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How can planning learning experiences using an accelerated learning cycle lead to more engaged learners?

The latest installment of my MEd involved me writing up the group preparation for a collaborative professional enquiry which will be carried out next term. As I moved school however at Easter, I also changed my enquiry from the proposal stage to bring it in line with developments already taking place at my new school. As I’d previously posted the rationale from my proposal, I thought I should post my new rationale. This is a slightly edited version from my assignment [which has not yet been marked – fingers crossed!]

How can planning learning experiences using an accelerated learning cycle lead to more engaged learners?
• How can planning learning experiences using an accelerated learning cycle change the learners’ understanding of the role of the teacher in learning?
• How can planning learning experiences using an accelerated learning cycle change the learners’ understanding of the role of themselves in learning?
• How can planning learning experiences using an accelerated learning cycle lead to learners becoming more engaged in their learning?

What is an ‘Accelerated Learning Cycle’?
There are many iterations of both learning cycles and accelerated learning programs (Kolb 1984, Meier 2000, McCarthy & McCarthy 2006, Heron 2009). The accelerated learning cycle we refer to has its roots in Smith (1996) where he outlines seven stages to effective learning plus a further pre-stage as follows:

Accelerated Learning Cycle from Smith (1996, p.11)

We are using a modified version of this cycle and have incorporated these stages into our lesson planning. We have used the term ‘Discuss Learning Outcomes’ instead of ‘Describe the outcomes’ to encourage a higher level of involvement of learners in the process than is implied by the Smith’s wording. In addition, we have found in practice that the ‘Big Picture’ stage can be incorporated into ‘Connect the Learning’ or ‘Discuss Learning Outcomes’. Teachers planning lessons using these stages is what we mean by ‘planning learning experiences using an accelerated learning cycle’ in this enquiry.

What do we mean by ‘Learner Engagement’?
A lack of pupil engagement is an issue which I have identified in my own practice, but is also an issue which has been highlighted nationally (HMIe 2009, p.48) and by others in my school. Harris (2010) classifies two types of student engagement: engagement in schooling and engagement in learning. She argues that much of the literature on student engagement, such as the 2003 OECD report (Willms 2003), focuses on behavioural engagement. She goes on to point out that if we are interested in improvements in student learning we should be focusing instead on cognitive engagement. As a result of her work with secondary teachers Harris (2010) has a developed a continuum of engagement which I have summarised in the table below:

Continuum of Learner Engagement adapted from Harris (2010)

This continuum demonstrates the potential relationship between learners becoming more autonomous and their engagement in learning. We discussed this continuum and agreed that this articulated what we mean by “Learner Engagement” for the purposes of this enquiry. Our aim is to change our practice to support learners to move up this continuum towards “owning learning”.

What will be different?
Changing a planning proforma does not necessarily lead to changes in the learning experiences; we therefore discussed the changes we expect to see in lessons which are planned in this way. The primary change to most lessons will involve the provision of explicit opportunities to consolidate, demonstrate and review learning. Through discussions as a collaborative group it is clear that we currently tend to focus too heavily on inputting new information and too often halt the learning process at this point. Whilst we may occasionally provide an activity to practice what has just been covered, we tend not to do so consistently nor to a sufficiently challenging degree to allow us to really gauge progression. We seem to be particularly guilty at failing to protect the time to review learning and encourage learners to reflect on how, as well as what, they have learnt. This has a tendency to result in learners becoming passive participants in the learning process, detached from the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the learning which is taking place (Black et. al. 2006, p.124). Taking an accelerated learning cycle approach to lessons changes this as teachers take a learning, as opposed to a content, view of planning lessons and therefore ensure that time is taken to demonstrate and review learning.

How does our intervention relate to literature and policy?
Smith (1996) uses a collection of disparate educational theories to support his accelerated learning cycle, some of which have since fallen out of favour. Despite this, the approaches he outlines have relevance today and are supported by contemporary literature. There are two areas of literature which are particularly relevant to Smith’s learning cycle; Assessment for Learning and Learning How To Learn.

