Active Learning: A dynamic approach…

Claire Bracher

For the last year, Claire Bracher has been an assistant headteacher leading whole-school English. She is now about to embark on a new challenge at The West Thornton Primary Academy in Croydon this forthcoming September, where she will be an assistant headteacher and full time class teacher. Claire has a passion for teaching and learning, but is particularly interested in project-based learning and growth mindset for children. Building a resilience for learning and risk taking is something which Claire believes to be an essential part of developing life skills in children. A collaborator at heart, Claire loves to work with those around her, whether in the real world or in the Twittersphere. Always striving to improve and be the best she can be, Claire loves working in education and her own passion for English, History and creativity continues to grow with each challenge.

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This year I have been lucky enough to embark on a new learning adventure at The West Thornton Primary Academy in Croydon. Part of the Synaptic Trust, West Thornton is unique, and, in my humble opinion, innovative in its approach to learning. For a start, I do not have a traditional style ‘classroom’. Instead I share the space of an ‘Open Learning Zone’.

The space is exciting. Three teachers team teach ninety children who lead their own learning. Pedagogy is at the forefront of everything we do and I have experienced an exciting shift in the way I am teaching. All I knew before about learning has far from gone and in fact is very much now at the forefront of my thinking, but with a difference: no longer do I lead the children to their educational waterhole. Now, I facilitate genuine independent questioning, thinking and learning. The professionals I work with share a vision of teaching not only the curriculum, but life skills.

Building genuine learning power into every child and instilling a sense of wonder in the journey of learning; finding the intrinsic motivation to want to learn is very much key to the role we play as educators. This, is of course, finely balanced with ensuring that every child progresses and develops in their knowledge, understanding and learning of and developing new skills. It is, without any shadow of a doubt, the most exciting experience I have had to date. Plus, my own learning curve, despite being steep, is proving to be one that I will always remember and appreciate.

To give you a little taster of what life in the ‘Open Learning Zone’ is like (and in the absence of being able to ‘see it and believe it’), my aim is to share some of the unique features of the space together with some of the learning activities the children have been involved in so far this academic year. This is Primary teaching with a difference. It is dynamic and adaptive to the learners it caters for. It takes account of the real life scenarios that might be met and acknowledges that real life skills are as important as the curriculum.

Put aside all you know and open your mind. Envisage an environment where independent thinking and learning is encouraged and nurtured; where the children are able to demonstrate an appreciation of being ‘stuck’, and where there is quite literally a genuine ‘buzz’ for learning beyond anything I have ever experienced before.

Within the learning space the children have a working ‘Wonder Wall’. The wall is home to the children’s ‘wonders’; a place to add their thoughts, feelings and questions from the outset and throughout their learning journey. It is an environment where curiosity is an essential part of the learning.

Practical features of the learning zone include the ‘Edit Bench’, which is a place for the children to go to up level and improve their work. The ‘Pit Stop’ provides a place to locate resources. Equipped with their own ‘Independent Learning Toolkits’, the children are mobile within the space. They choose where and how they work, which may for example be up in the ‘Learning Tower’. They do not wear shoes in the zone; they are working in an environment which allows them to relax and feel comfortable.

West Thornton is a Growth Mindset school. Its pupils are familiar with ‘being stuck in the pit’, a phrase used to describe the challenge of working through difficult work. Being ‘stuck’ is not a bad thing. At the heart of their learning, the children understand that not all learning is easy; mistakes are positive. From an early age the students are taught to deal with difficult challenges. Perseverance, resilience and determination are the foundations of their learning power.

There is no such thing as a typical day at West Thornton. Each day brings new learning and new discovery. The children use technology to enhance their learning. QR Codes are regularly used to access sources or challenges and a Padlet wall is continually available for them to add their ideas and suggestions. The Big Question wall is where the children will find all of their independent learning challenges. They learn to manage their own time and prioritise their work. In addition to independent challenges, the children attend focus lessons and surgeries to progress their learning.

So far this half term the children have used the Aging App to see what they will look like in the future. Their learning topic of ‘Who am I and what do I want to be?’ enabled them to learn about the iconic Martin Luther King and draw on their own dreams and aspirations to create their own ‘I have a dream speech’. Their speeches are currently in the process of being blogged to enable them to write for a real-life audience, and in addition to this they have created iMovies in which they perform them in the style of Kid President.

The children have gathered their thoughts on the future using QR Codes to access a padlet. Questions like, ‘What will school be like in the year 2050?’ and ‘What will houses look like in the year 2050?’ have prompted them to make predictions and think about how the world around them will evolve. They have considered global issues which need resolution and thought about how they can solve the problems in the world they live in.

My favourite moment so far this year has been to see the growing love of the challenge. As with every year, the curriculum stretches their knowledge and new skills are learnt on a daily basis. Watching the children begin to understand that achieving involves hard work and perseverance has been incredible. Working with EOS Education, we have begun to embed the ethic of achieving ‘Excellence’ in all we do. Through peer critiquing and self-assessment, the children are learning to strive to achieve excellence in all they do. This involves self-belief and determination.

Undeterred by the thought of something being difficult, the children tackle challenges until they are achieved. They re-draft and edit until they are proud. Watching the moments where they feel proud of their success has been truly memorable. It has made me proud to be part of something this special, and has served so far to prove that the curriculum can be brought together with real life learning. Skills can be developed at an early age to support and create individuals who want to learn and go out into the real world with ambition and a hunger for success. In my school, this hunger is tangible. The adventure continues for us all. Where will it lead? No one yet knows, but we are all feeling the excitement of what is to come.

Do you employ such tactics in your school? Let us know below!

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