1.10 LEARNING AND CLASSROOM CULTURE

The original research that became Learning Power clarified that learning dispositions aren’t fixed at birth, that learning is a learnable craft. It also found that the learning environment can have a constructive or destructive influence on a person’s energy for, and approach to, learning.

This means that the learning culture created in the classroom has the power to grow or diminish students’ inclinations and abilities to learn. Thus, developing learners for lifelong learning, and a successful future, is about creating a culture in classrooms, and in the school more widely, that will systematically cultivate habits and attitudes that will stay with them for life. All of those little habits, routines and practices that implicitly convey that learning is central to all student activities need to be found in the classroom. They should be places where, hour by hour, students experience the values and practices that are embodied in the way in which the school goes about its’ business.

 

Schools that successfully build learning behaviors have found that there are four key cultural shifts that combine to create the seedbed for building better learners, the relationships that teachers bring to the classroom; the ways in which learning is talked about; how learning itself becomes the object of learning; how learning is noticed and celebrated.

Creating the conditions that enhance Learning Power

The culture of the classroom teaches. It not only sets the tone for learning, but also determines what gets learned. The messages sent through the culture of the classroom communicate to students what it means to think and learn well. These messages are a curriculum in themselves, teaching students ways of thinking and how to learn.
Ron Ritchhart, Creating Cultures of Thinking

Shift 1: Relating

Shifting the way in which teachers relate to their
students, gradually devolving more of the responsibility
for their learning to them.

Learning becomes a shared responsibility as students take greater control. The role of the teacher changes from ‘the usage on the stage’ to ‘the guide by your side’. Coaching more and teaching less.

The role of the student moves from ‘passenger’ to ‘crew’ and ultimately the ‘pilot’ of their own learning. They do more of the thinking, ask more questions, talk about their understanding and feel that they are valued contributors.

Shift 2: Talking

Shifting how teachers talk about learning … the language, content and style they use to explain and enhance learning processes.

Learning Power’s language of learning with its 7 recognizable dimensions and underlying habits and behaviors enables learning to become the subject of classroom conversation. It creates a powerful linguistic environment where students can become fluent in talking about the process of learning. 

Learning’s language helps students to discuss, understand and become conscious of using their learning behaviors. This is a language that will be with them for life and enable them to embrace changes in their learning environments as they happen.

Shift 3: Constructing

Shifting how teachers construct learning activities: the tasks and classroom routines they design to build positive learning habits.

Learning activities become designed to question and challenge, not only do they examine and explore content but stretch student use of their learning behaviors. 

Teachers offer less ‘chalk and talk’ and build review and reflection of how learning is learned into their lessons. Students can then become regulators of their own learning; explore knotty questions or problems and reflect
on the processes they are using in order to create meaning and apply their understanding elsewhere.

Shift 4: Celebrating

The outward signs of a teacher’s beliefs about learning: what they celebrate, prize, recognize, display. Learning becomes the object of attention.

In this instance being stuck for an answer or making mistakes have become valuable. Here effort, questions, risk-taking, welcoming feedback, rising to a challenge become part of the accepted process of improving as a learner.

These celebratory activities give visibility to the underlying character of a learning environment.

Summary

A question or two that you may like to ponder...

1. Who do you reckon is working hardest in your classrooms … teachers or students? Is this telling you something about how far students are taking responsibility for their own learning?

2. What do you and your colleagues talk to your students about? How much is about what the subject matter and how much about how they are learning? If learning is talked about … by whom … teachers or students?

3. Is reflection a regular feature of lessons? If not, why not? Should it be?

4. What do your students value most highly about learning? At a guess, it is getting things right first time. Do they value learning from their mistakes? Importantly, do their teachers?

5. If you conclude that the learning process needs to become a more important part of the curriculum and classroom activity … how much of a shift in approach is needed?