: Changing school culture: a context driven approach to promoting positive learning behaviour Exemplification in a primary school context

Changing school culture: a context driven approach to promoting positive learning behaviour

Exemplification in a primary school context

Werneth Primary 1013732 1

Jonathan Bell

Headteacher, Werneth Primary School, Oldham

Read more aboutJonathan Bell

In this blog Jonathan Bell, Principal of Werneth Primary School and Director of Primary School Development at The Pinnacle Learning Trust, addresses the challenges of cognitive overload and diverse educational needs. By implementing a school-wide strategy focused on consistency, accessibility, the careful selection of teaching practices, and the interweaving of evidence from a range of guidance reports, Jonathan showcases a commitment to fostering positive learning environments and outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable pupils.

When considering behaviour in classrooms, our first thoughts often turn to learners’ conduct’: how well they signal that they are listening, respond to requests and behave towards each other. By viewing learning behaviour through the lens of Ellis and Todd’s (2018) definition as a behaviour that is necessary in order for a person to learn effectively in the group setting of the classroom and through the eyes of children, we can more effectively consider how leaders can play a collective role in fostering these behaviours, understand their impact and strive for consistency in promoting healthy learning habits and desirable behaviours in children, with Recommendation 6, Consistency is Key’ in Improving Behaviour in Schools, at the forefront of professional development for all.

The link between cognitive load and behaviour

Put simply, if every adult our children encounter asks them to behave (learn) in a different way in many different subjects, this is likely to increase cognitive load and the child may be unable to perform at their best. We might not like to think that we do this… we have policies after all! But, over the course of a child’s primary school journey, how many different ways would you estimate that they are asked to line up for assembly, answer questions (hands up/​down?!) or be rewarded? So, whilst we might be considering Recommendation 3 and training teachers, we need to also be mindful of the importance of consistency across the school and Recommendation 1 in the Metacognition and Self-regulation guidance report.

BEHAVIOUR 5 Learning Behaviours

Vulnerable learners, often facing multiple risk factors and barriers to learning (see Bell Foundation), require special attention. It feels reasonable that leaders should consider changes in what is asked of our most vulnerable learners to learn effectively and therefore make more deliberate choices to support teachers in promoting and achieving more positive learning behaviours in the classroom. Using a myriad of different teaching styles, strategies and subject specific pedagogy might make it more difficult for the most vulnerable learners to demonstrate positive learning behaviours and succeed in our classrooms. Consistency and simplicity can be the key. If you’ve ever noticed big differences in the reports about a child’s learning behaviour from different classes over time, it might be because something has changed in the child. But it could also be because something has changed for the child.

Shaping Whole School Learning Behaviour

A Case Study from Werneth Primary School (2020-Present)

At Werneth Primary School, we addressed these challenges by simplifying our pedagogical approach and focusing on activities accessible to all learners.Whilst the example that I share will not be the only way that leaders can influence whole school learning behaviour, it is intended to codify the approach we have taken at our school.

The school

Firstly, we considered the historical context and needs of the school. Change of Headteachers led to variances in training, pedagogy and practice across the school and there was an urgent need to undertake an almost complete curriculum redesign and implementation. We wanted teachers to retain autonomy but align strategies to ensure accessibility and fidelity across classrooms.

The children

Secondly, we considered the needs of the children. What would they need to be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills across a range of subjects and how could leaders promote the development of these skills? By understanding that almost all of our children experience multiple risk factors, we recognised the danger that individual teachers, implementing their own preferred teaching strategies across each subject could unintentionally create cognitive overload within lessons and over time.

The teachers and TAs

Thirdly, we considered the needs of the staff team. We recognised the danger that senior leaders and subject leads, keen to implement much-needed subject specific policies/​strategies, could unintentionally create cognitive overload for our teaching team, which would be passed onto the children.

All of this meant that there was a need for leaders to be clear about what we wanted our teachers to attend to at curriculum and learning levels, such as focusing on the acquisition, development and oral and written application of a broad vocabulary. But as leaders, we also needed to judiciously select strategies that could be applied across multiple subject disciplines to manage the cognitive load on staff and the children. So we simplified our pedagogical needs initially on Rosenshines check for understanding’ across all areas of the curriculum so that we could match our sequences to learners’ needs, managing cognitive load and providing activities that were adapted to be accessible to our most vulnerable learners

Curriculum level exemplification

One example of this was the use of a very basic word aware activity: matching the word, its definition and a visual representation of the word to help children to learn the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary in reading, science, history, geography, music and R.E. lessons. A very simple activity that was adapted to provide access for children with less developed English. Because children knew how to complete the task, this became a useful assessment for learning tool within lessons, and over time across the curriculum.

Another illustration of our methodology can be seen in our approach to retrieval. By limiting the number of retrieval activities (multiple choice questions; true/​false questions; labelling diagrams; and list creation as retrieval activities) and focussing exclusively on identified key knowledge, children were able to quickly learn how to play these games’ and demonstrate their learning, rather than demonstrating their lack of understanding of how to do what was being asked of them.

Teachers are still encouraged and expected to apply their professional judgement about when and where to implement these strategies and have worked collectively to ensure that scaffolding is gradually removed. It’s not a one size fits all’- more a repertoire of strategies that children will be able to access, supported by previous experience of this earlier in their school journey.

Tips for School Leaders

Leaders might reflect on these questions to understand their role in the learning behaviours seen in their classrooms:

1, What behaviours, knowledge and skills are necessary to demonstrate positive participation behaviours in the group setting of a classroom at our school?

2. Do all of our learners, including our most vulnerable children, have the knowledge and skills necessary to demonstrate positive behaviours in the group setting of a classroom at our school?

And if not…

3. What is the impact of this on those learners without the requisite knowledge and skills to demonstrate positive learning behaviours?

4. How do teachers respond to children that don’t yet have the requisite knowledge and skills to be able to demonstrate desirable and positive learning behaviour?

5. How might we adapt our practice so that we mitigate the impact of those learners’ less developed knowledge and skills so that they can still access the curriculum and experience success?

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