What Makes Learning Fun: Two Year 7 Students’ Perspectives

Two weeks into term, I interviewed some Year 7 students in order to ascertain which strategies used in lessons they have especially enjoyed.  Among them were Ross Haggart and Victoria Ashton.

Ross Haggart is a fan of History and Learning Power.  He vividly explained to me how in History, the starter activity captivated the class’ imagination, with an outline of a dead body on the classroom floor, as the students entered.  The class had to use their imagination and noticing skills, in order to determine what type of job the ‘character’ may have had.  To aid them with this, a leather pouch, some pottery and a dice were used as props.  Questioning featured heavily in the lesson, as the students were asked to consider what the ‘character’ did for a job, the possible causes of death and what hobbies they may have had.

In a recent Learning Power lesson, Ross described how their main activity involved a set of pictures relating to famous people.  For this activity, the class were asked to spot the difference – once again, putting their noticing skills into practice.

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Victoria Ashton listed PE and English as her favourite lessons, “so far” (in her words).  For PE, Victoria described how she and her classmates had to pretend they were a flamingo, in order to test their physical balance and strength.  Whereas for English, she enthusiastically spoke about the use of a still image that was to be used as a springboard for a piece of descriptive writing, as part of a baseline test.

It became apparent very quickly that Year 7 students have not only been immersed into BLP habits but that they are definite aspects of learning that they enjoy.  In more general terms, the following aspects of lessons were commented on, by our learners, as strategies that make learning fun:

  • An engaging settler, perhaps something unexpected
  • The use of pictures or images to explore, discuss or ‘decipher’
  • Clear and concise explanations provided by teachers
  • Learning through games or through problem-solving opportunities
  • Improving on previous work
  • Rewards

In general, it was fantastic to hear our new starters comment so enthusiastically on their newly embarked-upon secondary school experience.

BLP Focus: using Imagination in the Classroom

Teachers at Goffs are always renewing their efforts to research and develop engaging, exciting and effective ways of learning in their classrooms. Moreover, they endeavour to create lessons that incorporate recent research of how the brain learns in order to further develop the BLP skills that students need for an increasingly complex world.

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Imaginative inquiry is key facilitator here and is one of our core BLP skills at Goffs. Of course, teachers use it in many different ways in different areas of the curriculum and over differing periods of time. One of the key benefits of applying imagination skills in class is the flexibility it allows in planning lessons that cover different learning styles and multiple intelligences.

You can get an example of how effective imagination skills are used in the classroom from Daisy Dewson’s favourite lessons. These examples are from RS and History:

“My favourite lesson is the RS lesson we had when we talked about Heaven and Hell. We talked about whether they exist or not, about what they’d be like if they did exist and about why we thought they do or don’t exist. I liked it because it was interesting and fun, and also because there was a lot of talking and giving opinions and we all got our say about whether or not there was some sort of life after death. 

In year seven we also re-enacted the Battle of Hastings in a history lesson. Over half term we all had to make a weapon for homework. I made a helmet and an axe. In the next history lesson we had to bring them in and we went to the sports hall. We were split into two sides: William’s army, the Normans, and Harold’s army, the English. We had previously had a lesson on the Battle of Hastings, so we knew what happened.  After we’d been sorted into two armies and each side had a king, we went into battle. It was really fun and we all learnt a lot from it because things are much easier to remember when you are put in the situation or re-enact them. Also it was exciting because we did a lot of running around and play fighting with our weapons.”

In RS we also incorporate ‘imagination skills’ into some assessments. Below are examples of Daisy’s “Religion – Do we have a choice?” assessment. The students task was to design their own ceremony to mark joining a religion or a coming of age ceremony that can be compared and contrasted to the religious ‘rites of passage’ ceremonies, such as baptism, Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation. Most students opt for a coming of age ceremony based on a community or group they feel they belong to (or would like to belong to). The assessment allows for students to both imagine the community as well as be creative in its construction. For example, Daisy produced a joining ceremony for a Doctor Who fan club (one that takes itself very seriously), which allowed for all kinds of imaginative joining rituals, commitments and shared values. The ceremony was then compared to the more established religions. Although this may seem a little silly, it does get the students to consider the comprehensive nature of the actual religious ceremonies studied and how much choice we have in joining them.

