What was once all about teaching is now all about learning. I would recommend you read Chris Watkins’ series on creative teaching and learning to help you and your colleagues feel inspired in this very important mission to bring learning to the forefront.
You need to take colleagues with you on this and begin by examining practice. What examples can they provide of effective learning? What do they understand by it? Start the discussion in your classroom. For example from the article ‘Learners at the controls’, ask staff to what extent they allow pupils to generate their own code of practice at the beginning of the year. Does it come from the children or is it one that they bring out to dust down and re-hang?
Chris in his introductory article to the series ‘Learning about Learning’ suggests that you begin by sitting down with colleagues and identifying their best experiences of learning in classrooms. This discussion around learning should be present throughout the organisation including amongst teaching and support staff, with parents, pupils and governors. It should be present in displays and school publications. A theme running through the whole organisation.
I suggest that your INSET focus is based around the themes taken by Chris in additional articles:
- Pupils taking responsibility for their own learning (Learners at the controls)
- Pupils collaborating together to learn (Easier said than done – collaborative learning)
- Pupils being active learners (Active learning is better learning)
Once you have discussed these articles and considered any implications for your own practice you might then look at some of the planning and observation practices that you might need to amend to reflect your learning focus. For example, in ‘Planning learning, observing learning’ Chris suggests that planning in small-time chunks leads to teacher-directed rather than learning-directed classrooms. It is just as important that the planning process takes good learning principles into account as the lesson it is aimed at preparing for. Perhaps slightly controversially, Chris suggests that learning cannot be observed. However, he does identify the features of classrooms with a more learning-orientated framework.
Below I summarise some of the points from subsequent articles which you might want to share with your staff.
Learners at the controls
This article emphasises the importance of learners taking responsibility for their own learning. It seems obvious enough, but sometimes we try to take over too much and forget that in the end it is the learner who is in control. Chris Watkins looks at some aspects of the journey towards letting the learners take the driving seat. He points out the importance of involving pupils from the outset and how this can increase their engagement and motivation.
Easier said than done: Collaborative Learning
There is more to collaborative learning than placing pupils in groups. It takes determination to enable a classroom to run in a collaborative fashion and many tasks that a group may be given can turn out not to be collaborative at all. Chris recommends that to be effective the tasks that groups are given must:
- require everyone to participate
- be ones where all students are dependent upon the contribution of the others
- require higher-order thinking rather than searching for a right answer
It can be beneficial to begin with pupils working in pairs and then doubling up to work in a four on another task. They might even move into a larger group later or work collaboratively on a task as a whole class. Many pupils will need help with the initial stages of collaboration and will need to reflect at the end of the process on what worked and didn’t work for them.
Active learning is better learning
Learning can be particularly good when it is ‘hands on’. Perhaps there is a specific product to make or a problem to solve. Chris defines this as ‘active learning’ and it is a type of learning that is often particularly welcomed by pupils who enjoy a greater sense of involvement.
It does not necessarily mean that pupils are getting up and moving around the classroom. It is more a learning that contrasts with passive learning. Chris describes it as an ‘act of construction, not one of passive reception.”
Pupils might be involved in plan, do, review, learn and apply, essential components of active learning. For example, a piece of written English might begin with the planning stage, ensuring the purpose and point of the activity. The ‘do’ might be creating the draft and this might be reviewed with another reader. The feedback can provide the learning stage and the pupils can then apply what they have learnt by redrafting and publishing their article.
Hopefully these articles from Chris will give you and your staff ideas for how you can raise the profile of learning.