process of learning new skills should be explicitly taught to Aspergers and ADD students. Students move from being introduced to a skill, to practicing a skill with support, to demonstrating a skill without support. A NLD or ADD student should be explicitly told the process of first the teacher does it, then student and teacher do it, and finally the student does it without any support. They also learn this model is used over and over. Many students sit in class and understand a skill or concept the teacher demonstrates for the class but the student cannot repeat the process at home when asked to use the skill or concept to complete a homework assignment without any support. Students need to be aware of the prompts from a teacher that help a student through a process. Students that are aware of teacher prompting realize they are not independent if teacher prompting is required for them to demonstrate a skill or concept.

iStock_000020386766XSmallAs a result, the leaning process is sequential. You begin the learning of a specific skill or concept dependent on your teacher. As you learn the skill or concept you begin to become less dependent on the teacher. Subtleties that were not evident initially begin to manifest themselves. If the concept is a model for some phenomena, the student begins to ask questions that test the limits of the model to explain the phenomena. Likewise, if the student is learning a skill they begin to perform the skill with fewer prompts from the teacher. In each situation described above, the student is becoming more independent. Complete independence translates as no input from the teacher, notes, peers, parents or the textbook. Also, it means using their long term memory (see Tip on Going Long) to initiate the application of skill or concept with nominal context or scaffolding offered by the teacher or assessment tool.

During my coaching sessions, I track the number of prompts necessary to help a student through their demonstration of a skill or use of a concept. After their demonstration of the skill or concept we will discuss the types and number of prompts they needed from me to demonstrate the skill or concept. This discussion with a student leads to an opportunity for the student to judge themselves on where they are in reaching mastery. Student mastery is when a student demonstrates a skill without prompting at least one hour after any studying or supported practice. Waiting one hour requires the student to use their long term memory to demonstrate the skill.

iStock_000019565235XSmallStudents need to be aware of where they are in the process of skill acquisition. Through their own self awareness they have to discern if they are novices, practicing, or masters of a skill or concept. This self awareness will help to bring integrity to the learning process. If a student recognizes that they are at the practicing level, then they will be able to participate collaboratively in becoming an expert or master of a skill. When a student recognizes they are at the early stages of the practicing level, they will realize that a test administered at this particular stage in their learning process would result in a less than ideal outcome. Recognition of their progress toward mastery and independence helps students realize that it takes time to convert a process to their long term memory. Also, once they begin to realize they are close to getting the process consolidated in their long term memory it takes time for memory to be completely reliable. This self awareness of their level of mastery will be used at some point to help students predict their score on tests at school.

A self aware student of the learning process will learn to be patient with the process, engage the process as an incremental endeavor and ultimately recognize their own mastery. At this point the student truly has a powerful gift. This self awareness can then be generalized to all subjects. It helps students to evaluate how close they are to demonstrating their mastery on a given subject or skill. For ADD students this is an incredible milestone. Typically, ADD students are caught red handed at test time either cramming or flying be the seat of their pants (or taking a test prior to mastery). ADD students will likely cram and fly by the seat of their pants at times but at least all parties (teacher, learning coach or parents) can acknowledge this behavior and have an honest discussion about the event. This acknowledgement and discussion leads to another topic critical to success and that is planning. Understanding the learning process and being able to plan the learning process will eventually lead to independent learning.

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