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Progression in the Language for Learning

This week’s guest blog comes from Chris Taylor, headteacher at Patcham Infant School near Brighton.

“It is inarguable that quantitative data represents an essential aspect of assessing a child’s development; it hopefully measures positive progress which is then often represented in numbers, letters, words or acronyms. However, measuring qualitative information, in my mind, enables us to paint a more useful picture and develop a deeper understanding of the child, which then provides a narrative to support discussions around the raw scores that children can often be labelled with.

So, how can you measure the progress of children’s language for learning? Since the introduction of Building Learning Power, now into its third year, I have carried out a language for learning monitoring exercise. It is an ongoing longitudinal study that is scheduled three times a year, with three children per class (including nursery), who are asked the same three questions every time.

Question 1 – What makes a good learner a good learner?

Question 2 – What happens when you get stuck in your learning?

Question 3 – When you want to get better in your learning or have a question you want to answer, what do you do?

It is one of the most enjoyable days in school for me, dedicating the whole day to talk individually to the study group. It offers such insight into their understanding of learning, identifies gaps that need addressing, makes me chuckle and often blows my mind with the levels of sophistication such young children are capable of.

Elliot joined our Nursery last September and has, twice, been asked the question ‘What do you do when you get stuck in your learning?’ In November his delightful response was “My mummy helps me; she gives me a kiss when I fall over”. Within 3 months he is telling me “I stick at it.” This response was corroborated by his teacher who often observes Elliot absorbed within the learning environment.

Finley, a Reception child, has moved from “I get Incy when I am stuck” to drilling down and being able to explain about the specific tools he could use to help, for example “I use Incy’s sticky ball which means I stick at it. I might get the ball to help me stick at my writing.”

In February 2016 when in Reception, Nina was first asked ‘What makes a good learner?’ Nina’s reply was to “sit down on the carpet nicely”. Last month when posed with the same question Nina articulately informed me the she “reads through her writing to check it so I know what is right and if I have got anything wrong”. She went on to say that “Good learners collaborate, stick at it, listen and take turns.”

The depth of understanding and use of language continues to astonish me when interviewing our oldest children – some of whom are not yet seven years old. Jessica tells me that she is a good learner because “I persevere and don’t give up! When I am stuck I keep on trying and keep on learning until I think it is my best, I stick at it and check my work”. Jessica goes on to inform me that “I capitalise and use everything around me to help me learn”.

Jessica is not alone in this level of sophistication; her peers describe similar ideas such as “Using what is around me to help me learn, like trying the internet and going on the computer and looking in an information book to ask a question and dig deeper” and “ I need to reason like doing something really hard and solving problems”. What really impresses me about children’s responses is they have moved away from being over reliant on the adults around them as they are taking more ownership of their own learning and development.

So children can talk the talk – what is the impact?

As a result of changing the culture to one that shifts the responsibilities from teacher to child where teachers focus on:

  • the learning environment being used constructively to promote positive learning behaviours and reinforce positive messages about the nature of learning;
  • classroom cultures promoting speculative approaches, challenging learning, the growth of learning mindsets, collaborative activity and positive messages about learning;

we are noticing that young children are not only developing a language for learning but putting it into action.

In writing this piece and having reflected on the process I have asked myself what the outcomes would be if I interviewed children in groups. Might it extend their thinking? Would it further develop them as social learners? Could it enable them to delve deeper and ask questions of themselves and others? Might it even distil and revise their ideas?”

We are holding a learning showcase day at Patcham in conjunction with Chris and his team on Thursday 29th June. Come and join us to find out how to grow great learners in your school!

Click here for more details and to book you place.

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