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Back to school

How will your students see themselves as learners?

… it doesn’t matter how experienced we are, we are all entering uncharted waters as we welcome our students back to school.

 The massive disruption caused by Covid 19 will have affected all of your students but in different ways. Whatever the scope of your school’s home-learning offer to help your students to hang on to learning, and however your students behaved as learners before lockdown, all students will be very different learners on returning to school.

As one Head Teacher has put it:

we already know that even the most committed learners among our pupils have changed. Almost all that I have met recently are fearful of Covid, especially the younger ones, but some of the older ones have become just too blasé. Some have obviously taken their schoolwork schedules seriously but the majority appear disoriented and in perpetual holiday mood. Others seem to have had a torrid time and can’t wait to get back to school to escape the mayhem at home’. 


So, where do we start when our students are in so many different places mentally? What might help teachers and students to navigate and inform a ‘recovery curriculum’? One thing is certain, teachers will need every teaching tool available to get their students’ learning back on track and un-jam the brakes on learning.

Bring Learning Power back to life

A really useful way to bring your students’ Learning Power back to life is to gain a sense of where they are now, how they see themselves as learners, how their learning dispositions have changed, for it’s their learning dispositions that will have been the casualties of lockdown, and importantly, which habits to work on now that they have returned to your care.

You don’t have to guess or estimate, you could rapidly gain a valid picture, from each and every student, of how they view themselves as learners now.

The Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory

ELLI  (Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory) is a valuable tool that can tell you how your learners are currently disposed to learn, how strong they feel their learning dispositions to be, how their learning habits work together to make a successful learner. ELLI offers a unique picture of how a student sees themselves as a learner saving you the observation and guesswork you would otherwise need to make a judgement!  And the really clever bit is that it will enable you to check and track the progress you are making with your nudges or interventions.

ELLI (Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory) assesses Learning Power. It has been research-validated, both academically and operationally, among more than 100,000 people globally from all walks of life but most particularly among schoolchildren grappling to understand how they learn and thereby, improve their performance. 

Models of the building blocks of learning

The research teams, working in Bristol in the UK and at Penn State University in the USA identified 7 basic building blocks, or dimensions, that hold the key to our capacity for learning.


Many of you will quickly realise that these seven dimensions are the basis of what you  know as Building Learning Power. Take a look here to find out more about them and appreciate how the original 7 learning dimensions become the 17 more specific learning powers that can be individually cultivated and exercised.

Find out more about how Building Learning Power and ELLI work together to build better learners in the book Building Learning Power with Elli

ELLI’s attributes and ease of use

ELLI has 2 more vital attributes … it tracks changes in your students’ profiles as their responsiveness to learning changes AND it is highly sensitive to the learning environment. It doesn’t pigeon-hole the student learner but their learning profile changes with them.

Student Engagement

Input: students answer an on-line questionnaire using their well-practised on-line skills, are excited to be doing something with an immediate result, don’t have to think about too much with only 4 possible, repeated answers, to every question very like me quite like me a little like me not like me.

Output: an immediate, but simple, spidergraphic with a student-friendly single page explanation. Students can then have fun discussing notes with one another and their teachers.

Patterns of learning; what can you discover?

Take a look at the sort of patterns that emerge from an ELLI spidergraphic, what they tell you about students, what they might help your students to do for themselves and how you might use them with your students.

John was in Year 10 when he completed his on-line, self-reported profile and had always been recognised by his teachers as one of their more reluctant learners.

John’s profile bears out his teachers’ observations but it also reveals that he wants to learn. His scores in LEARNING RELATIONSHIPS, STRATEGIC AWARENESS and RESILIENCE suggests that he seeks help from those around him and is trying to keep going. His higher score for MAKING MEANING suggests that he is clearly doing his best to make sense of the content he is being presented with. A lower score for CHANGING AND LEARNING suggests a lack of self belief and frustration at his own lack of progress.

A possible source of John’s frustration shows up in his lower scores in the cognitive domains of CRITICAL CURIOSITY and CREATIVITY. In class this comes out as a reluctance to ask for help and a fear of making a fool of himself in front of his classmates. He is yet to be confident enough to ‘find’ his imagination but is hiding a natural resourcefulness, indicated by a particular strength in MEANING MAKING. (which, makes this quite an unusual profile)

With this sort of information at your fingertips what would you do to help John? How would you nurture his fragile curiosity and build his awareness of the usefulness of making mistakes.



Scarlett will be in Yr 6 when she returns.

This profile shows that Scarlett is likely to have been a model student during lockdown … one of those who would not have wanted to miss out on anything that would allow her ‘to get on’ and progress with her studies.

Scarlett’s profile tells us that she has a high tendency to be naturally resourceful although CRITICAL CURIOSITY needs to be nurtured in order to give her more confidence to find things out for herself. 

Scarlett’s resilience is to her credit but care will be needed to ensure that she builds more positive learning relationships.  

With this sort of profile what advice would you give to Scarlett to enable her to nurture her own learning power?  



Robert is in the 6th Form and a Maths and Physics student.

Robert’s profile is fairly typical for someone who favours the sciences and maths in particular. His high scores in CRITICAL CURIOSITY and MAKING MEANING suggests that he knows how to pursue ‘knowing more’ and once he understands the theory, prefers to go his own way in solving a problem rather than asking for help. 

Strong MAKING MEANING and CRITICAL CURIOSITY scores are usual in those with a scientific bent, but their resourcefulness rarely seems to extend to CREATIVITY  and herein lies a danger.

Because, as teachers, we like to see these resilience and investigative and connectivity skills we may not look any further. Robert is a natural problem solver and likes to persist in finding his own solutions. The danger is that he could become isolated and his perceived lack of creativity may hinder his learning at higher levels of Maths and Physics where he will need to be more receptive to hunches and inklings. 

With this sort of profile how would you help a student to tap into, and nurture, their creativity; to think outside the box.




Keep track of changes

ELLI tracks progress and records how successful the interventions to strengthen learning weaknesses have been. These 2 examples record both a positive outcome … and the more negative



Gain a bigger picture

To complete the picture … you can capture and explore the development of learning habits across the seven  dimensions for a group, a class or the whole school recorded in bar charts. Such information could be invaluable in helping  you to cultivate and strengthen your students’ learning habits.




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