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Guest Blog: Building Learning Habits at The King’s School in Macclesfield

Richard Griffiths, Deputy Head at The King’s School in Macclesfield gives a detailed account of the training and culture shift his school went through to embed learning power. There are some great ideas for involving senior leadership, teachers, and pupils across the board.  “I first came across Learning Power at a conference, where I saw the book Building a Learning Powered School. When I read it, the philosophy immediately chimed with me as something I had known but had not articulated (which is, I suppose, what all good ideas do). I immediately shared the book with other senior colleagues and we felt this was exactly what we wanted to promote. Many teachers where we work would complain of pupils expecting to be spoon-fed, of lacking independence and some of the study skills and basic character traits which promote success in learning and in life. After a couple of false starts as a school, Claxton’s learning power gave us the clear rationale and structure to do something about it and look to develop our pupils’ ability to self-start, to take the lead and to have the resilience and resourcefulness to really succeed. Being an independent school brought its challenges. Parents have high expectations (of course) and often equate good teaching with the traditional instruction that can encourage passivity. Some students also expected teachers to give them the answer and show them how to succeed. And teachers themselves were a little concerned that, if they were to leave more to the students, then potentially results could suffer. However, as a senior management team, we were convinced that this was the right way to go (and the right thing to do), and that results would take care of themselves if the students were stronger, more confident learners. We therefore set about a programme of training and introducing the teachers to the basic ideas and tenets of Learning Power during the academic year 2013-2014. We started with whole-staff training in September with Graham Powell, principal Building Learning Power consultant. We also used the newly formed Teaching and Learning Group to look at possible approaches using Claxton’s taxonomy. By the end of academic year 2013-2014, we had formulated our approach. We had identified 5 key learning habits which we wanted to promote, from across Claxton’s original areas. These were: Perseverance; Reflectiveness; Reasoning; Collaboration; Questioning. For each of these we also had 3 ‘sub-habits’. This meant we had the clear focus of the 5 key habits, but the sub-habits gave a breadth across the key learning areas (strategic, social, cognitive and emotional) for those who were prepared and able to use them. We also decided to introduce these with Year 7 only in the first instance to enable a tight focus. This also coincided with a new curriculum which included a strong focus on thinking skills, through the teaching of Critical Thinking as a discrete subject and the use of Philosophy for Children in other subjects. We also introduced an IGCSE in ‘Global Perspectives’ with the sixth form as their enrichment subject, which encourages independent research, collaboration and critical thinking skills. Many of our students also complete an EPQ in Year 13, which could be seen as the pinnacle of what the learning habits are aiming to achieve. Academic year 2014-2015 therefore started, again, with whole staff training on the ‘King’s Learning Habits’, which included creating small ‘learning communities’ (cross-departmental) led by ambassadors from the Teaching and Learning Group. The delivery of the KLH was non-negotiable in Year 7, with the option to use it in other years. The staff responded enthusiastically to this; they could also see the simple logic of this approach and that it would help the pupils to develop as learners and as independent thinkers. This was also then taken up by Heads of Department in working within their individual subject areas. There was an expectation that schemes of work would be adapted to take into account the development of the learning habits. At this point made contact with Graham Powell again who came into school near the end of the academic year to train the Teaching and Learning Group, who then cascaded this to their ‘learning community’ at the next development day. This academic year we have continued to roll out the Learning Habits across other year groups – this year with Year 7,8,10 and 12. Next year we will have complete coverage of the senior school. We have continued to work with Graham, who gave further training to the Teaching and Learning Group on ‘Building Curious Minds’ (again to be cascaded to learning groups at the next development day), as well as working with the Science department. He will also train Heads of Department on acting as coaches in the summer term. We have just completed full scale learning review, involving book scrutiny, pupil interviews and lesson observations, to consider our progress and next steps. An extract from my report read as follows:
The pupils are knowledgeable about the King’s Learning Habits and value them. All of the pupils felt that they are becoming better learners as a result of the KLH. In particular, they felt that collaboration, reflectiveness and resilience were strongly developed across a wide range of subjects, and were able to articulate what they would do if they were stuck in class…the pupils felt that the school was succeeding in its aim to ‘develop lively and enquiring minds’, with one pupil commenting ‘It has made me much more inquisitive. I think outside the box more now.’
We are currently at a stage where all teachers are aware of the need to use the learning habits and most are using them in their lessons, with some teachers highly adept at using them in planning lessons which develop the students’ learning. We were inspected in the Autumn Term, and the inspectors were genuinely impressed, commenting that whilst in some schools such initiatives were tokenistic, at King’s they could see that the learning habits were genuinely a part of the learning experience and were enhancing the quality of the teaching we offered. Whilst some teachers are further along the road than others, there is no doubt that it is a key feature of lessons here and that teachers are now genuinely thinking about how to develop learning alongside their subject content. Our next steps are to continue to develop the consistency of our delivery of the learning habits throughout the school through the sharing of good practice and small learning communities. In addition we have decided to take as our focus for the next academic year the development of questioning and curiosity in the students. To do this we are introducing a series of independent projects to be undertaken as part of their ‘home learning’. We have also created a ‘Resilience Award’ scheme, and will give annual awards to those who excel in particular habits. Overall I feel that embracing learning habits has been a hugely positive step for the learning culture of the school. Whilst it is too early to see the absolute evidence in terms of results, we already feel that the pupils are better thinkers and collaborators with more resilience and the ability to reflect on their progress, which we feel can only bring better results. Of course, the habits are not just about this and we also know that we are helping the pupils in preparation for their future study and working lives.” Richard Griffiths Deputy Head (Academic), The King’s School in Macclesfield If you are interested in introducing Learning Power to your school, take a look at our training courses: Building Better Learners (Primary) Building Learning Habits Plus (Secondary) …Or contact us
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