Active learning – reciprocity

The last learning muscle that I need to share from Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power is reciprocity.

I have always used superheroes to support BLP.  It gives children a fictional context in which they can join in with and add to.

1Using imaginary and real life learning superheroes can help in promoting all learning behaviours.

By having a superhero for reciprocity, children are given the superheroes remit.  What he is going to help us with.


Then children get children to design their own superhero that has the powers to help Reciprocity Ray carry out his duties.



10 ways to promote learning behaviours.

  1. Use the learning behaviour vocabulary with the children during learning time, assemblies, as marking and feedback
  2. Class dojos ( children earn dojos for showing that they have been using the learning muscles.
  3. Weekly certificates linked to the learning muscles. An assembly to explain what children will be working on is great for getting the whole school on board.
  4. Display boards – Make them even better by including examples of children using their learning muscles.


  1. Parent leaflet and parent workshops so that parents can support their children in developing learning behaviours.
  2. Make it your school values so all staff, pupils and stakeholders are supporting in the principles or standards which he school want their children to achieve.
  3. Plan with the learning behaviours in mind- this trains teachers in using the learning behaviours and focuses learning that is meaningful.
  4. Model the learning behaviours.
  5. Provide training for all staff. You could even have a leader in learning behaviours within your school.
  6. Review on a regular basis. Nothing ever stays the same and there is always ways to improve.

Characteristics of Effective Teaching – Reflectiveness


Another learning muscle, reflectiveness, involves:

I have shared these in assemblies so that children are aware of what learning muscle we are working on. There are more videos on YouTube that give short explanations of what these are. You can subscribe to Building Learning Power – TLO Limited to see them all.

Characteristics of Effective Teaching – Resourcefulness

To support children within our effective teaching, we need to teach children to be resourceful.


Resourcefulness is covered by

  • making links
  • questioning
  • capitalising
  • imagining
  • reasoning

Here are some examples of how we can get children to develop these skills.



dew on a web

Making links

This is where children see connections between different events and experiences – building patterns – weaving a web of underst1aanding.


In a Year 1 history lesson, children had to make links to their life in order to tell stories in the past. A child with a broken arm was encouraged to make links to other times in his life when he may have hurt himself.  The link with now gave him a context in which to talk about the past.







Children ask questions of themselves and others.  When children are curious and playful with ideas, they can delve beneath the surface of things.


During a Year 2 coding lesson, teachers discussed with the children what they were doing and whether it would work.  Children questioned what they were doing so marvellous mistakes ended up with positive results.


Capitalising is drawing on the full range of resources from the wider world.  This can be other people, books, internet, past experiences and even future opportunities.


In a Year 6 lesson, children were finding out which countries were part of WW2 and which ‘side’ they were on.  They used atlases, talked to adults, researched in books and the internet. Earlier on in the term, children interviewed someone who experienced the war so could even make links to that part of their learning.


Use your imagination and intuition to put yourself through new experiences or to explore possibilities. Then you can wonder ‘What if…?’


A design and technology lesson in Year 2 about buildings, led to children imagining the different 3D shapes that buildings were made from.  Children made their own nets, having to imagine the type of building they wanted to make, how the net will come together and what shape it will make.


Reasoning requires children to call up their logical and rational skills to work things out methodically and rigorously.  When reasoning, children can construct good arguments and spot others’ mistakes.


In Year 4, a science lesson where the teacher kept making mistakes gave children the opportunity to reason.  If they couldn’t say, why the animals in a food chain were not correct because there was no omnivore then they were not reasoning.  However, by doing this, children understood food chains much more.



Characteristics of Effective Learning – Creative and Critical Thinking.

1Continuing on from the Characteristics of Effective Learning, the last area is ‘creative and critical thinking.’


This area of the characteristic of effective learning can be covered by resourcefulness and reflectiveness from Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power.  Another way of covering this is by allowing children to have their ideas and going with it.

How can this be done?



I first encountered TASC (thinking actively in a social context) in my second year of teaching. It disappeared after a few years but is now back!  I can see why it is back.  With all the changes with curriculum, it has fit right back in with my practice and to top it off, it supports the characteristics of effective learning.




A couple of years ago, I joined my school who had just started using Cornerstones.  There are four areas to the Cornerstones curriculum, one of which is Innovate.  Innovate is the opportunity to offer children creative experiences that allow them to apply their skills, knowledge and understanding.

Children are given a mission and through different tasks they reach a final outcome.  This allows children to think of their own ideas, solve problems and find new ways to do things.


This Year  3 topic about chocolate and sweets allows children to think of their own ideas to plan a smoothie, solve problems in terms of the Starsmooth International starter point and find new ways to do things by analysing packaging. 4

Children will have been taught the skills to lead up to this and this is a chance to use these skills. Fantastic resourcing from Cornerstones! Even though we have come away towards our own curriculum, teachers still find the quality resourcing useful so we still buy into it.  I find that it also supports the creativity of the teachers so check it out at

Big Questions

Starting a topic with a big question is an approach many schools are taking. Big questions cannot be easily answered by students when the question is posed. They are often set at the beginning of the term/lesson and can only be answered by the end of the term/lesson.  Children find out answers and learn skills so eventually they are able to answer the question. The only issue with this is that teachers can still take over and we need to begin to pass some of the onus on the children.

Mantle of the Expert

A strategy that I used years ago.  The teacher poses a problem and the children take on the responsibilities of an expert team in order to find a solution.  There is planning available on which shows how the starting points fit in with the curriculum.


But I am not here to sell things, just to share ideas so any ideas on starting points in order for children to have the opportunity to use their own ideas.

Share your ideas below on how you get children to use their ideas so it is not just us teachers making all the decisions.  I’m only one person but…



Active Learning – Being involved and learning

Part of active learning is resilience – being involved and learning.  Within Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power, resilience consists of perseverance, managing distractions, absorption and noticing.


2Teaching the children the words and the meanings is very important.  You want them to recognise what each of the areas looks like.  Then it’s down to us to point out when children are using the resilience muscle.

Eventually, you can get the children to do it.  Having their peers recognise something that they are doing well often gives children a great sense of pride.



Using reinforcing and reminding language to support perseverance is important.  Eventually, your children will get involved and recognise and praise others.

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Model the skill of noticing and give children opportunities in all areas of learning.




What can you see in the picture? Who could the people be? If you were there what would it be like?  Why do you think this? What is on the table? What are they doing?




What is happening to the numbers? What number is always there? What are we taking away each time? What is different about the way the number sentence is set out?

From the Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch


Read a book and ask questions about the pictures.  Great for inference.

How is the princess feeling?  What time of year is it? How could she find the dragon? Why is she wearing a paper bag?  What is on it?




Listen to a piece of music.  How does it make you feel? Are there short or long sounds?  What is the pitch like? How quick is the music?  Can you recreate the music?


3Managing distractions

Ways that we can support children in managing their distraction include:

  • Starting from the child’s own perceptions and making managing distractions a desirable skill can be really helpful. Green stickers for behaviour but gold stickers for using a learning muscle can help this, where gold stickers are worth more than green.
  • If we give children our time and ask them questions to draw out solutions or even issues, we have a better understanding of the child. This will help us, the teachers, find out vague or even emotional worries that we may not have been aware of.
  • By giving rewards and modelling managing distractions regularly and in different situations, such as lining up for lunch, getting a piece of fruit, sitting in assembly, completing a spelling test then children will see exactly what it looks like. It doesn’t just have to be during input or independent learning. In fact the more opportunities we give for rewards and modelling, the quicker the positive outcome.
  • Provide tips and possible solutions. If you have children that sit together in class and then distract each other, give them the tip of choosing to sit elsewhere. When they see the rewards for making this decision, they will more likely make it.
  • Discuss issues which are not clear cut e.g. friends who are both a distraction and a source of inspiration. I give children the opportunity to work with others by randomly picking groups. However, if these groups include their best friends then I do not change them. I give children the opportunity to use their skills, showing them that if I can trust them, there are more chances to work with their inspirational friends.


Give children learning that they are interested in alongside the skills to persevere, manage their distractions and notice things; and they will absorb themselves in their learning.

Engaging with the children in discussion not only supports their progress but also gives them attention in which they will happily share what they are doing.

Modelling and showing enjoyment in learning where you show children the excitement, awe and wonder in what could be achieved will let them see how interesting learning can be.

