This post is in response to the section ‘How Learning Works’ in the Teacher for Learning module on Ontario Extend.

I will start off by saying that I really want to read this book, so my reflection on the seven principles will be based on just the topics — I will update this post after I read the book in full!

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning

When I first started teaching I underestimated how much prior knowledge my students had – either I assumed they knew more than they did (which left them further confused) or I assumed that they didn’t know anything (which bored them to tears relearning what they already knew). I quickly learned the value of diagnostic assessment to gauge the level of prior knowledge my students were coming into a lesson with. I used their prior knowledge to shape my lessons and found this to be of benefit to the students. Another thing I noticed was that sometimes students thought they didn’t know anything about a topic, but once they were asked some probing questions or listened to discussion of the topic by their peers, they realized that they did have some prior knowledge about the lesson topic. I love having the students share their prior knowledge with each other – it gets their heads into the topic of the lesson that day and allows them to dig into their prior knowledge.

2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know

This was, and still is to some extent, a challenge for me. How do I show students how to make connections from new content material to prior knowledge or content being presented in other courses? How I teach students to organize their knowledge? I am hoping that reading the book chapter on this topic will help me gain some clarification.

3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn

This should really come as no surprise. I try to find out what motivated a student to take the program they are in (since I am considered a service faculty, teaching English courses, and not a core faculty member in any one particular program). I also find out what their experience was in English class in high school – did they like it and why/why not. This helps me to sell the importance and relevance of what I’m teaching to what motivates them. I’m hoping to find some more ways to tap into students’ motivation when I read the book.

4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned

When I taught high school, I always scaffolded all of the content I was teaching. I found this to be more of a challenge when I started teaching at the college level because instead of seeing my students for 80 minutes per day, I am seeing them 3 hours per week! How I teach all of the core concepts and curriculum to students in 3 hours a week, plus have them practice to mastery?! I have revised my course every single time I’ve taught it to scale back the ‘fluff’ and try to take it back to the basics at the core of the vocational learning outcomes and course outcomes so that I can spend more time on that content and have students master it, instead of teaching a bunch of content that is only surface deep. I struggle with how to have students master all of the course outcomes in the time allotted for my class!

5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning

I post learning outcomes on the board at the beginning of each lesson so students know where we are headed. Does #5 mean that setting a goal to influence practice comes from the teacher or must it come from the student? I always try to give as much feedback as possible. One thing I struggle with is how to make that feedback resonate with students; how do I get students to WANT to read my feedback and use it to improve their performance?

6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning

I try to incorporate elements of social and emotional stimulation in my course, like opportunities to discuss topics, reflect on articles, etc. I’ll be interested to see what further suggestions are outlined in the book.

7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning

I find this one the most difficult. How do I convince students to become self-directed learners? I’ll look forward to this chapter in the book, too!

Overall, I think the seven principles outlined by Ambrose and Mayer are common sense (now that I read them), but putting these principles to action seems to be more of a challenge. I will read the book and then update this blog post on what I’ve learned and what I’ve implemented into my own teaching practice.


Mayer, R. E., & Ambrose, S. A. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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