Thursday, 5 April 2012

Learning to teach Learning to Learn.....

6 years ago (I think??) I was successful in getting at new role at our school called a 'Learning Innovator'.  Some of you might be wondering what a Learning Innovator is or does.  6 years on I am comfortable in describing it as a kind of 'mini-AST'.  My main job description was to investigate, research and implement a strategy that I had not heard of before called Learning to Learn.  As you can guess, there was a lot of research, reading, investigating, strategising, planning, liaising, leading and linking.  There were a lot of mistakes that we made and there were some huge successes.  We started small and have begun to develop our approach into something much bigger.  We have spread the bug within our school and made a lot of new friends.  I thought it might be interesting to summarise what we did, how we got there, where we are now and where do we want to go.

Year 7
At the very beginning of our journey, I was teamed up with one of the most inspirational teachers that I have worked with at our school called Neil Chance.  Neil, now an AST, was a very experienced English teacher and someone who could channel what he called my 'natural caffeine'.  As a new teacher only in my second year, I went off and researched everything I could and spoke to anyone who had an interest in L2L.  We went on numerous courses and met some key figures including Mark Lovatt, Gary Burnett, Ian Gilbert, Jackie Beere and Alistair Smith.  The school wanted to start small and with the blessing of our amazing PSE team, they gave us 6 lessons to integrate into their Year 7 curriculum.  As many of you are probably saying, 6 lessons in another subjects scheme of work taught by non-specialist teachers isn't going to work.  Well, although it probably didn't have the impact that a whole school strategy would, it was really well delivered and allowed us to build upon success and learn from mistakes.  Our Assistant Headteacher had visited John Cabot School in Bristol prior to us designing our lessons and getting some ideas of what L2L looks like really helped us.  As it was new to everyone, we stayed very simple and chose a few 'stand alone' topics that we could put in our lessons.  In essence, it was things we thought Year 7's could do with knowing.

These were:
1) How to research effectively
2) How to Mind Map
3) Basic memory skills (Chunking)
4) Listening and communicating
5) Team work
6) Debating (looking at various perspectives)

No this isn't one the students did!
 The PSE teachers then went off and taught this at the start of Year 7 when students were still wet behind the ears and knew no different.  Did it actually help them?  Well I was lucky enough to be a Year 7 PSE teacher (funny how that appeared on my timetable) and it was ok.  Students were very responsive and picked up a few things.  The problem was, these skills were just skills and didn't tackle the core ideas of L2L (like the 5R's) and didn't really get properly embedded into other departments and lessons.
Overall verdict: A good foundation, allowed us to create some good resources like team mats, got the L2L word in circulation but didn't really effect the ways students learned.

Year 9 Version 1
After a few years of L2L purely being a PSE topic in their curriculum, our school decided to revamp Year 9 to adapt to the compressed KS3.  This allowed us an excellent opportunity to have a stand alone lesson purely for Learning to Learn.  By this time I had a much better understanding of L2L but had never been asked to head up a brand new subject.  Neil had moved on up the ladder so working with a new colleague, we set about designing 30 lessons.  We had, or at least I thought we had, identified key skills that students could do with knowing before they started their GCSE's.  Unfortunately, we got it massively wrong.  With separate teachers designing separate lessons, the course ended up being fragmented and lost continuity.  We forgot to have a key aim or focus so the course actually became study skills.  Most of the students didn't see the point or bigger picture, basically because we forgot to tell them.  I also got a bit carried away and tried to run before I could walk and tried pushing the boundaries, pretty much because I had seen it working in other schools.  I forgot that they had been doing this for years though and had developed their course.  Anyway, we learn from our mistakes.
Overall verdict: Arrgggghhh!!  Keep it simple.  Walk before you can run.  Have a focus or aim.  Get the students on board.

Year 9 Version 2 (fully re-branded with a logo and everything)
I had a big long think at the end of the year, and against the advice of some people who wanted me to actually enjoy the summer, I spent the 6 weeks rewriting the whole 30 lessons.  This time I had a plan.

Our new logo.

1 - Have a focus
So I did.  I went back to the beginning and adopted the 5R's in a small scale.  I'd read so much about them and all of the successful schools I had visited (special thanks to Cramlington who made me realise exactly what L2L is) were using the R's as a focus.  Slight problem though, we had a whole school UNICEF 3R policy as well which didn't link so I had to be creative!  I did a bit of reading and came across the :

A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children:
Strengthening the Human Spirit
Edith H. Grotberg, Ph.D.The International Resilience Project

One aspect that this interesting paper talked about was the use of terminology in helping children believe in themselves.  They introduced me to three key headings which I could use to title my units.  They were: I have, I am & I can.  They weren't the 5R's but if students could say "I can work independently" or "I am determined" then that's a start.  I then went about identifying new topics that I could design the course around. 

The next thing I stumbled across was C. Dweck's Mindset theory.  Weirdly, all these things seemed to fall into place.  This turned the light bulb on in my head and helped identify the types of learners we have in our school.  It also helped me say to students "We want to develop you all into Growth Learners" with the various qualities and skills you need to get you there. 

2 - Hassle people
So I did.  I e-mailed everyone who was anyone connected to an aspect of L2L.  I do apologise for the mass e-mail attack but the direct help I got from Mark Lovatt, Martin Said, Ian Gilbert and Geoff Petty was vital.  You are all amazing people who spent time giving me advice, tips and pointers.  I thank you all!

3 - Focus on attributes and not just skills
I ran with the 'I have, I am & I can' philosophy for our unit titles.  All of these built upon each other and helped students get closer to becoming 'Growth Learners'.  We really spent time looking at what good learners are, what qualities they need, how the course helps with GCSE and much more.  We really pushed the point that a lot of the stuff we cover is used at GCSE level and we were helping them get prepared.  We used a number of excellent GCSE examples when teaching things.  We showed them that a lot of independent learning is required for GCSE and L2L will help.

4 - Lesson structure
We also adopted the Accelerated Learning Cycle (4 part plan) from Alistair Smith and Cramlington.  Our PE HIAS inspector talked about something very similar years ago and it fitted in nicely to getting students involved in this learning process.  The cycle allowed lots of discovery and input from students, lots of challenging tasks and lots of reflection.

5 - Continuity
Another main point is that every unit built upon the last and got progressively more independent as it went on.  Unit 1 which was 'I am a learner' was very scaffolded by the teacher, where as Unit 8, 'I am creative' was very much an independent teamwork task with every element (questioning to enquiry skills) all encompassed in it.

5 - Champions
The final aspect was to start looking at embedding our practice.  For every unit we started, a department around the school would 'champion' that particular attribute or skill.  We supplied generic resources and supported where needed.  Some departments ran with it well, some didn't.

So, with these main points, our upgraded Year 9 course was born.  This lasted for another two years.  This year we added Learning Portfolio's so students could keep track of their progress and note any success criteria.  We also trialled some attribute reward cards which I will talk about in another post.
Overall verdict: Stand alone lessons are tough, especially in Year 9 where a lot of students have developed their learning habits.  It did allow me to focus our L2L priorities and develop some generic resources which other teachers and departments use regularly.  Onwards and upwards though.

Generic Questioning Success Mat

Next Year
Next year L2L will not be in Year 9.  It will not be a discrete course.  It will not be delivered by specialist teachers (and my team over the last 2 years have been phenomenal!).  Instead, L2L will be embedded straight into Year 7 and covered by every department at some point.  So what is the plan?

  1. We are guiding all of our Year 7 learners (not students anymore) to become a Growth Learner based on Dwecks work.
  2. We now have 5 key personal qualities/learner attributes that guide learners towards becoming a Growth Learner (I am responsible, I am determined, I am resourceful, I can think, I am reflective)
  3. Each half term, the whole school will promote one attribute at a time with Year 7's.  We are starting in September with 'I am responsible'.
  4. 2 Departments during that time will 'champion' that attribute with relevant skills/strategies (Teamwork and planning are our strategies in the 'I am responsible' half term)
  5. Every other teacher in the school can refer to that attribute at any time in that period to help support.
  6. When championing, every teacher in that dept uses 'Split Screen Teaching' to help deliver the L2L and make it explicit.
  7. We have a number of specific L@B focus days and Year 7 L@B assemblies to develop L2L.
  8. Finally, we have called it L@B: Learning at Brookfield.

Here is my presentation that I delivered to our SLT and Learning Leaders.

Overall verdict: Exciting times but keep your fingers crossed for us!

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