Independent learning, resilience and reflection skills

Written by: HTU | Published:

Two schools have taken some creative approaches to helping their pupils become more independent, resilient and reflective. Alison Willmott reports

Learning monsters, Mistake Mice, a “Dragon’s Den’ in the classroom, and thunks! 

Not programmes from the CBBC schedule, but some of the innovative strategies employed by teachers at two Hertfordshire primary schools as part of their own action-research projects.

Springmead Primary School and The Grove Academy are two of the first primary schools to take part in the Futurelab at NFER Enquiring Schools programme, which encourages teachers to engage in and with educational research. 

The two schools worked with their facilitator to identify enquiry questions and devise success indicators and simple baselines against which evidence of impact could be measured. 

Having looked at the work of evidence-based researchers such as Professor John Hattie and the Sutton Trust, the schools decided that their enquiries would focus on investigating a variety of approaches to help pupils become more independent, resilient and reflective.

Making the journey

One year 2 group decided to introduce learning logs as part of their enquiry, to encourage their pupils to be more reflective about their learning. The staff began by asking the children to talk about the things they enjoyed and found challenging, and what they thought good learning looked like. This was recorded in a variety of ways including film clips, photographs and thought bubbles. Staff were surprised and initially rather disappointed by the children’s responses – a typical example is pictured here. 

Despite the disappointment, the replies did prove useful starting points from which to measure progress. Other replies included:

  • Doing what the teacher tells them. Looking in dictionaries.
  • A sensible learner looks sensible listening, arms folded, or in laps, legs crossed, finger on lips, and your arms, hands, feet and legs are as quiet as a mouse.
  • Good learning looks like Josh!

Other year groups explored growth mind-set and meta-cognitive strategies to enable pupils to talk more effectively about learning, respond to feedback and develop a “rucksack of skills” to help them cope with SATs and the subsequent move to secondary school.

The early years and key stage 1 teams also researched ways to encourage children to recognise and talk about learning more effectively. One group introduced a “learning monster”, who the children would tell about the activities they had done and what they had learned. The children loved it, were always keen to respond to the monster’s questions, and improved their vocabulary and maturity of spoken language. 

Nursery and Foundation groups focused on the importance of review time, looking at the confidence levels of support staff in this area and running training sessions on effective recall, modelling good practice and the use of learning stories.

Measuring the impact

The opportunity to collaborate and reflect on their findings as part of their action-research journey was something that staff from both schools particularly valued – holding a celebration of learning to jointly share the results of their research. 

They reported significant improvements over a wide range of measures, citing evidence to show children becoming more articulate, self-regulating and independent and having a greater understanding of what resilience and good learning looks like. They gave many examples of children being able to talk about their learning and being keener to try new things without fear of failure.

Staff at one of the schools also saw a significant drop in the numbers of children in detention and reported children routinely using phrases such as: “A good learner doesn’t mind making mistakes and never gives up.”

The Early Years Foundation Stage teams reported “remarkable development” in two areas. In communication and language they found children were able to: 

  • Speak in longer more complex sentences.
  • Ask appropriate questions of one another.
  • Talk about not just their activities, but their learning too.

Children with English as an additional language also appeared to be more confident about asking and answering questions, and children who were previously uncomfortable speaking in front of the class felt more at ease.

In terms of learning and motivation, they stated:

  • Children complete work to a higher standard.
  • Children can plan their learning in more depth.
  • Children stick at activities for longer.
  • Children can identify their learning and the development of their skills.
  • Children are beginning to identify their next steps.

One teacher commented: “Children are much more articulate and discussion about learning has now become a part of what the children and staff do as a matter of course.”

Both schools plan to continue to build on their research during the next academic year and, as with all schools going through the Enquiring Schools programme, will gain the newly launched NFER Research Mark in recognition of the quality of their research.  

  • Alison Willmott is an Enquiring Schools facilitator.

Further information


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