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Playing the Learning Power Game

The job of any teacher is to give learners as real or as ‘whole’ an experience of learning as possible. So as writers of this introductory course about building better learners we wanted to do just that.

We don’t think you would gain a deep sense of your role in developing students’ Learning Power if we simply provided you with examples of three or four things to do in your classroom. If you were learning to play Scrabble you wouldn’t get far if all you were given to learn were lists of three, four and five letter words. Far better to start straight away by playing ‘Junior Scrabble’, so you get the feel for the whole game, and then build up your sophistication as you play.

So you might think of this course as the junior game of learning power. Here you will find all the key elements you will need to introduce the values and activities of building your students’ learning power.


  • Teachers will gain a big picture understanding of how their students can learn better
  • Teaching tips and activities to shift your classroom culture to support learners
  • Teaching for better learning of content.
  • Thought provoking ideas and exemplar practice examples
  • Step by step understanding and self paced learning

What teachers say

“A fascinating and thought provoking journey, I’m waiting for the next step!”

– Joe Bloggs

“This should be taught to every new teacher and old!”

– Jane Bloggs


Course outline

The content of the course

Section 1 What do we mean by learning power?

The underlying ideas, research and models

Here you will find:

  • the two interlinking models of building better learners
  • examples of how the models work in practice;
    • the four learning behaviours to make a start on
    • the essential aspects of classroom practice
    • links with educational research
  • encouragement to try things out with your learners
  • suggestions for how amendments to your teaching will help students to be better learners

Section 2 Classroom relationships

Important shifts in classroom roles

Here you will find:

  • examples of the sort of responsibilities teachers might devolve to learners
  • examples of different ways to be as a teacher
    • modelling the process of learning
    • acting as a coach; asking not telling
    • enabling greater learner responsibility
  • encouragement to try things out with your learners
  • suggestions of ways to plan to expand devolving responsibility to students



Section 3 Talking about learning power

How and when to talk learnish.

Here you will find:

  • examples of how learners can talk about learning
  • examples of different ways to talk about learning
    • nudging the process
    • offering feedback
    • encouraging reflective self-talk
  • encouragement to try things out with your learners
  • suggestions of ways to plan to expand your learning language



Section 4 Designing learning powered lessons

How to put dual-focused lessons together

Here you will find:

  • examples of how teachers manage learning
  • explanations of different ways to plan for learning
    • long term planning
    • medium term planning
    • lesson planning
  • a format to assist in planning dual-focused lessons
  • activities to help start this journey
  • encouragement to try things out with your learners
  • suggestions of ways to plan to expand your lesson design



Section 5 Celebrating learning power

What’s seen as important in learning friendly classrooms

Here you will find:

  • examples of how learners can celebrate their learning
  • examples of different ways to celebrate learning
    • in the growth of learning behaviours
    • in re-defining failure
    • in displays in the classroom
  • encouragement to try things out with your learners
  • suggestions of ways to plan to expand what you celebrate about learning



Section 6 How are our learners developing?

What to look for and record about better learning

Here you will find:

  • explanations of three aspects of progression – frequency, scope and skilfulness
  • Charts showing what the phases of growth look like in relation to;
    • questioning
    • collaboration
    • perseverance
    • revising
  • examples of things to try out with your learners
  • ways of tracking the growth of learning dispositions over time
  • suggestions of ways to plan to expand what you might track about learning

Section 7 Where now: what next?

Here you will find:

  • explorations of ways forward
  • tools to help you consider your growth and development as a teacher
  • descriptions of the next stage online modules that might best support your needs
  • a quick look at professional development approaches you might favour
  • encouragement to further boost your teaching.



Where will it take you? What will you achieve?

And finally – for the big picture thinkers, here is The Big Picture of the (Junior) Learning Power Game.


Download grid – click Enable Editing to reveal overlays

The vertical and horizontal axes of the grid

The vertical axis to the left shows the 4 learning habits you will be working to improve.

The horizontal axis across the top shows the 4 aspects of classroom culture that have to shift to being learning friendly.

On the downloaded spreadsheet, click on the Enable Editing tab and you can reveal reminders by hovering over the cells.


The central 16 cells

These cells serve 2 purposes.


  • The text in each cell gives an indication of the classroom culture that needs to be in place for learners to learn how to learn.
  • When looked at vertically down the page, they map out the 4 aspects of classroom culture.
  • When looked at horizontally across the page, they hint at the ways in which classrooms need to change to enable the 4 key learning behaviours to flourish.


