Get your walls to speak “Learnish”

When you start to delve into incorporating learning power approaches into your classroom, you begin to realize you can tweak all areas of your practice to cultivate positive learning habits. This can be done in so many ways, one of which is finding new ways to use your learning environment. Some ideas are explored on the learning environment page on the main site. Having visited some wonderful learning power schools recently, I’m going to expand on a few more simple ideas here:

  • Use inspiring quotes

All the schools I have visited have displayed and referred to inspiring quotes. These can range from quotes from sports people, historians, politicians, scientists; as well as general quotes that highlight a particular learning disposition you want to instill in your children. Quotes are powerful. They can be used as part of a classroom discussion about the learning ethos, then displayed and referred to throughout the day, week or term. The important thing is that they don’t just become “wallpaper” or a laminated poster that gathers dust. They should reflect the ethos you are aiming to develop and should therefore be part of whole class and group discussions. I had a poster saying “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I knew I could” displayed by my Learning Ladder. It was great to refer to to encourage perseverance. Here are some others from Miriam Lord School in Bradford and Westhornton Academy in Croydon. I like them because so much effort has been made to make the quotes look amazing, therefore valuing their importance. You don’t have to do this though, a simple poster will suffice – it’s referring back and using the quotes that counts!

Quote encouraging learning from failures
  • Highlight “learning muscles” in children’s work and learning

By simply commentating and pointing out when learning muscles are being used, children start to become familiar with them. They can start to paint a picture of how and when to use them and what they look like in action. It is also a useful way for adults in the classroom to bring them to the forefront of their minds and get to grips with them. At St Bernard’s School in Ellesmere Port, Chester, they use “pow” signs to refer to Learning Muscles. The children had special “pow” actions for their learning powers. Here are some examples with the children “powing”!

  • Create an editing area

The areas you have in your classroom with also reflect what you value and will shape the way children learn. Westhornton Academy have “Editing tables” in every classroom. The children understand that they must reflect on and edit their learning before anyone else reads or looks at it. This encourages the children to develop reflection as a learning habit, as well as to take pride in their work and develop craftsmanship. Of course, they need to be able to access and use this table as and when they need it, which would involve creating a classroom where they have this space. Westhornton Academy have based their classroom organization on great Early Years practice (hooray!). The children have high levels of independence and can choose as and when they complete independent learning tasks that will support and stretch their learning that week. They can therefore visit the “editing table” whenever they like. You can still raise the profile of editing and developing craftsmanship through your learning environment without completely changing your classroom organization. How about an editing box? Or editing pouches (like bum bags that children at Westhornton Academy also use – as you can see in the photo if you look closely!)?

  • Hone in on “learning muscles” you are aiming to develop

You can build on and develop learning muscles through creating anchor charts or displays with the children (see the learning environment page for one on collaboration). At Miriam Lord, they deepen understanding and use of learning muscles through interactive displays where children can move their faces onto the learning muscle they are developing in that lesson. Before and after the lesson they articulate how they are improving on that learning muscle. You can also create “unstuck” posters to encourage independence, or “try three before me” anchor charts and learning routines (see Ron Ritchhart’s literature for more on thinking routines).

  • Catch children using their “learning muscles”

Take photos of children modeling good learning habits. Use them for discussion with the class and display them. This way children are immersed in good models of learning and begin to build a picture up of what learning habits look like in action. I often take the time to capture feelings of the moment, asking the children,

“What did it feel like when you were really sticking at that problem?”

“How did you feel when … invited you to join in with their learning?”

This way children also understand the effects their attitudes to learning can have on others and themselves.

The example below is from Sandringham School, catching children persevering with their learning:

Guy and I have just written the first draft of our chapter on developing the learning environment with Learning Power in mind. A follow up to this book. It’s bursting with ideas like these to supercharge your environment to strengthen learning habits. Watch this space …!

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