Learners on learning…

Teaching can be tough. There are days when dealing with difficult situations, students or parents can feel unrewarding and you might feel unappreciated, disappointed or overwhelmed.

Listening in on Year 6 students reflecting on their learning with an outsider (a researcher exploring the PYP enhancements for the IB), I was impressed by the extent to which they understand the learning process and can articulate their understanding. Teachers, they are a credit to you.

When asked if they have agency, they said they didn’t know what that meant. But here are some of their thoughts about their learning…

  • Our learning is like a ‘choose your own adventure’. We have control over how we learn and that makes us more invested.
  • The attitudes we demonstrate show who we are and what we care about. We talk a lot about what dispositions we need and which ones we need to work on.
  • There is leashed and unleashed learning, like Studio Time, where we choose what we want to inquire into and how. There is no point everyone just learning the same thing. The way we learn encourages individuality and authenticity.
  • Inclusion is a big focus this year. It’s about not leaving people out and we have tried to make friends outside our usual friendship groups.
  • Assessment is how the teachers know what we need and how they can help us. Everything is assessment, we don’t always notice when they are assessing us. Teachers are with us all the time, they don’t need tests to know where we are at.

I know there are times when you wonder if it’s all worth it. Based on the thoughtful comments of these 12 year olds, I can assure you that it is.

Student ownership of learning…

“I think teachers should not be telling the students exactly what they should be doing. They should be finding their own path and figuring out the ways that they learn best.”    ~ Georgia, Year 6.

The Year 6 PYP exhibition is a prime example of the kind of learning that is unleashed when students own their learning. The confidence and understanding with which Georgia and the other learners shared this learning experience are evidence of the power of student ownership…

Looking forward to increasing opportunities for student ownership in 2016!

An inquiry into ownership of learning…

What do you notice about Audri as a learner?

We begin our Year 4 collaborative planning session with Audri… to generate thinking about the ways young learners own their learning, outside the classroom…

The teachers notice and name his confidence, persistence, belief in himself, resourcefulness, curiosity, commitment, ownership of learning, enthusiasm, excitement...

Layla wonders if Audri’s uniqueness and enthusiasm would be stifled in a traditional school setting.

Jina responds that she is excited by the possibilities of creating such authentic learning opportunities in her classroom.

Watching an extract from Guy Claxton on building learning power adds another layer to our conversation:

He says the ‘The ability to learn is very learnable’…

Some key questions which he asks:

  • What habits or attitudes of mind do you invite and cultivate in your students?
  • What learning muscles are being stretched beyond mastering content?

Important learning dispositions that have value for our learners in the ‘real’ world (beyond passivity, remembering, note taking and regurgitating, even if these might be useful in some contexts):

  • Curiosity – asking questions, seeking problems, finding solutions, desire to learn
  • Persistence – sticking with it in the face of challenges and difficulties
  • Resourcefulness – experimenting, taking initiative, having a range of strategies on which to draw
  • Collaboration – being willing to and knowing how to collaborate effectively
  • Thoughtfulness – standing back and thinking metacognatively, being able to think clearly and critically
  • Imagination – visualising new concepts, producing new ideas

Claxton says it is possible to strengthen all of these, even within the parameters of conventional classrooms. One of the major considerations is how we talk. Most teachers spend a great deal of time talking about ‘work’.  Shifting the focus to the process of learning, makes a huge difference.

Back in our planning meeting, we talk about the importance of making thinking visible and the value of noticing and naming learning behaviours, raised in both Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart et al and Choice Words by Peter Johnston. (Both books are highly recommended.)

The latter highlights the influence our language has on student learning. I particularly like examples like this one, which demonstrate the effect of a few well-chosen words…

“What have you learned most recently as a reader?” …the teacher begins with ‘given’ information that is not up for discussion: a) the student is a reader, and b) readers learn things. The only question is, what has this particular reader learned? For a student to respond to this question, he or she has to review recent learnings. The opening question requires an answer that begins, “I learned. . . .” It insists on an agentive identity statement about reading and learning. At the same time, it creates a learning history, which is an antidote for students who think they are not good and have always been not good.”

As I’ve frequently said in this space –

We have learned that it’s more valuable to spend time building a deep understanding of what a unit of inquiry is about and deciding on conceptual understandings than on planning activities.