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Some may argue that these types of assessment are not academically rigorous or challenging enough, but RS teachers are looking for a specific explanative criteria (based on levels) to be met. Using imagination allows students to be creative, apply their knowledge to new situations and further their understanding of topics taught.

December BLP Focus: Resilience

Each month we will be looking at a separate aspect of ‘Building Learning Power’ (BLP), which is used by teachers at Goffs School to facilitate better learning amongst our students. It may be worth familiarising yourself with BLP in order to better understand how your child is encouraged to learn in lessons. For a general overview please click here.

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BLP identifies four key dispositions (inherent qualities of mind and character) that every student needs to be an effective learner; these are called the ‘4 Rs’ and include resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness  and reciprocity. At Goffs we think of these dispositions as groups of “learning skills”, which can be built up and improved through practice in a similar way that muscles can be built up and improved through exercise. Therefore, just as we can build and exercise our physical muscles, at Goffs we teach students that they can exercise their learning skills to develop their academic strength and stamina (or, rather, their knowledge, concentration and perseverance). Although all our students have different abilities, needs and interests, we believe they can all be individually trained, nurtured and exercised through BLP.

What is resilience?

A simple definition of “resilience” in the context of learning is a student’s ability to succeed and prosper even after facing setbacks and hardships. Resilience is especially important when children face new academic challenges at school. These challenges often result in added pressure, stress and an increasing awareness of their own abilities or limitations.Therefore, BLP encourages students to build up their resilience by exercising certain skills or ‘learning muscles’.

If resilience were a muscle, it could be seen as the ‘Absorption Learning Muscle’ as you become engrossed in what you are doing and are fully engaged. Moreover, a resilient student will be unaware of time passing as they are focused on their learning and have a thirst to learn more. In others words, they will be resilient to irrelevant thoughts, concerns and general distractions as they learn in lessons.


How is this achieved?

Students will be taught to manage distractions in order to be more resilient. They will know what distracts them and try to minimise these distractions. Some of this is facilitated by teachers by straight forward behaviour management and classroom routines. For example, they will be encouraged to settle back to learning quickly after an interruption. However, students are also encouraged to be self-reflective in lessons and when learning independently. Part of this will get them to consider what distracts them and to weigh up the pros and cons to reacting to these distractions. This will allow them to remain ‘absorbed’ in their learning and resilient to self doubts and initial setbacks as well as the temptation to switch off or muck about.

Another aspect of resilience is building students’ ‘Noticing Skills’ (sometimes referred to as the ‘Noticing Skills Muscle’). Our students are taught to notice how things look, what they are made of, or how they, their peers and/or teachers behave and do things. This builds resilience as students become more skilled at identifying and paying attention to significant detail. This will depend heavily on their ability to manage distractions (as discussed above).

Another skill or ‘muscle’ associated with resilience is perseverance. Essentially, students are taught not to be put off by being stuck or making mistakes. In turn, they will keep on going despite difficulties and find ways to overcome them. This is a practical skill that allows students to recognise that learning can be a struggle and, thus, make them more resilient.

At Goffs we tend to use the word ‘skills’ over ‘muscles’ and only ‘noticing skills’ are taught as a specific exercise; absorption, managing distractions and perseverance are implicit in almost everything we teach and do and, therefore, are embedded in the ethos of every classroom.

Next month we will be looking at ‘resourcefulness’, so please check the site in mid January.

(Photo credit: Women’s and Children’s Health Network of South Australia)

Building even more learning power!

Building Learning Power (BLP) is now firmly embedded into the learning ethos of Goffs School. Since its introduction three years ago all Goffs teaching staff have received extensive training on how to build students learning power and increase their academic performance. Moreover, all our new staff have already received an induction to the ideas behind BLP and Sarah Cowen (Head of Performing Arts) has started up an influential staff group of BLP champions from different departments within the school. If you would like to know what BLP is in more detail, please watch the news report below!

All parents of Year 7 students have received by now a ‘Parental Guide’ on how to learn and support your child.  Within this, you will have seen the information on Building Learning Power.  Last year we also produced a four part assessment guide for parents and this is now available within the parental home learning booklets. A reminder of the four areas we assess are:

* Positive Focus Learning Power (Resilience)

* Smart Thinking Learning Power (Resourcefulness)

* Thoughtfulness  Learning Power (Reflectiveness)

* Team Work Learning Power (Reciprocity)