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The importance of learning takes centre stage

Schools managed for centuries without explicitly teaching children how to learn. Why is it important now? Is learning to learn just the latest bandwagon or is it truly the way forward?

As Guy Claxton demonstrates below, learning skills need to be as much a part of a school's culture, and a child's intellectual make-up, as reading skills. Then they will really make a difference to children's ability to cope with the uncertain lives and careers that await them in the 21st century.

They will need to be flexible, able to think on their feet and have a repertoire of talents to draw on - 20th-century learning will not be enough.

Two Waters primary in Hemel Hempstead is one school that places a learning culture at its heart. Head Nanette Payne says teachers foster children's confidence by empowering them to develop their own goals and set and mark their own work.

Pupils work with carefully chosen learning partners who encourage and sometimes push each other to higher levels of achievement. What they call "pupil-centred learning" includes asking for pupil input on content, giving pupils choice about when to do something, and giving them a chance to create rules together.

The school has developed a system of progression in thinking skills, starting with de Bono's "thinking hats" in the infants - where different coloured hats represent different types of questions - to much more sophisticated approaches by Year 6.

Of course, thinking skills have been around for a long time. Socrates taught them in the fifth century BC. Today's teachers can get away with this art without being made to drink hemlock.


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