Today’s blog is brought to us by Building Learning Power teacher Tracy Goodyear. Having worked with Building Learning Power from early in her career, she considers its practicalities, pros and cons, impact, and importance.
‘I was first introduced to ‘Building Learning Power’ shortly after my NQT year; I was teaching in a mixed comprehensive school that had received a ‘good’ OFSTED grading and the school was on a journey to transform the quality of teaching and learning to ‘outstanding’. As part of this journey, leaders asked for volunteers to join a group that would help to revolutionise the quality of teaching and learning across the school – the opportunity was too good to turn down. The group consisted of around 15 colleagues from across a range of curriculum areas; these colleagues would be new champions for a different vision and philosophy for learning.
The course lasted an academic year and involved a series of training days, peer coaching sessions and lesson observations. As a teacher in the very early stages of my career, this was an incredibly useful experience and empowered me to share and absorb a greater depth of knowledge and understanding about the learning process. Not only did it increase my knowledge, but it was a defining moment in becoming a ‘leader of learning’ within the context of my school – something which would later prove pivotal to my career progression.
I feel that the depth of understanding I gained helped to transform my practice and the results were immediately tangible: suddenly my lessons were more engaging for all students. I noticed that more reluctant students came to the fore to share their observations; I noticed the quality of the work that students were producing had improved; I noticed they were able to capitalise on previous learning and apply it to new and unfamiliar situations with confidence. It worked!
Seeing this transformation really gave me the confidence to experiment with learning habits and it opened a series of exciting possibilities for my lessons and the ways in which I could develop students’ learning ‘character’.
As somebody who specialised in Gifted, Talented and Able education, I could see the links immediately. I had studied A* criteria for every subject and noticed a pattern: the highest achieving students are students who are able to notice nuances; those who have creativity, flare and originality of thought; students who are able to notice perceptive links between ideas, concepts and material. The real question now was how effectively were we opening up these opportunities consistently for all students? The answer was clear: we need to make this mode of thinking habitual across the school.
Recent studies have confirmed that it takes the average person sixty-six days to form a new habit. There was a necessity for this type of thinking to be habitual for teaching staff as much as it was for students. I tried using the Learning Wheel in my every day life: at the time I was a keen squash player. I analysed myself after each match. I started using and understanding this new language of learning, learning how to interpret these new words and what they looked like in reality: I would film my serve – comparing it to a professional player; noticing, making links, reasoning. As a result of this personal research, I had the confidence to firmly embed these learning habits in my everyday teaching and to model the learning process to students with confidence.
One of the most memorable lessons was back in October, where I was keen to get a top-set Year 10 group to experiment with more adventurous vocabulary and tone in their creative writing. I was eager to get them to imitate a range of creative writing styles, from different genres in order to move them from their default position. I created a lesson based on the ‘Imitation Game’, after a recent visit to Bletchley Park. As part of the lesson, students needed to identify a formula for a certain type of writing and would need to stick to these rather rigid rules when writing their own piece later in the lesson. Students were marked on how well they managed to imitate the style of a particular genre. The students gained a lot from the lesson, saying that the rigid rules had, in fact, forced them to shift their thinking in another direction and forced them to experiment with different tones. The quality of their writing has improved dramatically, as have their marks for creative writing.
As with any initiative, there are potential pitfalls. As a leader of learning in a school environment, it became clear quite quickly that there is the necessity for staff to believe and crave the challenge of building learning habits in pupils of all abilities. Without this level of commitment from teachers, the students would not commit fully either, and as a result lessons emerge where the language of learning has been added without depth or integrity – the language then becomes redundant and superficial.
Secondly, with accountability for teachers and grades at an all time high, many critics are sceptical of spending time ‘talking about learning’ when there is pressure to cover content or to teach to the test. However, in order to gain the grades, students need to show independence and individuality of thought, they need to have their own opinions; they need to have had the opportunity to embed knowledge and understanding and to be able to articulate how that process happens.
The content is the vehicle by which we teach young people how to learn. It is important that this is made explicit. The content will change over time; habits can be formed to manage new challenges – that is our real responsibility.’
Tracy Goodyear teaches at King Edward VI Handsworth School for Girls in Birmingham where she is teacher in charge of Key Stage 3 English, and Year 8 Pupil Achievement Leader.