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Creating a positive learning culture

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Kathryn Hutchison from Wellington East Girls' College discusses how she creates a positive learning culture. She explains how exemplars, modelling, collaboration, and learning conversations are integral to helping students learn how to learn.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Teaching learning to learn

Teachers need to teach and scaffold so that their learners can:

  • set challenging yet appropriate goals
  • identify useful, important, and relevant success criteria
  • plan appropriate learning steps
  • give and receive feedback
  • interpret and use assessment information and feedback
  • evaluate their progress.

Teachers need to provide regular opportunities for their students to use these strategies. Learning to learn should be taught in the context of real learning.

NZC Update 21

  • Kathryn Hutchison uses exemplars, modeling, collaboration, and learning conversations to help her students learn how to learn. How could you make these methods work with your students?
  • How do you utilise the work of peers in influencing student learning?
  • How could you collect feedback about what students are finding effective in the classroom?
  • What pedagogy have you seen in your school that has raised student engagement? Could that work in every class in the school?


One of the things the students find most useful is being able to see what it is they’re aiming for. So that system of using exemplars to identify what it takes to be successful and to be successful at different levels is extremely helpful for them.

Strategies that help me to learn are mostly comparing my work to other peoples’ work and seeing what improvements I could make on my work. Depending on the mark they got for their piece of work and the stage where my work is at - seeing what improvements I could make to make it better. 

In PE we do, our teacher does demonstrations on how to do certain skills. We’re doing volleyball at the moment. She taught us all the different moves - how to dig, how to set. Her showing us how to do it made it easier to learn from her and other students that do it too.

I get involved with it. Then it just helps me to learn off other people than for me to do it by myself. I can learn from other people with their strategies and comparing it to mine. 

Similarly modelling how you find research - how you research, and how you unpack a piece of text is helpful for the students who (although age 15) are still learning that. Doing that in peers, with peers and in pairs is extremely helpful for them. When I ask them to evaluate how they have found the learning process (which I’m starting to do more and more often) because they are pretty good at saying what’s working and what’s not, and why it’s not. Those are the things that come forward. Show us what we need to do. The exemplars, previous students’ work is always great and modelling how to do it is also extremely useful. 

With the students who are comfortable learners and who enjoy the process of learning it’s very straightforward. You can ask them to look back over their work, review what they’ve done, and they can discuss the processes that they have used - that’s in large part due to what they’ve been trained to do through primary school. That’s fantastic. For the girls who are less confident learners it becomes a real challenge at the start of the senior school because the first thing we need to do is get them comfortable with the idea of learning. So their sense of self-efficacy is almost not there. The processes we're using to build that up are significant amounts of group work. Setting the standard of interaction in the classroom is also fairly critical so we’re doing a lot of work in class on what it means to be learning companions rather than learning competitors. So that the students who are, really honestly, not engaged with learning at all, can start to get some traction with the idea of playing with the idea of learning.

I always use the analogy when kids are struggling with their in class learning whether it’s through reading or through writing, it’s like sport. You get familiar and you get confident with your sport because you keep doing it. So it’s a matter of building up that determination and let’s face it the resilience because there’s a few knockbacks. 

Some students in the class who at the start of the year you know they were practically heads down on the table, now they’re sitting up and they are talking to the group. In fact one of them was sitting in the round tables (seems to neutralise things quite nicely) and I was so flattered she came and sat next to me. I thought that meant that our relationship was growing, and I think that in the end the students will give of their best if they think they know you. They do know me, we talk a lot about my life - they ask me questions about my life a lot and I know a lot about their lives which is I think a good place to be.

The things that make me enjoy my classes are teachers -  their mood in class - they have to have a happy vibe. If it’s not then it’s just boring, if they’re just monotone then it’s boring. Got to be fun.        

Published on: 28 Nov 2012