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Using Challenging Learning to create self sustaining learners

Our current reality

I spend a lot of time thinking about the current challenge in education to effectively engage all students while meeting their diverse and unique needs and preparing them for a future that we cannot even imagine.   Recently, schools across the world have unexpectedly and suddenly had the opportunity to assess their students’ efficacy, motivation, and personal accountability as they have had to switch from traditional, classroom learning to remote learning.  The data gathered will undoubtedly guide educational communities to identify potential areas for improvement to help them overcome this challenge of engaging all students while preparing them for the future.   This disruption has been difficult and unsettling, but the silver lining is that it has set us up for wide-scale and significant changes in how we envision schools and learning.

In the last month, James Nottingham, Co-Founder of Challenging Learning, and creator of the The Learning Pit has been offering free webinars every week for teachers across the world.  I have had the privilege to host these webinars with him and have thoroughly enjoyed the positive reactions from the teachers and leaders.  It has been exciting to hear about their plans to embed the ideas in their own classrooms and to share new ideas with their buildings.  Even more rewarding is their obvious desire to keep improving as they seek more professional learning as part of their efforts to impact student learning.  Educators continue to amaze and impress me with their dedication and motivation.

How Challenging Learning supports culture change

I have had a number of people ask me where to start, or which strategies are most important to embed first.  This has allowed me to reflect on what has drawn me to dedicate the rest of my professional career to Challenging Learning and to think about how I might support others in their school improvement efforts.  The cohesiveness of every element of Challenging Learning leads to a clear and precise vision.  This is what I believe makes Challenging Learning not only unique, but also what leads to their significant impact on learning when they work with schools.  What is even more impressive to me is that the strategies and approaches to learning that are embedded in the Challenging Learning arena are tied to skills and knowledge that educators ALREADY possess.  There are no expectations that educators must learn a slew of new and complicated strategies or that they must abandon those ideas that they hold dear.  Instead, it is being intentional about certain aspects of how we impact learning and learners.  At times I try to identify which principle or strategy is the most important, or most impactful, but I have learned that it really depends on each educator’s context- their current needs and prior experiences.

Ultimately, I have decided that a good starting point would be to envision a classroom or school where all of the students and educators can effectively answer these three questions:  What am I aiming to do?  How much progress have I made so far?  What could I do next?

What am I aiming to do?  We have known for some time that it is important for us to identify learning intentions or learning targets.  Research supports this notion and there are LOTS of resources out there that will tell you how to do this.  The Challenging Learning Through Feedback book is one resource that provides excellent guidance for how to effectively write and utilize learning intentions and success criteria.  You can get free access to sections on the learning criteria and success criteria here and here.  What is really important, though, is that the learning intentions are clear and specific and that the students know and understand them.  Including student in the creation of the success criteria is a great way to ensure their understanding.  As humans, we like to have clarity about what we need to do and what is expected of us.  Whatever our method, we tend to find ways to establish goals and specify what we aim to do- some of us are list makers, some cover our worlds in post-it notes, other have apps on our phones with lists or reminders.   We want to provide this clarity for our students to support and enhance their learning!

How much progress have I made so far?  Personally, I find it quite satisfying and exciting to cross things off of my “to-do” lists.  I love knowing that I have made progress and I especially like being able to see the progress.  This is an important step for students in their learning journey.  Rather than waiting until the end of the learning, it is helpful to stop along the way and evaluate how far the students have come in their efforts to meet the learning intention.  Better yet- it is helpful for students to SELF-evaluate how far they have come.  If students are clear on the learning intention and have a good understanding of the success criteria they can self-evaluate their progress.  Imagine the amount of efficacy students will develop if they know and understand that they have this kind of power in their learning-  the insight to identify exactly what they are expected to know, understand and be able to do, while also having the capacity to evaluate where they are in the learning process.  To build a culture where all of this is possible, you can find strategies and suggestions in the Challenging Mindset book.

What could I do next?  Calling all teachers….I want you to imagine a classroom where your students, ON THEIR OWN, can follow up a self-evaluation of their progress by getting on with next steps in their learning, even if it means they will be challenged or may find themselves “in The Learning Pit”.  It is a glorious picture isn’t it?  Some of you may already have this situation in your classrooms, and for that I applaud the work that you have done to establish that culture in your classroom.  When learning intentions and success criteria are clear, when students have the right mindset, when they are not afraid to try new things and make mistakes, and when they are receiving quality feedback to support their learning (more information on this in the Feedback book linked earlier), students can identify what their next steps should be.

Take a moment to ask yourself these three questions about your own learning journey and your quest to have the greatest impact possible on your students’ learning.  Do you know what you are aiming to do?  Do you know how much progress you have made?  Do you know what you can do next?   You can certainly work to make this happen on your own, but I have witnessed the even greater success that happens when an entire team works together to change the culture of the whole organization.  Challenging Learning has many options for supporting this kind of change.  Join us for our weekly webinars, learn about our consultancy options, or reach out to us about our virtual options.  Whatever your next steps are, I wish you the best of luck on your journey and I thank you for your commitment to education and to learning.