Study: Students fail because they don’t know how to learn

Elementary through high school students in the U.S. are falling farther behind in the classroom, and a Texas A&M University professor thinks he knows why: learners do not have good learning skills.

William Klemm, professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M who has 53 years experience in the classroom, has written a book on the subject, Teach Your Kids How To Learn, and if that title does not grab your attention, go to the back of the class.  As Klemm sees it, “Simply put, teaching learning skills has never been emphasized in any curriculum.  There are seven basic learning skills, and if a student can learn these seven, his or her grades are almost certain to improve.”

The seven skills?  Klemm says they are wanting to learn; having the ability for intense attention and focus; knowing how to organize information; strategic capabilities for reducing confusion when you don’t understand new ideas; using established principles and methods for making memorization easier and more reliable; problem-solving skills; and creativity.

“There has been much debate about how to fix our public schools around the country,” he notes.

“I believe everyone is trying to solve the wrong problem.  The real problem that underlies everything is that today’s multi-tasking, over-stimulated kids have few learning skills.  Schools are so obsessed with teaching to the test that they fail to teach students how to learn.  Younger teachers probably don’t know how to be a good learner themselves.”

Klemm says one reason he wrote the book is that student achievement is not improving, despite decades of new programs, re-vamped teaching instructions and enormous spending.

“If a treatment is not working, there is a good chance you have misdiagnosed the problem, and I think that has happened,” he adds.

“I think teachers are one big part of this book’s audience because many teachers were not taught much of what is in the book.  I know, because I give workshops on the subject to teacher groups.

“Another part of the problem is that teachers are usually not given the time and flexibility to work this kind of learning-how-to-learn into their curriculum, which is often driven by government edict and enforcement educrats.” Klemm believes.

“We live in an interconnected and economically competing world.  When other countries have more curriculum flexibility and the knowledge and effort to teaching learning skills, their populations become more competitive and we fall farther behind.”

Klemm has researched the learning skills topic throughout his career and he has written 20 books, over 250 journal articles and he writes a blog about learning and memory for Psychology Today magazine that has generated over two million views.

In Texas, the problem might become more acute in the years to come: teacher groups say the state has underfunded schools (Texas ranks 38th in spending per student), and teachers have overcrowded classrooms, inadequate textbooks and outdated technology. There are other disturbing impacts on educational effectiveness, such as poverty, language limitations of immigrants, and confusion over standards. As schools face still more challenges, it becomes even more imperative to give students the skills needed to take charge of their own learning.

“Teach Your Kids How to Learn” will available March 8 from publishers Rowman and Littlefield.

About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is at the forefront in making significant contributions to scholarship and discovery, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $892.7 million in fiscal year 2016. Texas A&M ranked in the top 20 of the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development survey (2015), based on expenditures of more than $866.6 million in fiscal year 2015. Texas A&M’s research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting, in many cases, in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit http://research.tamu.edu.

Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or William Klemm at (979) 845-4201