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Section 2 further information


What’s in store?

A culture for Building Learning Power_v2.1_01

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Welcome to Stepping Stones Phase 1. This first session is designed to guide you through a process of understanding, assessing and improving your classroom learning culture; making it more learning friendly in order to build your students’ learning power.


Click here to download your Learning Diary

Learning Diary. This resource will help you to distil important messages, home in on the key bits of information and design learning experiments specifically for your students.

My Learning Diary_ Towards Learning Friendly Classroom Culture_Wkbk_v5

Section 1. Learning cultures. A big shift? Unpick the meaning of classroom cultures, what they might consist of and the big shifts that may be needed to develop better learning. Use the culture tool to estimate where your classroom culture is now.

Section 2. Learning friendly cultures; Lots of little shifts. Find out about the four big dimensions of culture and use the culture tool 1 to estimate the sorts of shifts your classroom culture would benefit from.

Section 3. Your classroom culture. Some ideas to get you started. Look for ideas to strengthen your learner/learning classroom culture.

Section 4. Team reflection and planning. Share the results of your culture analysis with colleagues. Make plans for what everyone needs to do and what you will each do individually.

Why education needs to change

1. Students throughout the world need now to reach higher levels of achievement, not only to find fulfilling work but also to empower themselves to thrive in an increasingly complex world.

  • Employment requires being able to enhance and transfer knowledge and to operate collaboratively.
  • The capacity to learn and to adapt needs to be lifelong because change is a permanent state.

2. Research in the learning sciences shows that learning itself is learnable; that we, as a species, can get better at learning. This means we, schools, teachers, parents, can grow/develop better, more effective learners.

  • Vast amounts of information is available and learners, young and old, need to know how to find and select relevant information, to process it, connect it, to understand it and use it.
  • Learning is increasingly taking place in different settings and with different relationships. Learning is a way of life.

A culture for Building Learning Power_v2.1_02

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Section 1. Learning cultures. A big shift? Unpick the meaning of classroom cultures, what they might consist of and the big shifts that may be needed to develop better learning. Use the culture tool to estimate where your classroom culture is now.

Building Learning Power is about creating a culture in classrooms – and in the school more widely – that systematically cultivates habits and attitudes that enable young people to face difficulty calmly, confidently and creatively. By a ‘culture’ we mean all the little habits, routines and practices that implicitly convey ‘what we believe and value round here’. The medium of a school is its most powerful message, and the most important messages are conveyed to students in classrooms. Classrooms are the places where, hour by hour, students experience the values and practices that are embodied in the school, rather than just the ones that are espoused.

As Ron Ritchhart observes in ‘Creating Cultures of Thinking’:

“The culture of the classroom teaches. It not only sets the tone for learning but also determines what gets learned. The messages sent through the culture of the classroom communicate to students what it means to think and learn well. These messages are a curriculum in themselves, teaching students how to learn and ways of thinking.” 

So ‘culture’ concerns the details of the micro-climate that teachers create in their classrooms. What they do and say, what they notice and commend and what they don’t, what kind of role model of a learner they offer: all these are of the essence. And what really matters is how they design and present activities so that, over the course of a term or a year, their students are cumulatively getting a really good all-round mental work-out. All the learning bits of their brains are being stretched and strengthened, one by one and all together.

So what does a culture shift mean? What sort of classroom cultures are there and which one do we need if students are going to understand and improve themselves as learners?

Moving towards a culture that is ripe for students to learn about learning can take a while. Research undertaken by Chris Watkins, at the London Institute of Education, suggests three different types of classroom culture.

As you read on, think of these descriptions as stages in a journey you may need to travel.


Teacher centred classrooms

Firstly, many classrooms could be thought of as teacher centred. Here the overriding emphasis is on what the teacher is doing or saying. Learners have little to do but listen and be told what to do. In these classrooms students can see themselves as isolated, passive and dependent on the teacher for the acquisition of knowledge. Here the conception of learning is “learning = being taught”. The teacher and teaching are dominant. Students have what’s been called a ‘thin’ description of their own learning and they have an impoverished view of their own role in learning.

Learner centred classrooms

The learner centred classroom is where students take a more active part in deciding what to do. The purpose is seen as the learner making meaning. So ‘content’ is not just stuff to be taught but for connecting to previous knowledge, extending understanding and helping learners to see things in new ways. Here there will be more collaborative learning where students have dialogues about what they are learning and create meaning together. There will also be more learner-driven learning where learners might have a role in the agenda through questioning or organising an enquiry and evaluating the products.

Learning centred classrooms

It’s only when the above dimensions are present to some extent that it becomes realistic to add another – that of learning about learning itself. Learners collaborating, taking a role in learning, using questions to drive learning and so forth give a firm platform on which to build powerful learners. Now we can add a language about learning for pupils and teachers alike, and practise meta-learning. Through such practices students come to see themselves as learners, develop stories about their experiences, understand the learning behaviours they are using and develop and propose improvements. They are able, consciously, to grow their learning habits.

Culture Tool 1

Culture tool 1

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The image above offers some broad descriptors of the learning cultures just described. The gap between teacher and learning centred cultures is considerable. To move from a teacher focused to a learning focused culture requires learners to become increasingly more active and collaborative. If you try and add learning-centred (BLP) ideas to teacher focused regimes the change won’t stick and indeed could backfire and be detrimental. Where is your culture now?

Download a copy of this informal classroom culture review tool.( Culture Tool 1 ) Spend a little time thinking about your own classroom culture against the indicators for each classroom culture. Where would you say your classroom culture is now?

Highlight the indicators that best describe your classroom culture now. NB. There will probably be a mixture of teacher and learner focused features.

So where is your classroom culture just now?

  • Which panel has most statements highlighted?
  • What does that imply?
  • Would your students see it the same way?
  • Which statement in the middle panel would you most want to be able to highlight to make your classroom more learner friendly? i.e. in place in your classroom.
  • OR
  • What do you need to work on first in the right hand panel to make your classroom more learning friendly?

Make a note of…


  • The statement you most want to be able to highlight.

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