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Kate Umpleby, Acting Deputy Head of Lower School Harrow International School Bangkok, explores High Performance Learning in Early Years Education.
Download the PDF version here.
From Learning - to Learning to Learn About 18 months ago, our school - Harrow International School Bangkok, embarked upon a journey to become a World Class; High Performance Learning School. The High Performance Learning framework developed by educational leader and writer Deborah Eyre is, in essence, an educational philosophy that ALL students have the potential for high performance, drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, metacognition and growth mindset.
Teaching to the top, and scaffolding support for those that need it to get there, is something that I have strived to practise throughout my 16 years as an educator – but metacognition, although not a new concept to me or within education, was something that definitely caught my attention and got me thinking.
Teaching from the top
Teaching and Learning - teachers teach and students learn – simple, right? For centuries, as teachers we have been imparting our superior knowledge and understanding on to our students. A simple transaction between teacher and student. The quest to find the most effective, efficient means of completing this knowledge transfer has dominated educational research for decades. 34 years ago, in Patricia Cross’s 1987 paper ‘Teaching for Learning’ she stated that ‘when students are actively involved in learning…they learn more’ and ‘if teachers set high but attainable goals academic performance will usually rise to expectations’. More recently, there has been a shift in focus to what a teacher brings into the classroom, their subject knowledge and pedagogical understanding. But is this enough? Is this really the best way to prepare the workforce of the future? I can’t help but feel we were missing something.
The “New Norm”, are our students ready?
‘Roughly seven in ten people are currently in jobs where we simply cannot know for certain what will happen.’
-Hasan Bakhshi, Jonathan M. Downing, Michael A. Osborne and Philippe Schneider; The Future Of Skills Employment In 2030
No one can predict the future. Is the ‘superior’ knowledge that we are imparting upon future generations going to even be of any use to them when they are applying for jobs as Extinct Species Revivalists, Organ/Body Part Creators, Mind Transfer Specialists or Drone Traffic Optimisers? Yes, we can shift our focus to developing skills in STEM. We can teach our students to be better global citizens and learn from our mistakes, but are we, as teachers, being naive and egocentric to believe that what WE know NOW, will be enough for our students in the future?
Ultimately as teachers, we are preparing our students for the future, that is our job. However, if the future looks different (and we know it does) how can we do that when we don’t know what we are preparing them for? We need to do more. If we continue as we are, we are setting our students up to fail. We need to press reset on education; we need to go back a step. I believe that the future lies in providing our students with the understanding of HOW they learn. If we do this, it doesn’t matter what happens in the future, our students will be prepared, they will have the toolkit, whatever is thrown at them, they will know how to ‘learn’ it. I am not saying that we don’t need to teach children how to read and write, of course not. But we alongside this, we need to be teaching them to be aware of the processes and skills that they are using while learning to read and write. For these very same processes may well be needed in the future when they are learning to read and write computer algorithms, or languages that don’t yet exist and if they know how to use them, it will make it a whole lot easier.
Now, I am not arrogant enough to think that I am the first educator to have these ponderings. So, as one does, I took to Google. As expected, there is some great research being done worldwide. A 2019 collaboration between Flinders University, University of Melbourne and Arizona State University is exploring ‘Teaching How to Learn’ promoting self-regulated learning in STEM classes. Gail Ellis and Nayr Ibrahim’s 2015 book ‘Teaching Children How to Learn’ offers a practical methodology for Primary foreign language teachers. However – there is very little out there regarding making this shift from simply learning to learning to learn, in Early Years Education.
Why? Yes, EYFS is primarily skills based already – physical, communication and language skills are all covered, but not the skills of learning. The Characteristics of Effective Learning again ensure practitioners are aware of how to ensure students are learning effectively, but it’s still neglecting to teach our children exactly HOW to learn in the first place. Being willing to ‘have a go’, Having their own ideas and Making links are nods in the right direction, but I can’t help but think we need to be more explicit than this.
Studies have shown that by 18 months old, children are already using spontaneous strategies to correct their mistakes during problem solving (DeLoache et al., 1985) by 3 years old children are able to monitor their problem-solving behaviour and at 4 years old they are able to use metacognitive processing in puzzle tasks (Sperling et al., 2000). Scientific evidence shows us that pre-school children are capable of the meta-cognitive processes involved in basic forms of planning, monitoring and evaluating. If they are doing it spontaneously, I believe we need to jump on that bandwagon. I believe that through our interactions in Early Years classrooms we can, and should, explicitly teach our students to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning. To question and guide students through the thought processes which lead to learning and to highlight it when we do so. Using questions to guide learning through play and challenges in Early Years.