  • On the downloaded spreadsheet, hovering over each cell reveals a teaching idea taken from The Learning Power Game module.
  • These teaching ideas are key to unlocking each cell. There are many other ideas in the module for each cell, but these are the ‘must do’ strategies.

The cells to the bottom and to the right

The green cells across the bottom give an outline of how the teacher’s role develops as they make changes in how they relate and talk to learners and how they construct and celebrate learning. Hovering over each cell gives more detail.

The blue cells to the far right give an indication of the anticipated outcomes for learners in terms of the 4 important learning behaviours and hovering over each cell suggests what you might look for in students.

As you hover over these cells, you will gain a sense of what you might look out for in terms of classroom culture and student learning behaviours.


A sneak preview

Designing dual focused learning

All lessons function on two levels, they have twin intentions. On the one hand there is content to be acquired, and on the other there are learning behaviours to be exercised in pursuit of this content. The factor that differentiates a standard lesson that effectively ‘delivers the content’ from a learning powered lesson is that the teacher has to think, in advance, about:
  • the learning behaviours that are necessary for successful content acquisition;
  • the design of activities or tasks that will stimulate these behaviours;
  • how learners could reflect on and evaluate their use of these behaviours.
The cultural shift is about understanding how students are learning as well as what they are learning.

In this section you will find:

  • examples of how teachers manage learning
  • explanations of different ways to plan for learning
    • long term planning
    • medium term planning
    • lesson planning
  • a format to assist in planning dual-focused lessons
  • activities to help start this journey
  • encouragement to try things out with your learners
  • suggestions of ways to plan to expand your lesson design

The key features of dual-focused teaching

  • Learning, rather than performance is made the object of learning.
  • Reflecting on learning and reviewing learning are designed into lessons
  • Learning activities are designed to stretch and challenge content acquisition and learning behaviours.
  • Lessons become more interesting and challenging by how teachers consciously choose learning behaviours to couple with content.

1. What you’re aiming to achieve…

…is to work out how you might plan and deliver lessons that strengthen learning behaviours

Take a while to read and watch the videos in the account of a Year 6 learning powered maths lesson. [see Stories from classrooms below] Then listen to a teacher in this short video talking about the learning behaviours she uses in Year 6 classes.

Ask yourself;

  • How do my lessons differ from Ms Mann’s lesson?
  • What are the major differences?
  • Would my students be able to learn in these ways?
  • What can’t my students do what Ms Mann’s students can?
  • What clues might this give me for where to make a start?

The Yr 6 teacher in the video from a school in Bradford

  • Here Year 6 focus on a particular set of ‘learning muscles’.
  • Listen carefully to how each ‘muscle’ has been broken down into 3 aspects
  • Would these aspects of learning be useful to your students?
  • Which learning muscle would you introduce when the foundational four; Questioning, Collaboration, Perseverance and Revising, have been established?

2. Explore dual-focused learning

Constructing learning – making learning the object of learning: activities and classroom routines feed learning habits. Challenging learning activities are designed to enable students to understand both the content and the process of learning. They do this by having a dual focus – to explore content and stretch students’ use of their learning behaviours. There is a strong underpinning of not just ‘doing’ learning but reviewing and reflecting on the process in order to make meaning and apply it elsewhere;

Think of your curriculum as something that will provide an apprenticeship for students to become effective lifelong learners; a curriculum that will weave together ‘what’ will be learned and ‘how’ it will be learned in order to develop effective dispositions to learning.

  • Long term planning. At this stage the question you will be asking is ‘What kinds of learning will deliver the school’s desired outcomes for students?’ Core learning habits often get overlooked in any system design because they are less immediately tangible than changing the content structure or updating the assessment regime. But in this ‘apprenticeship’ student’s learning dispositions will need to be fostered in everything the school does.The kinds of broad brush learning approaches that help and fit well with developing Learning Power outcomes are;
Examples of learning approaches,
  • Problem based learning
  • Action based learning
  • Enquiry based learning
  • Extended projects
  • Peer teaching
  • Students critiquing their own learning
  • Assessment for learning
Take a moment to think about which learning behaviours such approaches are likely to favour and grow.
  • Medium term planning; Planning units of work involves deciding objectives, success criteria, what is being learned at each stage, prompts about new things being learned and what the end needs to look like. But at this stage it’s useful to identify the learning behaviours that will be used through the unit. Some primary schools display unit plans on classroom walls enabling students to become more aware of and talk about what they are learning about AND the learning behaviours they are using to help them get-to-grips with the content.
  • Lesson planning. When planning a lesson turn your thinking around. Think learning not teaching. Ask not –How can I best put this over to students, BUT which learning behaviour[s] will best enable students to get to grips with this content? What type of activity will best harness and stretch these learning behaviours?

