Challenges of a Learning Power classroom – Part One
Co-creating a Learning Power classroom – with your learners and all adults involved in deepening their learning experience – is a journey of reflection, resilience and purposeful habit change. In this sense, a commitment to cultivating a learning powered classroom, rich in research, rich in deep and meaningful learning opportunities, will always present challenges. The rewards that await any teacher or learner prepared to embark on this journey are many – a classroom of engaged, reflective, inclusive learners, hungry for challenges and who truly see the value in learning. Sound interesting? Read on …
This blog is the first in a series of blogs on the “Challenges of Creating a Learning Powered Classroom”, as requested by followers of Learning Power Kids. There will be more! Please share your challenges via the comments box at the bottom of this page, or tag me on Twitter (@beckycarlzon) and I will happily expand on your idea in a blog post.
Challenge One of an LPA Classroom: Self-reflection.
When we first become teachers everything is new and challenging and we are full of questions as we learn the basics of our profession.
“How do I create cohesion with my class? How can a build a bank of positive behaviour management strategies?”
“How do I make learning meaningful? How do I even get my learners to learn anything at all?!”
“What can I do with my class when I have a spare 10 minutes that isn’t timetabled?”
“How do I track progress? How can I involve the children in this process?”
As we start to get a few answers to these questions under our belts, we create a series of habits or ‘go to’ ideas that work (or seem to work) for our learners. In this way, we gain confidence as we see some of our new methods work and learn from our mistakes.
So far, so good. We have to learn some habits, routines and build a bank of ‘go to’ ideas to make learning manageable.
The potential problem is as follows:
If we’re not careful these habits become too embedded – they become unconscious. We forget to self-reflect, turn over stones and check in: “Is this still useful for me?” and more importantly “Is it useful for my learners?” “Might there be a better way of doing this? A way that can build self-reflection, challenge, collaboration?”
Sometimes, reflecting in this way can be self-gratifying: “Yes, this is still working really well.” or, “This still has a purpose. I just need to tweak it a little bit.”
Sometimes, it can also be quite painful to realise you haven’t always been providing the best learning opportunity for your learners. I’m here to say: This happens to all of us. And THAT’S OKAY! Embrace the past habits. Look them in the eye and be proud that you’ve been brave enough to take a look at your unconscious habits, dust them off and give them a spring clean.
Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame others. Worst of all, don’t avoid the pain. Look at your habits face on and say , “hey, you seemed to work for a while. Now you don’t. What can we do now?”
Even better, ask your learners. How can we learn this? We’ve been doing this so far. Can you think of a better way?
2 recent (slightly uncomfotable) realisations in my classroom:
1) Classroom environment.
Uncomforatable realisation: I haven’t been parts of my learning environment the attention they need to inspire the children.
I love developing my classroom environment. But it a relentless task to keep it inspiring and meaningful for my learners, especially when we are juggling assessment, meetings, planning and preparation.
Our school is (brilliantly) bringing EYFS pedagogy and the Characteristics of Effective Learning up into Year One (where I currently teach). I am 100% on board with this. Done thoughtfully, learning through play gives children space to reflect on and build their understanding of the world and the week’s teachings, enables them to put their learning into context, gives them chances to problem-solve, persevere and grapple with a self-guided project over time (amongst many other benefits).
This approach does present the challenge of utililsing the learning environment to its full potential – creating Tuff spot ideas, stocking and changing construction areas, threading writing into the environment. This is really hard to balance with the direct instruction we are also providing in Year One.
In light of this, I realised my building area was a ‘dead space’ (and had been, sadly for quite a few weeks!). I was playing alongside the children during Active Start (a time, two mornings a week, when children can develop their own learning and interests) I was open and honest with a few children:
“Our building area is looking a bit tired. Any ideas?”
The children immediately came up with the idea of building a marble run. Genius. We took 5 minutes to gather tubes, tape, blocks and some marbles and the children have been loved problem-solving how to build an effective marble run all of this week.
Just by openly sharing with the children that thinking of new ideas for this area had me stumped at that moment, I opened up an opportunity to co-create a learning experience that was engaging, child-led and easily resourced. Bonus.
So, tip one, take the time to reflect:
What areas or your teaching or environment are you grappling with? Have you tried sharing that with the children and seeing what they come up with?
Sometimes, they don’t have an immediate solution, but why not let it sit? This is also a great model to show that ideas don’t always immediate come to you immediately and you can feel comfortable in the zone of ‘not knowing yet.’
2) Phonics teaching.
Uncomfortable reflection: Are my phonics lessons a bit prescriptive? Am I falling into the trap of spoon-feeding learning during this lesson?
I love daily phonics practice, especially as you see the children transferring their phonics skills into reading and writing, and progressing and gaining confidence in themselves as readers and writers because of this.
My aim in phonics is for it to be rigorous, systematic and meaningful. I think the children thrive off routine in phonics lessons. For me, this presents the challenge of keeping phonics relevant, and being a lesson where children still think and grapple with challenge. I want to err away from spoon-feeding my learners. Putting all of these ingredients together in a short, snappy lesson can present challenges.
Based on an idea from Graham Powell (whose new book with Guy Claxton “Powering Up Students” is available for pre-order here), I decided, instead of giving children sentences to write (“hold a sentence”) using the sounds we had learnt that week, I would create my own, more interesting and meaningful sentences, cut them up, and ask the children to:
a) Read the words, highlight diagraphs.
b) Put the words in order to create a sentence that makes sense.
c) Write the sentence, checking for accuracy as they go with their learning partner.
I ensured the sentences had at least one name of a child in my phonics group and that the sentences were fun to read for a 5-year-old.
The children loved it! Now they were excited and engaged as there was a puzzle – and it was about them! Suddenly it was more meaningful (see more on this in Chapter 3 in Powering Up Children) Now they were NOTICING, PROBLEM SOLVING, THINKING, REFLECTING. As the children struggled to order the sentences, really great common grammar errors were highlighted. This created a fabulous discussion about the ingredients of a sentence. It was especially meaningful and useful for the EAL learners in my group (which is most of them) as common errors such as the use of articles and the past tense came up.
The children were eagerly learning from their mistakes. They were discussing, sharing ideas, questioning and collaborating. They have asked for more challenging sentences like this every phonics lesson since.
Same teaching and learning. Learning Powered Pedagogy.
Are there any areas of your teaching that feel a bit tired? How can you spice them up and add a learning powered twist? Just with this simple tweak, I had a classroom of engaged, motivated, thought-ful learners. All it took was me admitting that this area of my practise needed some attention, giving it this attention and trying out a new idea.
So, here’s my challenge to you.
What areas of your classroom, pedagogy, practice need a Spring Clean? Get that duster out and give some new ideas a go. Re-energise the learning in your classroom.
For more reflections like this one and plenty of practical ideas to boost the learning power in your classroom, check out mine and Guy Claxton’s new book, Powering up Children: