Recovering From Closure – Priority 5: Developing Good Habits of Learning

The trouble with schools is they don’t spend enough time developing good habits of learning.

This is the fifth in my series of 6 priorities I believe are essential, if we are to recover fully from the school closures.  Hopefully, attention given to these six areas will not only help schools recover, but place them in a stronger position than before the closures. 

The 6 priorities are as follows:

  1. Become Trauma Informed
  2. Give more time to Form Tutors
  3. Develop aspirations in young people
  4. Prepare for the future by developing extended tasks
  5. Focus on skills and habits of learning first
  6. Re-set/re-group; there will be gaps to close

I have mentioned many times previously that one of the key principles we should adopt in schools is in relation to our acceptance that young people are still developing and that they will make mistakes and errors of judgement; it is part of the learning process.   This is more true now than ever. 

Our school has been fully opened for three weeks now and it feels different to the normal start of term.  I warned our staff that this would not feel like a normal summer term in school. Rather, it would feel more like November or late January when schools always seem to be at their most difficult to run.   Out of class, there have been more arguments, fallings out and most worryingly disclosures to deal with than we would normally have at this time of year.  In class teachers have found the past week difficult as they come to realise just how much young people have lost.  Not so much in terms of knowledge, but in relation to good habits of learning. 

I wonder how other schools have found things?  Our Year 7 for example I believe are the most affected and as we progress through the term and into next year, this will become more apparent.  They missed much of their Year 6 and all of our Primary feeder schools do to prepare them for secondary.  We found that back in September and had to work hard to settle them into the routines of secondary school.  But then we lost them again and now that they are back, they are either close to or have become adolescents, but without the good habits we would have by now instilled in them. 

In other year groups all of our learners have grown up without our educational/wellbeing input for a short time, but it is a long time, relative to their short lives. We have found it hard to recover the school values and ethos lost in this time and we have to accept it will take time to recover this.

There has never been a parity of esteem given to developing good habits of learning in schools compared to the acquisition of subject knowledge.  However, I’m sure we’d all agree that acquiring, subject knowledge alone is not a sustainable practice; how many of you remember all the facts you learned in school?   The development of good habits of learning on the other hand enables us to learn new information, store and recall information, use and apply information, all far more effectively.  

It is far more than developing skills, competencies or knowledge.   Far too often these have been developed in a tick box fashion often in one-off dedicated ‘lessons’.  Once the child has shown they have accomplished something, the metaphorical box is ticked and on we move to the next thing.  The development of good habits of learning however comes with practice, repetition, reminders and highlighting and/or modelling of good practice.

It is so easy for us (especially at the moment) to fall into the making the same old complaints:  they won’t meet deadlines; they will be distracted; they won’t work collaboratively; they won’t listen with empathy; they have no resilience; they are forever asking for help.  However . . . THIS IS PART OF WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO DEVELOP in our students. 

I’ve written previously ( CLICK HERE ) about how we can create space in our curriculum delivery to develop and embed good habits into everyday learning, for example, through a project based or extended learning approach.  For the rest of this blog, let’s look at how we can build in time to monitor and reflect on the development of these habits.

First, you need to identify the habits you want to monitor reflect upon.  I’ve looked at many frameworks and models, but I always come back to Guy Claxton’s 4 Rs.  I’d be embarrassed if he ever read my blog, because I have reference him and his cowriter Graham Powell far too much – but what they says makes sense and it works!  Certainly for me, in the schools I’ve led.

I’ve used this model to assess progress against the 4Rs (see attached PowerPoint which describes how we do this) for about 18 years now (Thanks to Chris Mackintosh, Adrian Wootton and Natasha Reeves at the City Academy, Bristol, who worked with me in developing this originally).  There have been only slight variations in the criteria over the years, but apart from that it has been a tool that has worked for us. 

I still use it to report to parents and to help students measure their own progress against the 4Rs (Click HERE for an example).  The more often staff report on this and discuss it with their students the more they begin to look for ways to improve the different dispositions mentioned.  Focussing as a school on one particular ‘R’ for a half term at a time is also an effective way to develop good habits in a more systematic way.

This may not suit you and there are other models out there, but whatever you choose, don’t just rely on ‘teaching’ the skill/disposition/competency.  It’s about embedding good practices into learning and so highlighting opportunities for students identify and look for ways to do this in class on a daily basis is essential.  If carried out consistently and systematically across the school, you will begin to see the difference.

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