01 Sep To maximise learning, get your students RAMPed
The acid test of any CPD is probably that, many years later, you remember it and you use it. One example for me was a nugget of gold from Trevor Hawes, (Optimal Learning) who came to Jakarta when I was at the British International School there. He summarised the need to create the right conditions for effective learning in a lovely simple way: Get them RAMPed (which I prefer to RAMPant!)
RAMPed = Relaxed, Alert, Motivated and Positive.
Trevor explains this all in terms of neuroscience and, although it can appear to be just common sense ‘good practice’, all too often, these things don’t happen. So I think it is worth rehearsing and here is my practical interpretation of Trevor’s idea:
Evidently, being stressed is not conducive to effective learning. Similarly it is not much good to be angry or scared. This is all about flight/fright mechanisms and the ‘reptilian brain’. So, if you have had a good shout at the start of a lesson, you’ve also managed to put your students into a mental state where they are less likely to learn anything. Sounds obvious – but it is worth remembering. As well as employing emotionally intelligent, positive, assertive behaviour management techniques to establish those all-important relationships, by creating a relaxed atmosphere you are getting the class ready to learn. By turning on the autocratic teacher-power, you may be achieving short-term control but at the expense of the learning that is really your main objective. Obviously, with some classes, you may need to use a bit of ‘controlled severity’ to establish order and reinforce basic expectations. However, when this happens, you can’t just plough on; you need to revert to a more relaxed atmosphere as soon as you can before the learning will get going; no-one learns well in that hushed quiet after ‘Sir has really lost it!’
It is clear enough that students should be with you; focused and ready to follow the the flow of ideas in a lesson. But have you ever done a pupil pursuit for a day or simply followed a class from one lesson to the next? The social bubble that students inhabit is extraordinarily strong. They are in a world where the dominant aspect is being together – drifting from French to Maths to Music; the subject context is just secondary. Teachers often have unrealistic expectations that every student can snap from algebra to a re-call of the ‘present perfect’ within 10 minutes….and lose interest in that hilarious joke John told in the corridor. It takes time… they either need to be reeled in slowly or you need to burst the bubble with something that grabs their attention. The trick is to see this as natural and normal – not just irritating – and to invest in getting students into the same bubble as you before getting stuck in. This can be through a starter activity that gets everyone talking or, more simply using well-understood attention-gaining processes like Bill Rogers’ signal for attention and the calm insistence on ‘looking this way and listening, thanks’ – anything that has this effect. You need to start with a bang and/or be patient…hard as it is to take, your world is not automatically the most important to every student in the class.
This is the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question. We all need motivation to do anything. Really effective learning takes place when students have a sense that the learning activities and/or the content are going to be rewarding. Personally, I am not a great believer in selling yarns about learning being relevant for future employment – or merely ‘because it is on the test’. I certainly have a strong aversion to anyone who kicks off with ‘I know this is boring, but you just have to do it because it’s on the syllabus’. The best teachers make the learning interesting here and now; either the activities or the ideas/content should be engaging (even fun) in their own right and the idea of making progress and achieving something, motivation enough. The key point is that students need to know something about what is to follow that will get them fired up and motivated to learn. This is obviously easier than it sounds… but you have to try! It takes a bit more than the kiss-of-death of copying out of Learning Objectives. (It is simple and illuminating to ask students about the lessons they really love; do more of those and fewer of the ones students regard as utterly deadly…. you’d probably say exactly the same if you were in their shoes.)
Again, obvious enough, but learning is more effective when the learner is in a positive frame of mind – in an environment where they feel good. This is about a healthy ratio of positive reinforcement to negative/corrective feedback and a general ‘can-do’ climate. It is like the positive –negative-positive sandwich idea. It works well in class and at Parents’ Evenings – to frame a critical message in a way that will be heard and received positively. “Mrs Smith, your son is a really lovely, lively boy; unfortunately he does have a serious issue with paying attention in class, but I’m sure he can achieve at a high level if he sorts that out”… you get the picture. The opposite is obviously not conducive to learning; persistent negativity, always critical, exasperated, furious… it is counter-productive. The response you get in terms of learning is limited.
So, this is our goal. Start every lesson with the students RAMPed and they are likely to have a better learning experience. It makes sense to me….and it helps to get things in perspective when the frustrations start to mount.
Apologies to Trevor if I have misrepresented him – but this is how I remember it! And I find that it works for me.