School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 15/09/2017
Meta-Learning by Mr. TovellLast year, I was given the opportunity to blog about my Master’s journey, which I was half way through at the time. It covered the beginnings of my research for my dissertation and how meta-learning had not only transformed my teaching methods in school but also my skills as a parent. The aim of my research was to uncover children’s perceptions of meta-learning: did they enjoy it; did they see value in it and did they believe it made them better learners? I have now submitted my dissertation and am delighted to have found that the children in my class not only enjoyed being meta-learners, but also felt it really helped them as learners. My research also complements the largest study ever in education - with a sample size of two hundred and fifty million students - which found that meta-learning is the second biggest contributor to child progression behind effective feedback (a link to an article in The Economist which analyses these findings can be found at the bottom of this page). As a result, St. Helen’s College is now to become a school of meta-learners.
In essence, meta-learning is about understanding yourself as a learner so you can become the best learner you can be. For this to be achieved, learners must be exposed to different ways of learning (what we are referring to as learning strategies) before being given an opportunity to reflect on how effective they were and in which other situations they can be used. Therefore, the focus is on how they learn (the process) as opposed to what they have learnt (the output); an approach which is proven to drive student attainment.
Chris Watkins states that for meta-learning to be effective, we must make learning an object of attention, conversation and reflection, and then apply what has been learnt.
Consequently, we will be focussing on providing children with opportunities to talk about, understand and then use strategies needed to be outstanding learners. These include:
Once children have learnt in a certain way, they will be asked to reflect on their learning and it is this ability to reflect on and then improve their future learning which really drives progress.
At home, please discuss with your children what they have learnt and what they did to learn it as it is the development of these learning strategies that will allow them to become independent, lifelong learners.
In academic writing, I always like to conclude with a quote as it is so often the case that the sentiment I wish to convey has been expressed more eloquently by someone before. In my last blog, I followed this same process and included a quote from a ten year old boy from a piece of research I had read where he stated meta-learning was a ‘good thing’. Now, I am in the fortunate position to be able to quote directly from a Helenian who was explaining why he would recommend meta-learning to other children.
‘I describe myself as an outstanding learner now, because I really pick up things
and meta-learning really helped. Otherwise, I would still be a good learner and not a great learner’.
My thoughts exactly!
Posted on: 8/09/2017
How Far Will They Go?It is such an exciting, albeit nerve racking, thought for any parent to think about their child’s future. What will they do when they leave school, what will they achieve, will they be happy? It is too much really for many of us to take in, but often we cannot stop thinking about it even from the day they are born.
This week in my first assemblies with all the children from Reception through to Year 6 I used the theme tune ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from the Disney film ‘Moana’ as my starting point. The children sang with gusto as the majority of them had all seen the movie and knew the song well. We then spoke about Moana’s character, about her strength and independence, and about wanting to do her best. We considered how she could be who she is even though sometimes finding things difficult and challenging.
I welcomed all the pupils to their very own island – ‘St. Helen’s College’, where they belong and where we all live as a community. Our motto created by our very own pupils was revisited:
S - Strive for Excellence
H – Help Others Achieve
C – Care for Each Other
The pupils know what our, your and their expectations are of them, so as we embark upon a new school year I have left the children with the question, ‘How far will you go this year?’ If they uphold all that St. Helen’s College stands for they will be proud, strong and independent young individuals who are capable of achieving great things, knowing that they have done their best in all aspects of school life.
All this would not be possible of course without your support and the high level of teaching and care from the St. Helen’s College staff. We have had two very busy training days this week on teaching and learning, all of which will impact upon the progress and experiences your children will have in school. In future blogs you will be hearing more about some of the new and exciting approaches that will empower your children to take their learning further then you might have thought possible!
The academic year 2017 – 2018 is off to a superb start!
Posted on: 23/06/2017
Competitive SportI am still buzzing after the excitement of all our Sports Days. Following the Foundation and Pre-Prep Sports Day last week, on Thursday we had the most incredible event at Hillingdon Athletics track where pupils from Year 3 to Year 6 had us all on our feet cheering for them, congratulating them and in awe of the incredible skills (not only of the sporting sort) that were demonstrated.
Over the years there has been so much written about the place of competitive sport in schools and the debate will surely continue, but I for one certainly am an advocate of competition from a very young age. It nurtures the growth mindset that underpins how we teach the children and supports our pupils to deal with failure (FAIL; First Attempt in Learning). It further encourages the children to strive even harder to continue to practise and understand the concept of ‘mastery’ in their learning.
In the lead up to Sports Day the children were keeping an eye on the sports boards, looking at the previous records which had been set by ex-pupils and setting themselves goals to try to break those records. And boy, didn’t they smash some of those long standing records! Zoe even beating one record set by her sister, who was in attendance as a Sports Leader! Good, positive sibling rivalry!
Many of the pupils spoke to me directly about how they were intending to use their mindfulness practices before their events to overcome their wobbles, worries and nerves. It is so wonderful to hear from the pupils in Year 4 and 6 how they are engaging with using some of the tools they have been equipped with in their .b and paws b mindfulness learning.
The Year 6 Sports Captains and House Captains spoke so eloquently and with confidence. The pupils really did sum up why we feel so proud of your children for the values and character traits that they demonstrated not only on the day but in the preparation for the event. They were living embodiments of the Olympic and Paralympic values:
· Respect – fair play; knowing one’s own limits; and taking care of one’s health and the environment
· Excellence – how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one’s own objectives
· Friendship – how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences
· Determination – the drive and motivation to overcome both physical and mental barriers in order to achieve your goals.
