The Learning Power Approach at the Dharma School

/ June 7, 2019

It gives me great pleasure to write this Head’s Up for our community. The Learning Power Approach (LPA), developed out of the foundations of Building Learning Power, both of which have been developed by Guy Claxton, emeritus Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester. Our school has a strong connection with Guy, see http://dharmaschool.co.uk/community/friends-and-patrons-of-the-school.  

It is oft asked, concerning research in the educational field, ‘how do you know it works?’ The endeavour for educational research to ‘land’ in schools is one about which Guy is passionate and the LPA is partly a result of that work.

What does seem to be clear in the area of using educational research to bring about positive change in schools (so-called ‘knowledge mobilisation’) is that, (from Dr James Mannion), ‘learning to learn’ – metacognition – as applied to the primary classroom – does work. The Learning Power Approach encompasses many different practical methods and strategies for achieving this and more.

I want to briefly share the bare bones of it as children of this age are learning a great deal from their parents, and this Head’s Up aspires to ignite and feed knowledgeable family conversations about learning. For a detailed look at the LPA, please see ‘Powering Up Children, The Learning Power Approach to Primary Teaching’ by Guy Claxton and Becky Carlzon, the second book in the series on LPA.

The LPA forms a kind of middle way between the extremes of ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’ teaching. It focuses on the importance of knowledge and understanding but it combines this with a progressive’s concern with the development of the whole child, helping them build a set of positive attitudes and mindsets towards dealing with challenge and uncertainty. This is very much the approach and ethos of our whole school.

Dharma School The Building Learning Power Approach

The LPA is a set of tools, ideas and examples for developing particular learning muscles or habits of mind. It is designed to be customised and so in our school each teacher is currently trialling different ideas. And it is not a quick fix but cumulative; the adults in the class are expected to proactively experiment and reflect on what is working to develop these learning muscles in the children. As the classroom staff are integral to this work, they have all assessed themselves as to what their leading edges are and have been encouraged to try various plausible methods that for them are somewhere between ‘I do that already’ and ‘in your dreams!’ Teachers are challenged to be reflective, creative and enquiring about their own practices of ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ in the widest sense.

The ultimate aim of the LPA is to create a roomful of enthusiastic and resourceful learners. Having fun in the classroom is a pre-condition for learning.

I think we need to help children become ready and willing to learn on their own, and not just able to. We want them to be keen to learn, as well as capable of learning. It is not enough to train children in learning or thinking ‘skills’ because a skill is just something you can do, not something you are inclined to do. We want children to be inclined to be resourceful, creative and cooperative, not just able to be when prodded.

The life-long learning muscles that we seek to develop within this overall approach are (pages 22-23 of the book referenced above):

Curiosity, Attention, Determination, Imagination, Thinking, Socialising, Reflection and Organisation.

So what can we do as parents to ensure that we facilitate the development of our children as confident and capable learners? After all, research shows that success in life and personal fulfilment depend upon these mental habits.

For a start, here are some useful reflective questions to ask ourselves:

‘How can I best help my children to be strong, collaborative and reflective learners?’

‘Is there a different way I could approach this to build persistence and learning from mistakes?’

‘How can I hand more responsibility over to my children?’

‘How can I encourage my children to push and challenge themselves and not take the easy option?’

In our school, we are increasingly speaking ‘learnish’; the language of learning. We hope that you will see this when you receive your child or children’s school report.  The messages we all convey about learning are carried by the vocabulary we use and the way we behave – and often this is unconscious. So ‘learnish’ – for example conveying that mistakes and effort are normal and inevitable – requires conscious awareness and habit-changing behaviour. It is an invitation to reflect on our own learning and the ways we have been taught both in and out of the classroom.

The Languages of Learning


(From p.116, see earlier reference)

Also, I would like to invite you as parents to contact me if you are able to share how you use your learning muscles in your jobs. Would you consider contributing an account of this in a puja? I am sure, with some reflection, you all have a super examples of ‘learning stories’. A learning story is a small vignette of a ‘leading edge’ moment to a child’s learning. It could take the form of a short account, or a photo with a caption, or be demonstrated by a piece of work the person is engaged in.

Perhaps you could share a learning story with the wider community?

Finally, if there is sufficient interest, I am happy to run a workshop at the next parent consultation in the autumn to showcase what we are doing and how you can support your child in strengthening their learning muscles.

I will close with one last quote: the goal of the LPA is,

To develop all pupils as confident and capable learners – ready, willing, and able to choose, design, research, pursue, troubleshoot, and evaluate learning for themselves, alone and with others, in school and out, for grades and for life.’

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