Deviation is the key to progress

Robert Fisher looks at some of the latest guides to teaching the "how" of learning

Thinking skills are now seen as an essential part of all school subjects. They are the key to raising standards. Many argue that simply setting standards does not guarantee raising them. But standards can be raised when teachers direct attention not only to the "what" of learning but to the "how".

These books offer new ways to promote this. They seek to put creativity back into teaching. As Paul Ginnis says in the first book here, quoting Frank Zappa: "Without deviation, progress is not possible."

The Teacher's Toolkit By Paul Ginnis Crowne House pound;22.99

The Teacher's Toolkit is a substantial book of teaching strategies. Paul Ginnis has packed into it "almost everything I know about teaching and learning" in secondary schools. In a lively introduction he reviews a range of recent educational books and makes a cri de couer for more creative teaching.

He uses research from neuroscience and psychology to support 50 varied learning techniques that could be adapted for all subjects and age groups. Practical ideas are given on managing group work, tackling bad behaviour and promoting personal responsibility.

Ways of planning for individuals' needs and checking your practice are given in a sufficiently down to earth way for teachers to adapt and develop them. The author is surely right that teaching and learning improves when practice is informed by research rather than political directive.

Teaching Thinking Skills Across the Middle Years Edited by Belle Wallace and Richard Bentley NACEFulton pound;16

This is part of a useful series edited by Belle Wallace which presents a practical framework for teaching thinking and problem solving across key stages 2 and 3. It includes advice on literacy, maths and science which draws on the classroom experience of teachers and children.

It quotes, for example, a poem by Sam (aged 11):

"I Want to Know - How flowers form - And why moons dawn-Why stars are bright - And fireflies light-Why people talk - But parrots squawkEvolution? - Why pollution? - How fusion starts - And fission parts - Interplanetary? - Extraordinary? - How birds can fly - So why can't I?How I can think - Sense or instinct? - And who am I? - To live and die?"

Teachers help pupils consider questions such as this all the time. But what they do not always provide is a framework to structure their pupils' thinking. The model presented here is TASC (thinking actively in a social context) which provides questions to help students plan and reflect. These ideas are not new, but they do provide clear and accessible ways to extend your teaching.

Learning to Learn By Garry Burnett Crowne House pound;24.99

Learning to Learn is a book for teachers at key stage 3 that offers an introduction to theories of multiple intelligences and accelerated learning.

Garry Burnett teaches at a school in Hull. His ideas are based on the importance of developing pupil self-esteem and a "can do" attitude. After a brief introduction there is a series of lessons which translate "learning to learn" principles into activities suitable for 11 to 14-year-olds.

They explore aspects of "selfhood" and new ways of looking at learning. Children are taught motivational strategies such as making affirmations for success, creating positive states of mind, researching their own "intelligence profile" and identifying their preferred learning styles. The value here may not be so much in the suggested teaching plans, but in the stimulus they provide to planning your own lessons.

Thinking Skills and Eye Q By Oliver Caglioni, Ian Harris and Bill Tindall Network Education Press pound;17.95

This offers a visual approach to thinking and learning, building on Mapwise, the authors' earlier excellent introduction to concept mapping (which they call "model mapping").

Their primary assertion is that we are all "Eye Q" experts, that is visual thinkers, and that visual thinking techniques should be explicitly taught at all ages. A range of "visual tools" or formats is presented which can be directly applied to children's learning and the ways teachers present information and thinking processes.

Robert Fisher is professor of education at Brunel University

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