An expert learner: oxymoron or reality?

You will be aware from our previous blogs, we have been rattling on about the impact of motivation, metacognition, deliberate practice and more. 

Where it all comes together is the concept of becoming an expert learner: a child that is committed to lifelong learning and takes ownership and responsibility. They understand: their abilities and motivations; have the ability to analyse and evaluate information; and create new ideas and solutions. To sum it up, an expert learner is self-reflective and self-evaluative. 

This doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes requires rewiring of previous behaviours. A child needs to have an excellent understanding of metacognition, the workings of their brain and how to use deliberate practice. Marrying this with the foundation stones of Maths, English and reasoning, particularly when preparing for the 11+ exams, will develop their inner confidence and passion for learning. 


Metacognition is about being a better thinker – ask yourself: how do you know that you know something? It is the ability to think about your thinking. You might be able to trot out the correct answer to a problem, but metacognition is the ability to say how you got to that answer and why it is correct, or incorrect. Normalising failure is important. Metacognitively aware learners are not afraid to make mistakes, they know it’s a learning process and gives them an opportunity to rethink. 

Consider a supposedly simple task that is given to a child: Describe how you would make a lemon cake. Is it really that easy? In the world of google that often is the first point of call, but we want to get a child to think about what core thinking processes might they have to use to complete this task and share their findings. We need to share models and give them tools to help improve thinking; by explicitly discussing eight core thinking processes we build a common language. 

Using Thinking Matters’ Thinking Frames reinforces the common language and makes pupils more independent. Thinking Frames are visual tools to help organise and process information when problem solving. 

Back to my lemon cake, you might use a describing frame first (it says describe after all), which could work, but as an expert learner, you realise a sequencing frame would lay out the steps and stages involved in making a lemon cake and help you visualise what you have learnt and discovered. My expert learner will be comfortable identifying the thinking process and then use any number of specific frames to deepen their understanding or share their findings. 

The Brain 

The squishy mass in your skull is a wonderful tool. Knowing how it works and what you can do to boost its effectiveness will increase your ability to learn anything. 

Getting the right amount of sleep and exercise can increase your endorphins and allow your brain to make new connections between different pieces of information. A well-rounded diet increases the brain’s health helping you to be the best you can. It is not just parents that preach: sleep, eat and exercise!

Being an expert learner is about harnessing the neuroplasticity of the brain. Your brain changes regularly as new knowledge is accumulated. Get a child to list their super strengths and then remind that together you will help them overcome their weaknesses. It is very empowering. 

Make mistakes without worry and stress, that is the only way to learn. As an expert learner, you are able to use those mistakes to learn and develop new ideas. Mistakes are not terrifying pointers to failures or knowledge gaps, but to things you don’t know, YET. This is Growth Mindset in action. 

Knowledge base 

At the bottom of Anderson’s Taxonomy is remembering. Remembering is simply the act of recalling facts. This seems like a simple step but without this step, nothing can happen. For the 11+ exams, those foundation skills include quick addition and multiplication, a broad vocabulary and recalling the order of the alphabet quickly and accurately. An expert learner is fully confident in these skills. 

This makes those pesky, complicated problems that much easier because you are not struggling with the basic information. Your brain has more room to manoeuvre the information around when those facts are quickly recalled. That knowledge base, especially when it comes to exams, is also about technique. Being able to manage your time and completing the easy parts first and quickly so you have plenty of time to spend exploring solutions to harder problems will relieve some of the stress of exams. 

Deliberate practice 

Targets are important for all of us and help us see purpose and visualise the route ahead. Deliberate practice, as in our previous blog, requires certain steps to be involved for it to be effective:

A Sequencing Thinking Frame
  1. Setting a big goal. 
  2. Breaking it down into smaller, more achievable goals.
  3. Practising in small chunks with gaps in between.
  4. Getting expert feedback from your cognitive coach.
  5. Visualising yourself achieving your goal. 
  6. Setting challenges so that your practise is not mindless and boring.

Why is it important? 

Being an expert learner allows anyone, whether studying for the 11+ exams, finding a job or planning a holiday, to be confident and excited. They are flexible and are happy to make mistakes because it is a chance to learn. Making a plan of attack (think of that big goal) is key to becoming an expert learner. Equipped with the right tools and a growth mindset, they are comfortable embarking on the unknown. An expert learner is set for life.