Why should schools prioritise ATL?

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By Lance G King


First and most importantly we need to get very clear about purpose. What is the purpose of an ATL skills programme?

To me there is only one purpose of ATL – to improve student learning. To improve student performance in every possible way because the essence of any school is learning and we are aiming through ATL to improve learning performance across the board, in all subject, skill and disposition areas.

We do this through helping students to develop proficiency in a full array of “21st C” thinking and learning skills and giving them opportunities to apply those skills to all their school subjects and in all other aspects of their lives.

But even more importantly from a student’s point of view – just imagine for a moment what it is like to be a student at your school – from the point of view of autonomy and control. Take your average student, at school what do they have control over?

  • Who they are taught by?
  • What they are taught?
  • Where they are taught?
  • When they are taught?
  • How they are taught?
  • Who sets the tests and exams?
  • Who marks the tests and exams?

They have no control at all over any of these things. In addition their time, their behaviour, sometimes even their food intake is controlled.

Are you familiar with Martin Seligman’s ideas about Learned Helplessness? If not take a look at this quick six minute summary on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEO3sJdoNV8

The antidote to Learned Helplessness is in developing the realisation in a student’s mind that the key factors influencing specific instances of learning failure up to this date are in their control and that change is possible.

Most students feel like they have very little control over the factors that effect their own learning and yet we know from all Carol Dweck and others research on intrinsic motivation that control over the quality of your own output is absolutely necessary for both intrinsic motivation and high performance (see Dan Pink https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y&t=7s).

Students at school really only have control over two things:

  1. How much effort they put in


  1. How they apply that effort – how they use it, what they do with it, what strategies and techniques they use for:
  • time management
  • listening and concentration
  • note making & summarising
  • reading for understanding
  • remembering well
  • setting and achieving goals
  • dealing with pressure & stress
  • failing well

and many others.


So how do we give students more control over their own learning?

Teach them a full range of ATL skills! ATL is all about focusing students on factors to improve success that are in their control. Helping students realise that ATL will give them more control over their own success is a good way to sell the idea to students.

The focus on 21st century skills is of course also the necessary focus to give our students an advantage in the constantly changing employment market – if you want more info on this see my slides on my website https://www.taolearn.com/ but to summarise:

“The world economy no longer rewards people just for what they know, the world economy

 rewards people for what they can do with what they know”  – Andreas Schleicher, PISA, OECD

Stay tuned for the release of part two of Lance King’s article on the future of ATL!

Many thanks again to Lance King for allowing us the use of this article as part of our informational series on Approaches to Learning Skills.

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