Building a Learning Culture
Our teachers readily agree that helping children develop as confident, enthusiastic and effective learners is one of their major aims.
This is because at DWJS we recognise the central role of learning in our development as individuals and in the development of civilisation and society.
Building Learning Power is an approach to learning to learn.
We can continually develop our capacity to learn throughout our lives. However, we can take it for granted and assume that our pupils will just "pick it up"! Research, however, is less cavalier and suggests that there are several dispositions that we need to develop in order to become successful lifelong learners.
Guy Claxton, (click here for his website), who has pioneered the Building Learning Power approach, suggests that there are 4 key learning dispositions:
We can think of these dispositions as being like groups of "learning muscles". Just as we can build our physical muscles with the right kinds of exercise, so we can exercise our learning muscles to develop their strength and stamina. Each of these dispositions is made up of a number of learning behaviours, which are called capacities. Because the learning capacities are quite specific in nature, they can be individually trained, nurtured and exercised.
What BLP looks like at DWJS
At DWJS, our commitment to building the learning power of our pupils is evidenced through:
- A common language for learning to support a shift of attention towards the process of learning, and the ways in which people’s learning dispositions are growing and changing.
- Activities and tasks that are selected, designed and framed so that they deliberately focus on stretching each aspect of a learning capacity, and ensure that this goal is not eclipsed by a more familiar focus on the acquisition of knowledge and the completion of tasks.
- ‘Split screen thinking’ on the teacher’s part: maintaining a dual focus on the content of the lesson and the learning dispositions that are currently being expanded.
At DWJS we also aim to celebrate positive learning behaviour, not just learning outcomes. As part of our weekly Achievement Assembly, teachers choose a pupil to be named Learning Legend. This award goes to pupils who have demonstrated particularly positive attitudes to learning during the week and have impressed their teachers with their use of the 4 R’s.
Stretching and challenging all pupils
As teachers, we know it is not enough for our pupils to coast through lessons, picking up the minimum they need to get by. First, motivation and engagement are likely to suffer if the work is too easy. Second, we want the very best for our pupils. We want them to love learning, to be stimulated by the lessons we teach and to develop intellectually. So it is vital that we strive to stretch and challenge all our pupils. The three key areas through which we make this happen are planning; lesson structure and pace; and the expectations we convey.
When planning our lessons, we ask ourselves if the content is sufficiently demanding. How close is it to what our pupils already know? Does it include conceptual and concrete material? In what kind of language is it couched?
We aim for material that is just beyond the point pupils have already reached – something just at the edge of their capabilities. This idea arises from Lev Vygotsky’s notion of the zone of proximal development. Our pupils are put in a position that enables them to move beyond their existing knowledge and understanding. We aim to plunge our pupils into the realms of uncertainty from time to time. This helps to keep their thinking sharp, stops them getting complacent and discourages automatic recourse to what has been proved to work.
Rather than deciding in advance what the pupils should do, decisions are made by the pupils as a result of continually finding out how they currently understand the skill or concept and what they need to do to improve. These challenges present themselves in class as the Incredible, Amazing and Fantastic challenges.
Challenging more able pupils
How do we push the thinking of more able pupils in the context of whole-class teaching?
- We use questioning methods in the classroom to challenge the thinking of all pupils – particularly the most able. Teachers are encouraged to question the views, opinions and judgements held by more able pupils.
- Evaluation: good evaluation demonstrates a mastery of the topic. Pupils are encouraged to highlight the strengths and limitations of an issue before making a judgement about what ought to be done or what they believe is the best perspective on the matter. Nearly every activity we do in the classroom is supplemented by an evaluation task, directly or tangentially associated with the topic.
- Critical thinking: this involves analysing the issue and reflecting on the best way to tackle it. It can be challenging for more able pupils because it asks them to alter their mindsets and to think differently.
Beyond the curriculum:
- Opportunities for more able pupils to be withdrawn for specific activities to work with other pupils of similar ability;
- Involvement of more able pupils in extra-curricular or enrichment activities that extend the boundaries of the curriculum;
- Partnerships with local secondary schools to enrich and extend our more able pupils knowledge and understanding. For example, Year 5 and 6 enrichment sessions at Newstead Wood and Ravenswood School for Boys.