Friday, 1 January 2010

Building Learning Power In The Classroom

I started reading about Building Learning Power some time ago, but although I could see how this may be applicable in a Primary school concept, I wondered how the principles of Building Learning Power might be applied in my Language classroom. As a result, I attended a BLP course run on 26th November 2009 by Steve Watson, Deputy Headteacher at Alderbrook School and consultant for TLO.

What is BLP?
According to its official website, Building Learning Power is about:

Developing young people’s ability to become better learners
Developing their “portable” learning power –as a personal skill
Preparing young people for a lifelong learning
To reach these aims, Building Learning Power:

Provides a clearer version of the Big Picture-What does a good learner look like/do?
Is a good language learner someone with a good memory, someone who can deduct meaning and re-apply it, someone who can communicate effectively, someone who is always confident speaking, someone who can use reference documents ... ?

Builds on previous learning-to-learn ideas and takes them further
How can you use what you know to understand new things? Patterns, suffixes, prefixes etc...

Develops the appetite and ability to learn in different ways
Languages ARE real-life materials-you can learn in many different ways, using a textbook does not make it more effective for the learner.

Works at a deep level on classroom culture and schools’ climate for learning

Shifts responsibility for learning to learn from the teacher to the learner
Students will plateau quickly if they are not actively involved in their language learning. They will also have to deal with identity and emotional issues that are not linked with any other subjects. (That is why I found the mapping out of BLP/ Thinking Skills (PLTS) on Coventry Learning Gateway so relevant to what we are trying to do)

Engages teachers and students creatively as researchers in learning-teachers no longer to be seen as “the fount of all knowledge”

Effects witnessed in some BLP schools are:
raised achievement
improved behaviour
increased motivation
supple learning minds
increased enjoyment in learning
established habits of lifelong learning

What is effective learning?
Although Reading skills appear to be better now than before, the habit of reading is not as developed as it used to be. It often also appears that students are more independent learners at KS2 than they are at KS3-KS4. The difference between good students and good learners is most obvious at KS4 and some good students appear later to be fragile learners that struggle to cope at College or University. Although the exam and assessment system is partly to blame, teachers do have a duty to develop skills like “knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do” (Piaget)

“But I can’t do it”
BLP answers to this challenge are :

· Setting the appropriate level of challenge and avoiding spoon-feeding (you can’t teach somebody how to persevere on materials that are too easy)
· Developing curiosity-get them to ask the questions
· Making links
· Collaborating: students need to be trained to work together in a collaborative rather than just cooperative way, where they need to talk to and interact with each other in order to achieve their aims.
Examples of activity to push students to the edge of their comfort zone:

Viewframe Activity:
Ask students to concentrate on the details of a picture through a small viewframe made out of card. Start from the concrete to the abstract. Show me a ladder, a bird, a tree... to Show me cold, warm, hope... The idea is that this technique helps fixate the elements of the picture and enable students to answer later much more precise questions about the picture. This task is as a high challenge/ low stress task as there is not always one definite right answer.
Compare and Contrast Activity:
How is a car like a bike?
How is a car different from a bike?

Project 0-Visible Thinking Routine (inspired from David Perkins’ work )

From a black and white picture that could be a crime scene: I see/ I think/ I wonder
What do you notice about this picture?
What would you like to ask the character in this picture?
What colours can you see? (use your imagination to visualise picture in colour)
What sounds can you hear?
Jump into the picture. How do you feel? Who do you follow? Etc...

Collaborate to agree on the answers to these questions:
*What is the crime?
*Who did it?
*When did it happen?

Think/ Pair/ Share Technique
Stand up to discuss
Sit down when the group has agreed on the answers and ready to discuss their answers with the rest of the group (roles are allocated from the start e.g. scribe/ speaker/ listener-“summariser”

Open activities to develop collaboration can also be done using videos: with no picture or no sound. An element of risk taking must be there to encourage collaboration in the disscussion.

BLP encourages split-screen teaching through introducing Learning Objectives-they must state what students are going to learn AND how they are going to learn it. However, there must be a common language to discuss learning used throughout the school. Another way is to have the following questions on the board:

1) What do you think are my intended Learning Outcomes?
2) How are you going to meet your objectives?
Framing their minds for thinking:
As hooks, questions like “What do you notice?” are useful as they keep the answers more open.
The visual equivalent would be to discuss optical illusions pictures and describing them.
Pictures in general help framing students’ minds e.g. Write a poem as if you are the painting/ a character in the painting

Use a stanza from a Poem-What is it about?
Put the poem in the correct order (great work on phonics)

Although I was told at the end of the training that some of these techniques might not be transferable to languages, I have to disagree and I do believe that with appropriate support, it can be done. After all, languages are not just a subject, languages are a medium. It is just up to us to ensure the level of verbal challenge is appropriate...


samccoy said...

I agree Isabel. The techniques you mentioned would be very helpful for teachers and students in language classes. This BLP program sounds very familiar.

During my graduate studies in Curriculum and Instruction, one of my most influential professors introduced us to the The Effective Schools Movement. This 48 page .pdf may lead you to more ideas and the backbone of what effective learning looks like in the real world.

Thanks for writing this article. It's always a good idea to refresh my most important ideas about teaching and learning in the context of school.

IC Jones said...

Thank you so much for your comment and for the reference to The Effective School Movement. I will definitely have a look at this!


Guy Claxton said...

Hi Isabelle

Very glad you are finding BLP relevant and useful in MFL. When I give talks to schools I find it is most often the MFL teachers who seem to find difficulty connecting...If you can tell me more about what you find new and useful, I'll be able to give them a better response next time! I was up in Bolton 10 days ago - pity I missed you.

All the best

Guy Claxton

IC Jones said...

Dear Guy

Thank you so much for your comment. I think the issue with us MFL teachers is that we sometimes hold back because we feel skills-building takes us away from using the foreign language. Developing skills is a long-term investment and as our curriculum time gets squeezed more and more, with the same increased pressure caused by exam results, it seems a big gamble.
However, because of the lack of curriculum time, it makes it even more essential that we make our students good learners. If they are lost without us and do not have effective learning habits, I can't imagine their results will be good either...