How to embed learning behaviours in your school

Ofsted is now explicitly checking that students ‘know how to study effectively’ – here’s how to ensure that they do
16th November 2019, 8:04am


How to embed learning behaviours in your school
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The new Ofsted inspection framework brings many refreshing highlights that rightly put learning back at the heart of school inspections.

There is also a clear, much-welcomed focus on behaviour. 

And the two merge in the "behaviours and attitudes' section of the framework, with inspectors looking to see that students "know how to study effectively".

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While you will never catch me advocating doing anything "because Ofsted", this is a welcome focus. This is what matters. It's why we are in schools, teaching, every day.

It is a timely reminder that students also need to be let into the secrets of how to be effective lifelong learners. Learning behaviours are vital to success.

Teaching learning behaviours

So where should schools start in ensuring that they are giving students the best chance at developing their learning behaviours?

No man is an island, and no teacher should be either. School leaders should develop whole-school strategies for explicitly teaching learning behaviours.  

Equally important is an agreement at a whole-school level on the key research-informed learning strategies that will be used. These could be retention and retrieval, dual coding, elaboration, spacing…the list goes on. 

The important part is a shared understanding of the concepts that you will deliver to students. The implementation of this will, of course, be key. 

Setting a strategy

School leaders need to consider the what, when and how of their strategy for this.

Some key questions that may help us as we grapple with this could be:

  • At what stage of their education should students be made aware of these strategies?
  • In what order should we deliver these as core learning for all of our students?
  • To what extent do students need to understand the theory behind the strategies?

School leaders must also consider the delivery of this. One way that we are tackling this at my school is through the delivery of metacognition lessons. 

Dr Rachel Atherton, director of research at my school, is working with her teaching and learning team to plan and design a lesson that all students in certain year groups will receive. In order to ensure that delivery is consistent and skilled, the lessons will be delivered by the teaching and learning team, who will then build on this throughout the year. 

This is just one approach; other methods could include exploring learning behaviours through assemblies or pastoral time, for example. 

One lesson or assembly in isolation, however, won't change much. So how do we, as a school, ensure that this is extended throughout students' various subjects? 

This is where having agreed research concepts will be the most beneficial. This may need an investment of CPD time to ensure that all of your teaching staff have a secure knowledge of the strategies and can confidently apply them in lessons in their subjects. 

If your subject teachers can each ensure that these strategies are used commonly in lessons, revision sessions and resources, the power of the concept is amplified. 

Finally, the last stage of the strategy is to ensure that it has an impact on students. We should, in theory, begin to see students who can choose appropriate study strategies, apply them and, consequently, learn more effectively.

In short, their learning behaviour should change.

Developing lifelong learners

But this won't happen by accident. These strategies need to be normalised within the school - they need to become part of "what we do here". After all, children tend to behave the way other children behave.

As more begin to adopt the strategies, buy-in increases - and it will do even more so when learning is improved. Children love learning things, and become more motivated when they are having success at it.

As teachers and school leaders, we have a moral obligation to ensure that young people become lifelong learners. 

It's wonderful that the Ofsted framework focuses on this, but we should be doing these things anyway. By letting young people into the secrets about how we learn, we equip them with the very skills that they will need to fly. 

That's far more powerful a reward than an Ofsted judgement. 

Amy Forrester is an English teacher and director of pastoral care (key stage 4) at Cockermouth School in Cumbria

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