Case study: Creating Good Learners

Written by: HTU | Published:

The Good Learner project at Inkberrow First School has for the past three years focused on improving children’s learning skills. Heather Thomson and Sharon Cole explain

Four years ago staff were increasingly feeling that our children did not really understand what was required of them in order to do well at school. We had worked hard on ensuring learning objectives and success criteria were shared and understood, but we felt that something was still missing.

Our children didn’t seem to be independently applying skills required to become a good learner. For example, an over reliance on teachers and parents to tell them what to do, a lack of determination or drive to complete tasks to the best of their ability and a general lack of self organisation. We wanted to introduce a whole-school approach to tackle these issues and therefore equip the children with skills that would serve them well, both here in our small first school and in their future lives.



Process

We were aware from the start that this would take time if we wanted to do it justice and for it to have maximum impact. Furthermore, it was vital that all stakeholders were involved – pupils, staff, parents and governors. We began by trying to identify with the staff the skills that the children were missing, (okay let’s be honest by drawing up a list of what was annoying us most about their attitudes to learning – notes and flip charts were created in abundance!).

We then set about trying to fine-tune the list into five key characteristics with which our young children could identify. To be a good learner we felt that the children needed to be: organised, focused, keen, determined, and well-behaved.

Obviously these five learning characteristics may not apply to all settings, but the process in devising them proved to be invaluable and one which we would whole-heartedly recommend. Involving staff in determining the key characteristics gave them an ownership of the project and a belief that we were trying to address areas of concern they had previously raised. It would have been much easier to have taken ideas from publicised schemes but these may not have been relevant to the pupils in our school.

We then needed to get the children on board. We did this initially by unpicking each of the headings and finding examples that would fit each of the five characteristics. For example to be focused the children felt that a good learner would do such things as keep good eye contact with the speaker, not distract anyone else and concentrate on their work.

Once the children had begun to be familiar with the vocabulary, we set about compiling a booklet for the children with these bullet points included, along with an added space for them to reflect on their own learning and identify personal targets.

We put up a large display in the communal entrance area but felt that we needed to think of something visual that the children could associate immediately with being a good learner – and so “Inky Owl” was born!

Inky was a great success with the children, he wore the school colours and started to appear in many classrooms alongside our good learning characteristics. Each child made their own owl which we laminated and they keep in their trays. When they were noticed by staff for being a good learner their owls were put into a box outside the headteacher’s office.

With the children hooked, the next stop was the parents. For the initiative to be successful, we needed parents to understand our rationale and help their children to develop these skills at home.

We decided to hold a meeting, where these key characteristics were unpicked again, but this time with a view on how parents could support their child – for example being organised would include bringing in the correct equipment to school, having enough sleep and arriving on time.

We delivered the message in a very straight-forward way, trying hard to empathise with our parents and certainly not apportion any blame! We were honest about the children’s learning behaviours and parents could see the rationale behind our actions and were very supportive.

Once the rationale had been understood we set about finding ways of bringing it into all aspects of school life, including the following:

• Catchy visuals have been used throughout the school – not only in classrooms and in corridors but also “Inky Owl” now appears on our uniform and school literature, in fact there are owls everywhere! Sometimes we feel we should rename our school “Hogwarts Academy” (a governor has suggested we change our class names next year from birds to different types of owls).

• Celebrating the pupils’ success through our sharing assemblies, stars of the week certificates and chance to have afternoon tea with the headteacher – the children love standing up in the assembly when their owl is held up and are so excited to have drinks and biscuits in the staffroom to celebrate their good learning skills.

• Ensuring it is part and parcel of lessons when agreeing success criteria and reflecting on pupils’ learning in class. Teachers regularly use good learner characteristics when discussing how to be successful in the lessons and children are quick to suggest these themselves.



Impact

Through Learning Walks, observations, work trawls and pupil discussions it is clear that this initiative has had a great impact on our pupil’s learning skills. The most noticeable impact has been the sharing of a common language, a consistency across the school and a clear understanding of what good learning means across all lessons, and indeed in all areas of school life.

The most rewarding part has been the way this is now embedded in all that we do and seems to quite naturally underpin all that we undertake in school. Staff have even been seen wearing clothes with owl motifs on!

Recently we visited our local middle school to discuss the good learner characteristics with our former pupils. The vast majority of them could still remember the five key characteristics and felt they were very useful in all they did in school. Feedback from the head of the year said that our pupils were very resilient, confident to have a go and would persevere at tasks they were given. Hopefully their understanding of what makes a good learner will stay with them throughout their lives.



Future

This has been part of our School Development Plan for the last three years and currently we are focusing on understanding how these five key characteristics can be applied in the core subjects – for example what characteristics a good mathematician would show.

We are also sharing our practice with our partner school in Zambia as a comparison study. Inky has just come back from a visit there having taken a lot of ideas with him and we look forward to hearing about his visit and finding out what Zambian school children think a good learner would look like. It has been a great learning journey for us all and we are not sure which direction Inky will fly next! One thing for sure is that we shall use this process as a blueprint for further developments...

• Heather Thomson is headteacher and Sharon Cole deputy headteacher of Inkberrow First School in Worcestershire.

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.


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