Monday, October 27, 2008

What's the Point of School?

Guy Claxton, University of Winchester,is one of the UK's foremost thinkers on developing students 'learning power'.

His most recent book is called 'What's the Point of School' and ought to be compulsory reading for anyone involved in education. His book is all about 'rediscovering the heart in education'.

His concept of 'learning power' is very much in line with the Key Competencies of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum (07).

I couldn't wait to receive my copy of Guy Claxton's latest book from Amazon as I have enjoyed his earlier writings. I wasn't disappointed.

'The purpose of education' Claxton writes, is to prepare young people for the future.Schools should be helping Young people to develop the capacities they will need to thrive.What they need and want, is the confidence to talk to strangers, to try things out, to handle tricky situations, to stand up for themselves, to ask for help, to think new thoughts'

'This is not to much to ask', says Claxton, 'but they are not getting it'.

'Education' he says,' has lost the plot'. It is not just the performance that counts, he believes, but rather the 'quality of the learning skills and attitudes in the long run'.

Claxton writes that we have to start by seeing just how bad things are and to appreciate that most of the school reform has made little difference. Claxton provides a viable alternative and his ideas resonates with the direction of our 'new' NZ curriculum.

The key resources that make up a confident learner:

1 Being curious - keen to engage in new challenges.
2 Being resilient - being able to stick with difficult things.
3 Know how to balance your imagination and your logical mind.
4 Wiling to ask for help and receive feedback without getting upset.
4 Being able to step back and take a deep breathe and calmly think things through.

These seem barely more than common sense but Claxton asks why are so few people in education talking about these 'habits of mind'. Young children are born to be enthusiastic learners pursuing whatever takes their attention. What happens to this learning drive or power?; schooling that dulls the mind and spirit rather than one that stretches students' learning power!

We need to move beyond the rhetoric of life long learning and developing all student's potential
seen in all school documents.

What is needed is a 'sustained attempt to grow those qualities of curiosity, resilience, imagination and reflection that are collectively going to give you the deep-down confidence you need'.

Calxton's book provides a range of example of how to develop students' 'learning power'.

His message is that schools must change. We ought not to put up with students enduring a passive depersonalised assembly line experience. We now know enough , writes Claxton, that no student need fail if we 'attend more successfully to cultivating the qualities of character and mind that modern life demands; curiosity, imagination, disciplined thinking, a love of genuine debate, skepticism. These are the learning dispositions that students can use their whole lives.

There might be a danger that teachers might, in the process of developing such dispositions, neglect content. Claxton writes about 'learning power' but also states that this 'power' cannot be learnt without in-depth content or interesting and challenging contexts.

There is no doubt that we can do better in education if we ( teachers and parents) have the collective will and imagination. 'Happiness', Claxton writes, ' is better seen as a regular by-product of having done something challenging and worthwhile.'

'If we can help them to discover the things they most passionately want to get better at, and to develop the confidence and capability to pursue those passions, then I think more happiness and less stress will be the result.'

CLaxton hopes his book will 'inspire people to help their students and children become brave and confident explorers, tough enough in spirit, and flexible in mind, to pursue their dreams and ambitions'.

If education has 'lost the plot' we need 'a narrative for education that can engage and inspire children and their families - a tale of trials and adventure, of learning derring-do and learning heroism. Let's fire the kids up with the deep satisfaction of discovery and exploration.They are born with learning zeal; let us recognise, celebrate and protect it, but also stretch, strengthen and diversify It.

You need to to read Claxton's book to fully appreciate the power of the 'learning story' he is so enthusiastic about. All good for me.


Anonymous said...

Great post ... book on order and I look forward to reading it!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Guy has an article in the next Teacher Today magazine -worth a read. I think he is currenty presenting in New Zealand.