Building Learning Power
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Building Learning Power at Leventhorpe
At Leventhorpe we take learning seriously and train our teachers and support staff in the most up to date thinking about how young people learn best. We have studied and use the theories of Professor Guy Claxton as our model for the learning process. Professor Claxton calls these ideas, “Building Learning Power” and what follows is an introduction to “BLP” for parents.
Building learning power is about helping young people to become better learners, both in school and out.
BLP is about creating a culture in classrooms - and in the school more widely - that systematically cultivates habits and attitudes that enable young people to face difficulty and uncertainty calmly, confidently and creatively.
Students who are more confident of their own learning ability learn faster and learn better. They concentrate more, think harder and find learning more enjoyable. They do better in their tests and external examinations.
Building Learning Power prepares youngsters better for an uncertain future. Today’s schools need to be educating not just for exam results but for lifelong learning. To thrive in the 21st century, it is not enough to leave school with a clutch of examination certificates. Students need to have learnt how to be tenacious and resourceful, imaginative and logical, self disciplined and self-aware, collaborative and inquisitive.
Three Core Beliefs
Building learning power is based on three fundamental beliefs
1. BLP believes that the core purpose of education is to prepare young people for life after school; helping them to build up the mental, emotional, social and strategic resources to enjoy challenge and cope well with uncertainty and complexity.
2. BLP believes that this purpose for education is valuable for all young people and involves helping them to discover the things that they would really love to be great at, and strengthening their will and skill to pursue them.
3. This confidence, capability and passion can be developed since real-world intelligence is something that people can be helped to build up.
These three core beliefs are particularly relevant in societies that are full of change, complexity, risk, opportunity and individual opportunity for making your own way in life.
Three roots give Building Learning Power a strong and stable foundation.
Root 1 Research into the Nature of Learning.
In the last ten years or so a number of disciplines have come together under the banner of ‘the learning sciences’. Geneticists, psychologists, developmental psychologists, neuroscientists, socio-cultural researchers and academic philosophers are shaping a new image of the malleability of young minds, and BLP tries to make as much use of these ideas as possible.
Root 2 Practitioner Research and Experience.
BLP is grounded in the reality of schools and classrooms, and what busy teachers find possible, practical and interesting to try out. Teachers are encouraged to see themselves as research partners in the BLP community of enquiry, and where possible to write up their experiments and small action research projects.
Root 3 Commitment to a Vision of Education
BLP is rooted on a vision of education that grows out of the real demands, risks and opportunities of the 21st century; is appealing and accessible to all young people, not just the academically ‘able’ or inclined; which values, in reality as well as in rhetoric, more kinds of outcomes than literacy, numeracy and examination grades.
So Building Learning Power appeals to anyone who wants to know how to get better results and contribute to the development of real-life learners - both at once. It is for teachers, teacher trainers, parents and anyone involved in formal and informal education. It particularly appeals to those who want more than sound-bites and quick fixes; who seek a satisfying approach that leads to cumulative growth in students’ real-life self-confidence and ingenuity.
Two BLP Frameworks
BLP provides two frameworks. The first is a coherent picture of what the powerful learner is like. The second is a route map of how schools can build the constituent dispositions of the powerful learner.
The First Framework
The image of the powerful learner – does not claim to be a comprehensive theory of learning power. Rather it aims to be a pragmatic tool that illustrates some of the ingredients of learning power and provides a basis for discussion.
This framework is essential, if teachers are going to think precisely and creatively about how they can become more effective ‘learning power coaches’. Using the analogy of a fitness coach in a gym such coaches are able to construct broad, balanced and effective exercise regimes that will help people get fitter, because they have a model of what the different ingredients are that go to make up ‘fitness’. BLP assumes that a working model of learning power helps teachers design targeted, effective activities that, over time, add up to greater confidence and capacity in facing all kinds of uncertainties and challenges. Just as fitness is a basic springboard for all kinds of more specific physical skills, so learning power is a general-purpose launch-pad for all kinds of more specific learning activities – both in school and out. So the first framework provides a design template for that launch-pad which schools can then extend in their own ways.
The Second Framework
The second framework maps the ingredients of a school and classroom culture that help to cultivate those habits of mind. If we want young people to become better at concentrating, say, what does that suggest about the way we structure our lessons? If we want them to become more willing to take risks in their learning, and more tolerant of making mistakes, how should we alter the way we mark their work, or the choices we make about what to display on the walls of the classrooms and corridors?
These two frameworks gives teachers and students a ‘big picture’ to hang on to, the picture on the box, as it were, to provide a context whilst they are working on one small corner of the learning power jigsaw puzzle. The first framework, which we called originally the Learning Power Brain, reminds everyone that they don’t have to work on exercising all the learning muscles at once (just as you don’t try to do your stretches while you are on the running machine). We can zoom in on ‘managing distractions’ knowing that, in due course, the big picture will remind us to work on building up ‘empathy’ or ‘reasoning’ as well.
The second framework, called the Teachers’ Palette, provides a complementary overview of all the different aspects of their work which teachers can use to build these learning muscles. There are many layers, we have discovered, through which a school can build up a culture that nurtures the development of inquisitiveness, responsibility and independence. This framework provides a basis for long-term planning. Some of the layers may be relatively easy for a teacher or a school to get to work on straightaway. With others it may take a bit of thought to see how the students (or the governors or the parents) will need to be ‘prepped’ in order to be ready to start taking the necessary steps.
Just as learning power is made up of a number of different interwoven elements, so is the school culture that cultivates learning power. As the image shows, there is good reason to think that the way teachers talk is important, as is the visibility of their own learning habits. The design of activities, the structuring of space, the accessibility of resources, and the messages of the visual environment are all important too. And it is not just teachers who embody the principles of learning power: so too do learning support assistants, midday-supervisors, administrative staff, governors and parents. A learning powered school helps everyone to know how to add to the nutrient medium – the culture – in which its students are immersed.
To find out more, why not visit the BLP website at