A valuable tip we gleaned from Sam Sherratt  is to agree on one word that sums up the conceptual essence of the unit. In this case it is ‘ownership.’

Central idea – Taking ownership of learning empowers us.

Conceptual understanding rubric –

Beginning Developing Established
Learning is meaningful when we take responsibility for it.


I see the teacher as the one who knows what to do, how to do it and if it’s good.

I expect the teacher to tell me what to do and how to do it.

Sometimes I make decisions about my own learning, without asking the teacher.

I can describe some ways I am becoming more responsible for my own learning.

I make decisions that support and promote my learning.

I can explain the reasons behind my choices and decisions.

Reflection and metacognition lead to ownership of learning.


I don’t think much about my learning.

I can’t explain why I am doing specific tasks.

I don’t understand the difference between ‘work’ and ‘learning’.

I am beginning to think about how I learn.

I can explain why I am doing specific tasks.

I can identify the skills and attitudes I need or am using.

I can decide which strategies to use in my learning and explain my choice.

I think about myself as a learner and can identify my strengths and challenges.

I reflect on my learning, set learning goals based on my reflections, and act on them.

I can explain how I could use my learning in different contexts.

I can explain what I gained from a learning experience, what I contributed, what could have made it better.

Feedback welcome!

Understanding learning…

We started the school year at each grade level, with an inquiry (directly or indirectly) into learning. A unit that set the tone for all the coming units. The intention was to focus students’ awareness of themselves as learners and help build learning communities in our classrooms and in our school.

As Dylan William says in the clip below, ‘We can train students to be better observers of their own learning so that they can take ownership of their learning…’

Browsing some of the class blogs, I came across this insightful reflection by Abby in Year 6. With Abby’s permission, I am posting it here to inspire teachers and learners alike…

I have done a lot of learning this term. Every challenge I have faced has improved my learning. Every day I have brought something home with me from what I have done in class and discussed it with my family. My thinking has been deeper and more insightful and I’ve refined my learning routines and now I can put my thinking into words easily and efficiently. I can generalise any learning and reading I do and turn long paragraphs into short sentences.

This year I have a notebook called a bubble catcher. I put my thoughts and ideas into this book and I can refer to it if I need to remember what I’ve learnt. It has been a really good way to think. Whenever I write one idea it makes me think about a new one and I end up filling three or four pages.

I can cooperate with my classmates and act responsibly. I use my initiative and do what is right without being told what to do. I have asked lots of questions and reflected on the answers.

This year, after thinking for a long time and talking to others, I have found something out. Learning never stops. Every idea you get will lead you to something new. You follow the path until you reach yet another idea, one that will teach you a new lesson. You make mistakes, but each mistake is worth it, because you will learn from it.

Can you hear the learner’s voice?

Do conventional report cards give parents a true description of a child’s learning? If not, what would improve them?

This was the driving question behind yesterday’s #edchat conversation. I assume that ‘conventional report cards’ vary in different educational contexts around the globe. And I’m sure they have much in common in the attempt to reduce the exciting, messy, complex process of learning to something tiny and uniform that fits into an envelope.

Can you hear the learner’s voice in your reports?

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that teachers can ’cause learning without the student’s help,’ as Dylan William says in this great little clip about metacognition. 

The most telling part of my school’s reports is the student reflection. It reveals a great deal, not just about the learner but  about how the learning takes place…

Some snippets from our current Year 5 and 6 report reflections:

Compare these, which focus on ‘work’ and ‘results’…

‘I worked really hard… and in the end it all paid off because I got an A.’

‘I have improved immensely in spelling. I got 41 out of 50 however, I still think there is room for improvement.’

‘In maths I don’t think I am living up to my potential, as I am not getting the results I would have liked to.’

‘I think I need to work on listening to instructions more carefully.’

… to these, which focus on learning…

‘This year I have extended my knowledge, matured and have shown that I can overcome anything if I really focus and concentrate on all the obstacles that are in the way of my destination – succeeding and doing my utmost. I think that I am a curious and open minded learner. ‘

‘In Inquiry, I’m like someone running and picking up speed and momentum. Last year, finding a big question was so baffling but now it’s simple. These last three inquiries have been so absorbing, I have been like a sponge waiting for more knowledge to absorb into my brain.’

