Category Archives: Learning habits

What traits do the most successful students have?

The transition to university is a major and sometimes challenging experience for student s and their parents.  My eldest child is starting later this month.

This year, parents play a more important role than ever before, since schools have not been able to provide the usual guidance and preparation.   There are a host of considerations such as: social and emotional wellbeing, logistics, independent living, managing finances, safety etc. 

Many parents and schools have a tendency to hover and micro-manage, so that despite reaching adulthood, students are not necessarily self-reliant, independent thinkers and learners.  Schools may be great at teaching content but ineffective study skills can be a real barrier to educational success.

I believe what sets students up to reach their full potential at university is ‘learning how to learn’.

I have always been fascinated by how children learn and read an immense amount on study skills, revision and memory techniques.  Last year, I discovered the leading gurus on this topic: Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin, authors of ‘The Student Mindset’.

Educating Matters have recently teamed up with Steve and Martin to deliver talks on student mindset to parents at work.  Between them they have over 40 years of teaching experience and interviewed thousands of students to identify the key traits and behaviours shared by the most successful.  They discovered that the non-cognitive habits, systems and behaviour are what leads to real growth.

What is so amazing about their books is not only do they define these traits and nail them down to: Vision, Effort, Systems, Practice and Attitude (VESPA).  They also have tangible, practical strategies and exercises to help students actually understand these non-cognitive skills. This is equally applicable to school age children.

I highly recommend you get your hands on the book but here is a brief rundown of VESPA:


Determined and successful students, know their purpose, set clear objectives and stick to the plan which pulls them forward.  These need to be their goals and targets, not their parents!!!


We all know that hard work is important but what counts is the right type of effort and knowing the difference between passive completion of directed tasks and active independent study. 


Successful students really know how to organise their time and resources.  They also understand how to prioritise according to need and impact and meet deadlines.  These are of course vital life skills in the workplace.


High practice students don’t devote the majority of their time to simply memorising information.  They complete extra work to hand in, practice under timed conditions and pay very close attention to feedback.  Many students spend too long learning the material and not actually practising what is required in exams.


High attitude students have a broader and more robust range of tactics when times are tough and stressful.  They are confident, emotionally intelligent and have a growth mindset.  They understand that failure is an important part of success and learning can be a series of sharp inclines, plateaus and setbacks.


9 Habits for Learning

The Summer holidays are a wonderful opportunity to spend a bit more quality time with your children. Of course they benefit hugely from relaxing and plenty of down time after a whole school year. However, with very little homework and after school activities, they also have a lot more time on their hands to develop good, long term habits which will help them succeed in life.

A school local to where I live sent out these 9 very useful habits of learning.  I think they are a great prompt to think about how you as a parent can take advantage of the school holidays (even if you are still working most of the time) and think about how you can help to develop these habits in your child.

I have had some thoughts about how I might encourage my 4 children (aged 17, 15, 11 and 8) in these areas. Here are some examples to get you going but they are very personal to my family and my children’s age and stage of development.


Whilst we are away, one of my kids wants to learn how to surf. This requires a tremendous amount of resilience. Waiting ages for the right wave and trying multiple times to actually maintain your balance and ride a wave all the way to the shore.


My son has to work on his Personal Statement for University applications this summer. That will require a considerable amount of reflection on his achievements so far, which element of his studies he has enjoyed the most, his experiences, the books he has read and how to bring it all together in a statement that reflects his true personality and why he has chosen to study a particular course.


All my kids happen to be artistic and creative. Definitely a trait they have inherited from their father! They all enjoy art but each summer when there is more time, we encourage them to experiment with lots of different and interesting mediums and also try to visit a few art galleries/exhibitions for inspiration.


Whenever my kids ask difficult questions, I try to model for them how to find the answer. Usually we are very pushed for time but my youngest 2 in particular like to ask quite complex questions that I often don’t know the answer to myself! I will encourage them to do this more and we will then work together to find out the answers. Be that searching online, speaking to an expert, visiting a museum etc.


Quite a few years ago, I had the idea of encouraging each child to be responsible for making a family meal during the holidays when they have more time. This includes deciding on the menu, shopping for ingredients, cooking and serving the meal. We  shall continue the tradition and the menus get more elaborate as the children get older. I am also very conscious that my son only has one more year before he leaves home so there are certain other domestic duties I will be encouraging him to work on so that he is well prepared for independent living! My 3rd child is also starting secondary school in September so she will be encouraged to do things like walking to the local food shop on her own to run errands etc.


2 of my daughters are off to a sleep away camp for 2 weeks. This will require full participation in activities they might not always feel like doing. Before they go I will chat to them about participating fully in everything and how their attitude can have a positive or negative influence on the group dynamic.


When I was a child, I used to love knitting and tapestries. Tapestries in particular seem a little out of fashion and I actually struggled to buy a suitable one. However, I definitely intend to teach my youngest how to knit and the 11 year old sewing which requires considerable precision.


My oldest 2 are commencing the 2nd year of their respective GCSE and A level course (I am not looking forward to next May & June!) Over the summer, I will definitely be encouraging them to ensure their notes are all well organised and up to date so they are in a good place to learn a whole year of new material from September. This will require considerable maturity and self-discipline since most kids just want to chill over the long holidays!
For the 3rd child she will need to organise her desk and create a good system to make sure her books and homework are all in the right place at the right time. This is a big adjustment from having the same teacher and classroom for every subject at primary school.

Risk taking:

I am not sure whether this quite comes under the category of risk taking but it’s definitely to do with getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself. My husband and son are planning to do a thorough ‘First Responder’ course together. They will be learning how to handle emergency medical situations and having the confidence to stay calm and trust in their ability to manage difficult circumstances.

There are an infinite number of possibilities and I would be very interested to hear your thoughts and ideas. Feel free to share with me and perhaps inspire other parents this summer.