Friday, September 19, 2008

Guy Claxton- 'Learning Power'

If you want to read a book that may change your mind about teaching and learning - or confirm intuitive thoughts you have always had, get yourself a copy of this book. I note I bought my copy in 2001 and my copy is almost falling apart with re-reading and underlining. I also note that he has a new book out called 'What's the Point of School'? published 2008. I am hooked - I must get a copy.

On the cover of Guy Claxton's book there is a quote from actor John Cleese, 'Just occasionally I get the feeling that somebody has said something important.

I have to agree.

I have never met Guy Claxton but once when I was working in a school in Hastings(NZ) the principal went off to a seminar to hear him speak. On return he passed on to me the 'messages' that he picked up.

Since then I have done my best to read everything he has written .I now have three of his books, each one challenging my thinking further than the previous. First I read 'Wise- Up', then 'Hair Brain Tortoise Mind' and most challenging of all, for me, 'The Wayward Mind'. I would recommend 'Wise-Up' or do a search of for his articles on 'google'. Maybe his latest book might sum up his present ideas about teaching and learning and be the one to get?

For those, who do their best to keep up with the ideas that 'trickle down' from the Ministry, they will recognise many of Claxton's ideas. He is evidently on their list of approved thinkers but this is not surprising for his thoughts align well with the direction of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum. Claxton's ideas make a great antidote to all the standardized curriculums that the Ministry was previously in favour of and insisting that schools comply with. Thankfully, for creative teachers and schools, the Ministry 'experts' have changed their minds.

Claxton is to return to New Zealand in November to run seminars and work with lucky schools and the Ministry.

Claxton is a believer that to thrive in the future students need to develop their 'learning power', or as we so often hear these days their 'learning capacity'. The NZC calls these future dispositions the 'key competencies'. Art Costa, in his writings, calls these future dispositions 'habits of mind'. Some us will be more familiar with the phrase 'learning how to learn' as against focusing only on content.

Claxton outlines in 'Wise-Up' his four 'Rs'; resilience, resourcefulness, reflection and reciprocity.

He also believes that Western thinking has focused too much on logical rational thinking ( which he calls 'fast', or 'hair brained', in his second book).This kind of linear thinking, he writes, is useful for solving problem to which there is an obvious answer. Unfortunately for most of the real problems facing individuals and nations such thinking is inadequate. Instead he believes in the power of reflection ,or meditation, of letting the mind have time to come up with its own answers. To solve such problem his advice is to 'prime' the mind and then to stop thinking and let answers just 'come to mind'. Go fishing, he suggest and who knows what you will start thinking about. The creative process is at best messy. This , he says, is how many of the important ideas have come to many of our great thinkers and creative individuals. In fact all of us. This 'slow-thinking' he calls our 'tortoise-mind'.

This 'slow thinking' is the realm of the unconscious and has been neglected by Western thought. Through exposure, and through the myths and stories we share, ideas seep into our unconscious and becomes available as and when required. The history of how we have seen the unconscious since the beginning of history is the theme of his book 'The Wayward Mind'.

Claxton believes that 'young people need to mull and drift as well purposefully problem solve, and therefor believes flexibility, adaptability, resourcefulness and creativity to be the qualities through which we can become truly educated. The key to being a life long learner is to have the confidence to 'know what to so when you don't know what to do'. One of his saying, that is now a,favourite of mine, is that, ''learnacy' is more important than literacy and numeracy'.

I do like the sound of his most recent book,'What's the Point of School'


Anonymous said...

While people like yourself and Guy Claxton - and the 07 New Zealand Curriculum, spread the message of 'learnacy', out in the 'real world' the consuming emphasis on literacy and numeracy continues. When schools report to BOT/Ministry on their 'targets' for 'learning power' things will have changed.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I think what you are reflecting is 'curriculum drag' - old ideas need time and encouragement to get rid of. Our 'new', 'back to the future', curriculum is a step in the right direction - the Ministry saving us from themselves! I bet it won't make much of a dent in our traditional secondary schools.

I have ordered, through Amazon, Claxton's latest book.'The Point of School' .Should be a good read.