‘Throughout primary school you do units of inquiry. At the beginning of this semester, I thought that I was locating facts and presenting them. In this semester, I have learned not just facts but deeper understandings and meanings. I have also improved my creativity in linking ideas in units of inquiry’.

‘I have learnt many skills about writing speeches and how they are not just a read-out narrative, how to raise my voice when talking about something important, speak in a different tone or to move my hands in certain way to get people’s attention. I still think I need to improve on my writing skills and how to convert thoughts into words and get them on the paper.’

Can you hear the learner’s voice?

Related post: 10 ways to encourage student reflection

10 ways to encourage student reflection…

Optimal learning occurs when students are active participants in their own learning, rather than passive recipients of teacher-delivered content. For this to be effective, students really need to think about their learning. I worked with a group of teachers recently who felt their young students were not capable of writing meaningful reflections for their end of semester reports. That might be true. But only if reflection and metacognition are not integral parts of the learning in their classes.

How do we encourage students to think about their learning?

1. Focus on process, as much as on content.

Guy Claxton calls this ‘split screen teaching.’ Think about the learning process. Talk about the learning process. It’s not just about tasks and results or material to be covered.

2. Focus on learning, not on teaching.

Stop thinking about how to teach the content. Ask yourself: How best will learning take place? How can I actively involve every student? How will this help them develop as learners? Share this with the learners.

3. Always know why.

Make sure you and your students know the purpose of every task and of how it will advance the learning.

4. Invite students in.

Encourage students to plan how they will learn and to reflect on the learning process. Tell them they own their learning.

5. Allow time.

Make sure students have time to stop and think about why and how they learned, not just what. Give them five minutes at the end of a lesson to record their reflections.

6. Ask the right questions.

How might you find this out? What skills did you use? How did your group function? What worked and what didn’t? What connections did you make? How was your thinking pushed? Why did you choose the approach you did? What did you enjoy and why? How could you have done it differently?

7. Write it down.

Have students record their reflections and date them, so that you (and they) can see the process of their thinking. Use a journal, a class blog or post-it notes that can be quickly collected and pasted somewhere.

8. Use thinking routines.

Project Zero’s Visible Thinking suggests explicit thinking routines which encourage students to think about their learning. Try Connect, Extend, Challenge or 3,2,1 Bridge.

9. Make feedback meaningful.

Refer to learning attitudes and skill development, not just tasks and content. Refer to process and progress, not just product. Avoid saying ‘Well done!” Great work!’ ‘You could have put in more effort.’ ‘You completed this task successfully’ ‘Your essay is comprehensive’. This isn’t feedback about learning!

10. Model.

Talk about your own learning. Tell them what you learned and how you learned it. Talk about how your thinking has changed and how your skills have developed. Learning is ongoing…

More ’10 ways’ posts.

Do you care what students think?

A friend and I were discussing the idea of student evaluation of  teachers in order to improve teaching and learning. At the particular institution where this friend works, the idea was not well received by teachers. It might have been the way it was presented, perhaps the teachers feel threatened or are afraid of what might be revealed… or it might be the different perspective of a country and culture in which students are expected to show respect for teachers irrespective.

I was surprised that teachers might not want to know what their students think. Thinking about the learning process is just as important as thinking about what you learn. But, as Dylan William says in the video below, there are many teachers who ‘try to cause learning without the students’ help.’

I’ve posted before about how we articulated our learning beliefs and are constantly unpacking them to help teachers shift the focus in our school from teaching to learning.

Principle #5: Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.


  • Learners are actively involved in the learning process.
  • Learners set specific learning goals and are supported in achieving them.
  • The learning process is just as important as what is being learned.
  • Students constantly reflect and make connections between past and new learning.
  • Learners are always aware of the purpose of a task and how it will further their learning.
  • There is a classroom culture in which thinking is valued and questioning is encouraged.
  • The teacher doesn’t do  all the talking or make all the decisions.
  • Teachers invite feedback and act on it.
  • At student led conferences, students talk to parents about their learning, their strengths and weaknesses, their goals and achievements.

Previous posts illustrating the learning principles:

Principle #1: We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.

Principle #2: Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.

Principle #3: Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.

Principle #4: Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts.