A passion for learning

Written by: HTU | Published:

Robin Hood Junior and Infant School, a primary school in Birmingham, has been supporting children using negotiated learning concepts. Headteacher, Richard Hunter, explains a little more about the programme

Our work at Robin Hood Junior and Infant School is all based around supporting our children to become happy and independent learners. The negotiated learning, that takes place in a number of formats, focuses on giving our children alternative ways of experiencing learning and teaching, managed in different ways by teachers and the whole-school community. It is all about children bringing their hobbies, interests and passions into school. The challenge for us is how to plan the learning environment to allow each child to pursue their own passion through their learning.

The school has 420 children plus a 39 full-time place nursery. Two thirds of our children are from the Indian sub-continent, a significant number of our children are on the SEN register, many receive free school meals and many faiths are represented. Over the years, the school has successfully developed an independent learning culture but the time came for this to be more formalised and the focus to be on pedagogy and the skills and elements needed to be a real 21st century learner. The school had worked on various strategies around personalising the curriculum but was ready to enhance this work and be challenged by moving this on to a more skills-based negotiated learning curriculum. This would enable each and every child to have the unique opportunity to co-construct their own curriculum, and take control of their individual learning journey and experience some content of their own choice.

The parent’s role

Parents are crucial in supporting their children on this learning journey and each is given the opportunity to plan, with their child, the first activity of the day. The child is expected to take the parent to the particular area of the room where this learning may take place. Parents are one of the main stakeholders in all of this, but it was soon recognised that it is not just parents who are key to the effectiveness of this model. It is all about family engagement. Older siblings, grandparents and other relatives, all of whom make up the whole-school community, support the child on plotting their learning journey. Some parents have commented that as they have other children at home, it is often really difficult to find quality time with just one of their children to share their learning and individual interests.

This designated time at the start of the day provided them a real understanding about how their child learns, what they learn and how as parents they might enrich this learning process. It also helps children and their wider family to become totally engaged and comfortable about being part of school life within the working day. It basically allows and encourages the child to take control over their curriculum. They decide how, where, who with, and what resources (both physical and human) they need to complete their learning journey. This is supported and monitored through coaching and modelling by teachers and teaching assistants. The child is truly building their own set of skills and planning their own route and their own learning journey.

To ensure that all teachers and parents understand this work, a considerable amount of time was invested in exploring the philosophy of “learning agreement time” and accepting that there was no right or wrong. Teachers modelled and parents observed and discussed. We are convinced that this way of learning benefits all.

It does not stop however, at the end of the foundation stage and key stage 1. In key stage 2 this work is focused around project based learning which is driven through the individual child’s passion for a particular project. With older children right through until year 6, alongside their projects, teachers will promote and explore “provocation questioning” which will be discussed during the learning agreement time. One such example, which took place in year 6, was around the theme of how new technologies used at home could impact on learning and in school. Some children felt that they sometimes had to miss their PE because of poor weather conditions. They suggested that if they had access to Wii–fit, they could still experience playing tennis or a similar activity in the class and then have both their PE and an enjoyable time. This idea and practice was filmed and submitted for a competition at the BETT Show. As a result the children concerned were asked to attend the show and received laptops in recognition of their innovative thinking, practice and use of ICT.

This independence created in our children means that they take responsibility for their learning. They will select where, when and how this takes place simply because they are engaged as they have personally negotiated their learning. A further example is that the year 6 children have a private Twitter account to allow them to work in different parts of the school and in different circumstances but still share thoughts and dialogue and offer support and ideas to each other. Traditionally, learning has involved the teacher asking the question and the child locating the answer. This new way of engaging with learning means that the children create many of their own questions and open issues to new and unknown levels.

Allocation of resources

Where there are 30 children in a group, it is inevitable that they may come up with totally different projects, which could not be resourced and supported in an appropriate way. The structure of the session and classroom management necessitate that the teacher offers, suggests and creates areas of provocation. This has to be based around allocation of resources and although it will lead to a smaller number of projects, it means that the children are satisfied that they are still selecting and taking ownership of their learning route. All of this results in a real blurring of boundaries around teaching and learning and involves a whole learning community. Coaching is an important element throughout, both for adults and children.

To encourage and model the practice of an excellent school where this work has already been successfully developed, Robin Hood Junior and Infant School has worked closely with another iNet (the international arm of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) school in Australia. Teachers from both schools have visited each other to witness and share practice and to act as critical friends. Esme Capp, now principal of Princess Hill Primary in Melbourne, has spoken at the SSAT Annual Conference on her work with negotiated learning and the power of the iNet network is most evident in this extremely successful and supportive sharing of ideas, innovation and practice.

Bridging the gap

The challenge is to make any negotiated learning part of the continuous provision of what we deliver in school and that it is seen as a fundamental part of the school curriculum time. It is effectively bridging the gap between the two areas of the school day. Some would ask, “Does this address the standards agenda?”. We would argue that if you are able to capture a child’s passion, this alone will drive the standards agenda simply through a massive increase in their individual motivation to learn. The practice of coaching and talking to children shows us how this really does work. Children confidently and competently use individual netbooks and resources such as Google Docs and have come to the conclusion when interviewed that they learn more when they like what they are learning. It is as simple as that. All of our children expect to be encouraged to steer their own curriculum. This ability to drive and take ownership of their learning in the 21st century is an exciting catalyst for change.

• Robin Hood Junior and Infant School is part of the iNet global network. Further information about iNet can be found at: http://www.ssat-inet.net

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