This is a guest blog from one of our favourite #positivetwizards* Nicky Clements (@nickyclements71) – Head of Early Years at Victoria Academies Trust.

It relates to chapter 4, in “Powering Up Children” which explores how to build a learning environment which cultivates perseverant, confident, reflective learners.

A huge thank you to Nicky for writing this blog and for continuously sharing amazing practice with us all via Twitter.

First of all I would like to say I consider myself very lucky to be part of a trust, Victoria Academies Trust, that has opened my eyes to the wonder of Learning Power.

When I was new to the trust, and had received training on, and read further around, LPA, the first thing that I had to consider was how to apply it to my class – full of 3 year olds!

The trust had developed the Learning Power Approach into its own set of tools – ‘Learning Power Tools’. For the youngest children, these were represented by actual tools, rather than the visuals used throughout the rest of the school. So I started with the ‘noticing tool’ (a torch), the perseverance tool (a hammer) and the ‘managing distractions’ tool (earphones). Having the physical objects helped them to understand better the exact purpose of that particular learning power.

The next step was to make the environment Learning Power friendly. The whole drive was towards creating independent, critical thinkers which dovetailed perfectly with the characteristics of effective learning in EYFS. The most important thing to ensure was that the environment offered enough opportunities for children to be independent, take risks, have a go, make links and collaborate. This led us to develop a provision which offered challenge in the activities that were provided (‘Assess the provision of resources, pg. 86) Activities that require perseverance, resilience, imitation or collaboration, for example. There is a focus in LPA classrooms on self-service and not hand feeding. This needs a lot of modelling initially, but eventually the independent young learners will access for themselves the resources they need for the activity they are engaged in, from construction to art work.

Alongside that, the adult interactions were crucial to helping embed those learning powers. Adults must lead by example! So it was important that they consistently engaged in a process of drip-feeding ‘learnish’ – using the language of learning to support children’s play and consequently learning.

Giving feedback when children had managed their distractions well and been active learners was far more powerful than a smile and a ‘well done’ – children need to be told explicitly which learning power has enabled them to do something so well. Give children feedback on their noticing, collaborating, perseverance and questioning. When you first introduce each learning power, these will need to be discusses and modelled with the children so that they know exactly what they look like. This will help to support their metacognition and so define the soft skills which will be crucial to their future learning.

Of course, to be able to do this, children need much encouragement and to feel safe. A non-threatening environment, where children are supported to learn through their mistakes, takes much gentle nurturing. We translated growth mind-set in Nursery to Peppa Pig’s Muddy Puddles. Getting stuck in a muddy puddle (or experiencing difficulty) was fine – it was knowing how to get out of it that mattered. While the older children in school used ‘The Pit’ for some of their activities, the children in Nursery were given a structure to help them get out of a muddy puddle. Namely the 3 ‘B’s; ‘brain’, ‘buddy’ and ‘boss’. We wanted to move away from a culture of ‘Miss, Miss, Miss’ every time children became stuck either in their learning or day to day activities. They knew they could use their brain and the perseverance ‘hammer’ to keep trying themselves first. The sense of achievement from this is so rewarding to a young child. And this is exactly the type of learning behaviour that was encouraged, supported and praised. Young children learning very quickly what behaviour meets favour with adults. Those adults, similarly, had to show the same growth mind-set. Whether that be handling worms out in the garden (great fun – honest!) or getting filthy in the mud kitchen, it is so important that adults remember at any point a child may mimic adult behaviours. We want children to use their imitation ‘tool’ for positive outcome only! At the same time however, it is great sometimes to show the children it is OK to get something wrong. In fact, I positively encourage it; it helps to remove threat when the teacher is not afraid of making a mistake or provides a narrative of how they overcame a difficulty.

Adults also need to think about how they can make their questioning non-threatening. Conventional what, where, how, why questions may help you assess the understanding of most children. But it will do little more than get a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer from them. And when children don’t know the answer, they tend to not speak out. By using phrases such as ‘I wonder how…’ or ‘I wonder might happen if…’, there is an implication of no expectation. This immediately removes the risk for some children. It may be that at some point the adult needs to direct children towards the correct knowledge if it is incorrect. But that is OK. That’s learning. Trying new things and having a go is all part of the learning in EYFS.

Once the children are happily engaged in a happy, positive and risk-taking environment, it can then really help to nurture their independence and help them to make links by documenting their learning (‘Show works in progress’, pg. 95). This is not a new concept. From the Reggio Emilia concept of documenting learning, to the ‘working walls’ which support independence throughout school, adding this to the environment is a great way of helping children’s independence. Documenting the ‘learning journey’ will help the children to visually see the sequence to their learning and can be referred to throughout the week/term to help children to make links. Of course, visuals of the Learning Power Tools are added to these walls. Along with examples of children’s ‘work’, photos, child voice bubbles, photocopies of book covers – anything! Child observations help to support assessment and planning, and an LPA-rich environment makes for some really purposeful observations, rather than just highlighted tick sheets of targets met. They can be really unique and tell you, and parents, a lot about how young children learn.

Once the children leave EYFS as confident, independent learners, their metacognition can then be built on by introducing a wider range of learning powers. These will of course be added to the environment, walls, books or activities as a natural part of the learning. Once children are competent with all aspects of the different learning powers, they will then be able to determine for themselves which one will support their learning; the ultimate goal. For children to be able to confidently discuss which LPT they have used and why, is giving them a set of soft skills they will be able to hopefully draw on for life, and help them to understand themselves as life-long learners.

There is so much food for thought in this blog.

Have you tried similar ideas in your classroom to build learning power? What worked? What didn’t? What have you experimented with and done differently? How might a learning powered environment look in KS1? KS2? KS 3 and 4?

*Positive Twizard. This phrase grew from a phrase I heard in my first year teaching, combined with joining Twitter. The stunning teacher I used to work with in my NQT year used to talk about children who were “Positive Wizards”. He said, “You know, the children who are always on board, approach all learning with a positive, ‘can do’ attitude – those who look out for others and lift other learners up.” I loved that phrase. Hence #positivetwizards.

How have you lifted someone up today, celebrated their contributions, shared some great ideas?

You can read more about Nicky’s excellent ideas in this article in the TES:

https://www.tes.com/news/eyfs-how-use-stories-teach-steam-early-years

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