Strengthening learning, strengthening lives - Education Matters Magazine
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Strengthening learning, strengthening lives

Passionate about strengthening the educational experiences of young people, Challenging Learning has been in Australia since 2006 and aims to help educators improve learning outcomes for 3 to 19-year-olds.

Founded by James Nottingham, who was also the brains behind The Learning Pit, is a sought-after keynote speaker and author of 11 books about teaching, learning and leadership.

He co-founded Challenging Learning in 2006 to share some of the best ways to strengthen learning in schools, preschools, and colleges.

Today, his company now employs 20 staff in six countries: the UK, the USA, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Australia.

Nottingham brings rare clarity and insight to research evidence, a breadth and depth of exemplar that connects with the reality of the classroom, and a sense of story and humour that ensures learning continues long into the future.

His experience and insights are particularly relevant to teachers, leaders, administrators, and support staff at schools through to TAFE.

Through partnering with schools, pre-schools and colleges for the long-term, Nottingham says it allows the company and schools to significantly improve learning, teaching and leadership together.

“Keynotes inspire and challenge, leading to a renewed sense of passion and focus. However, it is the longer-term processes that evolve into the most important and powerful outcomes. That is why as a company, we invest in the long-term. Our Challenging Learning Process guides, encourages, demonstrates and coaches. We walk alongside staff for two to three years, ensuring that improvements are embedded and a ‘new normal’ is created,” he says.

Having played its part in helping 450 plus schools, pre-schools, and colleges in 15 plus countries to improve the outcomes of feedback, dialogue and questioning; lift attainment grades; boost professional engagement; increase student attendance and decrease staff illness; and embed a healthier attitude towards challenge, progress, curiosity and collective efficacy have been some of the achievements Challenging Learning has achieved over its time.

Nottingham says a lot of the time schools track their progression through a sense of what is going well. While he says this is an important aspect of tracking, Challenging Learning can provide data collection analysis through its Challenging Learning Process (CLP), so schools have a source of evidence to see the comparisons.

When it comes to the CLP data collection, it is based on what the school wants.

One project we might help with is improving the approach to questioning and teachers asking more thought-provoking questions resulting in students giving more in-depth answers,” Nottingham says. “Or it could be on teaching students about how to use feedback and tracking the gains from that.”

“An example of where the CLP has been successful in Australia is at Araluen Primary School in Victoria. As a result of the three-year relationship, 80 per cent of staff actively taught students how to learn. This was linked to their use of learning intentions and success criteria. Mistakes were also embraced as a learning opportunity across the school.”

The Principal of Araluen Primary School said that teachers were passionate and keen to improve their practice and were therefore extremely positive about being coached, understanding that it is not about judgement but about improvement.

Just like Araluen Primary School, Nottingham says a lot of educators find it helpful seeing the practices before applying them in the classroom.

“By gathering evidence, we are able to present a window into the experiences of your students’ learning, and therefore give you a unique perspective on the current situation in your organisation from which we can work with you to set realistic and achievable goals,” he says.

“No two CLP projects are the same. We understand that while most schools, pre-schools, and colleges share common issues, it is the make-up of structures, staff, culture, history, location, budget, parents, and students that make it unique. This makes it difficult to say exactly what will be achieved until we have designed a process with the school, for its context.”

Challenging Learning’s number one priority is about making an impact on schools. Working across many countries around the world, far too often Nottingham and his staff see an emphasis on grades rather than the pleasure and satisfaction of learning.

He says it strengthens schools’ learning culture and leads to improved use of feedback, questioning and dialogue.

“It starts with your context and helps you make the changes you want. A CLP is driven by evidence (including meta-analyses, action learning, and student voice) and supported by practice (including teaching resources, coaching, and demonstration lessons),” says Nottingham. “It has been designed from the bottom-up and top-down and is continually improved and adapted. It represents excellent value for money by building capacity and collective efficacy so that your team continues to embed sustainable change long after the funded phase is done.

Visit Challenging Learning for more information.

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