“Buds afternoons”: Skills-based learning lessons
St. Fillan’s Primary School, Renfrewshire
We wanted to embed a visibly consistent approach to skills-based, creative learning across the whole school in order to allow our children to develop our school aims: Be Brave, Unleash Creativity, Demonstrate Excellence, Show/Radiate Enthusiasm; and to develop themselves as our future workforce.
Skills-based, creative learning is an innovative approach to learning that teaches a multitude of strategies critical for our children and young people to develop skills for learning, life and work. Students drive their own learning through inquiry, as well as work collaboratively to research and create projects that reflect their knowledge. From gleaning new, viable technology skills, to becoming proficient communicators and advanced problem solvers, students benefit from this approach to instruction.
How the project developed
We had previously reserved Friday afternoons for Golden Time, which was part of our Promoting Positive Behaviour Policy at that time. We were in the process of reviewing that Policy and had identified that Golden Time was no longer fit for purpose in our setting. Although Golden Time was skills-based, there wasn’t visible consistency across the school, so we wanted every teacher to look at the Es and Os to develop a programme of work that would fit within the ethos of Golden Time whilst maintaining a focus on skills-based learning.
Our inspection at that time highlighted that we should be looking at developing the young workforce in more depth, so we added that to our School Improvement Plan. I started by looking at the international context – at America and Canada – to see what they were doing. I then looked at the Renfrewshire Skills Framework that had been about for a number of years but wasn’t being implemented in our school. The framework had been developed and had once been very visible but over time, the focus had been lost. We wanted to ensure that teachers were using it, so we developed a rationale, which used the framework and drew-in my research from outside and within Renfrewshire. Our rationale was also linked to the NIF and our school values, which were supported by our newly developed school aims. Our school aims are Be Brave, Unleash Excellence, Develop Creativity, Show/Radiate Enthusiasm (BUDS) and we knew that we could promote them really effectively through these skills-based afternoons, hence the name!
How does it work in practice?
At the start of the academic year, each class teacher works with their own class. They create and design a series of five skills-based learning activities that will take place on a Friday afternoon from 1:50pm-2:50pm. Thereafter, the teachers rotate around each class to deliver another set of five learning activities before moving on again. A format for planning was also provided to enable us to build a bank of lessons. This will also ensure that there is visible consistency around learning, teaching and assessment of skills. Higher Order Thinking Skills should be an integral part of the planning process and should be used in conjunction with learning, teaching and assessment of the activity. The experiences and outcomes selected by each teacher will remain the same throughout the session, however, the skills-based learning activities will change according to the stage that is being taught.
What did pupils gain from taking part? How effective was the project?
To gain a true picture of the overall impact of the project, we feel that we should wait until the end of the academic year, so that every pupil will have had the chance to work with every teacher in the school. We did an evaluation after the first five weeks and looked at what was working well/what wasn’t. Based on this, we decided to continue the project and will continuously seek pupil, staff and parent views and are always flexible to change if the need arises. After only five weeks, positive impacts were already obvious to us. The activities are designed to help children evaluate the quality of their own work through discussion with peers, other pupils, parents and staff. We can see that pupils are already using these evaluations to inform their personal learning planning and are beginning to reflect on career management skills. Pupils regularly feedback that they enjoy working collaboratively and are welcoming opportunities to co-operate, interact and develop leadership skills.
Professional dialogue with teachers highlights that skills development is not happening in isolation. Pupils and staff are commenting on connections being made across the curriculum and opportunities for the application and transfer of skills and quality discussion around this is becoming a regular occurrence. This demonstrates true depth of learning. Teachers have felt empowered to use their creativity and professional autonomy too and have enjoyed supporting pupils to develop and apply enterprise and employability skills along with engaging with the world of work with employers and entrepreneurs. Every single learning activity has an enterprise element, it wasn’t something that was prescribed but has developed naturally and threads throughout the school. Our themes are: Enterprise, STEAM, Financial Education, Coding, Mindfulness and Problem Solving. This work builds upon established strong local relationships with a number of employers and organisations. We strive to provide opportunities for our learners to investigate the world of work locally, nationally and globally, and to think about how this relates to their future learning and career options.
We will fully evaluate our project at the end of the academic year and intend to engage in a process of moderation across the school along with carrying out an impact assessment. We will use the floor books, questionnaires, self-evaluation and professional dialogue to ascertain how effective the project has been.
Is the project sustainable? How do you see it developing?
By the end of next year, every pupil in St Fillan’s will have been taught by every teacher in St Fillan’s. This is to ensure that all staff, including those who are part-time, have worked in this way.
Next year, we will build upon the Renfrewshire Skills Framework and incorporate other theories of skills-based learning such as Bloom’s Taxonomy of Skills and the de Bono Thinking Hats. Already it is starting to evolve as teachers are using the skills-based framework in other curricular areas, for example when teaching reading or science. They were actually making these links previously, but they wouldn’t have thought about it. It is now more explicit, and the teachers are discussing the skills with the children, “Do you remember when we were learning about these skills during our BUDS activity? Well, now we are going to transfer these into our science lesson or interdisciplinary topic.”
I envisage that we will continue to have a skills-focused afternoon for the next few years but eventually it will be something that will transcend the whole curriculum and it will be something that will be done automatically.
This year, we have had to explicitly teach the skills using the correct language and demonstrate how they look, where they can be applied etc. At the start of each lesson, the skills being taught are referenced and are revisited at the end during a plenary. This process will be continued until it becomes second nature to the pupils. Change takes time but with consistency, it becomes embedded.
We are going to showcase our work through one of our termly ‘Sharing Our Learning’ sessions for parents and carers. Each teacher has been given a floor book to record every session, which can be used to evidence our learning. They will contain a range of photographs and pupil reflections. We want to have a working wall display next session too.
Did you incur any costs?
We are a small, rural school with 105 pupils, so we are used to being very creative with small budgets. We purchased the floor books at the start, which was an initial outlay however there have been no additional costs so far. A lot of what we are using is already in school or free to access, for example Scratch and Code4Life online or MoneySense workshops.
Did you get other organisations/partners involved?
We have invited visitors in from MoneySense and the Fire Brigade and have had parental support with various activities based on the parents’ particular skill sets. One of our parents works for Virgin and she helped to facilitate their ‘Make £5 Grow’ enterprise challenge.
Do you have advice for practitioners thinking about organising something similar?
Spend time on researching it properly, look at your own locality and how it fits in. Look at the aspiration within the parents and children in your area and how you can raise this. Trust your staff and if anyone is reluctant to change, find out why, don’t take it personally. Workload can be a restricting factor but with as with any strategic change, it’s harder at the start. Make it fun but make sure you have a proper framework in place that you can guide people with – it takes that fear element away.
DYW is a vital area to ensure that Scotland will go on to achieve international success. We have a curriculum just now that lends itself to skills-based learning from nursery right through. It is vital that we take every opportunity that we can to teach these skills and give them the language from an early age.
I would never ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, instead I ask them, “What problems do you want to solve?”
I asked this at assembly recently and the children had fantastic answers like, “I want to stop climate change”; “I want to find a cure for cancer”; “I want to ensure that there’s no food poverty in the world”. Their answers were amazing and inspiring.