This week sees another guest blog from Patcham Infant School, this time by recently qualified teacher Lizzie Hilton.Here she shares her discoveries about how to get to grips with Building Learning Power.
BLP as an NQT by Lizzie Hilton, Patcham Infant School
As a newly qualified teacher (NQT), fresh out of teacher training, I was excited to join Patcham Infant School in the early stages of the school’s Building Learning Power (BLP) journey in September 2015. With my mind full of the theory of growth mindset and the research of Professor Guy Claxton I was curious to see what BLP would actually look like in the infant classroom and to observe the effect it would have on children’s learning and development. Reflecting now, as I near the end of my second year of teaching, I could never have predicted the impact that BLP would have, not only on my learners, but on my own learning habits and dispositions as well.
At Patcham Infant School we believe that the more children understand how a “good learner” behaves, the more that they will be able to develop the behaviours themselves. Our school vision is driven by the purpose that we have a responsibility to “ensure that children dream without limits, embrace challenge and actively shape their own worlds for life-long learning”. Bearing in mind the very young age of our learners we decided to introduce learning characters, each with their own disposition and toolkit, to aid the children’s understanding of how we can learn better and develop the necessary skills.
Setting out as an NQT in Key Stage One, I inherited a class who had no previous experience of BLP. My first year of teaching, therefore, was an exhilarating one as I embarked upon an exciting journey with my class as we met our BLP characters and their tools together for the first time. Professor Guy Claxton, in his book Building Learning Power, suggests that there are four key learning dispositions: resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness and reciprocity. As has been argued, due to the specific nature of each of these learning capacities, each of these dispositions can be individually trained, nurtured and exercised. In order to most effectively develop these life-long learning attitudes and dispositions it was agreed that we would introduce the characters steadily; enabling us to introduce the skills, deepen understanding and consolidate each learning capacity before introducing another.
As a staff team, we began by considering the learning habits of resilience. Resilient learners are ready, willing and able to lock onto learning; they are able to ‘get absorbed’, ‘manage their distractions’, ‘notice’ and ‘persevere’. Together, with my Year One colleagues, we carefully planned how our first BLP character, Incy Independent, and their toolkit would arrive in our classrooms early in the Autumn term. Incy’s arrival prompted mass excitement and inspired many focused opportunities to discuss what it really meant to persevere and ‘stick at it’. Within my classroom I created a BLP working wall display, linked to each of Incy’s tools that the children could access independently whenever they chose. The children shared times that they had felt stuck: when riding their bikes without stabilisers or when peeling a fiddly satsuma for the first time! Together we considered what Incy would do in these instances and the ‘stuck web’ was born. This giant spiders web, made up of the children’s own suggestions, acts as a visual reminder to ‘stick at it’, ‘try again another way’ and ‘don’t give up!’. Through modelling resilient behaviours, using Incy’s tools and using the language of noticing, persevering, being absorbed and managing distractions I soon noticed a positive shift in the learning culture within my classroom; with my learners becoming steadily more independent and responsible for their own learning.
As an Explore and Learn school our learners have plentiful opportunities to learn in the classroom as well as the shared and outdoor classrooms independently, in small groups and with teachers in guided groups. In Year One children have time daily to self-select from Explore and Learn activities that are designed to provide opportunities for pre-exploration and to extend and consolidate previous learning. The Explore and Learn model lends itself to the development and consolidation of BLP dispositions. Whilst planning we began to consider which activities in the classroom leant themselves towards promoting and consolidating the use of each of Incy’s tools. We included images of Incy using each of the four tools on our Explore and Learn grid: a visual reminder of the activities in the classroom that changes weekly. In addition, I started placing the tools in the different Explore and Learn zones or activity areas; clearly signposting to the children the capacity that they were training and exercising whilst learning independently in that area.
Late in the Spring term we decided that the children were ready to meet Give and Take, our collaboration meerkats who: are ‘flexible and harmonious’, use their ‘empathy glasses’ and ‘listening ears’ to communicate effectively and are able to ‘magpie’ ideas, habits and values from other people they observe . Watching video clips of meerkats interacting in the wild the children noticed, using Incy’s noticing magnifying glass, that the animals were ‘working together’ ‘like a team’. Whilst planning, we designed a carousel of rich and varied activities that promoted the development of these skills and learning habits. It didn’t take long for our new learning friends to become integral parts of our classroom and learning culture. Quickly, the children were able to recognise and celebrate when their peers were using and growing their new learning habits: quite extraordinary given the egocentric nature of these very young learners at the beginning of the academic year!
Gradually, as the learning habits were developing and the children demonstrated that they were able to take an increased responsibility for managing their own learning, I began to leave the BLP character tools in the toolkits at the front of the classroom whilst preparing the Explore and Learn environment ahead of a new week. Here they remain readily available to all learners at all times, both during whole class carpet sessions and Explore and Learn time. During our briefings, at the beginning of the week, and daily de-briefs, at the end of an Explore an Learn session, the children developed their ability to identify which learning habit and associated tool they would self-select to support their learning in each of the learning zones. The children developed their ability to reflect on their learning, identifying which of our BLP characters they had been learning like and which capacity they had exercised. In addition, learners were able to support their peers by identifying which tools they might need to support them when completing an Explore and Learn activity in a zone that they were yet to visit.
In September 2016, I inherited a class that had a year of prior BLP experience. We began the year by reintroducing Incy and Give and Take to further consolidate their earlier learning, ensuring that they were able to apply these learning habits within the Year One Explore and Learn curriculum. Throughout the Autumn term we designed opportunities for the children to exercise their resilience and reciprocity dispositions. During this time, I observed that the learners in my class had developed a sophisticated ability to review and improve their learning in a way that my previous cohort had not been able to until much later in the academic year. Whilst this year’s cohort are very different to my last, in terms of maturity and school readiness, the progress they have made developing their learning dispositions is simply extraordinary. I have observed a seismic shift in attitudes towards learning and learning behaviours and this, in turn, has had a profound impact on their academic development. This demonstrates the importance of nurturing the attributes of “good learners”. These children have an increased understanding of how they learn more effectively and therefore they do.
Following our introduction of Resourceful Rat in the Spring term of this academic year the children have developed their ability to dig deeper using their ‘questioning spade’ and imagine using their ‘imagination paintbrush’. We are introducing each of Resourceful Rat’s tools gradually, ensuring that each disposition is consolidated before introducing more. In the coming months we will continue to develop our ability to be reflective learners. In addition, I very much look forward to introducing our final BLP character Reflective Raven. BLP is very much woven into all areas of learning and is central to all areas of my classroom practice. Developing the dispositions that make for success as a life-long learner is central to our school vision; we really are equipping our children with “powerful learning for life”.
Patcham Infant School is opening its doors to teachers and leaders who want to find out more about how to grow the right kind of culture to enable learning power to thrive in their own schools. Find out more on our events page.
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