Knowledge is not enough, growing effective learners must become our aim

We need to rethink the purpose of education: it is students with the habits and dispositions of powerful learners who thrive in lockdown and in life

Director of Education Services, Herts for Learning

For too long, our education system has implied that the primary purpose of schooling is to impart knowledge: to cram students full of information and to drill them in skills that they will need to pass examinations. A teacher dependent model. And this has obscured the key purpose of education – to develop the habits, behaviours and dispositions in pupils to enable them to become effective and fully-functioning self-regulated learners.

Imagine a school where, when lock-down struck, the staff could survey their student body, secure in the knowledge that they, as educators, had supported each of them to be equipped with the necessary skills to be able to learn effectively and independently in isolation for a number of weeks or months. Skills of time management and self-organisation, planning and crafting learning episodes, researching new information, exploring and elaborating, practising and consolidating, drafting and re-drafting, revising, designing refresh and retest exercises, building on and linking prior learning.

The importance of training students in learning behaviours

However, well before covid 19, some schools had scheduled home learning days at regular intervals over the course of the year and their staff had prepared and coached their learners incrementally to be equipped to study effectively and independently at home.

Learning-powered schools focus on education beyond examinations, on developing learning behaviours as well as (and to support with) getting results. They encourage their staff to talk the language of metacognition habitually with their classes, so that their students can see how the learning activities have been crafted, why they are learning in the way they are, and what skills they are practising. They employ ‘split screen’ lesson planning; they are explicit about the learning dispositions being developed in each lesson as well as the subject content and skills being taught. They encourage the students to get involved in co- planning schemes of learning with their teachers. They coach their students to design and teach starter and plenary activities to their peers or younger learners, progressing to whole lessons and sequences of lessons. Assemblies, and sometimes discrete lessons, focus on the habits of great learners, for example perseverance, empathy, imagination, collaboration and resourcefulness. Praise, assessment and reporting systems recognise the development of learning behaviours as well as academic attainment.

Rethinking priorities

My hope is that, once schools reopen to all, more leaders will adopt a learning powered approach to fashioning their curriculum, prioritising behaviours, language, structures and activities that will support their children to develop the characteristics and dispositions of successful learners. This way, not only will their students be prepared for the scholarly behaviours required for university study and able to continue their learning beyond formal education, but they will not  be knocked off course by any further periods of lock down.

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