3. Practical things to try

3a Re-think learning goals to capture student buy-in

Evidence shows that goals that relate to doing something or researching something, or creating something . . are better motivators than goals that relate to knowing something or doing well in a test. Put the ‘how’ before the ‘what’. Write goals that start with some indication of the sort of ‘effort’ or way of doing something;
  • work with a partner to decide why…….
  • use your problem solving skills to work out……
  • use your imagination to …
  • using your xxx (closed/open/ sifting/) questioning skills work out/identify…
By devising goals/objectives such as these you are paying some attention to how students will be learning as well as what they will be learning.

3b Strengthen questioning

Frame lessons with a Driving Question

Give students a pack of cards that describe the 10 or so sections in an extended project based on the Driving Question: Where’s the safest place to live? Ask them to sequence the material to make clearest sense. Ask them to give each section a generic heading. Challenge students to prepare the outline structure for a response to other Driving Questions, for example, ‘Is Planet Earth injury prone?’ ‘Where did the dinosaurs go?’ ‘Why don’t people stay at home?’ ‘Should we choose to end a human life?’ ‘Is the idea of God more trouble than it’s worth?’ ‘What if we all lived for exactly 70 years?’ ‘What would happen if the moon vanished?’ ‘If cows were more intelligent, would we still eat them?’ Agree with the class the generic headings for an extended piece of work – display it as an aide-memoire in the future.

3c Strengthen Collaboration

Start lessons with a grapple task

A good grapple problem is challenging and centres on learning that is just beyond the students’ reach/experience. They give students a chance to wrestle with the problem before they have been taught methods for tackling it. They are allowed to solve it in any way they want and in doing so they are discovering their own approaches and exposing their own tricky bits. Blend grapple tasks with Think Pair Share to give learners time to think by themselves, share ideas with a partner before discussing it more widely. By using grapple tasks you are getting the students to:
  • develop problem solving skills
  • build resilience
  •  ‘have a go’
  • reduce fear of mistakes.
And by blending Think / Pair / Share, you are promoting pair work, the bridge between private thoughts and collaborative learning. This often used T/P/S activity gives students a voice, and represents a tiny shift in the relationship between teacher and pupil. Don’t forget to discuss which strategies were used, which were successful/effective and why.

blended with . . .

Image result for think pair share

3d Strengthen Perseverance

Increase opportunities to persevere

Re-frame Challenge by giving Mistakes a status, a key role in learning.
  • Give mistake quotas. Tell students you expect them to make, say 3 in a lesson. If not, the challenges they are tackling are too easy and they should move to harder ones.
  • Explore the concept of ‘Good mistakes’ – where the student has misunderstood something thus enabling you and the student to track the issue
  • Offer a range of ‘good mistakes’ at the start of a lesson for students to find, explore and correct.
  • Give time in lessons for students to Trial and Improve something. Discard ‘trial and error’.

3e Strengthen Revising

What do you see here?

[Reveal an image a bit at a time. In this case reveal from the top downwards] Use this type of lesson starter to frame students’ minds to be ready to adjust their point of view, to change their mind or revise their ideas. The technique, illustrated here through the picture of a dog carrying a message leaping over First World War trenches, can be applied to any image where there is some kind of unexpected juxtaposition of conflicting aspects within the same picture. The purpose is to draw students into speculating about various parts of the image before revealing the full image. This will necessarily require them to revise and build on their first impressions. The underlying message is that new information often forces us to change our original understandings.

An example dual-focused lesson and a further teaching idea

To enable students to select their own levels of challenge

Image result for nandos chilliProvide tasks that are designed to offer low, medium and high challenge (or cool, spicy, hot.) Allow students to decide on the level of challenge that they wish to undertake, and use it as an opportunity to encourage them to aim high. Use the Nando’s Peri-ometer as a visual aid to support the ranking of tasks by level of challenge, and allow students to select the level of challenge that they wish to undertake.

4. Redesign your practice

Take a look at a few more ideas you might want to try. Take it steady, this way of planning and delivering learning is a fairly big shift so it’s worth moving forward slowly and thoughtfully.
Look first at the Stop/avoid ideas. Some of these are far from trivial but it’s best to try to remove them before starting on the Start/do more of, Start slowly and Experiment with ideas.

What do you think?

  • Which of the ideas appeal to you most?
  • Can you see ways of incorporating these into your classroom?
  • Which would make the biggest difference to your students?
  • Which would make your life easier?

