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Putting the ‘building’ into ‘Building Learning Power’

How do pupils get better at learning?
The idea of building pupils’ learning power has been around for several years now and hundreds of schools proclaim on their website that their school is using the ideas to enable their children to learn better.

One of those three powerful words….Building Learning Power…. is the word ‘Building’. It is perhaps the most useful and yet neglected word of the three. Whereas the Building Learning Power framework offers seventeen really useful learning behaviours for pupils to work with, it says nothing about how these might grow and develop over time.  Schools find it easy to have pupils using the words, they watch out for the behaviours being used in classrooms and praise this useful behaviour when they notice it.

So let’s just come back to that word Building. Unless we can see pupils getting better at using their learning powers all we are doing is acknowledging everyday learning and giving those behaviours a name. A good place to start but an awful place to stop.

Two ways of looking at Building is through the ideas of scope and frequency. How often do we see this learning behaviour being used…tentatively or robustly…and where do we see it being used…just in maths or just in literacy, or more widely across the curriculum and even out of the classroom? But the dimension of Building that is tricky and often forgotten is how skilfully it is being used. How skilful are pupils at collaborating or persevering or reasoning? What does skilful mean? What does it look like? How does it grow? Are there stages to such growth or is it fairly haphazard? And most importantly, what do teachers need to do to help this growth?

Getting to this degree of detail is the real nub of Building Learning Power. How might we help pupils to become more skilful at these behaviours? And as the behaviours become more skilful how does the language of learning change and what do learning behaviour goals look like? For those schools that have taken up Building Learning Power, the exciting message is …the best is yet to come. Wrestling with the growth of learning power becomes the most useful, interesting and exciting aspect of the BUILDING learning power journey. It makes it all worthwhile, giving BLP its real purpose.

In practice: Five schools in Cumbria have just completed a landmark Building Learning Power research project, through the National College For Teaching and Leadership, and shown that using learning behaviours not only has a significant impact on pupil attainment but helps them to achieve the all important Mastery. But to get to this resounding result they have spent years of apprenticeship playing with the ideas, as many schools have, before finally coupling their deep knowledge of the growth of some key learning capacities with well known steps in teaching multiplication.

At this level of understanding and precision ‘Building’ takes on a different role. The enabling culture of the classroom has already been assured but furthermore the teachers have become skilled in coupling specific learning behaviours with specific bits of the curriculum, and have an awareness of how these metacognitive skills grow.

This small but serious piece of research proves that Building Learning Power works when you go deeper and develop a growth trajectory of learning skills that is coherent and consistent across the school.


If you have tried a bit of learning power and see the point of going deeper, take a look at our on-line courses:
Stepping Stones: Introducing Key Learning Behaviours

Or keep an eye out for our advanced workshops on progression, coming in February 2016.

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