This is the third in a series of “Guest blogs” written for Learning Power Kids. Each blogpost in this series related to a chapter in “Powering Up Children“.
The first two in the series can be found here:
- Setting the Scene for a Learning Power Classroom (chapter 3). “Meaning Business Without Being Mean” by Hywel Roberts
2. “Creating an LPA-rich Learning Environment” (chapter 4) by Nicky Clements.
Today’s blog is written by Emma O’Regan, Year Five and Six teacher at Sandringham Primary School in Newham. I was lucky enough to observe her practice as part of the research for Powering Up Children. We were so impressed with the richness and fluency of her “Learnish”, we wrote about her teaching in detail in chapter 5 of the book. She is, therefore, the perfect candidate for our Guest blogpost on the language of learning – take it away Emma!
I am an English Specialist teacher in a large, vibrant primary school in Newham, a diverse borough of East London. I teach English to two mixed ability classes in year 5 and year 6 every morning. As a school, our core belief is to develop positive attitudes to learning which is led through our ‘learning attributes’. These are for the children to be; ambitious, independent, resilient, curious, co-operative, articulate and reflective learners. These underpin everything that we do. I’m really lucky to be in a job which I enjoy and to share experiences and life-skills with the children that I work with.
I first came across the idea of “growth mindset” after reading ‘New Kinds of Smart’ by Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton in 2013. At the time I was unsure about the direction of my career because the continued focus on testing and results were out-weighing the well-being of both the children and myself. That book changed my approach to not only my methods of teaching but also gave me a greater outlook into my own practice as a professional and the direction I wanted learning to go in for the children in my classroom.
For me, language underpins everything. The quality of our word choice and how we can manipulate and use language to persuade, explain and discuss ideas is a skill which is often overlooked, especially considering the busy timetables which we live and work by. My aim for my class is for them to see our classroom as a safe place where ideas can be shared, discussed and analysed without being made to feel worthless. It’s a long journey which, for some children can take most of the academic year, but the positive energy and enthusiasm which the class have for each other makes it a fulfilling one.
Where to start? For me, building trust is essential. Whatever learning takes place is valued. Thoughts and ideas are talked through in lots of different ways whether it is whispering with ourselves; our learning partners; groups or the whole class so that we all share learning experiences and work through the learning process together. We look at learning partners and how much their fellow learner can be a support. I change learning partners every week, sometimes I have random partners, sometimes strategic. Often, the children pick their own learning partner but they have to explain how they hope the partnership will be positive and what they hope to learn from the experience at the end of the week. These comments vary from helping with punctuation or sentence writing to answering questions better or being able to manage distractions. At the end of the week, we take 5 minutes to reflect. As the children have gotten used to it, they will reflect during the week and talk about what they found out during different activities. I think that giving children the opportunity to make their own decisions encourages them to think about themselves as learners and skills they need to be successful. My children support and encourage each other in their learning which creates a positive atmosphere in our classroom.
Reflecting on our learning is an essential part of learning in our classroom. It’s a time for us to think about what our achievements are, celebrate and be proud of them as well as thinking about what we need to look at to improve our learning for next time. After we have finished a piece of writing I try to make time for the children to talk about this, usually sat or lying in the carpet area with their books open or whiteboards ready so that they can share their practice and talk about their experiences. The class is usually split into two groups. This has taken a while for the children to feel comfortable with just because they can be so reliant on an adult to direct their learning and focus on written outcomes. Our ‘Conferencing Carpet Sessions’ encourage the children to talk and listen, where we spend time sharing experiences and it’s also a great opportunity to show children editing skills in writing in their books or on whiteboards. It is a chance to think about not only their written work but also their ideas, how they organise their writing or just listen to the conversations that other children are having; they have the chance to look at learning in a different way. We expect our children to try new ideas and solve problems for themselves when they are stuck, but sometimes it’s hard knowing where to start.
Marking and commenting on not just the content of their work but recognising the effort or journey the children have been on to create something has become an important part of my practice. I like the children to think about what sort of attributes or skills they have used during their lessons, and how this has helped them learn. During a writing session, one of my boys decided that the best way for him to learn and manage distractions was to physically move and use a whiteboard to write down his ideas. He knew that by doing this he was giving himself the best chance of success as did the rest of the class. By recognising what helps him as a learner, he was able to create a learning atmosphere that suited him and in turn, completed a piece of writing which he was really proud of. He talked about his learning during a carpet session and had three children asking him for advice and help with their writing which is an experience he has never had before as he is usually the person asking for help.
This is a journey I start every September with each new class I get. Some years run smoother than others and some children struggle with the concepts that I try to share with them but the outcomes are always similar. My classes communicate and share (some more readily than others) and listen to ideas. We still have the odd hiccup every now and then but, for the most part, my children collaborate with each other and see the learning journey that they are on. They can recognise the elements of learning power and how it impacts on them as they learn. They are developing a better understanding of themselves as learners and an appreciation of others that are on the same learning path. I watch them and they watch each other grow in confidence both as individuals and as a group.
I think you will agree, a thought-provoking and rich blogpost from Emma! Thank you so much for taking the time to share the details of your practice. You can learn even more about how Emma builds trust and language with her children in chapter 5 of this book: