Developing Behaviours for Learning

Paul Main

Behaviour for Learning: A teacher's guide to building the academic skills of a life-long learner.

What are behaviours for Learning?

Successful school systems are multi-dimensional and depend on a wide variety of variables including the quality of pedagogy and positive relationships. To succeed in a school community, learners need to develop a certain set of attributes or 'Learning Behaviours'. The good news is that these positive behaviours are indeed 'learnable'. At Structural Learning, we have created a taxonomy and progressional roadmap that documents how children can successfully develop these attributes. 


Developing Behaviour for Learning

Successful learning behaviours include an overlap of cognitive and behavioural habits and skills. These attributes all have names and have been studied by developmental and educational psychologists for decades. Within our framework we refer to them as 'Learning Skills'. That is, they are both the mechanism of a successful learning outcome and the end product. To give you a concrete example of an effective learning outcome, let's look at Oracy. We want our learners to be confident speakers, this is an essential skill in life. But Oracy is also a classroom tool for building deep knowledge. It's possible for teaching strategies to address both the short-term and long-term goals of an education if we think of behaviour for learning this way. 

Monitor behaviours for learning
Monitor behaviours for learning more precisely

Effective Behaviour for Learning includes...

Learning to learn. Students must be able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of others. They need to know how they can improve themselves through self-assessment and reflection on what has been learned.

Self-regulation. Students have the ability to control their emotions and impulses when faced with challenging situations or difficult tasks. This includes being able to delay gratification so that more important goals may be achieved.

Motivation. Students should understand why it is worthwhile to study a subject and persist at times when motivation wanes.

Critical thinking skills. Students develop an understanding of different ways of knowing and apply this knowledge appropriately to solve problems.

Communication skills. Students use language effectively both orally and written. They also demonstrate empathy by listening carefully to other people’s views before responding.

Creativity. Students show originality and imagination in solving problems and developing new ideas.

Problem Solving Skills. Students recognise patterns and relationships between things and events. They then make connections between these concepts and draw conclusions about them.

Mathematical Thinking. Students become adept at using mathematics to model real world phenomena. For example, students might construct graphs showing trends over time, predict future outcomes based on current data, calculate probabilities, etc.


Collaborative problem-solving is a learning behaviour
Collaborative problem-solving is a learning behaviour

Behaviour for Learning in the Classroom

Creating an exceptionally positive climate for learning requires a behavioural expectation of all learners. Good quality teaching should have behaviour expectations embedded into its design from day one. Behaviour management skills includes managing student behaviours such as talking out loud during class; not taking notes; disrupting the lesson; refusing to follow instructions; arguing with teachers; bullying peers; and generally behaving badly. The aim here is to ensure that everyone behaves respectfully towards each other and towards the teacher. Teachers who manage disruptive behaviour often find that they spend much less time actually teaching than they would like. 

The following sections describe some of the most common types of behaviour expected within classrooms today:

Attentive Listening

Students listen attentively to lectures, discussions, presentations and group work activities. Learners who pay attention will benefit from increased comprehension and retention of information.

Active Participation

Learners participate actively during class sessions. Active participation involves asking questions, making suggestions, offering opinions, sharing experiences and taking part in debates.

The following behaviours will help create such a climate.

Behaviours which support effective learning include:

• Being prepared – having everything you need ready to go;

• Taking responsibility for your work;

• Making sure you do not interrupt others while they are speaking;

Listening attentively without interruption;

• Showing respect for teachers and fellow pupils;

• Treating yourself and others respectfully;

• Using appropriate language 

Developing positive relationships and behaviours

The teacher-student relationship has a direct impact on student learning, as well as the development of self-esteem in children. In this context, it is important to understand that there are different types of relationships:

• Teacher-Student Relationship – This type of relationship involves an exchange of information or knowledge between two people who have some kind of professional connection with each other. It can be formal or informal.

• Student-Teacher Relationship – A student’s relationship with his/her teacher is based on trust and respect. Students learn from their teachers because they want to do so; they also feel comfortable asking questions about what they don't know. Teachers help them develop skills by providing opportunities for practice and feedback. They encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning.

• Peer Relationships - These involve interactions among peers. Peers may interact through social activities such as sports teams, clubs, academic groups, etc., but peer relations often occur outside these contexts. 

A framework for behaviour for learning
a framework for behaviour for learning

Transform culture with a behaviour for learning agenda

There has been much debate about whether critical thinking is a skill or a character disposition. The same could be said about other learning behaviours that we want to promote in the classroom. We have visited several challenging schools where behaviour has been identified as an issue. In these mainstream schools most of the emphasis was placed upon sanctions instead of promoting the development of children's dispositions. Children in school today require clear feedback when they have displayed positive behaviours. In time, this type of conditioning will lead to the self-regulated learning we all strive for. The learning resources in our membership include the learning skills framework. The badges in this pack help with the communications from schools to parents. 

What does behaviour for learning look like
What does behaviour for learning look like? Download the observation

Reinforcing Effective Learning Behaviours

To make the development of positive behaviours visible in a school we have developed a set of eight badges that can be used to reward pupil progress. Primary schools are used to having stickers as rewards but our taxonomy offers more precision to developing effective learning behaviours. We often see house points and certificates being used to nurture purposeful learning environments. The Learning Skills framework gives teachers a consistent approach to develop deeper learning in their classrooms. The rubrics can help teachers talk about a positive approach to learning that a child has made. The adoption of positive learning behaviours begins to embed itself into the schools DNA as we now have a behaviour system that can track and reward student progress. The stickers bring children's attention to behaviours for learning and also demonstrates their adoption to the parents. Positive learning behaviours can even be integrated into schools assessment systems.

Reinforcing behaviours for learning such as creativity
Reinforcing behaviours for learning such as creativity

Teaching techniques should have a focus on behaviour management rather than just teaching content. Teaching methods must include strategies which support good classroom discipline. For example, if a class is noisy then the teacher needs to find ways to reduce noise levels. If a group of children are disruptive then the teacher will need to identify how best to manage this situation. In addition to using specific teaching techniques, teachers can use general approaches to managing behaviour. Teaching should have knowledge acquisition at its heart but this is impossible if low-level disruption is preventing it. We get into teaching not to discipline but to bring meaning to children's lives. However, if positive learning behaviours have not become habitual then we have no chance of making the impact we wish for. In this sense, improving behaviour with teaching techniques is all of our responsibility. 

assessing learning behaviours
Monitoring learning behaviours

Teaching Behaviour for Learning : A Framework for Schools

The Learning Skills model was designed to provide an alternative way of thinking about teaching and learning. It provides a structure for planning lessons and assessing outcomes. This means that teachers can plan ahead and design lessons around key concepts or topics. As well as helping teachers think about lesson plans, the learning skills model helps them assess whether pupils understand the material taught.

What is an ambulatory teaching setting? Ambulatory settings are those where students move from one activity to another within the same room. They may go from sitting down to standing up, moving between different activities such as reading, writing, listening, speaking etc. Ambulatory settings allow us to teach across multiple modalities and they encourage active engagement by allowing learners to choose what they want to do next.

Ambulant teaching methods allows you to:

• Teach more effectively because you don’t have to worry about getting your materials out quickly enough before the bell rings;

• Use time efficiently so that you spend less time preparing each day;

• Allow students to work independently without having to supervise every step;

• Encourage independent thought and problem solving;

• Provide opportunities for self-directed study;

• Give students choices over when and how much information they learn;