Research School Network: Developing Learning Behaviours for Effective Transitions Developing Learning Behaviours for Effective Transitions.


Developing Learning Behaviours for Effective Transitions

Developing Learning Behaviours for Effective Transitions.

by Manchester Communication Research School
on the

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Susie Fraser

Research School Director

Read more aboutSusie Fraser

Saira has just started high school. This school is much bigger than her primary school and she does not know anyone in her year group. Whilst she was excited to come to high school she was sad that he would no longer be with her friends or with her teacher who she trusted and had a good relationship with. She is worried about finding her way and she doesn’t always remember the rules about what to do moving between lessons and when she arrives at a classroom. She sometimes finds herself feeling emotional at school but she feels embarrassed about this.

This anecdote is recognisable for many of our pupils as they make the transition from primary to secondary school. For some pupils, they find that they effectively settle into new routines, become established within their peer group and can successfully engage with the curriculum. However, for other pupils, this transition is much more challenging and often, this manifests itself in more negative behaviours.

What are effective learning behaviours?

A learning behaviour can be thought of as a behaviour that is necessary in order for a person to learn effectively in the group setting of the classroom.’

(Ellis and Tod, 2018)

If we consider these in the context of transition:

Emotional learning behaviours
might include the pupil’s ability to deal with setbacks, their self-esteem and self competence to manage with new and unknown situations.

Social learning behaviours
might include how well the pupil can make new friends, how quickly they can establish an effective relationship with some key adults in school and how effectively they can engage in social or collaborative learning activities in the classroom.


Cognitive learning behaviours might include their individual motivation to stick at tasks that might be unfamiliar or feel challenging in a new context. It can also include the management of cognitive load so that they can maximise their working memory capacity for new learning

What can teachers do?

These strategies are relevant to both primary and secondary teachers as they can be employed before, during and after the transition period. They can be maximised if there is collaboration between schools so that there is a shared language being used alongside a consistency in approach.

Emotional learning behaviours:

- Talk to students about the feelings they may have at certain points in the transition. Be explicit with them about how that might feel physically, eg, you might feel your heart racing if you feel a little lost” and provide them with ways to manage those feelings.

- Practice with them how to ask an adult or another student for help if they need it. Provide them with sentence starters and frameworks to initiate this type of dialogue.

- Normalise setbacks but teach them how to reset everyday.

- It may even be helpful to support them in getting into the habit of talking to a trusted adult at the end of each day or if appropriate, how to journal and reflect on each day, setting goals for the days ahead.

Social learning behaviours:

- Teach pupils how to introduce themselves to peers in social situations.

- Plan with them for their involvement in clubs and activities-can this information be shared with primary schools before the start of the new term?

- Share information between schools about those students who may need some additional support with make friends and ensure that there is a friendship circle established at the new school that is facilitated by trusted adults.

Cognitive learning behaviours:

- Facilitate as many opportunities as possible for pupils to become familiar with the new environment. This can be actual visits or even virtual experiences. This will allow students to feel more comfortable in the new environment, freeing up cognitive load which can then be used for accessing the curriculum.

- Share common vocabulary and language and explicitly pre-teach this before the transition begins so that students feel a sense of belonging as well as having to process additional language on top of new subject knowledge. This might be related to the school environment or habits and routines that are expected at the new school.

- Support students to become confident in using checklists and embed these into practice across both schools. This way, students will be supported in their motivation to task completion as they can see the achievable steps necessary for success. Beginning this at primary school will support pupils to feel confident in using them, again managing their cognitive load, after transition.

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