Review by Ffion Eaton

22 Apr 2018, 5:00


The learning power approach: Teaching learners to teach themselves, by Guy Claxton

When The learning power approach landed on my doormat, I have to admit feeling scepticism at first.

As a teacher who has been heavily involved in all things teaching and learning, my distant memories of Guy Claxton and “building learning power” seemed to place the general concept in the realms of “Kagan cooperative learning” (*shudder*) with hazy memories of INSET day speakers selling their wares.

Cue many teachers being inspired but no one really changing their practice as a result. Sound familiar?

However, there seems to have been an evolution. Claxton himself, in the opening section of his book, admits his ideas have developed and acknowledges the changing landscape of education – and how the conceptual idea of learning power has consequently adapted. He begins by setting out his rationale articulating what he is now calling the “Learning Power Approach” (LPA) as “what is possible in 21st century schools”, and then appeals to every teacher’s desire to nurture independent and self-monitoring students. If only it were that simple, but the book teaches us that no, it isn’t simple and somehow that is the point.

After 45 pages of theorising, he changes tack and the magic really begins

As Claxton argues, ‘teaching learners to teach themselves’ is a kind of educational utopia but one that, if accomplished, leads students to achieve well beyond the remit of external examinations; revisiting the well-trodden path that education’s greater purpose is to nurture the life skills of the next generation.

Subsequently, Claxton dedicates a significant chunk of the book to the fundamentals of learning, connecting LPA to his own experiences and the evidence base and whilst an impressive precis, it is a little drawn out.

But after 45 pages of theorising, he changes tack and the magic really begins.

I found myself furiously scribbling down ideas to take back to my own school as he takes us through how LPA can actually work in practice. This is what we incredibly busy teachers will be most drawn to.

Powerful accounts abound as we are taken through concrete examples from teachers across all key stages and countries and what they actually do to enable students from all backgrounds to “strengthen a small set of vital attitudes towards learning” as Claxton modestly puts it. And the examples are impressive, with a series of pedagogical interventions we can all take inspiration from.

But Claxton is only getting started with his “quick wins” as he follows up with a rigorous exemplification of each component of LPA. I have to admit, it’s very convincing. Think metacognition, desirable difficulties and growth mindset all thrown into one, with convenient QR codes for quick access to relevant clips online.

There’s a significant nod to Carol Dweck in this book and her endorsement is confirmed in the foreword. Even the section which suggests how teachers can be “learning coaches” adds a new layer to the metacognitive approach to teaching that many of us are presently worshipping, and it’s fascinating.

Yes, at times Claxton’s vision is definitely one of idealism, especially as he sets out the expectation that as teachers we should get all of our students “wondering and contemplating”, whatever that means. Yet, the antidote comes in the form of clear pedagogical recommendations. For example, his analogy that in a complex David Attenborough documentary, it is the behind-the-scenes feature that reveals the production company’s real work, thoughts and processes.

This reminds us to regularly show students what he calls “the innards of learning”. While ostensibly obvious, it is most definitely food for thought. How often have I really done that, I wondered.

Overall, Claxton’s call to empower students reminds us all to take a breather from the exam treadmill and actually take more than a momentary glace at our entrenched methods of pedagogy. This really is worth a look.

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