Archive for May, 2015

We have to get children to love learning.

May 8, 2015

Technology and the connected world are changing how we live and work – radically. Education has to move up to a completely new level of effectiveness. Some schools are achieving this and showing the way. And happily technology and the connected world provide the key enabling tools for this to happen.

The centre of education – as always – will remain the interactions between pupils and teachers. And the other ‘teaching’ interactions that teachers enable their pupils to have – from other pupils, parents and the wider community.

The big change that has to happen, is that we have to get all pupils to Love Learning.

It is only young people themselves who can raise their achievement. You can’t open a child’s brain and put learning inside. They have to do that themselves. And there are just two ways to get them to do this:

– pressurise children to learn.

– or ignite their thirst for learning. Engage them in wanting to learn.

Most schools in the UK operate by pressurising children to learn. For a start school is anyway compulsory. Then there are all the messages that if you don’t do well you won’t get qualifications and a decent job. Then teachers apply more pressure, sometimes in pleasant ways and sometimes in rather unpleasant ways. Then the school leaders apply more pressure on the teachers to push the kids into extra work and various interventions to hit league table targets. This is not to deny that these various pressures can ignite a thirst for learning in some children. But there is nowhere left to go when it doesn’t, except to apply more pressure. And pressure kills motivation and concentration for many children.

3rd millennium learning, or connected-world learning, is about getting the pressure and challenge to learn to come from within the child – by igniting their thirst for learning. Once it does ignite they will also happily respond to pressure from peers and teachers, which becomes pressure the pupils ask for and control, they want to learn. Naace has spent the last four years finding out from schools that manage to do this how they do it. The evidence in schools’ submissions for the 3rd Millennium Learning Award clearly shows other schools what has to be done.

Generating the much higher engagement in learning can only be done as a whole-school process. A culture has to be developed across the pupils that it is cool to learn, and fun to learn even if it is challenging. There has to be a whole-school growth mindset, that failure is the first step on the road to success and success will involve many failures. The school has to change the ‘game’, from a game that is all about achievement or failure, to one of the game being to help each other learn. Even the weakest students have to want to display their work to others for criticism, because the fun is in helping others and being helped. And the school has to work to ensure the criticism that comes back will be constructive and well balanced between praise and the pointing out of errors and weaknesses.

Underpinning these changes there has to be a creative curriculum, with pupils able to be creative in how they present work. Which means teachers ready to accept work presented in the form the pupil chooses, whether that be a traditional essay, a video, an animation, a presentation or a voice recording. Why should it matter as long as the teacher makes clear that they have to be able to assess the work in the same time as it would take them to mark a written answer.

In schools like this remarkable changes happen. Trust grows. As do collaboration and pupils leading learning. Often the schools provide lots of opportunities for pupils to lead in different ways, so that those less academically able can achieve early success in sport, as playground buddies, digital leaders or community helpers. Teachers share a lot more and become less fearful themselves of failure, leading to more innovation.

We currently have too many school leaders who don’t understand this choice between a pressured approach and igniting the thirst for learning. And too many who may in their heart-of-hearts think igniting the thirst for learning is best, but who don’t trust that if they make this their key priority that the scores will be hit and the league-table position held. There is that ‘Trust’ word again. When a level of trust develops that you cannot currently imagine, then levels of achievement you cannot currently imagine will also materialise. And the school will be a much happier place for all.

This is not a pipe-dream. Schools in very difficult circumstances have gained the Naace 3rd Millennium Learning Award and shown how they have developed the necessary whole-school culture. Judge for yourself by looking at the 5-minute videos at http://www.naace.co.uk/thirdmillenniumlearningaward. (The schools also produce a 10 minute educational commentary, available to all Naace members.)

This blog has been triggered by the general election held in the UK yesterday. The times ahead are inevitably going to be hard with the necessity to cut government budgets. But with the government elected I reckon times are going to be even harder for schools. Soon. And I suspect the only way that schools will be able to square the circle of enabling pupils to achieve more with less budget is by moving away from a pressured approach and adopting 3rd millennium learning. Schools have to achieve more learning with less input by teachers and teaching assistants. That means more independent learning. It means more pupils leading learning. It means teachers concentrating on improving outcomes not on just making the learning activity happen – engaged pupils will do that.

With a whole school-full of trusted engaged pupils, and pupils picking up and dealing with many of the problems individual pupils will inevitably present, keeping each other safe, stopping mis-behaviour by others, and progressing their learning activity without constant reminders, creative ways can be adopted to shave the odd per-cent off staffing costs.

The leaders of those schools that are pressured, stressful hothouses should take a long cool and reflective look at what a school is there to do and how that is best achieved. And a bit of leadership in this from the new English Education Secretary would not go amiss.