We know from the research of Hattie that teacher-student relationships score highly on his effect sizes. It is our responsibility to maximise the potential of each child in our educational care. To do this it is clearly essential to have them ‘on board’. If they don’t buy into their learning, that metaphorical horse we often refer to gallops up and we can’t get them to drink.
How then, do we get the children to ‘buy in’ to their learning and to own their progress?
I have tried and tested various different strategies in an effort to find the most positive way to ‘hook’ the children into joining me in the quest for finding their potential. With every new opportunity for trial and every new class, I find my belief is reaffirmed: it is not the strategy itself that triggers the children into wanting to own their learning, although they can be a facilitator of the progress. It is the children’s ‘buying in’ that makes the difference and this comes from the culture within the classroom.
I have also been faced sadly with children who lack enthusiasm for learning. Often, their own lack of confidence fuels a lack of ambition for themselves. I am not talking of the dreams to be an astronaut, but the more basic fundamental belief that they can achieve; that they can find something that they are good at and that they can learn and develop. These children are faced daily with what feels like the chore of learning. For some it is mathematics, others writing or spelling. It doesn’t come easy to them and through years of demotivating test results or lack of time given to them to crack their understanding, they become disinterested in their learning. They lose that spark found in an early learner and what is left is a frighteningly apparent sense of apathy. It does not however have to stay this way.
It is short-sighted to think that teaching is just about the curriculum. We have the power at our fingertips to make a difference; to develop self-belief and instil a love of learning. Life is an exploration; an adventure that is continually bringing new experiences and through these, we grow as individuals. If we opt out of learning at an early age, the opportunities that may come later, pass us by.
With this at the heart of what I do, I strive to ignite the spark for learning. It starts with openly acknowledging the negative mindsets we hold about certain areas of our learning. We express our fears in the classroom openly. Fear can only have power when it is allowed to fester. Through open discussion and empathy, as a class, we attempt to address what sits behind the fears. Very often it is a lack of confidence, even in children under the age of 10, that drives fear of failure. Armed with the knowledge of our fears, from the outset of a new school year, we make a promise: not to give in to the fear, not to be beaten when it goes wrong the first time. Our classroom is the place to try. It is good to make mistakes. What we celebrate, is the determination to have another try and to persevere until we can. We use the phrase, ‘It’s easy… WHEN you know how..’ We know this means that we just might not yet know how- but that is why we are together.
As I started out by saying, student-teacher relationships are important. Building those good relationships with children in the classroom is closely linked to establishing a values-based ethos. It takes humour, and I never hesitate to show the children that mistakes are part of everyday life. When they happen, we use them as a learning tool. We build on what went wrong and work together to put it right. We look back at our learning journey and acknowledge the highs and lows. It’s about being positive about the adventure of learning. The children understand that failure is not to be feared but faced; they begin to relish the challenge of learning and with that, they start on their first steps towards owning it. Not just because I want them to, but because they want to too. They feel the sense of achievement that comes from succeeding at something that was at first difficult. They begin to ask questions to find out how, and, most importantly they take the steps needed to make improvements.
My feedback and support as the teacher in this process is vital (yet another high effect size from Hattie) You cannot ask anyone to follow your lead if you do not walk the walk, every day. It takes time, effort and perseverance on both our parts. Very often I have to adapt my teaching strategies to those in the room. I have to accept that it doesn’t always work the first time around. I encourage the children to let me know if they are not understanding.
It is a positive action and demonstrates that they are aware of their own thinking. Questions are welcomed. Discussion is key. I am never afraid to stop a lesson and let the learning take its own course if needed. Without fail the time spent allowing the processing and thinking pay off when I move the learning forward.
I establish systems that the children own. Post-it’s on the working wall or in their books with questions on are an everyday occurrence. Guided groups that the children can opt into if they wish to clarify their understanding at certain points in the week. I know through assessment who needs more, but I encourage the children to acknowledge their gaps and choose to spend more quality time with me in smaller groups when necessary. If they feel it helps and it builds their confidence, it’s a positive thing.
Whether my feedback is verbal or written, the children have the opportunity on a regular basis to clarify where they are not sure – these learning conversations are vital. We have regular ‘marking clinics’ where they have the chance to talk to me; to embed their understanding of the next steps needed for them to improve, whether that be plugging gaps or moving it forward. The children love these sessions- they are seen as an opportunity to shine and grow.
Thinking and questioning have become fun! Independence has become achievable and above all what comes is resilience to failure and a determination to succeed. Mistakes are part of learning and part of life. If we do not own them, we cannot move on from them and improve. Strategies sit firmly on the foundations of an ethos that promotes ambition and a love for learning. We cannot make the metaphorical horse drink, but over time and through the right approach we can always show him that he’ll feel much better if he does. There is excitement and enthusiasm to be found in a learning journey – for everyone. I love hearing a child triumphantly say, ‘I did it!’ My reply is always very simple: ‘I knew you would.’
Claire Bracher @cjabracher is a full-time class teacher and an Assistant Headteacher at Huntingtree Primary School, Dudley. She leads the whole school English and Upper KS2. Passionate about education, Claire is a big advocate of making education creative and memorable for those she teaches. View her blog at clairebracher.wordpress.com.