Learning update

24th June 2015

Our Approach to Learning


I am sure many of you are aware of the stye of learning that we are using at both of our schools. It is different to most conventional approaches (very brave!) but our school ethos is so strong on ensuring the needs of the child at the heart of everything we do.

Why did we reconsider our approach? Although our results have always been very good, we felt that our pupils were not resilient learners. They were complaint and we needed to expose them to a world of adventure and uniqueness as every learning journey is individual. We believed we may have been holding learning back and focusing on task completion rather than embedding life long skills.

What learning skills did we feel our pupils needed to grasp? We believed our pupils needed the opportunity to explore learning in a way that totally equipped them for the the life journey they will experience and the people they will become;

  • open minded

  • resilient

  • focused

  • intuitive

  • reflective

  • willing to take risks

  • not willing to give up easily

  • considerate towards the learning and ideas of others

  • supportive of others

  • respectful of knowledge

  • enthusiastic

  • proud

So what did we do?  We looked at the lesson preparation method we used and found it to be ‘boxed off’ into days with pupils being directed into sessions of learning rather than allowing pupils to work at their own pace. We shared our ideas with our pupils and they told us that they would prefer to learn at their own pace. They also told us that teachers talk too much to the whole class and they found this to be a waste of time. They preferred adults to be enablers, supporting them when they were stuck, listening when they needed to think aloud or were ready to move on to the next step. 

We could see this as a negotiation, with adults facilitating learning rather than leading and controlling it. It was a shift of professional thought for us all as it involved pupils leading the learning. We had confidence in them to approach this positively and they have no failed us. Infact, we have been blown away by their response to our change of learning experiences.

So, how do we plan for learning? We see the acquisition of skills as a series of steps to success. We broke down each set of learning into smaller, ‘bite size’ chunks which the pupils would work their wway through at their own pace. The planning takes the form of a long list of small objectives which are the How to… steps and they appear on the classroom wall as a list. Pupils work from the top down and record where they are simply by putting their name by the step they are on.

What does it look like in practice? The classroom is a hive of industry with no one wasting time. Pupils naturally form small groups to learn together or choose to work alone. They ask each other for advice and support which re-inforces learning. They listen to each other, create teams, ask questions and negotiate. Above all else, rapid and meaningful learning takes place and there are no pupils off task as everyone is working at the cutting edge of their learning. All pupils know the importance of moving learning on and can describe their learning in depths we have not seen before.  The staff move seamlessly between groups or individuals, where ever they are needed. No-one knows how the lesson will develop and they are excited by that. No one is rushed to complete a task and, more importantly, no-one is asked to continue doing something they fully understand.

What impact has it had on learning? Our results have always been high at both schools and they remain high. We are seeing more consistency in termly progress which we have monitored very closely over the 18 months we have trialled this unique way of working. 35% of pupils are expected to make better than expected progress over a year. In many year groups this is 100% with many pupils taking this even further. We are immensly proud of this.

What do our pupils tell us about their learning?  We have seen a complete change of attitude in our pupils. They are proud to speak about their learning and value it highly. They speak of their achievements with great joy and want to talk about learning. Pupils enjoy sharing success and will generously support others who may find something tricky. The classroom culture is calm, yet purposeful, focused yet comfortable and driven by a sense of wanting to achieve. During observations on lesson quality we consistently see an purposeful and mutually respectful culture of partnership.

What does our School Improvement Partner tell us in his role as external moderator?

In his last report he wrote;

 •       This is almost as good as it gets! From the moment the consultant entered the school gates the warm welcoming atmosphere of the school was apparent. Children were oozing with excitement at the start of the school day ahead and raring to go, parents eager to describe their delight with the efforts of the school and staff cheerfully greeting the community as they entered the classrooms. It was an atmosphere that continued throughout the day.

  • On entering the classrooms the consultant was greeted with pupils eager to show him their work and tell him about their learning. They confidently pointed out how they had improved over the year and described their learning. Their whole emphasis was on learning and how the structure of lessons helps them to achieve so well and develop their independence. Pupils’ work is very well presented – some of it quite beautifully – and demonstrates their excellent behaviour and attitudes to learning. They consistently display a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning. Their attitudes to learning are of an equally high standard. All groups of pupils are safe and feel safe.
  • Teachers have consolidated systems and procedures which are consistent across the school and ensure the excellent progress of all pupils in their care, regardless of age or level of ability. They move around the classroom checking on individuals and groups of pupils in their learning, challenging and occasionally briefly stopping the class to draw attention to significant aspects of the lesson. They are very adept at facilitating learning for all – asking excellent questions, providing a range of appropriate resources and demonstrating exceptional classroom management. Teaching assistants play a very important part in pupils’ learning and are very effective in what they do. They apply the same systems and procedures used by the teachers so that learning is seamless as pupils move between teachers, assistants or their peers when they recognise the need ask advice or receive instruction. Overall there is an undeniable culture of learning which permeates throughout the whole school.

So, what next? We will continue to grow and develop this culture for learning. Our next focus will be;

  • to include a series of ‘tests’ amongst the steps so that pupils have the opportunity to have their understanding assessed in a more formal setting. The tests will consist of a very short set of questions and pupils will have 5 minutes to answer them. We will find this supportive experieince for more formal testing that pupils face during their school career.

  • Include a step which encourages Consider….   This will encourage reflection and mastery of understanding.

How can we help at home? There are many ways you can support this learnig style at home.

  • Always ask your child ‘What did you learn today?’ rather than ‘What did you do?’ The answer to the first question will contain learning that took place. The answer to the second question often involes a less detailed description of an activity. Eg. ‘We learnt that a the sum of the angles of a triangle = 180’ rather than ‘We did maths.’

  • Ask your child what puzzled them today. Ask them how they overcame the puzzle.

  • Use rich learning vocabulary like; learning power, listening, negotiating, wondered, puzzled, stuck, new learning, next step tomorrow.

  • Take time each day to look at the skills progression ladder on the classroom wall. Let your child evaluate with you what they did yeterday and how they are prepared for today.

  • Offer to help your child do some ‘pre learning’ ready for the next day.

  • Think of ways to support and extend learning achieved at school thereby creating that vital learning link between home and school. Children love bringing things in to share.


Want to know more? I have asked Richard Chalkley, our School Improvement Officer to feed back to you on his next visit.

He will be at Sithney on 30th June and at Garras on 2nd July and will meet parents at 2:30pm.