Changing perceptions of learning: Recognising the learner voice

What is learning and how do we change our perceptions when learners are working away from the classroom? 

Remote learning means that learners are in control of their own space and are responsible for how they manage their time in terms of learning.  Focusing on how learners learn in the absence of the teacher and the processes involved is essential if we are going to continue to deliver quality outcomes for all.

A continued emphasis on content is impossible to deliver. The protocols that exist in the classroom do not apply in the same way and if we continue to put the teacher in charge we may well be missing profound opportunities to provide for the learner a new set of skills that will allow them to find their own route to the content and give them a whole suite of essential life skills.

Evidence suggests that taking account of learner voice has a profound impact on motivation, concentration and the desire to succeed. Creating for the learner a sense that they own their learning and can understand how they learn has a significant impact on outcomes. The list below is taken from an article I wrote in 2011 about curriculum decision making and the importance of learner voice and emphasises what the learner says they want:-

  • More emphasis on skills, and on personal and social development
  • More practical work linked to a skill or vocation
  • A more obvious link with the curriculum and real life
  • More connections made across different areas of the curriculum
  • A balance between academic subjects and those that are more creative, practical, or vocational
  • More choice, especially at Key Stage 4
  • A variety of approaches to teaching and learning
  • More emphasis given to how they can progress to achieve the next level
  • More opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning

This wish list still stands today and resonates even more when we look at some of the points that are pertinent to the need to create a blended learning approach.

Let us concentrate on one of the points above and link it to shifting the paradigm from content to experiential and conceptual learning.

‘A more obvious link with the curriculum and real life’

A focus on what learners are experiencing through enforced isolation such as looking at a lack of contact with peers, fear of loss, an imposition on their freedoms, having to be resilient, to reflect on their own ability to learn, enquire and draw conclusions are all a part of wider learning curve.

Applying some of these to concepts that overlay subject specific curriculum content may provide a rich and deep vein for delivering the curriculum and creating breadth and balance that recognises the importance of the learner. Freedom is a concept that learners will understand and can relate to a history topic focusing on slavery, emancipation of women or conscription during war time. Disease is a concept that in science might allow a narrative about previous vaccines for smallpox or polio.  How about baking bread, growing seeds, making models out of waste cartons, all of which allow for conceptual learning linked to specific subjects. I could go on and on with the connections that exist and that relate to the learner’s own experience.

We expand on these essential messages in our ‘In a nutshell’ course, Planning a learning curriculum that will translate between home schooling and the classroom and our live webinar about blended learning Blended Learning – Mixing the virtual with the actual: A pedagogy for the future

Have a look at all of our online CPD and other services by going to our website.

Governance and OFSTED – Curriculum content linked to aspirational learning

OFSTED’s Amanda Spielman’s latest speech to Governors at the NGA conference reinforces here conviction and commitment that the curriculum will be and to some extent is already at the centre of inspection.  She starts her speech talking about substance and integrity.

“Getting to the heart of it, this new framework is about two things: substance and integrity. It puts the real substance of education, the curriculum, back at the centre of inspection and supports leaders and teachers who act with integrity.”

We are assuming here that by integrity she means we put the pupils first before results and data! Substance has been a word widely used as the developments about the new approach to curriculum intent, implementation and impact have unfolded.  In terms of substance we need to look closely at the concepts that are upheld as important facets of curriculum design.  Breadth and depth, differentiation, relevance, coherence and continuity all figure as essential components.  Essentially, we must focus on a deep and rich curriculum that weaves concepts, skills and knowledge and sequences learning over time.

Amanda Spielman tells Governors that what OFSTED are clear about is that the curriculum is a core part of the ‘Quality of Education’ judgement.  The outcomes will focus on what the school chooses to teach, but more essentially it is about how the content is taught and how well the curriculum is ordered and structured.  Having a clear focus on the what and the how as part of a strategy for intent and implementation are clearly important.

We all want to know the answer to the question she poses ‘What is a good curriculum?’ Her answer cites the second phase of research published by OFSTED that suggests that there are several approaches to curriculum design and all can work.  She prompts Governors to ask the questions,

  • ‘What do you want your children to know?’
  • ‘What is going to help children in later life?’ 
  • ‘What will help children develop cultural capital?’ 

Cultural capital in the National Curriculum is described as,

“The essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.”

OFSTED judgements will be based on how much schools are giving pupils the knowledge and cultural capital to succeed.  She suggests that for some that should be recognising what is lacking in the home life of some pupils. She also suggests that we identify gaps in knowledge, skills and understanding and that content should be ambitious linked to aspirational learning. What she says OFSTED want to see is a deep and rich curriculum offer that does more than ensure pupil engagement but that creates opportunities for deeper and richer content that will stretch, challenge and provide a range of different contexts within which pupils work outside what is their normal experience.

She makes the statement already said many times before which is undoubtedly true but is sometimes difficult to reconcile,

“If a broad and balanced curriculum is well taught the exam results should almost take care of themselves.”

There is also a within this speech on the role of assessment in determining quality outcomes for pupils learning the curriculum.  The message to Governors is clear. Assessment should be linked to learning, deepening that learning ensuring that pupils can make sense of their learning. This in relation to what has already been taught and understood and how the learning leads to the development of a range of skills linked to reading and writing but also to the wider skills that support pupils to continually develop and grow in their learning.

“Progress should be measured by how much a child has learned the curriculum, rather than when or whether they are hitting a particular target”

Everything said here reinforces the messages from many of the speeches, research papers and the new handbook.  It reinforces for us the importance of a totally collaborative approach to ensuring the curriculum is about substance, depth and breadth. How do staff across subjects, year groups and transition points work together to sequence the learning? How do they define the concepts that underpin the learning and draw out the numeracy and literacy skills that allow pupils to access the knowledge? What assessment strategies ensure pupils know how to use increasingly higher levels of response to demonstrate their understanding?

We have now trained over 500 educators to look closely at their approach to curriculum design and delivery. We have developed some outstanding and well – researched materials and tools to support change where change is needed.  We know that our approach is having a significant impact and are proud of our record so far.

Join us at one of our innovative and hugely well-received training courses. We haven’t changed our ethos and understanding of powerful drivers for learning. OFSTED have though and we can support you to make the right changes where they are needed. Here is a snapshot of our valuable training.