There are many practical things that we can all do to enable our children to learn such as developing a learning area in our house, providing resources, monitoring and encouragement. Using Guy Claxton’s BLP approach is going one stage further than these facilitators. Following his principles will actually enable our pupils and students to view their learning in an entirely different way. BLP shifts the way that young people approach challenges, it develops their interest in learning for life and it increases their achievement. Not only this, but it also gives them vital “capacities” which will be useful their future, regardless of their career or life ambitions. There are small, subtle ways that this can be achieved.
The conversations we have about learning are incredibly powerful. Claxton recommends that parents talk to their children about the process of learning. This doesn’t necessarily have to be about learning in a school based context- learning happens everywhere - on the hockey pitch, in the kitchen, when watching TV, when doing DIY. If you were to use the same language of learning in your conversations at home as we do at school (see your child’s planner), the ‘learning transfer’ will enable our pupils and students to develop more rapidly and see the vital links between the real world and the classroom. Even changing the language you use from “work” to “learning” may have an impact.
Learning is a life-long pathway, so adults are role model learners for young people. Modelling or show-casing learning in life is very important as our children grow as they will develop habits based on watching us. How we respond to learning situations in life will show our learners how to respond in the classroom and beyond. Overtly talking about our learning; how we learnt something, how we felt at the different stages, what we learnt from it etc. will demonstrate positive learning dispositions to our children, and make them aware of the process of learning. Research tells us that being aware of this learning process reaps rewards.
Claxton recommends that parents spend time with their children when they are doing difficult things and enjoying “being stuck”, that we tell our children stories about our learning difficulties (and how you overcame them), and that we are open about not knowing all the answers. These ideas demonstrate that we are all learners, and that it’s okay to “not know”. If children see adults modelling “good/deep learning” and showing how they behave (both intellectually and emotionally) when coming up against challenges, then they will learn from this and groove positive habits of mind.
Feeling “stuck” or confused can be approached in a variety of ways. Although in the past, people may have felt embarrassed by it, finding things difficult shouldn’t necessarily be frowned on. We have all struggled at some stage in our lives. World greats through time -Einstein, Shakespeare, Beethoven – even David Beckham- have had to develop determination and “resilience” when they come up against challenges. They all had to develop their ideas and practice, practice, practice. No-one is born great. Some learners suffer from “learned helplessness” and give up when things get tough as “I can’t do it” and they don’t want to be seen to “fail”.
At Bay House, we celebrate being “stuck” as this shows a learner is being challenged and they are therefore developing. The satisfaction they will get from “getting themselves unstuck” will be far greater, and the act of sticking with a difficult task will be a learning tool in itself- developing determination, independence and confidence. So how can parents help with this?
A simple way to develop a desire to learn is by parents and teachers celebrating the feeling of being stuck. If our children doesn’t understand something, demonstrating this as a challenge to solve, as an idea to think through, as a “knotty problem” will move them from believing that they shouldn’t show their misconceptions and confusion for fear of being perceived as “less able” for not initially and innately understanding a concept, towards a celebration of exploring possible ideas. One simple technique may be to have a “best/most complicated question” rolling challenge as a family. This could be about anything at all, and it could be the family members challenge to find out the answer!
Another way is to help them to develop strategies they could use to get themselves unstuck. When they come up with a problem in life, instead of telling them how to solve it, they could instead develop a “list of things to do when they don’t know what to do”- resources to use, questions to ask, where to look etc. They could keep working list somewhere special or somewhere they see often around the home. From then on, if they present a problem of “I don’t understand....”, then we can refer them to the list and say “what do you do when you don’t know what to do?”
BLP teachers and parents also endeavour to reward effort rather than ability. So instead of “aren’t you clever?” we say “didn’t you work hard”. If a child sees ability as fixed and unchanging, if praised for this they won’t “try harder” or “get unstuck” as they will believe that ability not effort reaps dividends. In fact, recent research indicates that the opposite is true.
We could also consider the questions we ask to children at the end of a school day:
What was hard for you today?
Which learning capacities have you been stretching?
Did you ask any good questions?
Did you risk tackling something new?
What did you manage to improve?
Did you make any interesting mistakes?
These techniques also subtly send out the message that it is okay to experiment with ideas, to take risks in learning and to make mistakes, as these all show that we are learning.
In 2010 Bay House School was delighted to receive a visit from Professor Guy Claxton, author of acclaimed books Building Learning Power and What’s the Point of School, to join them in their journey towards a deeper-learning pedagogy. The school has undertaken some ground-breaking work in enhancing life-long learning capacities, including the creation a learner-composed bespoke language for learning and the use of new technologies to promote CPD. We now hope to spread this work to parents through the series of @bayhousehome technologies.
The school’s bespoke Language for Learning emerged from a period of consultation with the school’s learners. “We involved pupils from Year 7 right through to students in the Sixth Form,” says Mr Matthias, Senior Teacher for Teaching and Learning, “we presented them with Claxton’s model as well as the language from the DCSF’s Personal Learning and Thinking Skills. It was a fascinating process, asking them what it meant to be a good learner. They were able to identify that good Behaviour for Learning was more than just compliance behaviours – that it meant actively cultivating a variety of learning capacities.”
The school’s corridors and classrooms proudly display posters capturing this language for learning, with several hundred around the site, but they are not simply window-dressing, they are active teaching tools. “We wanted to address the strategic element of learning,” says Dr. Hall, Assistant Headteacher, “and part of that is using a common language across different areas of the curriculum.” Teachers and learners are increasingly referring to this language as a part of everyday practice. Pupils are asked to reflect not just on what they have been learning, but how they have been doing it.
The Language for Learning has also pervaded many of aspects of the school’s practice. The school’s Values and Ethos has been rewritten to embrace the language of learners, bespoke self-assessment wheels are being added to pupils planners, and the school’s lesson observation proforma has been reworked to include a greater focus on learning capacities. The biggest change, however, has been in the classroom, where learners are being encouraged to think creatively, enquire, participate, reflect, work together and self-manage.
Some of these ‘deeper learning’ lessons have also been filmed and placed on the school’s internal YouTube-style television channel. “It seemed like such an obvious way to share good practice. There are so many video tutorials online to learn about all kinds of things, so why not pedagogy?” says Mr Matthias, “We also felt that it was important to see ourselves as model-learners.” An online discussion forum that was established for teachers to share lesson ideas and resources on the school’s intranet has also proved to be extremely popular. “The most exciting thing was hearing staff discussing teaching and learning,” said Miss Bainbridge, “the process has forced us all to think about what it means to be a good learner.”
"Professor Claxton doesn’t often visit individual schools," said Dr Hall, "So we are very excited about this visit. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to have a world-renowned expert on learning visit your school. We have come on long way on our learning journey, but we realise that there is some way to go yet." The school’s MA Hub is linked to the University of Winchester, where several staff are modelling life-long learning by undertaking research about the school’s changing approach to pedagogy.
“Obviously we hope this approach will help learners in examinations,” he explains, “but the prize is even greater than that. We want to cultivate life-long learners that are resourceful and resilient. It’s not about preparing learners for a life of tests but, as Claxton says, preparing them for the tests of life.”