The link between cognition and metacognition
However, this itself brings me to my next pondering – yes, we know they are capable of it at a subconscious level, but how can we expect children who are still learning to communicate full stop, to communicate at such a complex level? The answer is simple, and it is what we do every day, we teach them. We teach them the vocabulary they need to do it. Alongside the normal nouns, verbs and adjectives we need to be teaching our students the language of learning and thinking. I believe language is the link between cognition and meta-cognition. It is the link between children using problem-solving and critical thinking skills subconsciously to complete one task, and children using those same skills purposefully to solve future tasks.
The keyword sign for Thinking
This is exactly what we are doing at the Little Lions Early Years Centre, Harrow Bangkok. We are providing our young learners with a language of learning. Our youngest Harrovians at 18 months are learning and beginning to use the keyword sign for ‘thinking’. Our teachers are modelling it – ‘I am thinking about how Bobo is feeling’ - and as children do, our students are absorbing it.
Through Harvard University’s - Project Zero program – our Reception children are using visible thinking routines, such as See, Think, Wonder, to learn and understand that in order to learn, they need to question, and in order to question, they need to think critically. This is just the beginning, but I have to say, it’s quite exciting.
It is our responsibility as Early Years Educators to lay the foundations of learning – and we need to make them as strong and flexible as possible. From the very beginning we need to teach our students HOW to learn and by doing this, I believe, we will be preparing them in the best way possible for a future that no one can predict.
Kate Umpleby - 19th January 2021 Acting Deputy Head of Lower School, Harrow International School Bangkok
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Calling all artists! We are delighted to invite students from High Performance Learning Schools (including Pathway Schools) to enter our fantastic HPL Global Art competition. The theme for your artwork is ‘Empathy’- an essential VAA for High Performing Learners.
The competition is open to all 3-18-year-olds in HPL schools. Participants must enter through their school. Schools can enter in one or more of the following categories:
- Category 1: Ages 3-7 (Early Years and Lower Primary)
- Category 2: Ages 7-11 (Upper Primary)
- Category 3: Ages 11-14 (Lower Secondary)
- Category 4: Ages 14-16 (Upper Secondary)
- Category 5: Ages 16-18 (Post 16)
CRITERIA FOR ENTRY
It is important that you read this section carefully and that you ensure all work adheres to the requirements.
- One only entry per person. Artwork submitted must be 2D (by this we mean it should be relatively flat).
- Size should be either A5, A4 or A3
- Entries can be produced on paper or card.
- The photograph filename must include the name of the student, the school and the entry category e.g. Chetan Mistry Royal Dubai School Category 2.
- Entrants can use a range of materials and techniques from the following list: drawing (e.g. pencil, pen, crayon, pastel, etc.), painting and collage (photography can be integrated into the piece but we will not accept a standalone photographic entry). Sculptures and models are not allowed.
- The closing date is 14 March 2021.
- Entries will be judged on both originality and artistic merit. Judges will be looking for a creative, imaginative and inspiring response to the theme.
- Winners will be announced by the end of March 2021.
- The decision of the judges will be final.
- Three winners will be identified in each age group - 1st place, 2nd place and 3rd place. Additional entries may be highly commended by the judges.
- All winners and highly commended entries will receive a certificate. Winning entries will be displayed in a virtual gallery on the High Performance Learning Website.
The very best of luck to everyone taking part.
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An extract taken from High Performance Learning World Class School St Mary's Cambridge's Accolade Magazine written by Global Lead Teacher Dr Andrew Flint.
Feedback from teachers to pupils is a vital aspect of effective Teaching and Learning. It has a particularly central role within the High Performance Learning framework, because it fits entirely with the ‘with the students, not to them’ approach. This year we have chosen to make student engagement with feedback the central aspect of the House Points system: students receive House Points for successfully improving their work on the basis of the feedback from their teacher.
Effective feedback avoids trait-based comments such as ‘You’re so clever’ or ‘Great work – just what I would expect.’ These phrases suggest that the child possesses innate qualities or permanent, pre-established traits that cause them to succeed. They send the message that their ability levels are fixed. Instead, as an HPL school we encourage students to develop a growth mindset, to be confident that, through dedication and focused practice, all students can achieve at a high level.
When students focus on the grade or the mark they receive, they tend to compare themselves with their peers or to see the grade as the most important aspect of the work. Furthermore, problems can develop when students who are always used to achieving high grades find new work challenging and their grades dip. A student who has always received praise for being ‘intelligent’ and who believes that intelligence is a fixed trait beyond their control is less likely to possess the resilience to seek new ways to think or work that will be necessary for success as the material they study becomes more complex.
