The Teachers’ Palette: the second significant framework for building powerful learners.
Whereas the Supple Learning Mind, the first framework, identifies the types of learning behaviours schools are seeking to build in learners, the Teachers’ Palette considers the types of teacher actions that create the conditions necessary for such learning behaviours to become habituated.
Just as the Supple Learning Mind is made up of a number of interwoven behaviours, so is the classroom culture that cultivates better learners. Schools that successfully build learning behaviours have found that there are four key cultural shifts that combine to create the seedbed for building better learners – the relationships in the classroom; the ways in which learning is the object of discussion; the object of learning; and the object of celebration.The Teachers palette diagram_with explaination-Animated_04
The four key cultural shifts
Moving to more learning-friendly cultures is a big shift in thinking and action. To establishing learning-friendliness comes from four shifts. A shift in relationships, a shift in the language, a shift in how learning is constructed and a shift in what is celebrated, what is seen to matter.
1. Relating for learning: the changing roles and responsibilities of teachers and learners, where learning becomes a shared responsibility. students are given more responsibility for their own learning, the role of the teacher changes from ‘the sage on the stage’ to ‘the guide by your side’; the role of the student moves from ‘passenger’ to ‘crew’ and ultimately ‘pilots of their own learning’.
2. Talking for learning: the sort of language content and style to enhance learning, making learning the object of conversation. The way we express ourselves in the classroom creates a powerful linguistic environment that teaches young people the best of what we know about learning. The language of learning helps students to discuss, understand, and become conscious of using their learning behaviours.
3. Constructing for learning: activities and classroom routines feed learning habits and learning becomes the object of learning. Learning activities are designed to stretch and challenge by having a dual focus – to explore content and stretch students’ use of their learning behaviours. There is a strong underpinning of not just ‘doing’ learning but reviewing and reflecting on the process in order to make meaning and apply it elsewhere.
4. Celebrating learning: the outward signs of the values that underpin the culture, making learning the object of attention. In this dimension failure has been redefined; being stuck is seen as interesting and mistakes valuable. Effort, questions and taking risks are recognised, attended to, acknowledged and praised. These and other things serve to make visible the underlying values of the learning environment.
The teacher’s role becomes one of bringing learning to the surface; to make the ‘how’ of learning public; to train some of the tricky bits; to talk about it; to recognise and celebrate it as it happens; to nudge it along, assisting students to grow their learning capacities; and to design activity to stretch a wide range of learning habits. This uncovering of learning ensures students discover, use, understand and grow their learning habits. There is a shift in emphasis from performance to learning, from content to process, from teaching to coaching.
The shift leads teachers to ask how can I:
- build a classroom culture that ensures that responsibility for learning is shared with and to some degree devolved to learners?;
- create opportunities to discuss the learning process using the language of learning?;
- construct activities that develop positive learning behaviours and help learners to acquire the necessary content?;
- build learners’ commitment to becoming better learners through what is valued and recognised?
The outcomes of moving to a learning-friendly classroom culture
Learning-friendly cultures systematically cultivate habits and attitudes that enable young people to face difficulty calmly, confidently and creatively. This often means moving the focus from what teachers do to a focus on what learners do. Moving from a focus on product and performance to a focus on the process of learning. It’s a gradual, sometimes difficult, but hugely worthwhile process of culture change by schools and habit change by teachers.
So ‘culture’ concerns the details of the micro-climate that teachers create in their classrooms. What they do and say, what they notice and commend and what they don’t, what kind of role model of a learner they offer: all these are of the essence. And what really matters is how they design and present activities so that, over the course of a term or a year, their students are cumulatively getting a really good all-round mental work-out. All the learning bits of their brains are being stretched and strengthened, one by one and all together.
For learners it’s a place where their role changes from receptivity to activity:
- they collaborate and talk about how they understand things
- they accept responsibility for learning
- they do more of the thinking
- they develop curiosity, perseverance, attentiveness, and open-mindedness
- they monitor and assess what they do
- they talk fluently about their learning behaviours
- they value mistakes, challenge, feedback
- they develop their learning behaviours consciously
- they regard themselves as improving learners
For teachers it’s a place where their role changes from ‘delivering’ learning to students, to the creation of situations in which students learn:
- the learning process is brought to the surface, given a language, discussed, looked for, celebrated
- learning processes are modelled
- teachers act as learning coaches
- few lessons are simply ‘talk-and chalk’
- lessons contain challenges and activities that get students thinking and learning for themselves
- teachers encourage students to explore a challenging question, problem or assertion
- teachers enable students to become observers and regulators of their own learning
- teachers keep thinking ‘What’s the least I can do to get productive learning happening (again)?’
Because learning-centred teachers have a particularly rich conception of learning and the habits that underpin it, they are able to design nudges and activities that target quite specific aspects of learning behaviours. Teaching for learning becomes more detailed and forensic.