The accelerated learning cycle has Assessment for Learning (AfL) at its core. AfL has recently been revisited by Black & Wiliam (2009) in an attempt to develop a framework to help define the practices which this term encompasses. This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the literature through which they determine the following five key strategies:

Black & Wiliam (2009)

These strategies overlap significantly with the stages of the accelerated learning cycle by placing an emphasis on the importance of discussing learning outcomes, including activities which allow learners to demonstrate their understanding and by ensuring opportunities for learners to reflect on learning. The potential impact of strategies which provide learning feedback loops are highlighted by Petty (2009) in his review of the meta-analyses of John Hattie and Robert Marzano. Although such meta-analyses need to be treated with a degree of caution, it is significant that both found feedback to have one of the largest effect sizes in terms of learning outcomes (p.87). Once again, Petty’s representation of the most effective learning process, based on evidence, bears a similarity to the stages identified in the accelerated learning cycle (p.86) and helps clarify the crucial role which feedback plays in the process.

A related, and increasingly overlapping, aspect of literature which is also relevant to the accelerated learning cycle is sometimes known as Learning How To Learn (LHTL) but can also be referred to as Learn to Learn (L2L). Although our school is implementing a parallel specific L2L programme in S1 and S2 from next session, we will use the term LHTL as defined by Black et. al. (2006). This term is more appropriate for this enquiry as we are not evaluating the impact of implementing a L2L programme, but determining whether increasing the opportunities for demonstrating understanding and reflecting on learning in lessons can have an impact on pupils’ perceptions and understanding of themselves as learners, and ultimately on engagement. James & McCormick (2009) outline a relationship between AfL and LHTL in a way which has particular relevance to this enquiry:

Relationship between AfL, LHTL and Learning Autonomy
from James & McCormick (2009)

Throughout our meetings my colleagues have repeatedly shared their concern that their pupils’ perceptions of themselves as learners, and their perceptions of the teacher’s role in the learning process, has, to a certain degree, led them to become disengaged as learners. The diagram above demonstrates the relationship between Assessment for Learning as an integral component of Learning How To Learn, and ultimately learner autonomy. We feel that by changing the pupils’ perceptions, we will increase their engagement on Harris’ (2010) scale by allowing them to see the purpose and, in the long-term, become owners of their learning.

Recent Scottish Government policies have focused significantly on changing pedagogy, assessment and curriculum in order to raise achievement through increased learner involvement and engagement in learning (Scottish Government 2008, p.27; Learning & Teaching Scotland 2009, p.13; Scottish Government 2010, p.19; Learning & Teaching Scotland 2010, p.4). These policy changes have been subsequently transferred into local policy, for example the intended impact of aspects of our Local Authority’s Curriculum for Excellence implementation plan include “pupils will be more actively involved in their learning and will make links between their learning” and “learners will be actively involved in assessing their progress” (East Lothian Council, 2011).

What is Collaborative Professional Enquiry?
The concept of teachers co-constructing knowledge of practice is developing prominence in both policy and literature. A recent report on teacher education in Scotland highlighted the “significant potential for greater collaboration in supporting inquiry-based improvement” (Donaldson 2010, p.70), however the potential contribution of these approaches to professional development in general, and Curriculum for Excellence in particular, had already been highlighted by the Curriculum for Excellence Management Board the previous year (Scottish Government 2009, p.15).

Hargreaves (2003) also argues for the need for teachers to work together, but further suggests that this work “consistently focuses on improving teaching and learning, and uses evidence and data as a basis for informing classroom improvement efforts” (p.134). This way of working is very much in line with the definitions provided for collaborative professional enquiry provided by others (Jackson & Street 2005, p.10; Watkins 2005, p.191; Drew et. al. 2008, p.53). Collaborative professional enquiry promotes practitioner research as both an effective tool for improving teaching and a key aspect of professional learning (Loughran, 2010), but also builds on this to encompass a Vygotskyan view of teacher learning (Warford, 2010).

We discussed the concept of collaborative enquiry as a group in the first of our meetings and agreed that the phases outlined by Temperley & McGrane (2005, p.73) provide a useful sequence to guide our enquiry.


