Learning Teams – worth thinking about?

I’d been planning to write this post a little later in this series about disciplinary and inter-disciplinary learning but needs must.

In yesterday’s post I reflected upon the constricting and enabling features of how we deliver disciplinary learning in secondary schools.  Even the strongest proponents of disciplinary learning would agree that the current system does not actively engage learners in their own learning, does not promote ‘deep’ learning, nor encourage learners to consider the connections between one discipline and another.

In this post I’d like to fly a kite for Learning Teams in schools. Ann McLanachan, Head Teacher of Longnidry Primary School, established and led our Learning Team Initiative in East Lothian. I wrote about this project in November 2005 and since then it has an incredible impact upon teachers’ practice. The project has ignited a firestorm of activity across our schools where teachers have been empowered to work in collaborative groups experimenting and developing their practice.  There is hardly a primary school in East Lothian which remains untouched by this ‘bottom -up’ approach.

Back in 2005 I pondered whether the Learning Team approach might be something we might build upon in the future and now with a mass of evidence to indicate it’s positive impact perhaps we are duty bound to practically explore how it might be taken forwards on a more formal basis.

Learning Teams 10-15

An example: (apologies to those of you who find this too detailed or those of you who find this not detailed enough)

  1. Let us imagine a secondary school with 100 pupil in S1 (12 year olds)
  2. We establish a learning team made up of the learners and 10 teachers – support for learning staff would also be linked with the team.
  3. The teachers in the team would deliver all of the disciplinary and inter-disciplinary learning.
  4. For example the same maths teacher would teach every class (20 pupils) for the 75% of their maths classes – horizontal consistency
  5. That maths teacher would also teach some classes outwith S1 (25%) – vertical continuity and enabling the teacher to contextualise the S1 curriculum.
  6. Other disciplines would be taught by teachers dedicated to that year group, e.g languages, social stuidies, expressive arts, RME, health and well being, sciences, technologies – these teachers woiuld also have some vertical continuity but would predominatly teach this year group.
  7. Each teacher would have a tutor group of pupils who they would meet with on a daily basis to reflect upon indiviudual and class progress, and future learning.
  8. The Learning Team of teachers would meet as a group to plan learning, discuss methodologies, reflect upon progress, discuss individual pupils and explore inter-disciplinary learning, etc.
  9. The year would be split up into 8 BIG QUESTIONS – one question for each month which would from the basis for inter-disciplinary work , for example, Why does poverty affect Africa but not America?;  Why does Scotland need it’s own parliament? Why do boys do less well than girls in schools?
  10. Some of the disciplines could be taught by non-specialists – for example – there might be a health and well-being afternoon where the staff members of the team lead activities in which they are interested and have expertise – perhaps led by the subject specialist in the team. Such a model could extend to all subject disciplines where the normal timetable might be superceded to do some in-depth work collective work.
  11. There would be a weekly meeting of the entire learning team- teachers and learners to reflect upon the week complete learning logs and plan the coming week or month.
  12. Teachers would belong to their learning team in the first instance and their subject discipline second.
  13. There might be a principal teacher responsible for leading the learning team or leadership could be rotated around the team.
  14. Each class would have a Learning base (classroom)  – where up to 50% of the curriculum would be delivered.
  15. Such a model of delivery would mean that classes could not be set.
  16. Units of learning time would range from 30 minutes (tutor group) to 2 hours
  17. The learning team (teachers and learners) would devise their own programme and curriculum for the week/year making use of the teachers in their team and the available rooms – teachers would know beforehand when teachers would be unavailable and which rooms would be unavailable
  18. Learning Teams from P6, P7, S1, S2, and S3 would collaborate to ensure progression, continuity and challenge.
  19. Learning Teams from different schools would link together to share ideas and practice.
  20. Teachers would spend no more than two year’s in any Learning Team but some continuity would be preferable to support pupils in their progress.
  21. The S1 – S3 curriculum would be delivered through the Learning Team approach.
  22. The S4 and S5 curriculum would focus on the certificated curriculum and be delivered in much the same way as at present.

So would this kite fly??????  – my thanks again to the Deputes who came up with many of these ideas last week at their conference.

2 thoughts on “Learning Teams – worth thinking about?

  1. Bringing together a team of people to work together towards a shared purpose isn’t new, so the kite could certainly fly.

    The most significant change here is that the proposal breaks the often-criticised model of secondary education as a production-line, factory system and turns part of it (S1) into an organisational project.

    In knowledge-intensive industries, where problem situations tend to be complex, there has been a trend away from using fixed organisational structures to tackle every job. Static structures simply aren’t good at coping with a variety of projects, and people have their own preferences for what they want to get involved in. Project teams instead form for the purpose, and dissolve once the job is done. That seems to work better because people can concentrate on the project without being pulled in different directions.
    The idea of learners and teachers being explicitly on the same team seems a good one if it could help build in the learners a sense of shared purpose with the teachers.

  2. Hi Don

    I’ve been a bit of a lurker on this blog for some time and enjoyed the honesty of your comment and the responses. Time for me to “come out”?

    I see your suggestions on learning teams fitting nicely with ACE. I’ve passed the comments to my SMT for discussion and will keep you posted on their comments.

    Keep the discussion coming – well worthwhle!

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