Research School Network: Promoting pupil progress with learning behaviours How teaching learning behaviours can support students


Promoting pupil progress with learning behaviours

How teaching learning behaviours can support students

by Research Schools Network
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Helen Thorneycroft, History teacher and Deputy Director of Kingsbridge Research School, explores the impact that explicitly teaching learning behaviours can have on students’ learning.

During my training year many moons ago, I recall one particularly engaging and popular teacher within the school meting out consequences to a student – let’s call him Leon – who had significantly disrupted a group task by not waiting his turn to speak, not attending to anyone else’s comments and by dragging the group off task at every opportunity.

Spend lunch time with me for the next two days to understand respectful, helpful conversation.”

She wasn’t joking. For the next two days Leon sat with her and ate sandwiches and gamely chatted about his interests, his experience of school, and how his behaviour towards others impacted learning and could be improved.

While the term would have been unknown to this teacher, what she had done through her own insights was to respond to Leon’s need to be taught effective learning behaviours – in this case, turn-taking in conversation, active listening, and so on.

A learning behaviour is a behaviour that is necessary in order for a person to learn effectively in the group setting of the classroom (Ellis and Tod, 2018). Through his teacher’s patient modelling of the desired learning behaviours, Leon successfully reintegrated into class in a way that met the teacher’s high expectations. 

This example is certainly a labour-intensive way of making a difference to a student’s learning that I wouldn’t recommend replicating on a daily basis, but it highlights an important aspect of learning behaviours, namely that they can be explicitly taught.

Whilst teachers regularly plan for gradual development in the curriculum, the learning behaviours that enable success in the classroom may not be given the same treatment.

However, as students progress through the education system, they need to learn how to foster behaviours that are needed for assignment completion and exam preparation, or to sustain effort that is uncomfortable, and which clashes with other competing social and personal agendas.

The EEF’s Improving Behaviour in Schools guidance report outlines a range of learning behaviours schools might focus on:

• Emotional learning behaviours:
inner voice, mental well-being, dealing with setbacks; and self-esteem, self-worth, and self-competence.

• Social learning behaviours:
pupil relationship with teacher, pupil relationship with peers, collaborative learning, and bullying.

• Cognitive learning behaviours:
motivation, growth mindset, working memory/​cognitive load, and communication — improving through effective teacher-pupil dialogue, modelling.

(Recommendation 2, p.17)

In order to maximise effective learning in the classroom, a reflection on the learning behaviours that will help achieve this is needed. Teachers can ask:

1. What can the students do unaided?
2. What learning behaviours do students need to be explicitly taught?
3. How can I, through my subject teaching, model and develop these learning behaviours? When might this best fit into the lesson, or the lesson sequence?

I saw the fruits of this type of careful planning in a geography lesson where the teacher was explaining to students how to self-edit their work following their first extended piece of writing. The teacher began by explaining the value of editing to students, how it was something that could be done with all their work, and something that would help them going forwards into later school years as an important component of their success. They were interested!

Very carefully, the teacher modelled the strategy to students and, when he was sure they knew what to do, gave the instruction for the task to be completed in silence. By reflecting on the learning behaviours necessary for the task, this teacher had planned and executed a clear strategy for ensuring the class could meaningfully self-edit their work and understood its value.

There are many areas where teachers can plan the detail of desired learning behaviours they expect, such as:

  1. how to work constructively in group tasks,
  2. entering and leaving a classroom,
  3. organising home learning,
  4. using problem-solving strategies when they are stuck.

Shifting away from a short-term, reactive focus on stopping misbehaviour towards a clearly thought-out strategy for developing long-term positive learning behaviours will enable our students to have a greater chance to develop into successful learners.

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