Next month, I will be participating in an event I have been excited about all year. Chapters International are hosting their first ever Inquiry Learning Conference in beautiful Luxembourg. I will be joined by Kimberly Mitchell and Trevor Mackenzie – both passionate inquiry educators. Perhaps the MOST exciting thing about this conference is the fact that it will be opened by Professor Guy Claxton. I have long admired Guy’s work and his Learning Power Approach is the perfect ‘fit’ with inquiry. Like inquiry, learning power is not a program, a subject or an add on. It can be beautifully woven it the fabric of an inquiry classroom and strengthen learning in the process.
This post is the first in a series of conversations I will be having with Becky Carlzon oin the connection between Learning Power and inquiry.Becky Carlzon is an expert on the Learning Power Approach and the co-author of one of Guy’s recent books – Powering up Children. She has adapted the LPA successfully when teaching in the UK, Argentina and Thailand over the last 12 years. As well as teaching primary children, Becky has used the LPA to teach English to 3- to 73- year olds, finding that no matter your age, experience or background, you can always stretch your capacity to learn.
Kath: Hi Becky! I often refer to Guy’s work when I am working with teachers but I would love to hear how you would define LPA?
Becky: I think Guy’s summary of “results plus” best describes the essence of the LPA – creating learning that not only leads to excellent exam results but also develops children’s capacities as learners. For me, the “plus” includes building robust approaches to learning, such as developing resilience, paying attention to the social aspects of learning, like co-operative and collaborative skills and, perhaps most importantly, taking into account agency and happiness in learning – after all, this is the children’s learning journey, so shouldn’t they drive this learning?
Kath: Absolutely. There is SO much talk about agency at the moment which is wonderful but it is often characterised simply by giving kids more choice and voice. That’s important of course but I believe agency is really strengthened when we focus on the ‘how’ of learning. To use Guy’s metaphor – building learning ‘muscles’ means we get stronger learners more able to learn for themselves.
Becky: Yes - Being a happy, empowered, intrinsically motivated learner is important on so many levels, including behaviour and progress – but, also, what do parents first ask at parent’s evening? “Is my child happy?” “Are they engaging in learning and making progress?” Teaching effectively through the LPA results in a resounding “yes”” to both of these questions.
Kath: As does inquiry learning! So what drew you to Guy’s work on Learning Power?
Becky: The first school I taught at was a “Building Learning Power” school. I worked alongside an “Advanced Skills” teacher who specialised in the LPA. I was in awe of how the children responded to his methods and immediately wanted to learn how to do what he did – to deeply value children as individuals and motivate children to learn. I spent my NQT year observing his practice and learning from him.
Kath: Lucky you! I discovered Guy’s work first through his books and then later hearing him present at a conference at which we were both speaking. We had many of the same messages and I really saw back then how this work added an important layer to what we do as inquiry teachers. We had always valued skills and dispositions for learning but not nearly as explicitly as we should have. And that’s what I want to explore in these posts - How do YOU see the relationship between LPA and IBL? What do you think we can learn from each other?
Becky: For me, inquiry-based practice fits hand-in-glove with the LPA – inquiry starts with valuing and nurturing children’s natural curiosity which is where all great learning begins – a seed of an idea, a wondering, a reflection – So, this is a great starting point for me. How can I value and grow children’s questions and develop inquiries from these seeds? Traditional education sometimes overlooks this and therefore misses a valuable opportunity. I have started by writing down the children’s questions on post-its like you mentioned in your TED talk! I am thinking these will make fabulous investigations in our classroom.
Kath: Oh that’s great! I think that is the essence of it. Really listening and noticing those moments of true wonderment and using them to launch an inquiry. Then as that inquiry unfolds you look for opportunities to explicitly build those skills and dispositions for learning and weave them into the quest for deeper understanding.
Becky: I am interested to see how the inquiry cycle can deepen learning power and vice versa – investigating the links between the two and seeing what grows from my inquiries. So, like any great inquiry, I don’t actually know where this will lead and what will happen – this is the most exciting and intriguing part for me!
Kath: I can’t wait to hear what you learn! There is a very strong commitment in my field to inquiry being so much more than just asking questions and finding out about things. We talk a lot about it being an approach that actually teaches you how to go about learning especially when you encounter a problem/puzzle/challenge/question. So this idea of there being a relationship between inquiry and becoming a more skilful, resourceful independent learner is not a new one … but we need to keep finding ways to make the whole thing manageable and accessible for teachers and learners. Inquiry definitely requires the teacher to use their personal learning powers – to be optimistic, creative risk takers and trust that the process will get you to where you want to go. So, as you begin your exploration into the relationship between LP and IBL what questions/issues are you most interested in investigating? I mean this is an act of inquiry itself!
Becky: It is an act of inquiry! Since I have mostly been based in classrooms following the British Curriculum so far, my priority will be to deepen my understanding of a rigorous and meaningful inquiry process. One of my starting points will be reading the research you have done so far, some of which I believe is in your latest book, “The Power of Inquiry”. Through reading this book and linking with inquiry-based practitioners, I will incorporate the inquiry cycle into my practice, making links with learning power along the way.
Another way I am developing this link is through the “Learning Power Pioneers” community, which has grown over the last month or so. The idea behind creating this community of learning powered thinkers started with a “wondering” from a colleague who had read “Powering Up Children” and has already grown into a network of enthusiastic, keen-to-learn learning power practitioners. We are learning and growing together – the essence of the community is to coach one another and be to coached – to co-create a learning powered journey with our learners together. In this way, it is a mutually supportive network, which I think LPA practitioners have been craving – sometimes it can be quite isolating trying to implement ideas alone. Since there has been such a positive response, I am looking into building a more fit-for-purpose platform than Twitter – if you would like to join us in this journey, please do connect via Twitter or my website (www.learningpowerkids.com)
Kath: So you are creating a community of ‘Learning Power Pioneers’ What question are you currently exploring in terms of your work with children?
Becky: Do I have to pick one?! My head is always buzzing with ideas about how to make our learning deeper, more learner-driven and meaningful. I am currently exploring how to give the children ownership over their learning environment – I have been asking the children for their input into how they’d like the classroom set up, what they’d like on the walls, what helps them learn and challenge themselves. Involving the children in this way always gets “buy in” and makes them feel valued – I teach 4-year-olds and you can visibly see their chests puff up with pride when you ask for their opinions and ideas.
I’m also wondering how to develop the language for learning in my classroom, specifically how to make the LPA accessible to English language learners – we’ll be sharing wonderings and ideas via #learningpowerpioneers on Twitter and will be welcoming feedback and best practice around this.
Kath: They are two important questions. It’s great to see so many teachers now inviting learners to design environment that work for them. It is also the perfect vehicle for an inquiry process! The language question is raised a lot in the international settings in which I work. The language of learning can be complex – even for those with English as a first language so I am often aware of the need to make this accessible and to ensure it is not always communicated only through talk. This is about doing and being and actually living the experience of learning to learn through inquiry. I’ll be so interested in what you discover and can’t wait to check back in in a few months.
Thanks so much Becky.
Note: Many teachers who read this blog work in IB/PYP settings. The learner profile and together with the approaches to learning provide you with a shared ‘language of learning’ as students inquire. In my own work, I describe similar skills and dispositions as Learning Assets. Whatever framework/ language set you use, we all want students to become more proficient and indeed empowered as learners. I hope you will enjoy hearing Becky’s updates as she inquires into this work in her own classroom.
How do YOU power up children as learners?
For more of Becky’s thoughts on LPA head to her website and blog: www.learningpowerkids.com.