Work or learning?

Which do you think you focus on more in your classroom: work or learning?


Guy Claxton refers, in ‘What’s the Point of School?‘, to a study in which researcher Caroline Lodge discovered that teachers who professed to be interested in learning, used the word work 98% of the time and learning only 2%.

How much of your class time is spent thinking and talking about the process of learning? Do you and your students talk, what Claxton calls, Learnish? Or is it all about getting the work done?

It’s been exciting to hear so much Learnish being spoken as I wandered around my school this week. We chose to start the new school year inquiring into learning in every grade level. (Read about it here). Hopefully there will be carry over effects on learning for the rest of the year.

Here’s a clip I made last year of kids talking about learning. Coming back to it now, one of the things I like most about it is the background noise. If people were trying to work, the noise would be disruptive.

Sounds like learning!

21 thoughts on “Work or learning?

  1. Hello,

    Thanks for the reminder! Yes, it’s NOT about work, worksheets, homework etc. only. Since I met Ron Ritchart I try to focus on learning in class. And it’s amazing how students are able to talk and reflect on it. 🙂


  2. Hi,
    I can so relate to this post. I have made a conscious shift this year (because of our unit on learning and what I learned about learning in preparing for the unit) to use the word learning and not work when talking to my students and to my team. My thinking is if we want kids to take ownership of their learning then we need to plan opportunities for learning to happen and make the learning visible for our students- all the time.
    I am so glad we started with this unit – am very excited for the learning journey ahead.


  3. Such a gret post, Edna!!

    Homework is sort of ritualized at my school. We have a specific day it is sent home and a specific day it needs to be returned. I do it because I am “supposed” to do it, but it is always a struggle for me. How can the “homework” kids take home be about ‘learning’ and not just be more ‘work’? Today students were shocked when their very first homework assignment of the year was to take home a leveled rader of their choice, read it at least 3 times, preferably with someone else, and be prepared to share during our community meeting on Tuesday. No paper. No worksheet. “Just read?” they asked. “Well, read, read again, think about what your reading, think about a good place to read and a good time to read. But, yes, just read.” It’s so far out of the norm for them. Sharing will not be retelling the story, but sharing how, when and with whom they read their book. Let’s see how it goes.


    1. What a great idea! I always try to give homework which I would like to do as a student as well and which is kind of fun.


  4. Hello, I’m a student from the University of South Alabama’s EDM 310 class (Dr. Strange). This was a great observatory post! Teachers don’t realize the negative connotations associated with the word “work”. “Work” is a word used congruence with “chores” and other alike words, but “learning” seems so positive and uplifting. Great post! Keep them coming!


    1. Hello, Alice. What about the work your teachers do? You probably think of work in very positive terms – hopefully, anyway – in that context. Maybe, we should also ask, What is the meaning of work? Why do we call them works of art, works of music? What about work in the context of doing good works in the world? I’m not a physicist or scientist but when talking about levers, isn’t work used to describe the transfer of energy from one mass to another? Could we redefine work to reflect how we transfer our energy into the world around us? Monique


      1. And we could also define work in terms of certain duties that are required of us in our particular roles throughout life.


  5. Great post, Edna. I was not familiar with Guy Claxton or the researcher cited, Caroline Lodge. I am often guilty of using the “get to work”, etc phrases. I think of myself as loving to learn, but this reminded me once again that the words we use are important and may have connotations and reactions we do not anticipate.


  6. Reblogged this on Educationsupportuk and commented:
    Great use of two pieces of video to get the point across. I often ask teachers to listen before they ask children to get on with their work, as their discussion may be relevant and appropriate.


  7. Interesting idea…totally agree that the focus must be on learning but not necessarily at the expense of work. Perhaps we need to re-frame (help the students to re-learn) the concept of ‘work’ for our students so that they can embrace the learning of work and the work of learning.


  8. Thank you so much for this post! It has been so helpful to re-frame my own thinking about the words I choose to use when speaking to students. As PYP coordinator at my school, I spend most of my day popping in and out of classrooms and I have realized that my go to question – unconsciously – for students is “What are you working on?” This post has inspired me to be more mindful and I have now started to ask “What are you learning?” This has lead to so many more meaningful conversations!


  9. Pingback: PYP Bad Words –
  10. I am a bit late to the party but I just wanted to share this perspective after reading this great post and all the reflective comments. Perhaps work can sound like the need to expend effort in giving to something but using the team learning implies gaining something for the effort expended. Just a thought!


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