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The Learning Rainforest: A model for great teaching and learning
Originally posted on teacherhead.com
It’s a few months since I published The Learning Rainforest with John Catt. So far sales have gone pretty well – I couldn’t be happier with that. I’m also getting invited to run lots of CPD events and engage in longer term consultancy work based on the ideas in the book. If that might be of interest for the next academic year, contact me here.
If you haven’t got a copy yet, here are some extracts to give you a feel for the content of the book:
From Chapter 1: My Rainforest Experience
Context and Aspirations.
To conclude this chapter, reflecting on my personal journey as a teacher, it’s certainly true that in every new situation I have had to adjust and adapt my teaching. The context we work in has a major bearing on our priorities and our sense of what works. It can also shape our vision for might be possible, limiting it or opening new doors. Working at KEGS and BIS Jakarta and seeing our vision for Alexandra Park School come into being, taught me a great deal. Once you have met students with an extraordinary work ethic or students who can dazzle you with their insights and imagination, students who respond to being trusted and challenged and challenge you back in return, you see possibilities for learning that you can never unsee.
With that insight, when teaching in more challenging contexts, where social deprivation and other community dynamics and pressures might make the need for control and standardisation more important for many students, without question, the Learning Rainforest is still the goal; that is still the aspiration. For example, silent corridors and rigid discipline might be a means to an end at a certain point in time but they are surely never the goal. Ultimately, you want students to develop the self-discipline, maturity and powers of self-regulation to thrive in a high-trust environment where these controls are no longer necessary. If we are serious about giving students in any context as good an education as they would get anywhere else, at some point we need to make the transition from plantation thinking to rainforest thinking in the right way and at the right time. Largely that’s a leadership challenge but individual teachers will have an important role to play.
Readers of this book will work in a vast range of contexts but my hope is that what follows resonates with teachers anywhere because we largely share the same aspirations for our students. Ultimately, the Learning Rainforest is for everyone.
From Chapter 4: What does the research say? : Implications for teaching in the Learning Rainforest:
In my view, the survey of current educational research findings, lends significant weight to the three elements of the rainforest analogy.
Findings about the role of relationships, peer dynamics, mindsets, expectations of students and classroom climate in general, suggest that it is certainly important to invest in these elements in any school and classroom. Establishing rich, nourishing conditions for growth is essential; they are pre-requisites for successful learning.
The large body of evidence from cognitive science tells us that building knowledge is crucial to taking learners on the journey from novice to expert. This is a technical business where effective instructional methods are vital. Effective teacher-led instruction and teaching for long-term memory are strongly evidenced in the research. Strong knowledge-rich trunks and branches are fundamental to building deeper, wider schema that then inform creative processes and problem solving.
Finally, there’s no doubt that varied practice and opportunities for challenge reinforce the knowledge acquisition process. In the right sequence and proportion, a wide range of learning experiences can be used to elicit evidence of student understanding in order to support effective feedback and to adjust teaching inputs. Multiple learning modes can provide students with opportunities to reinforce their conceptual understanding whilst also supporting the development of various dispositions.
Overall, in my view, perhaps the most important conclusion from research is that teacher-led instruction designed explicitly to build knowledge in long-term memory is at the core of successful learning. There is no canopy in the lush rainforest, without strong trunks and branches. This is critical in planning effective schemes of work and delivering great lessons in real classrooms.
However, at the same time as assimilating research findings into our reservoirs of wisdom, there is a need to continually keep the research in perspective. There is a huge risk in becoming excessively reductive and linear, overly blinded by the reassurance of science-like research findings, when the processes we are dealing with are much more organic, unpredictable and non-linear. Real life is more rainforest than plantation. For example, even though research might lead us to believe that knowledge-rich teacher-led instruction is hugely powerful , it’s a mistake to assume that this mode of teaching must replace all else. It’s much more subtle than that.
Part Two: 60 strategies in three sections:
This part of the book is where all the ideas explored in Part 1, take shape. If you read through them, or dip in, you’ll get a good overview of what great evidence-informed teaching looks like in practice.
- Establishing conditions: C 1-20
- Building the Knowledge Structure K1-20
- Exploring the Possibilities P1-20
Join the thousands of people who have bought a copy – and send me a photo. I like to collect them.
Finally, let me know what you think. I’ve had some lovely reviews so far – and more reviews are always welcome. Check out the reviews here:
Let me also re-post my favourite review of all – from my uncle John, a teacher for 50 years and still going.
And here is the ultimate endorsement – from Dylan Wiliam, a long-term edu-hero of mine; someone who has been a big influence on me and who I have referenced extensively in the book. I could not be happier that Dylan read my book (apparently in just a couple of sittings) and was so positive about it: