Learning Power: A Guide for Teachers

Author(s) Ruth Deakin-Crick
Publisher Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd
Published 2006
Pages 144
Price £18.99
ISBN 1412922208
Reviewed by Mrs Christine Jenkins
University of Winchester
Review published 24 January 2007

This book, written for teachers, describes practical classroom applications of research undertaken so far as part of the Effective Lifelong Inventory (ELLI) project, carried out within the University of Bristol’s Graduate School of Education. The project was supported in its early stages by Professors Guy Claxton and Patricia Broadfoot. Claxton’s work on learning power in particular will be familiar to many readers and has greatly influenced the ELLI project – these ideas underpin the research described in this book. This book is designed to address a key outcome of the second part of the project, that the outcomes of research should make an impact in real life.

Over the past few years, educators have become increasingly aware of the need to involve learners in a meaningful personal dialogue in order for effective learning skills to be developed. The current awareness of the power of assessment for learning, where teacher feedback and discussion with pupils of their learning successes and learning needs is an aspect of this with which all teachers are familiar. A language and understanding, shared by all within the classroom learning community, enabling personal responses to learning is essential to develop the self-awareness needed in order to succeed as a life-long learner. The seven dimensions of learning power, which form the basis of the teacher action research described here, provide just such a framework. As the author explains, learning power is a form of awareness of particular behaviours, beliefs and feelings about oneself and about learning.

As someone unfamiliar with the earlier work of the ELLI project and not fully conversant with Claxton’s writing, I confess that I began this book wondering how applicable its approach would be in the average primary classroom (a chapter on secondary approaches is included). The discovery in chapter 3 of individual profiles based on online assessments reinforced this concern, as this type of approach requires a whole-school commitment by management and may not be feasible for many classroom practitioners looking for ways to improve learning for their own pupils. However, as I read on I realised that there is much in this book that would benefit all teachers and their pupils.

In my initial teacher training work with students, much time is spent, particularly in Y1, raising awareness of personal strengths and barriers to effective learning. Starting this dialogue with primary age children and embedding it within the learning process would indeed have a lifelong impact. Obviously, a whole school approach, energetically supported by senior management is most effective; however, any teacher can use the ideas described here. The animal metaphors used to encapsulate each learning dimension can be adapted to suit individual settings and would potentially engage even the most disaffected learners.

This is not a gimmicky approach. Good teaching, with all that that involves must be present for effective learning to take place. The approach here fosters deeper understanding for both teacher and learner of exactly what the process involves.

I am uncertain about the usefulness, particularly in the primary classroom, of the flashcards enclosed, designed to help learners to work on chosen aspects of their learning power both at school and at home, These are not inviting, being written in very small, dense text, requiring very good reading skills and high levels of engagement and motivation on the part of the learner. Overall, however, this is a useful book, incorporating many ideas that are at the forefront of current educational discussion e.g. personalised learning, philosophy for children. It contains much to interest schoolteachers, senior managers and those involved with learners of any age.

The learning dimensions approach may be observed in action on the Primary National Strategy video, Excellence and Enjoyment: Understanding how learning develops.

Clip 1 The launch of the SS Great Britain, which features one of the contributing teacher-authors, David Millington, working with his class – a clip frequently used by myself and my colleagues to demonstrate various aspects of good teaching!