Guy Claxton’s classic Building Learning Power: Helping young people become better learners presented both a distinctive goal for education, and a set of practical ideas to help schools and teachers attain it. Now, in The Learning Powered School, Guy and his co-authors look at how the ideas and practice have developed, and flourished, over the intervening eight years.
The book is rooted in the experience of schools and teachers who have seen the promise of Building Learning Power and have taken up the challenge of realigning their classroom practice, their professional development, and their engagement with parents, sometimes quite radically. Many examples of that trail-blazing experience are described here — some as cameos and vignettes, others as extended studies with in-depth discussion.
The book also deals with the ideas of learning power, and the science and evidence behind them, which underpin the classroom successes. And of course it reviews the impact — including that on ‘results’ and Ofsted grades.
Learning power, and the importance of building it in all young people, could be the keys to transforming education to make it truly fit for purpose in the twenty-first century. The Learning Powered School describes a work in progress, to be sure, but the progress so far is substantial and the future directions increasingly clear.
‘Building Learning Power is a superb, innovative, and important program. The approach builds on my work and translates the idea of growth mindset into powerful and practical ways of organising 21st century schools. These schools will turn out not just high achievers but great all-round learners and leaders.” Professor Carol Dweck, Stanford University
‘The Learning Powered School… speaks in a voice that is at once authoritative, visionary, engaging and accessible. Its message is passionate and urgent, its intellectual underpinnings are beyond reproach, and its multitude of suggestions for action are imaginative, practical and tested by real teachers in real schools.” Professor Patricia Broadfoot CBE
About the Authors
Guy Claxton is Co-Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning (CrL) and Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester. He previously held the latter title at the University of Bristol Graduate School of Education. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and the Royal Society of Arts, and an Academician of the Academy of the Social Sciences. Guy is the originator of the Building Learning Power programme.
Maryl Chambers has spearheaded practical development of the Building Learning Power programme for TLO Limited, helping to bring Guy Claxton’s ground-breaking ideas to schools and teachers. Maryl is one of the founders of TLO, where she has applied her wide experience of designing learning-focused training to creating the innovative programmes for which the company is renowned. She is editor-in chief of all, and co-author of many, of TLO’s publications.
Graham Powell has been a Principal Consultant with TLO since 2000. He previously held posts of responsibility at all levels within comprehensive schools, including as headteacher of a large secondary school in Wiltshire, and was senior secondary inspector with Gloucestershire LEA. In recent years, he has established a widespread reputation for his work on coaching and the ways in which this essential leadership quality can radically improve schools at all levels.
Bill Lucas is Co-Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning and Professor of Learning at the University of Winchester. He has been a school leader, the founding director of Learning through Landscapes, and CEO of the UK’s Campaign for Learning. Bill is a prolific author whose recent titles include: rEvolution (which won the Innovation category in CMI Management Book of the Year) and New Kinds of Smart (with Guy Claxton).
Foreword by Professor Patricia Broadfoot CBE
It is a strange irony that in the face of substantial international evidence that schooling is out of step with the needs of society, there are so few signs of real change. Despite this powerful evidence, education systems around the world are proving deeply resistant to change, change that is needed, as this book makes abundantly clear, if young people are to be prepared adequately to live happily and productively in the twenty-first century. Young people need to be helped to build up the mental, emotional and social resources to enjoy challenge and cope well with uncertainty and complexity. And learning, so the research tells us, is one of human beings’ deepest sources of happiness and satisfaction. Yet in the UK, as the authors of The Learning Powered School point out, over 200,000 persistent truants regularly miss a day a week of school. More than a quarter of pupils in Years 9, 10 and 11 actively dislike school. What has gone wrong? And more importantly, how on earth can we put it right? The Learning Powered School provides much needed answers to these urgent questions.
First, the book shows us the science, and clarifies the vision of twenty-first century education that the new sciences of learning are helping to underpin. No engineer would dream of attempting to design a bridge without due regard to the relevant design principles. So, quite rightly, The Learning Powered School starts from first principles. Contrary to the pervasive but erroneous idea that an individual’s ability is fixed, we now know, for example, that the brain is like a muscle, in that its intelligence grows with exercise. Selling this idea to learners and their teachers could, in itself, cause a major shift in the prevailing educational axis. How much more learning of all kinds, how much more enthusiasm for engaging with the potential delights of learning, would be generated if all young people understood that learning is learnable; that their horizons are not fixed? The authors quote the work of Professor John Hattie whose comprehensive review of research has shown that helping pupils become more independent, more reflective, and better able to plan and evaluate their own learning, turns out to be a better way of boosting their attainment than drilling them in the subject-matter.
Research also shows that the language we use to talk about education and learning deeply affects how individuals see themselves as learners. Even something as simple as changing ‘is’ to ‘could’ or talking in the classroom about ‘learning’ rather than ‘work’ can make a difference. The Building Learning Power (BLP) approach which the book describes offers teachers and pupils alike a rich vocabulary for thinking and talking about what learners actually do, and this in itself enables them to expand their capacity and appetite for learning.
Having laid the scientific foundations, The Learning Powered School quickly gets down to the job of outlining a plausible and practical way forward. Mercifully, the solutions offered do not depend on convincing politicians or waiting for high-level policy changes. Nor does the BLP approach depend, to get going, on the availability of expensive resources. The great strength of BLP is that any teacher who is convinced by the evidence so powerfully presented in this book will be able to get started immediately. Indeed, the book’s main focus is on a wealth of tried and tested strategies that teachers and school leaders can introduce today to begin to transform the learning experience of their pupils.
The experiences of the schools that have been using BLP principles and practices over recent years, clearly documented here, show that this is not a high risk strategy as far as results are concerned. In giving pupils a language with which to think about the process of learning; in giving teachers strategies to encourage their pupils to become more engaged and more effective in their learning, BLP provides a ‘both / and’ solution with which it would be hard for anyone to disagree. Teachers boost the development of students’ confidence, capacity and appetite for learning itself, as well as helping young people to achieve as well as they can in terms of more conventional syllabus content. Students get a better preparation for life and improved examination performance—a seductive package indeed.
I challenge anyone to read this book and not find themselves convinced that the world of education is at a cross-roads. The choice is not whether to teach students Shakespeare or furnish them with skills for life; it is whether to join the growing army of teachers and educationists who are developing the ‘both / and’ approach, or not. One road perpetuates the sterile debate between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘progressives’ that is still largely characterised by nineteenth century attitudes and prejudices. The other road is shaped by science. It is a road that is built on the substantial evidence now emerging about what learning is and how it can best be fostered. It is a road out of the cul-de-sac of assessment-driven schools and a performance culture that produces ‘teaching to the test’ and dependent, passive learners—high and low-achievers alike—who frequently lack resilience and real-world intelligence.
The Learning Powered School is a unique book. It speaks in a voice that is at once authoritative, visionary, engaging and accessible. Its message is passionate and urgent, its intellectual underpinnings are beyond reproach, and its multitude of suggestions for action are imaginative, practical and tested by real teachers in real schools. In a globalised world characterised by rapid change and technological innovation, in which young people have few certainties about their futures; in which most people will have several careers; in which we are faced with some of the gravest international challenges ever to face mankind, it is vital that our young people are equipped with the values, the insights and the skills they will need to navigate their way through the jungle of opportunities and threats. The authors of The Learning Powered School are true pioneers; leaders of a growing band of innovators who have shown that an alternative is not only possible, it can be realised now.
Professor Patricia Broadfoot CBE