· Courage – having the self-belief and confidence to overcome adversity and face difficulty.
· Equality – showing respect and humility towards all those around you in the spirit of fair play.
· Inspiration – being motivated by the achievements and actions of others and being a positive example to others.
It is no wonder that we have so many former students returning to us year after year to be part of our annual Sports Days as Sports Leaders. These Old Helenians hold onto the values which were so much part and parcel of their life when they were pupils themselves at St. Helen’s College. Their contributions on Sports Day are a testament to the school; they have grown into responsible, independent young men and women and are now actively giving back to their community, as well as consolidating and developing further skills and attributes in preparation for what lies ahead for them as members of our workforce in the near future.
I feel truly honoured to have experienced another of my firsts this year – one of the best Prep School Sports Days that I have ever witnessed! Congratulations TEAM St. Helen’s College!
Posted on: 16/06/2017
To Play Or Not To Play?To play, or not to play…that really is the question when it comes to the Early Years Foundation Stage, especially here in the Independent sector. For many, the early years classroom remains that mysterious and terrifying place in every school where the children magically learn to read, write and count even though they seem to play all day! Indeed, ‘play’ and the value thereof, has long been a bone of contention for many - teachers, educational researchers and parents alike. However, it seems to me that the crux of the problem lies in how we define the ‘play’ that is afforded to our children.
The EYFS curriculum offers a framework to support practitioners in helping young children learn and develop through play. It was developed through extensive discussion with professionals, academics and practitioners and represents an amalgamation of their knowledge and experience. It begins with the premise that every child is unique and that learning and development occurs at different rates and in different ways. Additionally, there is a strong focus on enabling the fulfilment of each of the three ‘Characteristics of Effective Learning’: Playing and Exploring, Active Learning and Creating and Thinking Critically - fundamentals which have far-reaching connotations for the way in which we all learn*. The EYFS framework has also been designed to be flexible in responding to every child’s individual needs and, while it sets out a number of goals and milestones, these are not set in stone.
But what does that mean for your children?
Throughout Ducklings, Nursery and Reception, ‘play’ at St. Helen’s College can be defined as cogent, purposeful and engaging exploration. Yes, your children will be presented with a huge range of child-initiated, open-ended games, activities and opportunities for learning where we, as adult practitioners, take a step back and let the children lead the learning. However, these child-led learning opportunities are carefully planned to maximise potential and they are successfully coupled with inspiring teacher-led sessions to impart the vital academic knowledge of literacy, mathematics, communication and language that your child will need as he or she moves through our school. We are extremely fortunate to have an expert EYFS staff, who are astute in knowing how and when to guide the children, either with a carefully worded question here and there or a gentle nudge to try a different approach. The need for our children to develop motor skills, social skills, creativity, confidence and self-esteem (not to mention that all-encompassing sense of awe and wonder) is beyond doubt and play is vital in this. Whether it is seeing a group of children work together to write a recipe in the ‘Mud Kitchen’ or watching the joy on a child’s face on discovering that they are suddenly able to find a number bond to ten after ‘playing’ with the Numicon tiles in the sand tray, it is easy to see that purposeful, collaborative play is an essential part of learning. I think we would all agree that our children should not be subjected to endless rigorous academic teaching at such a tender age and the holistic approach to learning in the EYFS here at St. Helen’s College has proven consistent in enabling hugely successful outcomes for our children year on year.
It is staggering to think that much of what we now take for granted about early education dates back to Friedrich Froebel’s revolutionary work as long ago as the early 19th century. It was Froebel who believed that young children should learn through play and through first-hand experiences with natural materials like sand and water and that physical education was of huge importance at school. Froebel put the relationship between educator and child at the heart of learning and saw each child as an individual whose wishes and choices should be respected. These were revolutionary ideas in his time – so revolutionary that both his school and his kindergarten were banned at different times by the Prussian authorities for such radical thoughts! However, Froebelian theory continues to be at the heart of most current Early Years teaching and many other principles founded almost two hundred years ago continue to ring true with the St. Helen’s College ethos - not least in our school motto: Excellentium e Concordia - Excellence through Harmony.
Over the past three weeks, we have undertaken our wonderfully successful EYFS Family Discovery Days across Nursery and Reception, opening our classrooms (both indoors and out) to offer parents a glimpse of the vast learning opportunities available to our younger learners - play included. As a staff, we were thrilled to see every parent stepping into their children’s shoes for a few hours, taking a full and active part in all the learning, play and fun! Each time you joined your children playing with blocks, with sand, water or clay, or became immersed in a scintillating bug hunt, or planted and tended plants in the ‘Garden Centre’, you were seeing planned, purposeful play in action. I do hope that it proved to be an enlightening and rewarding experience for those of you who were able to attend (as well as a lovely excuse to join in a bit of play yourselves!) and the many positive comments we have already received from parents have been truly heartwarming to hear.
So, I urge you never to underestimate the benefits of play, no matter the age of your child and perhaps consider playing a game or two with your family this weekend. Play really can shape learning for life from the very start; a true building block to the future, limited only by our imagination.
I realise that I might be somewhat biased in this, but I am proud to admit to a deeply held belief that we can all look to the EYFS for inspiration in shaping the path for our future learners - there’s a reason we are named the ‘Foundation’ stage after all…
*Should the Characteristics of Effective of Learning only be prioritised in the Early Years? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTYhmRHDPl8