Channelling Curiosity

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Curiosity is one of our core values at Churchill. It’s important because when you’re curious about something, you process it deeply, rather than superficially. You also voluntarily spend more time learning about things that spark your curiosity. As a result, you more readily remember what you learn. The desire to find out more about the world we live in, about other people, about the way things work…these are the fuels that feed the fire of education.

Children, adults and most animals have a natural, in-built curiosity. Biologists believe that this instinctive curiosity is a survival mechanism which was selected through evolution, because those animals that were curious and explored their environment were able to identify opportunities and risks in their environment, and were therefore more likely to survive. Clever stuff!

However, curiosity can also be harnessed as a distraction. I fell into this trap this week. Before I sat down to some school work that I needed to do, I thought I would treat myself and watch the latest Taylor Swift video on YouTube. Unfortunately, as the video finished, I noticed the title of a video in the “up next” column to the right: “Taylor Swift reacts to embarrassing footage of herself after laser eye surgery.” It caught my attention, and made me curious enough to click it to see what it was about. As did the next one. And the next one. Half an hour later, I was watching Brie Larson playing a virtual reality lightsabre game with Jimmy Fallon on a late-night American talk show. Entertaining though this was, there was actual work that I should have been doing and I’d actually only wanted to watch the one video…

clickbait

I’m sure many of you have had this same experience, and been sucked in by the clever algorithms that are designed to grab and keep our attention. Like on Netflix, when the episode finishes and you’re just reaching for the remote to switch it off because you know you really need to go to bed, but then just at that moment the next episode starts. Your curiosity is sparked, wondering what happens next…and you sink back onto the sofa with that deadly “I’ll just watch one more episode.”

Why do we fall so easily into the clickbait trap, when we know there’s important work we should be doing? Psychologist Daniel Willingham explains:

Research shows that the trigger for curiosity is our sense that there’s an easy opportunity to learn a lot. That’s a moment-to-moment judgment, which is why curiosity can come and go so quickly.

Furthermore, curiosity is not influenced by long-term learning goals. That’s why, even though I’m a psychologist who loves his work, I still might be bored at a talk on psychology. But Internet content that promises quick and easy information draws my attention even if, after the fact, it doesn’t seem worth my time.

Willingham advises that the best way to avoid the distracting diversion of tempting links is to find stimulating content that’s just as interesting as the stuff designed to keep you occupied on the internet.

Don’t expect children to avoid Internet time-wasters on their own.

Do recognize that curiosity can’t be controlled directly, but you can offer more tempting targets. Help kids find them. And model the behavior by creating a similar resource list for yourself.

I think this is helpful advice. But I know that my willpower sometimes isn’t up to it. So, to get my work done, I put my phone in another room. I close every other window and tab on my computer, other than the one I need. And I focus on just the one thing that I’m supposed to do, until it’s done. And then – after I’ve finished my work – I treat myself to that Taylor Swift video. And maybe just one more.

Attitude to learning, and why it matters

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I’ve been sharing my assemblies this week with the wonderful cast of Sweeney Todd, who are preparing for their performances at the Playhouse, Weston-super-Mare, on 26th-28th February (click here for tickets!) Before they steal the show, I have been talking to each house about the importance of attitude to learning, and why it matters.

Attitude to learning is the way we assess and monitor students’ approaches to their studies. The descriptors are used by each teacher to assess students’ attitudes in their classes, and these attitudes are reported home three times a year. We place a great deal of emphasis on attitudes to learning – but why does it matter so much?

example hm report

Over the past three years we have been gathering data on attitudes to learning and comparing it to GCSE progress scores. To do this we convert the attitude to learning grades in each report into a percentage score: all “highly motivated” grades would score 100%, all “disengaged” would score 0%. What we’ve found is that students with average attitude to learning scores over Years 9, 10 and 11 over 80% made an average of three-quarters of a grade better progress than similar students nationally. Students averaging over 90% on attitude to learning made, on average, a whole GCSE grade better progress than similar students nationally.

What I love about this is that everyone can control their attitude to learning. The behaviours listed under “engaged” and “highly motivated” are things that any student can do, if they choose to. It doesn’t matter whether you find learning easy or difficult; if you are getting the top grades or not; or which subjects you enjoy the most: everyone can choose to show that they are engaged or highly motivated in their learning. If students do make those choices, and show consistently good attitudes to learning, they are giving themselves the best possible chance of making exceptional progress. This is the mission for when students return after the half term break: what choices will they make about their attitude to learning?

Climate for Learning

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Over the past four years we have been working hard at Churchill to develop an exceptional climate for learning. The climate for learning consists of the relationships between staff and students; the environment in which learning take place; and the way in which the learning is managed by both staff and students. The climate has been carefully managed through our focus on attitudes to learning, our revised code of conduct, our thoughtful classroom design and investment in our buildings. This year, especially, staff and students have been working to develop metacognition in lessons. This process, best described as “thinking about thinking,” is a common thread with many of our most successful students. Knowing how to improve, responding positively to feedback, and developing a bank of strategies and approaches which work, allows these students to apply themselves more purposefully to their learning. This year, we have been working hard to provide all students with access to these strategies.

I am delighted to announce that our work on developing a positive climate for learning has now been nationally recognised by the Leading Edge programme from the Schools, Students and Teachers Network (SSAT). Leading Edge is a network of high performing schools, and provides accreditation through the Framework for Exceptional Education – a challenging school improvement framework designed to stretch and challenge schools which have already been recognised as high-performing by Ofsted.

This year we applied for “transforming” status in climate for learning under the Framework for Exceptional Education. This is the highest level available, and would show that we were national leaders in the field. We had to demonstrate that, at Churchill:

  • All staff establish excellent working relationships with learners. High levels of trust ensure interactivity and continual learning dialogue, which challenges and extends learners to apply, evaluate and create. Learners respond well to the high level of challenge and expectations in a climate where they have high self-confidence and self-esteem so that they are able to take risks with their learning.
  • Every space has a learning purpose and is inspiring for teachers and learners. The environment ensures learners are able to develop and access the strategies/solutions needed to move on independently of teacher instruction as well as celebrating excellent outcomes.
  • Classroom management is characterised by highly collaborative and respectful relationships; learner interactivity is the norm. Learners routinely reflect on how they learn and undertake this through a wide range of contexts and methods.

Having submitted our evidence, we were then subject to a peer review by visitors from another high performing school within the Leading Edge Network, and moderation by a visiting assessor from the SSAT. The process has taken months, but I am proud to say that this we received confirmation from the SSAT that we had successfully met the standard and been awarded our badge! This makes us one of the leading schools nationally for this area of school improvement.

Our peer reviewer said:

“the research and thought that has gone into the new buildings has led to the development of some outstanding learning environments with a sense of coherence and consistency, and the use of limited display space has focused students’ learning, as well as reducing unnecessary staff workload.
There is a clear communication of ethos, which again supports the goal of consistency across the school.
Students’ behaviour was very good in all lessons visited. All students were focused on their work, and showed enthusiasm in lessons; many were confident to contribute, showing a climate of trust.
I was impressed with the very obvious prioritising of student well-being and support. Staff morale has been greatly boosted. Staff workload is being positively impacted. The whole-school focus on learning behaviours will make students enjoy being at school even more.”

Our SSAT moderator said:

“Planning has been under-pinned by a vision of learning that recognises that expectations about behaviour for learning are grounded in challenge and aspiration in the classroom and this has ensured that all staff recognise that fostering effective learning behaviour is the responsibility of all staff. There is a strong community ‘buy in’ because staff and students have contributed to both planning and evidence gathering. As a consequence transactions with students focus on positive communication. This ‘buy in’ is evident in the ethos of classrooms. Work was purposeful with a strong sense of teacher student partnership. Assessment practice aids students in identifying how they can improve thus promoting engagement and aspiration. On- going work in profiling attitude to learning reinforces the positive and supports a more evidenced approach to intervention.”

It is fantastic that visitors to Churchill recognise the highly effective culture that we are building at the Academy. All the staff and students at Churchill contribute to developing this climate for learning: they deserve to feel as proud as I do that our hard work has been recognised in this way.