Black, P., McCormick, R., James, M. and Pedder, D. (2006) Learning How to Learn and Assessment for Learning: a theoretical enquiry. Research Papers in Education, 21 (2) pp.119-132

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (2009) Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21 pp. 5–31

Donaldson, G. (2011) Teaching Scotland’s Future: Report of a review of teacher education in Scotland. Edinburgh, Scottish Government

Drew, V., Fox, A. and McBride, M. (2008) Collaborating to improve learning and teaching. In: Reeves, J. & Fox, A. ed. Practice-Based Learning. Edinburgh, Dunedin Academic Press, pp. 52-66

East Lothian Council (2011) Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian Planning Ahead 2011/12. http://edubuzz.org/blogs/curriculumforexcellence/files/2009/09/CfE-in-East-Lothian-Planning-Ahead-2011-12-A3.doc [accessed 30 June 2011]

Hargreaves, A. (2003) Teaching in the Knowledge Society: Education in the age of insecurity. Maidenhead, Open University Press

Harris, L. (2010) Secondary teachers’ conceptions of student engagement: Engagement in learning or in schooling? Teaching and Teacher Education, 27 (2) pp.376-386

Heron, J. (2009) Life cycles and learning cycles. In: Illeris, K. ed. Contemporary Theories of Learning. Abingdon, Routledge, pp.129-146

HM Inspectorate of Education (2009) Improving Scottish Education 2005-2008. www.hmie.gov.uk/documents/publication/ise09.pdf [accessed 4 July 2011]

Jackson, D. and Street, H. (2005) What Does ‘Collaborative Enquiry’ Look Like? In: Street, H. & Temperley, J. ed. Improving Schools Through Collaborative Enquiry. London, Continuum, pp. 41-70

James, M and McCormick, R. (2009) Teachers learning how to learn. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25 pp.973–982

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey, Prentice Hall

Learning and Teaching Scotland (2009) Building the Curriculum 4: Skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work. www.ltscotland.org.uk/Images/BtC4_Skills_tcm4-569141.pdf [accessed 30 June 2011]

Learning and Teaching Scotland (2010) A Summary of Building the Curriculum 5: A framework for assessment. www.ltscotland.org.uk/Images/btc5_tcm4-605259.pdf [accessed 30 June 2011]

Loughran, J. (2010) What Expert Teachers Do: Enhancing professional knowledge for classroom practice. Abingdon, Routledge

McCarthy, B. and McCarthy, D. (2006) Teaching around the 4MAT cycle: designing instruction for diverse learners with diverse learning styles. London, Sage Publications

Meier, D. (2000) The Accelerated Learning Handbook. New York, McGraw-Hill

Petty, G. (2009) Evidence-Based Teaching. 2nd ed. Cheltenham, Nelson Thornes

Scottish Government (2008) Building the Curriculum 3: A framework for learning and teaching. www.ltscotland.org.uk/Images/building_the_curriculum_3_jms3_tcm4-489454.pdf [accessed 30 June 2011]

Scottish Government (2009) Towards a Professional Development Strategy for Curriculum for Excellence: Management board discussion paper.
www.ltscotland.org.uk/Images/ProfessionalDevStrategy_tcm4-565591.pdf [accessed 12 July 2011]

Scottish Government (2010) Building the Curriculum 5: A framework for assessment. www.ltscotland.org.uk/Images/BtC5_assess_tcm4-582215.pdf [accessed 30 June 2011]

Smith, A. (1996) Accelerated Learning in the Classroom. Stafford, Network Educational Press

Temperley, J. and McGrane, J. (2005) Enquiry in action. In: Street, H. & Temperley, J. ed. Improving Schools Through Collaborative Enquiry. London, Continuum, pp. 72-103

Warford, M.K. (2010) The zone of proximal teacher development. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27 (22) pp.252-258

Watkins, C. (2005) Classrooms as Learning Communities. Abingdon, Routledge

Willms, J. D. (2003) Student Engagement at School: A Sense of Belonging and Participation, Results from PISA 2000. www.oecd.org/dataoecd/42/35/33689437.pdf [accessed 30 June 2011]