Those of us who remember the 1970s (and I’m not suggesting that I do) will possibly recall the publication of the influential Bullock Report. Called ‘A Language for Life’, it boldly states that ‘this report deserves to be widely read.’ The report made over 300 recommendations on the teaching of English, ranging from the profound (‘Every school with EAL pupils should adopt a positive attitude to bilingualism’) to the blindingly obvious (‘Every primary school classroom should have its own collection of books’).
Nowadays of course, the concept of having a single language for life may seem absurd. In this school alone we have over 40 different languages spoken by our families making it such a rich and diverse learning environment. However, despite the number of languages and dialects spoken by the children, there is a new common ‘language for life’ emerging. This new language is Learnish. Guy Claxton first coined the phrase when developing Building Learning Power to describe the type of language a reflective and resourceful learner might use when describing their learning. Learning power is incredibly difficult to evaluate as it cannot be tested or measured in a discreet way. We try instead to associate its impact with improved pupil outcomes in terms of attainment and progress, behaviour and attendance. But there now seems to be an easier way to measure the extent to which deep and powerful learning is embedded in a school: How well pupils are able to speak Learnish.
Only when pupils are confident at discussing their learning in Learnish using the language associated with BLP and thinking skills, can we can be confident that it is truly embedded. Last week was a bit of an epiphany for me as I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon interviewing pupils to be Peer School Evaluation advisers. Their job is to help us to evaluate how effective the school is by adopting an approach not too dissimilar to Ofsted. The framework we are developing will include pupils observing lessons and feeding back on how well their peers learned and how well they lead their own learning; they will look at books to see how well pupils are improving their learning and closing the gap; they will analyse school improvement data to see how well their peers achieve in relation to other schools. In short, they will take the lead on evaluating how effective their school is and tell us how we need to improve so that pupils become even more powerful learners.
At interview, applicants had to evaluate a recorded lesson that they had observed and identify all of the learning that had taken place in regard to the learning power tools we use. Their comments were very perceptive, showing how fluent they are in Learnish using words such as meta-learning, imitation, collaboration, empathy, reasoning, capitalising and absorption. They were able to identify how groups of pupils might have benefited from using a different tool in order to improve their learning.
In their new role we also want the pupils to be good leaders, not only of themselves but of others. So we asked them about the qualities of a good leader. This is what they said:
A good leader is someone who is…
- respectful, has good manners and sensible
- a good role model who just gets on with it
- not bossy but remains confident
- caring, brave and courageous
- intelligent, knowledgeable and collaborative
- clever-minded and able to keep people on track
But perhaps my favourite response when describing the key features of a good leader is that they need to have ‘the voice.’ Put simply, ‘the voice’ – according to this particular child – is the ability to be ‘heard by all around them’. Wow.
So, if our pupils are ultimately to be responsible for their learning, we now know they need to have two key qualities: the ability to speak Learnish, and the ability to use ‘the voice’. If we can install this in all our lead learners then we can be confident that our pupils are fluent in the only ‘language for life’ worth knowing.