In contrast, HPL helps to create a culture in which the score on the work is less important than the lessons that they learn from it for the future. Instead of comments relating only to that piece of work, they receive guidance that helps to develop their metacognition, and advice on the kinds of skills or approaches that they might employ to improve in the future. It might encourage students to find connections with other work in that subject or to reflect upon how what they have learned in other curriculum areas might help them to see the bigger picture or wider topic.
Here are some examples:
• How did you get that answer? Could you explain what you did?
• Why do you think this piece of work was so successful?
• What made you pick this strategy to answer the question?
• Could you try a different strategy next time?
• What could you do differently?
• Compare this essay to the one you wrote at the
start of the year: what is different?
• This is a fascinating answer. Can you tell me more: what else do you think about this question?
• Has this work shown you any gaps in your understanding? What could you do about this?
• Where do you think this answer fits into the bigger picture?
• What skills did you use to answer this question?
• What other subjects could you use to help you understand this topic better?
By providing feedback that takes the form of questions of this kind, we encourage students to reflect upon how they can improve and take greater responsibility for their own learning. It supports them not to see the grade or mark as the main objective but rather to see their work as part of an ongoing process of improvement over which they have agency. Supporting students to develop a growth mindset helps them to succeed not only now, but in their future education and on into the adult lives and careers.
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An extract taken from High Performance Learning World Class School St Mary's Cambridge's Accolade Magazine written by Global Lead Teacher Daniel Taylor.
Since St Mary’s gained certification as a High Performance Learning (HPL) World Class School, we have continued to work tirelessly in the Junior School to integrate HPL within our school ethos and environment so that pupils become outstanding learners and leaders within their communities.
When I started my teaching career, I served as a Special Educational Needs Coordinator in the United States, and I have continued passionately supporting and advocating for children who require specialised support. Over my time as an educator, working in various schools and teaching a wide range of age groups, I have found one common theme. Students may not necessarily remember the exact topics we teach, but they will take away the life skills that we, as teachers, impart. Therefore, I became fascinated with the HPL framework when the St Mary’s Senior Leadership Team first pursued it. HPL creates a structure wherein pupils develop specific values and learning attitudes, backed by training critical thinking skills which can be used throughout their lives.
In April 2020, I became an HPL Global Lead Teacher, following in the steps of my Senior School colleague, Dr Andrew Flint. My interest was centred on the premise of HPL’s ambitious claim that all children can achieve at a high level when given the proper environment and guidance. Specifically, I was keen to demonstrate the efficacy of the HPL framework within Special Educational Needs planning and programmes. There is a common misconception that children with specific learning difficulties (SpLD) often cannot achieve as highly as some of their peers. Professor Deborah Eyre, Founder and Chair of HPL, has been challenging this idea within educational settings in general, as set out in her policy paper ‘Room at the Top’, but I wanted to focus on this specific group of pupils.
Just like Professor Eyre, I believe that any child can achieve at a high level regardless of ability. However, this idea becomes trickier to navigate when children have a difficult time accessing curriculum content due to specific learning needs, such as dyslexia. This is not to say that these children cannot achieve at as high a level as compared to their peers, but it does mean that educators must think more critically about how to create an environment where students with SpLD can be given the opportunity to successfully explore the HPL framework, such as the thinking skills of meta-thinking, linking, analysing, creativity, and realising. I contend that Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCos) and teachers must partner together to create what I call “Effective Entry Points” to HPL.
Within my role as an HPL Global Lead Teacher, I am working to develop structures and ideas for SENCos and other educators to create these “Effective Entry Points”. I believe that it starts with considering the HPL Values, Attitudes, and Attributes structure. Specifically, pupils with SpLD must be given the resources and training to support their development of agile thinking and a hardworking ethos. In HPL, Professor Eyre stipulates that an individual must be willing to take risks and learn to think creatively, while also persevering if they are to develop a High Performance Learning mindset. Children with SpLD can at times struggle with perseverance as compared to their peers, but perseverance has been shown to increase dramatically when children are provided with targeted resources. When a student feels confident to use given resources within a lesson, they are more willing to take risks and push boundaries. This is where real learning takes place, and where thinking skills begin to develop long term benefits.
My hope is that as an HPL Global Lead Teacher I will be able to support my colleagues at St Mary’s, and collaborate with fellow educators across the country. My aim is to develop HPL more comprehensively within our learning support system at the Junior School, focusing on effective entry points, so that children with SpLD will be able to achieve at their highest levels. By working with other schools through various training sessions, conferences and workshops, our school will continue to successfully develop our HPL programme so that more students are positively impacted.