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High Performance Learning in Senior School

High Performance Learning in Senior School

From our Global High Performance Learning Lead

As a High Performance Learning school, we are dedicated to helping students to become inquisitive, independent and critical, global citizens. 

Encouraging higher order thinking skills

From Junior School onwards, we encourage students to go beyond ‘first-order thinking’ such as memorising dates or facts and instead help them to apply that knowledge in order to develop ‘higher order’ skills such as the ability to analyse, synthesise and evaluate and to explain.

Students need these skills to enjoy the challenge of solving multi-step problems and to feel confident to make their own independent decisions.  

Renaissance thinking in Senior School

High Performance thinkers see both knowledge and skills as existing not only within specific domains, but as applicable to solve problems across the across the curriculum. During Integrated Learning Week, Senior School students were given the opportunity to study the Renaissance through a range of interlinked subject areas.

Learning about Leonardo Da Vinci, they asked why the so-called ‘Man who wanted to know everything’ was such a success. They analysed historical sources to evaluate his study habits – he kept a journal where he wrote down interesting questions for reflection – and learned more about the interdisciplinary approach that led him to invent everything from weapons to flying machines to diving suits. 

Students also reflected upon how and why Renaissance writers impacted upon classical literature and learned about art during the Renaissance period. They ended by trying to ‘be like Leonardo’ by designing a Renaissance era alarm clock (no electric power allowed!), using problem-solving and planning skills to collaborate to create a model of their design in building blocks. 

By encouraging students to reflect upon how what they learned could be used outside of their normal subject specific environments, they were able to see connections between topics and use their knowledge to help solve problems. 

Thinking in an interdisciplinary way is sometimes a challenge for students. I have lost count of the number of times a student has asked ‘Why are we doing Maths in a History lesson?!’ when asking the class to calculate tax rates imposed by a feudal King, or the speed with which infection spread during the Black Death. 

However, by stimulating understanding in different ways, we can strengthen the neural pathways in their brains that create new learning. When designing medieval castles, students were encouraged to identify and apply as many subjects as possible using:

  • Maths to calculate the angles of walls
  • Geography to decide on the location of their castle
  • Textiles to decide on which building materials were most appropriate

Taking risks

Language students have created visual images – collages of their own rooms – as stimulus to help learn vocabulary, whilst others wrote on building blocks and built structures to represent grammatically correct sentences. The tactile feel of physically manipulating the blocks, trying out different combinations and ideas without committing an answer to paper helped students to feel confident to take risks and to learn. The transforming of information into different media – text into pictures or physical structures, and then finally into spoken word, helps to strengthen neural pathways that are vital for higher order thinking. 

HPL and pandemic thinking

The current pandemic has clearly posed new problems, but teachers have been HPL learners themselves, problem-solving and finding new solutions to the challenges of remote learning.

Teachers like Mrs Bevan have used Microsoft Teams to teach IELTs students about space. Timed to coincide with the April launch of the StarLink satellites, the students brainstormed what kind of questions could be asked about this topic, before feeding back to the whole class online. Students then practiced their proofreading skills, collaborating to read and improve sample answers online. Mr Abrey in Theatre Studies has also innovated in his use of digital learning. His Year 10 students hot seat each other in role to develop their characters, as well considering the design element of their plays, such as costume, props and music.  

One question for teachers has been how to replicate the collaborative learning that would have been taking place in the classroom and also to ensure that all students, including those less confident to contribute, still discuss their work and share with their peers.

Dr Cardwell has been creating ‘channels’ on Teams allowing smaller groups of students to ask questions and seek help, without asking the whole class. “I have many international students in the class and they have the knowledge, but sometimes due to grammatical construction they say the opposite of what they mean” says Dr Cardwell, “so it is helpful for them to be with native speakers to see how to structure the sentences.”  

Collaborate and carry on

Developing teamwork and collaborative skills is vital. Ms Roberts has been trialling a radio play project with both her Year 7 and Year 8 classes. Normally, students would work in the classroom towards a practical assessed performance at the end of the unit. Having had a light-bulb-lockdown moment, she thought the work could continue as normal, if the final performance work was a radio play.

Students have been working collaboratively in small groups online. They learned how to create and develop contrasting characters engaging storylines and the importance of vocal delivery, using varied vocal skills such as accent, tone, intonation, pitch, pace, volume as well as incorporating the use of sound effects to bring the drama alive for the listener. Ms Roberts said:

I've been so impressed with the students focus during the collaborative process. They have been using the shared screen option during script writing and have become very proficient at using the technology and features available to service their creative vision.

Despite the current challenges, St. Mary’s continues to find new ways to encourage students to develop their knowledge, skills and positive, resilient attitudes, preparing not only for examination success, but for genuine fulfilment now and long into the future. 

By supporting students to develop 'higher order’ thinking, to work in an inter-disciplinary way and to continue to collaborate, even during lock-down, we are preparing them to become confident and independent problem-solvers in all aspects of their lives, now and in the future.  

Dr A Flint

Global High Performance Learning Lead

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