Sunday, 7 October 2012

Developing Olympic Learners

 A few months ago I talked about the exciting journey our school would be undertaking this year.  From September, we have implemented a whole school Learning to Learn programme that is specifically focused for our new Year 7's.  As we are mid way through this half term, I thought you might be interested in seeing what we have done to develop our 'Olympic Learners' (all will become clear).

If you are a first time reader and are not sure what I am talking about, we have run Learning to Learn for a number of years now as both an integrated part of PHSE and as a discrete course for our Year 9's in preparation for GCSE.  Both were not ideal and both had variations on success.  Our dream though was, and always has been, to implement this with our Year 7 learners as they entered Brookfield for the first time.  We wanted to work with them as soon as possible because this is a time when they are most malleable and receptive to our efforts in creating effective learners.

So what is the thinking behind our L2L programme?  Well, its pretty simple really.  The whole course is built upon Dweck's mindset theories.  At Brookfield, we want learners who recognise things like effort has a big influence on learning, who understand mistakes are good to learn from, who know that easy tasks are pointless if you don't learn anything and like a muscle, your brain can grow stronger through learning.  To do this we have adopted the 5R's and renamed them as:
  • I am a responsible learner
  • I am a determined learner
  • I am a resourceful learner
  • I am an effective thinker
  • I am a reflective learner
We believe that if students can adapt their mindset and develop their 5R's, they can become more effective learners.  We've worked hard to extract the snake oil and design a programme full of ideas, strategies and protocols that we know learners need and have worked for us over the last 7 years.  So, here's what we've done this half term:

Launched it with staff

Our official launch with staff was in the summer term of last year.  A copy of the presentation for middle leaders and SLT is here.  The staff launch can be found here.  At the start of this year I simply used morning briefing and e-mail to remind staff of the programme.  It is essential that all staff are involved in the process and collectively promote this programme.  The students need the key principles to be reinforced by all teachers in order for the programme to have its full potential.  Response from departments so far seems great and I have had a number of excellent learning conversations as a results with colleagues about how it is really helping.

Developed displays around school (and our staff room)

Thanks to Marvel, we have assigned each of our learner attributes to a comic book character.  This has been an excellent hook for the students (and some of the staff too).  At the end of last year I asked departments to put in an order for our large posters.  Core subjects and large learning spaces could choose two posters which our budget paid for.  We did this because students go to these subjects, or use these spaces the most.  More exposure to the attributes will in return help us embed the programme.  Every other department received one free poster.  Electronic originals are available on our network and can be printed from department budgets for individual classrooms. 

L@B Display in the English corridor

Some other areas, including our library, have created their own unique displays (which are fantastic) and once again helped promote the five qualities.  In fact, in a general walk around part of the school last week, I found four personalised displays with a L@B focus which is such a positive sign!

L@B display in our school library

Talked about responsibility, responsibility, responsibility (our half term focus)

Every half term we focus on a different attribute.  This first half term has been focused on 'I am a responsible learner'.  Two departments at a time have championed this attribute with specially designed activities, but the rest of the school have been mentioning responsibility whenever they can.  We ran with this first because it is a simple focus to begin with and links in really well to a lot of the work done previously in our feeder schools.  In PE, we've used the word 'responsibility' a lot and tried to help raise its awareness as much as possible.  Students are really responding and are actually showing that they are responsible (no really they are!).  It has also been an excellent way to structure a learning conversation with a student who isn't demonstrating this quality.  Simply referring to the many posters around school with the student quickly help them see where they need to improve.  I've had a lot of good reports back from colleagues across the school where this focus has been embedded.


Our Year 7 organisers (student planners) arrived and have designated L@B pages in them.  The aim of this is again to raise the profile of our L2L programme with students.  If needed, teachers, students and parents can refer to this page if needed when structuring learning conversations.  Hopefully these can be used in classrooms and at home with learners in an effort to reinforce them.

The page which is found in our student organisers
L@B Champions:  English and Maths

These two departments are our first champions.  English have chosen to run a project called 'The Big Read'.  The challenge involves students setting their own reading target for the half term and being responsible in their self-regulation to achieve this.  Our students will visit this project throughout the half term and reflect on progress.  Students will keep a record of their progress within this challenge and reflect on how responsible they were in meeting their target.  As part of this project, both Waterstones stores in Southampton will publicly display the students reviews.

