Learning in the Zone The 7 Habits of Meta-Learners

Picture of Sonny Magana
Sonny Magana

Foreword by John Hattie
Published by Dave Burgess Consulting, 2022

Learning is a personal experience

Sonny Magana is not only a globally respected expert in education, he is a phenomenal writer, too. He manages to deliver tools for learners and teachers, his personal experience and his research all neatly intertwined in a book that is read like your favourite fiction novel.

Learning in the Zone places learners in the centre of attention. Learning as a deeply personal experience, according to Magana, can be nurtured, directed and self-assessed, making a learner an independent, almost self-taught individual. There is no reason to be sceptical to this idea, especially since Sonny Magana makes an effort to back every claim and tool he offers with research, with additional materials that are offered via the QR code in the book, and with his own journey as a self-taught guitar player.

What is The Zone?

There are many ways to describe the Zone:
• that feeling in sport when you know you cannot miss
• bursts of creative energy when you are so focused on the process that time stands still • a state of exhilaration of mastery in a task, that feeling that it seems effortless

This book offers steps to get to the Zone – to your own version of it, and it helps you get there in your own way. It proves that schooling has little to do with (meta-) learning (Magana’s reflection on his childhood years only underlines how little has changed in the schooling system) and helps us see that understanding our own learning process is the key to lifelong learning. He calls his steps Habits, and rightfully so, because each step is a foundation for the next one, and in order to be able to build on it, it has to become natural to us.

“Though the seven meta-learning habits are quite helpful fir finding your optimal learning zone, each may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first. This is true for any new strategy or skill. But if a learner sticks with it and gets in ample time and practice, these habits will become a natural part of the process of optimal learning.”

The 7 Habits of Meta-Learners

1. Making Commitment a Habit

There is hesitancy, anxiety in the beginning of any learning process. It is personal – we’re either fully committed or not at all. Human brains rapidly process emotional signals to determine the threat level in any new situation. Magana creates a learning story sequence (p.26), a simple tool to envision own process and find the optimal learning zone, which he sees as learning how to write our own learning adventure stories.

“In the context of learning and school, how students feel about their learning supersedes how students think about their learning.”

Personal mastery goals mentioned in this chapter (declarative mastery goals and procedural mastery goals) offer a way to produce and refine our own learning intentions and success criteria.

2. Making a Habit of Self-Regulation

The goal of social and emotional learning (SEL) is managing our own feelings, building students’ capacity to monitor, regulate and exert more control over their emotional states. Magana not only elaborates the value of breathing exercises before engaging in a learning process (or as help when we feel lost in the process of learning) but provides a link to a breathing exercise you can practice with him (via the link in a QR code).

“This practice nurtures the cognitive mind by shifting its focus from distracting external stimuli to the counting sequence. The rhythmic breathing exercise nurtures our emotional mind by quieting the brain’s internal narrator, allowing you to focus on just your breathing in the present moment.”

3. Making a Habit of Leveraging Prior Knowledge

In this chapter Magana offers tools for leveraging prior knowledge, helps us recognise the patterns that we learn to seek purposefully and provides the three-steps guidance for achieving our learning goal.

“Reflecting upon the prior knowledge that we have acquired over time nurtures our emotional mind.”

4. Making a Habit of Contributive learning

For a meta-learner, learning is an active sport and it is a team sport. We learn better together that we do as individuals. Learning in the Zone explains the emotional impact collaboration has on learners, and is therefore the most logical sequel to Disruptive Technologies where lists of tech tools are provided and explained through practical examples of their use in the classroom.

5. Making a Habit of Using Learning Frameworks

For more details about the T3 learning frameworks, please find the review on Magana’s

Disruptive Classroom Technologies published in November on ceesa.org blog.

6. Making a Habit of Connecting, Categorising, and Reflecting

7. Making a Habit of Meta-Feedback

Constant feedback is crucial for a successful learning process. Magana rightfully points out that the only timely feedback is the one that comes directly from the learners themselves. The feedback coming from others, though useful, is always with a delay, and may not be addressing the details the learner wants to master. Once meta-feedback is mastered, “we think deeply about our thinking and reflect upon our learning, …allowing us to gain greater perspective on mastering challenging learning tasks while simultaneously being aware of the lager context – the bigger picture.” (p.122)

Why this book should be read by every teacher and school leader

Sony Magana presents a unique approach to teaching, putting the learner, through deep understanding of the importance of motivation, emotional component of the learning process and self-assessment. He provides tools, resources and generously shares his own journey as a learner, helping us understand how intimate the learning process is, and even more, reminding us of that unique feeling of personal success once we master a goal.

This is a book you will enjoy from cover to cover.

Additional resources

Visit Sonny Magana’s website for the resources he generously shares, and check his Blog.

Subscribe to Sonny Magana’s YouTube Channel. Follow Sonny Magana on Twitter.

#LearningintheZone #MetaLearning #CEESAbookclub #CEESAconnects

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