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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Professional learning

3

Research informing practice

3.1

Diverse learning needs

All classes and schools in Wales have learners who come from different backgrounds and experiences that need to be taken into account when planning and teaching. The Welsh Government (2010) is committed to supporting schools in providing an inclusive curriculum that meets the needs of all learners. Thus schools have flexibility in deciding how to teach the national curriculum and when they introduce content, drawing on earlier or later content to match learners’ appropriate levels of understanding (DCELLS, 2008). This is important given the increasingly diverse school population of Wales. Such diversity can be seen in many ways (Figure 3.1.1).

Figure 3.1.1: Learners have diverse needs and backgrounds
Figure 3.1.1: Learners have diverse needs and backgrounds

How research helps

We have known for a very long time that motivation is key to learning. Boekaerts (2002), on behalf of UNESCO, shows that there are principles of motivation that apply to all learners, irrespective of where they live or their cultural upbringing. For example, learners are most motivated when they value what they do or when they feel confident in their ability.

Also, learners who are described as ‘mastery-oriented’, where they want to truly understand or master the task at hand, learn more than those who are concerned with how they appear and compare to others (‘performance or ego-oriented’). To create a mastery-oriented environment, you could:

  • model the approach to tasks that you find difficult, showing persistence and a positive attitude
  • provide feedback which focuses on effort and strategies on how to improve, rather than ability and comparison with others
  • emphasise that making mistakes is part of learning
  • develop personal choice and responsibility for learning, e.g. by encouraging learners to set realistic goals and to improve their ‘personal bests’. 

The widely-respected psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that those learners who display what she calls ‘growth mindset’, where they value hard work and effort, are most likely to succeed than those who hold a ‘fixed mindset’, where success is seen as a matter of talent (Dweck, 2006). The most successful people in all walks of life display such a positive, resilient outlook.

Dweck’s research has also highlighted the importance of what she calls the power of ‘yet’.  This simple word conveys belief that learners can succeed if they keep trying.

Activity 3.1.1

Watch the TED talk by Carol Dweck on the power of 'yet' (external link).

Or, at a more popular level, watch the American singer Janelle Monáe perform 'The Power of Yet' (external link) on Sesame Street. How might you develop your practice using Dweck’s suggestions?

Meeting the needs of more able and talented (MAT) learners

There is no universal definition of learners who are generally regarded as more able. Estyn (2011) define ‘more able and talented’ as those who require greater support in learning than that provided for the majority of learners. Able learners are those who may be capable of achieving above expected levels across the curriculum, whereas talented learners are those who excel in one or more areas, such as music, drama, art or sport. The inspectorate reckons that there are around 20 per cent of learners aged 3 to 19 in each school who are more able and talented, while the top 2 per cent may be considered exceptionally able.

Inspection reports often refer to a lack of challenge in lessons, where learners are not being stretched or occupied at the right level. Effective practice includes:

  • arranging for more able and talented learners to present projects so that they model skills for others
  • routinely asking more challenging questions, which usually start with ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’
  • providing stimulating enrichment activities that add depth and breadth to learning, e.g. teaching others, debating issues, translating ideas into new forms such as diagrams, models and summaries
  • setting tasks that include a ‘cognitive challenge’ – see Figure 3.1.2. 
Figure 3.1.2: Examples of cognitive challenge
Figure 3.1.2: Examples of cognitive challenge

Challenge is not something to be confined to the more able and talented learners. By definition, learning should take all learners out of their comfort zones and extend their thinking. So practitioners need to create an environment that enables this to happen. For instance, a teacher in Year 1 uses ‘learning hotspots’ (yellow spots in the environment) with questions, challenges or invitations to enquire further. Once a day ‘hotspot champs’ have the job of encouraging others to take part in the activity by explaining the learning and modelling what to do. This personalised approach enables the children to rehearse skills

(Ofsted, 2011).

Activity 3.1.2

Undertake a self-audit of your provision for MAT learners using table 3.1.1. Reflect upon what you can do as a classroom practitioner and what requires whole-school commitment.

Start
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Activity 3.1.3

A whole-school approach to learning, called the 'Leonardo effect', develops learners’ critical thinking and independent learning skills. During the first term of each year, learners acquire skills and knowledge about a specific topic. In the second term, they manage their own learning about the topic. The third term is used to develop science and creative skills in relation to the topic. Teachers encourage learners’ creativity, research, investigation and problem-solving skills throughout the year. The headteacher evaluates standards through direct observation of lessons and through monitoring learners’ output. This information is used to ensure smooth transition between year groups and key stages. The school uses an in-service training day each year for staff to evaluate their work, analyse learner outcomes, and to plan for the year ahead

(Estyn, 2011, p.12).

Read the case study above of how a primary school, with learners from a wide range of backgrounds, provides challenge for MAT learners.

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