Make a note of…Little_r

  • Ideas that you want to try and the impact you hope they will have on your classroom culture and on your students.
In relation to designing dual-focused lessons for your students note down your personal commitment to a couple of:
  • things you want to start doing
  • things you think you need to stop doing (that’s harder)
  • things you want to keep doing
  • things you want to do more often
  • things you want to do less
Translate your ideas into a short plan of action. In terms of how learning is constructed, ask yourself;
  • How would I like my classroom culture to be different?
  • What aspects of my learning culture need to be improved/changed?
  • Which of the practical ideas for doing something different seem most appropriate?
  • What outcomes do I hope for my students as a result of these cultural changes?

Talk, support and plan with colleagues

Your school’s Teacher Learning Community or other such forums will give you the support you need to develop your practice in deep and lasting ways. This forum will support you in converting the information and ideas in the online materials into “lived” practices in your classroom. Learn with colleagues by;
  • kicking around ideas from the online content,
  • unpacking it’s meaning when it’s unclear,
  • considering what’s do-able and appropriate for your students
  • making plans for what and how you might incorporate the ideas into your practice
  • sharing and unpacking what you have tried in the classroom
  • relating your triumphs and tribulations
  • supporting colleagues through their changes in practice
  • reflecting on what you hope you might do, or have done, differently
The format of the agenda below is based on research into teacher learning communities by Dylan Wiliam, of Assessment for Learning (AfL) fame. Teacher learning communities are the engines of teacher development.

Learning Team meeting agenda


Session agenda

  1. Agreeing objectives and agenda (5 mins)
  2. Reporting from colleagues about how previous ideas have worked (15 mins)
  3. Re-capping the online materials (10 mins)
  4. Deciding what’s to be done across the school (5 mins)
  5. Personal Action Planning (20 mins)
  6. Evaluating the meeting process (5 mins)

1. Session objectives: What do we want to achieve? (5 mins)

  • Feel confident about working as a team
  • Learn from what and how previous ideas have worked in classrooms
  • Feel able to apply the ideas from online materials in the classroom
  • Decide the strategic cultural issues that everyone needs to apply in their classroom
  • Plan some do-able shifts in classroom practice

2. Reports from classroom enquiries (15 mins)

  • What was tried?
  • How did it work?
  • What would you change to make it work better?
  • How did students react?
  • Any loner term benefits for students?

3. Recapping on-line materials: What did we think of the materials? (10 mins)

Thoughts about:
  • Your students as learners
  • Your design and delivery or dual focused lessons  
  • Ideas for activities and routines
  • Suggested teacher talk.

4. Planning what to do across the school. (5 mins)


  • Are there any ideas that we should all adopt as whole school strategies?
  • Should such ideas be woven into school policies?

5. Personal action planning. What am I going to do? (20 mins)

Think about what you are trying to achieve.

Gain more value from a plan by creating it around a question. Why a question? Because this is an enquiry, you want to find out if something will change (student behaviour) when you change something specific. Think of it like this:

If I do XXXX will it improve/develop/enhance YYYY?

This is the crunch question. Students are unlikely to change unless your behaviour changes! Visualise how you want your students to be and then think about what you might do, or say, or model, or celebrate, or whatever…. differently to bring about this change in students.   Developing an enquiry question – .pdf The learning enquiry plan is a record of what you intend to do. It takes your enquiry question from what to how. Remember;
  • you can adapt the activities/ideas that you chose to ensure they meet the needs of your students;
  • make the plan specifically focus on development;
  • concentrate on no more than three actions;.
  • decide how to map your actions over the next three or four weeks;
  • It’s useful to think about what you are going to do less of to make room for the changes.
The format below may help you think through the planning process. You can fill in your Personal Action Plan using the word document version.
Download MS Word version As part of your plan it’s important to record what you will monitor over the weeks. Changes you expect to see in your practice. For example what do you expect to;
  • see yourself doing differently?
  • hear yourself saying more often, with greater commitment, more effectively?
  • look out for in order to find out which approach best suits most students?
  • feel less stressed about? What will indicate that?
  • monitor to make sure more meta-cognitive talk becomes established?
Changes you expect to see in your students. For example do you expect students to:
  • spend more time on task;
  • engage more readily;
  • display greater motivation / satisfaction / enjoyment / commitment;
  • other.
Noting such changes will motivate you to continue with your experiments because the changes in students are almost always positive. The plan represents a promise to do it. This promise helps you to keep the plan as a priority in your mind. Capture classroom changes you want to monitor in your learning notepad.

6. Evaluate team session: How did we do as a team? (5 mins)

  • Did we achieve our objectives?
  • Are we comfortable with what we are trying to achieve?
  • Any concerns at this point?
  • Next meeting date and time.

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