Learning how to learn is the key to success

As a parent, you've probably implored your child at one time or another to 'try harder' to improve his or her academic results. Educators now understand that more effort alone won't get them there and learning how to learn is the most important driver of academic success.

 In 2019 CBC Fremantle trialled a new approach, aimed at ensuring every boy could be successful in his academic pathway, and the approach is paying off!

The report 'Teaching Adolescents to become learners', conducted by the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, concentrates on the role of noncognitive skills in students' school performance and educational attainment. It found "students must develop a set of behaviours, skills, attitudes and strategies that are crucial to academic performance in their classes."

Impressed by the report, CBC Fremantle's Deputy Principal of Teaching and Learning, Scott McDonnell, was given the go-ahead by the College's Leadership team and Academic Board to implement a programme to help students achieve their best by focussing on a set of behaviours, skills and attitudes relating to study.

It is widely recognised that good academic results are not based on intellectual ability alone. Perseverance and effort known as growth mindset go a long way in helping students to reach their full potential. However, Mr McDonnell and his team are taking this theory one step further, hoping to bridge the gap between a student's current outcomes and their full potential.

"CBC is very strong on pastoral care, and I was keen to adopt an approach that would work for all the boys, whether they are in our Academic Excellence Programme or have difficulties accessing the curriculum," commented Mr McDonnell.

The Academic Behaviours Journey designed by staff at CBC is in its infancy, however it is showing early signs of success with students who are undertaking the programme exhibiting improvement of varying degrees. Senior students are proactively seeking help to improve how they study, how they engage in class and how they manage and prioritise their time.  In 2019, Year 12 students who took part in the trial saw benefits within a short timeframe with the average result of the overall marks increasing on average by approximately 8%.

The programme is expanding in 2020 and aims to position boys in the best possible place to launch off into the next phase of their journey. Whether they are aiming for university, TAFE, an apprenticeship or the workplace after graduation, the students develop five key behaviours:

1. Academic behaviours

This is based on teaching organisational skills ensuring students have the equipment and knowledge needed to attend classes, complete homework, organise materials, and actively participate in class and study. It also provides them with study skills through a structure developed by Mr McDonnell with support from Heads of Learning Areas. According to the University of Chicago's report, "improving academic behaviours would increase students' course performance."

2. Academic perseverance

Mr McDonnell describes this behaviour as one of "grit and tenacity." The report describes an academically perseverant student as one who is engaged, focussed, and persistent in pursuing academic goals despite obstacles, setbacks or distractions. Mr McDonnell's mantra is to make every hour of study or homework really count. It is also about learning to be disciplined but balanced. He would rather a student spend one hour studying effectively and enjoy the delayed gratification of an outing or 'time out' than spend three hours on ineffective study. Perseverance is also about self-discipline and self-control and when mastered, impacts academic behaviours which in turn positively affects academic performance.

3. Mindset

Students are taught that they each have the ability to improve their own academic outcomes. This is manifested in the student's belief that he belongs, he has the ability and competence to grow with effort, he can succeed, and that his work has value. According to Mr McDonnell, no matter which stream or class he belongs to, each student can succeed if he gives effort, learns and implements the most effective learning strategies and engages with the teacher. From Year 10, students are encouraged to develop a career goal, so that study has value and purpose. According to the report, mindset feeds into perseverance, affects behaviours and impacts performance.

4. Specific learning strategies

The report describes learning strategies as psychological processes such as metacognitive (helps students understand the way they learn), self-regulated learning, goal setting and time management. While teaching such study skills is not a new concept, Mr McDonnell asked each faculty to customise strategies to the specific subject being taught. This enables students to improve study effectiveness and eliminate time wasting through choosing the right study strategy that has impact on their learning. For example, an effective method is to practice questions for approximately 15 minutes and mark them. This shows the student what they got right and what they got wrong. The key for students is to follow up with their teachers the next day to seek feedback on those questions that they got wrong.

According to Mr McDonnell, boys learn and study differently to girls. "Whereas girls will study longer to aim for higher results than required to meet their aspirations, boys will aim for the minimum. Three hours of study per night doesn't work for the majority of boys, so we teach them how to be effective and efficient and get the work done in approximately one to one and a half hours," he said.

Learning strategies impact academic perseverance, behaviours and performance.

5. Social skills

CBC Fremantle students are taught to socially engage in their learning. This means being a learner that is:

  1. Empathetic – appreciating others and their views. Instead of arguing or agreeing, it encourages the student to listen and be open to different perspectives.
  2. Cooperative – complying with class requirements and learning to work well with others towards a shared goal.
  3. Assertive – students learn to assert themselves in both individual and group learning situations. This is applied for example, by a student asking others to pull their weight in the group, rather than taking up the slack himself; and proactively seeking feedback in order to improve.
  4. Responsible – students learn that they are personally responsible, including balancing their home lives. If they have a situation where study at home is difficult, they are encouraged to find alternate solutions such as staying back at the school library, attending after-school academic clubs or meeting up with a teacher.

Social skills affect academic behaviours and are vitally important – students must learn the social skills that are becoming increasingly important for the future job market.

At CBC, there are several acknowledged and celebrated key steps towards developing from a boy into a man, and CBC's study skills programme complements the whole student journey at the College. With a solid understanding of the transition of child psychology into adult psychology, the Academic Behaviours Journey has a different focus for each Year level, allowing students to build skills as they progress through the programme.

Year 7 is about organisation – ensuring students know where they need to be, have the texts and equipment needed for class, and know what is required of them. "We try not to focus on marks, and instead we encourage our youngest boys to do their best using the effective strategies we've developed," said Mr McDonnell.

Year 8 is centred on commitment. Students are encouraged to be committed to learning, practising self-control and discipline, and actively participating in class exercises. They are asked to seek and accept feedback and use it to improve. They learn that learning is valuable.

Year 9 is about belonging. The gap between differing abilities widens and students are reassured they matter, irrespective of where they sit on the academic scale. "It can be a time when boys tend to 'switch off' so it's important that we teach them perseverance, and encourage them to accept challenges," commented Mr McDonnell.

Year 10 is about the future. Students are encouraged to develop a career goal so that study has meaning and purpose, and so they can tailor subject choice to post secondary school aspirations.

Years 11 and 12 aim to bring focus. These critical years concentrate on developing routines, study techniques, finding balance, replacing excuses with action plans, and taking responsibility.

"While most schools know that education is about more than just teaching academic content, many don't articulate it. Teachers and parents sometimes expect students to know this stuff, but realistically, they need to be taught, and learn to master these techniques," concluded Mr McDonnell.

Renowned for its excellence in pastoral care and rites of passage programmes, CBC is now using this experience to shape the way boys learn so that they can improve and reach their true potential.

At CBC Fremantle, boys learn how to become good men. The College supports students to become leaders and true gentlemen who, informed by Christian values with a strong sense of justice, are prepared to shape a better world. To find out more, order our prospectus.



Bradley Dowie(Class of 2019) chose the Vocational Pathway at CBC.


"It gave me an opportunity to excel in my chosen areas and to get where I wanted to be."



Nicholas Monzu(Class of 2019) went from 65 predicted ATAR to 78 and is now studying Education at Notre Dame university.


"Without doubt it was the one reason I performed better. The CBC teachers were very supportive too, which really helped."