Make learning the reward.  Just knowing what they themselves have achieved, gives children a sense of pride and understanding that what they put in, gives them back lots.

Characteristics of Effective Learning – Engagement 

In EYFS, engagement is playing and exploring but why stop that in the later years? Here are some examples of ways.


Using senses to explore the world around them

We start off each topic with an engaging activity.  Two years ago our theme was called ‘Bounce.’  It had a PE and art focus but our day was not focused in this way.  We just wanted to engage our children and give them the opportunity to explore.  It led to some good pieces of writing and our children still talk about it 2 years later, despite being in key stage 2 now.

Taking on a role in their play

Year 6 can play too. They took the role of an evacuee.  They learnt how it would have felt waiting for a family, hearing the air raid siren and some of the work that they would have had to during their time in the countryside.  Children enjoyed playing the role at a time when SATs revision could end up taking over.  It was  a great thing to witness because a world class curriculum should be able to enrich learning that will lead to better results, rather than hinder them.

Showing particular interests/ Initiating activities

In a history lesson in Year 6, children were placing events from WW2 on to a timeline.  They were encouraged to ask their own questions.  A child who was originally from Poland wanted to create a timeline about WW2 from a Polish point of view, while another child wanted to find out about the timeline before the war for the Jewish community.  They were given opportunities to find information and create their own timelines using formats they may have learnt throughout their primary education.

Showing curiosity of objects, events and people

Another Year 6 experience (but this can happen across the school), was a visit from an evacuee from WW2.  We use Building Learning Power at our school and the learning muscle children had to use during this session was listening and empathy.  This really does work on developing children’s curiosity.

Pic 1

Pretending objects are things from their experience

Children in Year 1 used Beebots to learn about algorithms and coding. They were given the challenge of taking a Beebot on a journey.  They were given a range of equipment from the PE cupboard (easy, right?!) and made tracks that the Beebot could be controlled around.  Children used chairs as tunnels, hockey sticks as motorways and skipping ropes as a maze.

Acting out experiences with people

Using plasticine during our ‘Dinosaur Planet’ theme, children created dinosaurs and generated a story with their characters.  We linked this learning with computing by forming a stop motion animation.

Seeking challenge

As we entered the third term of our new curriculum, children were beginning to seek more challenge.  This was scaffolded by the teachers and with more training on challenging ourselves, children will become more confident. However, during a science lesson, children were making flowers and naming the parts.  This is a lesson that most key stage one teachers will have taught but this time, I challenged children by getting them to link plants to humans.  “If humans have babies, what do flowers do to make tiny flowers?” Eventually children were asking their own questions.  “What is the wee and poo of flowers?” One child asked.  Disgusting, I know but then the child went on to research using an ipad.  He found out about photosynthesis and explained to the class.  Then some of the class drew what photosynthesis might look like.  This all from the question of a 6 year old!

Taking a risk, engaging in new experiences and learning by trial and error/ Engaging in open ended activity

Across the school, we had a ‘Science Day’ which consisted of children having a challenge to take on.  They had to investigate how to make the biggest bubble.  There were no limits to what the children could do.  It was new to many children, as science can be daunting for some teachers.  However, with a simple start, teachers were less worried and children were given a great opportunity.  And when it didn’t work they got to change their mixture or their bubble wand until it did work.


Show a ‘can do’ attitude

Year 5 realised that they could find out information that may at first feel impossible to find out – how do the planets in size and distance from the sun.  They used toilet roll as a measure of distance and placed their already made to scale planets to show how far away from the sun they were.  This attitude to finding out more information meant that we had children reason about planets in a way they may not have been able to before when the work was done in the books.

Building a world class curriculum – Characteristics of Effective Learning

Every single child should be in our minds when creating a world class curriculum and we need to ensure that we include the characteristics of effective learning.

COEL poster

The Characteristics of Effective Learning describe learning as a process and not as an event.  The three characteristics of effective teaching are elements of EYFS practise, which reminds practitioners to reflect on different ways that children learn.  It works wonderfully with older children.

It especially supports the world class curriculum.  The way it details how children should be learning from their environment, experiences and activities is key to developing the curriculum and goes further than just one important part.