How we learn…

As a (teaching) profession, we debate the minutiae of teaching & how we can apply research, a lot (& disagree just as often).

And yet, despite this debate, there seems to be little agreement on (or indeed much time spent discussing) the biggest question in our profession…what does research tell us about how we learn?

If we don’t agree how learning happens ( & maximise our teaching to ensure it) aren’t we missing the big picture?

I’m finally prepared to nail my colours to the mast…I’ve arrived at a belief about which learning-theory works( & the amazing staff @WilmslowGrange have applied it with inspiring results).
I believe that learning is the result of a consistent application of the following four processes:

IGNITION: getting pupils inspired!! & then igniting & re-igniting *that* passion, excitement & dare-i-say ‘fun’.

HIGH PITCH, DEEP PRACTICE: Working for a LONG time on something you find DIFFICULT whereby the IGNITION sustains your interest & keeps you working hard.

GREAT FEEDBACK from an expert coach (a teacher / an HLTA / an LSA etc.) 

And GREAT SELF-FEEDBACK I.e. knowing what “better” looks like, with Success Criteria & models that help to build understanding so pupils can help themselves move from their current state of ‘not-knowing’ to one of ‘knowing’. 
A Teaching & Learning policy that defines exactly how a school teaches, based on these principles is a very powerful thing. 

The four processes are based on the work of Professor Carol Dweck, of Shirley Clarke & of Professor K Anders Ericsson from Florida State University. 

From Dweck: the necessity of high-pitch teaching (& the necessity of developing a growth mindset to assist with this).

From Clarke: the strength of Success Criteria, models & high-quality feedback.

& from Ericsson: the need for IGNITION & the vital-importance of ‘deep practice’ i.e. working for a long time at the specific thing you’re trying to learn (& conversely not spending any time on the things you’re not trying to learn).
So how does that work in our school?

IGNITION: at @WilmslowGrange we build specific time into the timetable for every class to become inspired. Every three weeks, our amazing staff plan an inspiring day for the pupils to ignite their interest; immerse them in the information & vocabulary they’ll need over the following three weeks & also to start each topic positively. 

There has been an ‘archaeological dig’ (with cataloging & dating of broken pottery & bones); a BFG day with giant cookies, Frobscottle to drink, dreamcatchers & dream jars made; there have been football tournaments; visits from Roman Centurions & Slaves; an Under-the-Sea day with T-Shirt making; there have been trips to Manchester Museum, with a Dinosaur workshop; a Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe Day and on Monday of this week (9.1.17) there was an Ancient Greek day for Year 3&4 with Hummous, grape juice, stuffed vine leaves, togas & Ancient Greek & an African Day for Year 1&2 with African costumes, drumming & dance … & that’s all since September. The children don’t write on these days (that’s not what they’re learning to do) & they’re mostly linked to topic work (but only where the children will be truly inspired by the topic).
HIGH PITCH, DEEP PRACTICE: at @WilmslowGrange our Teaching & Learning policy sets the expectation that pupils will practice (the thing they are trying to learn…be it Writing, Reading or Mathematics) a LOT.

By the end of the first week of a 3-week (single-genre) block, pupils will have written an extended piece of in-context writing based on 3 full days of extended writing (roughly equivalent to Three “Big Writes”). They complete a similar amount in week 2 & repeat in week 3 (as well as spending 2.5 discreet lessons planning; 2 discreet lessons publishing & 1 discreet lesson publishing, every 3 weeks). The ‘high pitch’ is set via the Success Criteria with very high expectations & great modelling from teachers. Pupils in Year 1 & 2 are using brackets & ellipsis; all pupils are encouraged to be cursive and pride & presentation standards & vocabulary & grammatical knowledge are very high across the school. 

GREAT FEEDBACK FROM AN EXPERT COACH: growth mindset marking focused on what-to-do-next, every day!

SELF-FEEDBACK: all pupils see high-expectation models in reading, writing & mathematics lessons & receive Success Criteria in reading & writing to ensure they know what to do next.
In this way, reading, writing & mathematics attainment, progress & enjoyment has been transformed.

– maths attainment is now in the top-350 schools in the country (previously unlisted)

– Reading attainment is now in the top-1000 schools in the country (previously unlisted)

– Writing attainment is well-above national comparisons

– We have reduced the number of pupils below national expectation within the school from 64 to 16 (out of 220+)

– Higher Ability progress is VERY high (showing that the growth mindset approach is embedded, because they are pushed on despite being HA)

– SEND progress is VERY high (you are better off being SEND -progress-wise- than almost any other group).

– Boys writing has risen by 30% from 53% at national-ecpectatimg, to 84%
Alex(y4) recently said “it’s really hard, but it’s the right-kind of hard” & that pretty-much sums it up. Similarly one girl (y5) had just re-attained national-expectations in all 3 specific subjects for the first time in her school career, having previously been labelled SEND. 
By applying the lessons from Ericsson’s & Dweck’s research, we have been able to build a Teaching & Learning Policy that produces transformative results for pupils.

In short, by building our school around the “how” of “how we learn” we feel like we have unlocked the power of our pupils.

We welcome the increasing numbers of visitors that are visiting to see the Teaching & Lesrhing policy in action & also welcome any feedback on similarities or differences from other schools – only by sharing “what works” will we find a better way…