A slide from 'The Big Read' launch in English

In Maths, students have been working through a data analysis task which really promotes team work which is one of our responsibility strands.  They have really embraced split screen teaching as a way to deliver this and made the process of learning really explicit.  Comments from staff (including a Deputy Head who is teaching this scheme) are very positive and show promising signs for helping shape our students learning behaviour (especially 'working with others' which for some students normally means having a chat!).

A slide from the 'team work' lessons in Maths

L@B merits (over 700 so far)

Our SIMS system now has L@B merits, including Responsible learner, added to the list.  This means that staff can quickly and easily give our specific attribute merits.  So far, 4 weeks in, over 700 responsible merit points have been given out.  This is excellent and really helps reinforce our focus with learners.


Designed as both a reward and as a way to raise profile of L2L, we will be handing wristbands to the top 20 Responsible learners in Year 7.  These individuals are selected by a mixture of L@B responsible merit points and recommendations from teachers in both English and Maths.  Each focus has a different colour.  This half term it's green bands! 

L@B champions

Our students voice of L2L.  These are a group of 12 Year 10 students who went through the last L2L discrete subject programme.  Each student is linked to one of the 5 attributes and acts as an ambassador.  So far these students have helped me plan and run the Year 7 launch assembly.  They are a credit to the school!  Their next project is to survey and interview randomly selected Year 7 students and ascertain how well the L@B programme is being embedded.

Launching with students (assembly)

Now if you watched the Olympics over the summer, you were probably as inspired by the immense achievements of our athletes as I was.  In fact, for the first time, I got a real attachment to the Olympics which I have never had before.  I am in awe of the athletes and feel that we can learn a lot from their character, their focus, their training, motivation, commitment......  I also thought that our Year 7's could learn from them as well.  So, with the help of my Year 10 champions, we designed an assembly to launch L@B whilst harnessing the power of the Olympics.

The assembly message was simple.  Imagine yourselves as 'Olympian learners'.  Olympians train hard for four years with the goal of gaining a medal at the event.  They put in hours of training, hard work, effort, commitment and dedication.  They have regular competitions in between to measure their progress and make amendments if needed.  They learn from setbacks and strengthen weaknesses.  They have amazing support and dedicated coaches who aim to make them better and experts in their field.  Now, remove the sports analogies and replace them with school and learning, and you all are Olympians.  In four years you will be in Year 11, preparing for you Olympic competition (exams), with the aim of gaining a medal (A*-C), with the support of your expert coaches (teachers) and have constantly been monitoring your progress and strengths (assessments, feedback....).  This 'Olympian Learner' concept is something I will use a lot and hopefully will help students see the qualities they need and the journey they must take.

Languages day link

Every half term we have a focus day.  This half term was our schools European Day of Languages on 26th September which we ran with Year 7's.  Every focus day has one of our five attributes attached to it, so this half term we had 'I am a Responsible Learner'.  The day began with an assembly in which I bridged the link between languages and being a responsible learner.  I have to say a huge thank you to Ian Gilbert who helped me put together the speech with some inspirational ideas to share.  The day was successful and challenged the students a lot.  The principle of being responsible to reinforced throughout and is something we will continue to build upon.

Reward cards

I have talked about these in a previous post (click here) but they are simple colour co-ordinated feedback cards.  Each card is linked in colour to one of the 5 attributes.  Each card also has a short learner comment, statement, habit or skill which links to that attribute.  If a teacher sees a learner demonstrating that particular habit in a lesson, they simply give that student the card which in turn is rewarded with a merit.  The card quickly identifies the particular habit that the student has used so the individual knows what the reward is for.  By encouraging and reinforcing learners to work in a particular way, it should help them develop positive habits which will make them successful learners (links to Skinners and Thorndike's Reinforcement and Operant conditioning).  If you would like a copy of the cards, they can be found here and here.  These were e-mailed out to staff to use if they wish and already a number have been passed through our reporgraphics department.  I look forward to hearing how well they get used.

Now that's quite a lot of things going on in the first half term but the combination of them all should ensure that our L2L programme has a huge impact.  It's the small but manageable details that come together to help create a programme purely designed to benefit our learners.  For the rest of the year, we will move onto a new attribute each half term and work through the same structure with individuals.  Our aim is to build up students learner qualities and support them in doing so.  We believe that if we can help our students become effective learners, then this, mixed with the teaching and learning that goes on in our school, should help set our students up for a successful (Olympian) few years at Brookfield.  It's early days and something that we are constantly evaluating, but it's an initiative that we believe could have a huge impact and are excited to see develop.

As always, any comments or thoughts are most welcome.  @davidfawcett27

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