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Learning anything comes with some kind of labour whether it’s time spent, a search for meaning, or a simple struggle to understand. After all, every learner is different.
With those differences will come the process of overcoming learning barriers of every definition. You won’t always see them coming if you’re a teacher, but there are ways to help your learners get over them.
Here we have 6 of the most efficient methods for giving your learners the upper hand with overcoming learning barriers as they appear.
1. Begin With Believing
This is perhaps the simplest and most obvious way to start. Our students will ultimately succeed in overcoming learning barriers through the practice of belief.
First and foremost, they must believe they can make it happen. Failure and struggle can rob anyone of their power if they believe there’s no way to do better, and our learners are no different. That’s why we must strive to ensure that they can if they believe they can.
If we choose to believe in our students, they will also choose to believe in themselves.
2. Provide Context and Relevance
Getting over barriers to learning requires a solid connection to what is being taught through relevance to the learner. Connection to something relevant to students ensures real learning will take place.
When you prepare to teach a topic or concept, ask yourself where your students may encounter it outside school. If it’s something they would recognize, or that perhaps even relates to their personal interests, it has a powerful connection to learning.
If nothing immediately comes to mind, then try to identify the kinds of tasks that students would be performing when they applied those skills or used that knowledge. Always consider above all how teaching any content could be made more compelling for your students.
3. Debrief and Assess Constantly
Constant reflection and interesting assessment activities will keep kids engaged and motivated. The most often overlooked step in learning is the debrief, which is a crucial phase of Solution Fluency.
Reflection on our learning processes ensures we pinpoint areas of improvement, as well as the moments in which we faced our greatest breakthroughs. For this reason, we strongly recommend learners consistently reflect on their learning both individually and in groups.
Connection to something relevant to students ensures real learning will take place.
As for assessments, teachers have many on-the-fly options for using in practically any lesson. Formative assessment activities provide crucial information about what students understand and what they don’t.
Moreover, quick and continuous assessment activities can help learners in overcoming learning barriers by helping them enhance their personal performance.
Try these fast fun formative assessment activities in your classroom.
4. Use Enabling Language
Jackie Gerstein from User Generated Education works with elementary learners in her practice. The most common thing she hears them say when the tasks get too difficult is, “I can’t do this!”
She draws on the wisdom of Carol Dweck to reveal how to aid such learners in overcoming learning barriers. The trick, we discover, is in using the right language:
“By asking learners to add ‘yet’ to the end of their ‘I can’t do this’ comments, possibilities are opened up for success in future attempts and iterations. It changes their fixed or failure mindsets to growth and possibility ones.”
How we provide feedback to our learners is also essential. Feedback is an essential element in assuring our students’ growth and progress. It can, in many ways, make or break the will to develop lifelong learning skills.
5. Provide and Model Opportunities
It doesn’t do to simply isolate an important and potentially life-changing lesson into one class or period. Of course, the lesson we are talking about is the lesson of lifelong learning.
Any great teacher is also a great learner with an eye out for possibilities to discover something new every day.
Curiosity can be passed on to our learners if we model it for them with passion. Being lifelong learners will help them build skills they’ll need for overcoming learning barriers all throughout their lives.
Feedback can, in many ways, make or break the will to develop lifelong learning skills.
In addition to this, we’ll often need to give our learners more chances than just one class or a single test to achieve their goals. They have many personal struggles they are facing, and they bring plenty of baggage with them where they go. Regrettably they won’t always be at our idea of what 100% cognitive battery life is. So we need to be patient and lenient sometimes (within reason, of course, but that call will be yours).
Go ahead and spend that extra time with them after class. Create a makeup test or arrange a time where they can write a missed exam. Do whatever you have to do to let that student know you’re there to work towards overcoming learning barriers together with them.
6. Guide and Step Aside
Part of enabling our learners to succeed is in trusting them to find their way. Whenever we teach, we must also have the courage to stand aside and let our pupils find their own pathways to overcoming learning barriers. This can be difficult when we see them stall and struggle, which they will inevitably do.
However, this doesn’t mean that we have to rush forward and provide the answer. In fact, these are the best moments to play “guide on the side” and encourage learners to think in ways they haven’t considered. We do this by asking them questions that provoke deeper inquiry and the formation of new connections, such as:
- What do you think?
- Where would you go from here?
- Where else have you seen this problem?
- What does this remind you of?
- What have you worked on before that’s similar to this?
- How can you use knowledge and skills you already have?
- What prior experiences can you draw on to help you?
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Apr 24, 2019, updated September 21, 2021