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Recent thoughts on thinking

KAREN Gold's article "Thinking: the next big idea" (TES, June 14) and Christopher Ball's Platform a week earlier both emphasise the need for education in the 21st century to focus on helping young people to develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes that will enable them to know how to act when faced with situations that cannot be foreseen.

The teaching of thinking skills and learning-how-to-learn will be central to this. However, this is not a simple matter. As Sir Christopher says: "We don't yet know enough about how pupils learn to teach them how to do it better with any confidence."

And as Ms Gold said: "When the research ends, the high-quality thinking often ends too - so how can we ensure good teaching of thinking by the ordinary teacher in the average school?"

There are at least two research and development projects on learning-how-to-learn at the current time, which underscore the importance attached to this idea. The Campaign for Learning's project, mentioned by Sir Christopher, is one. The other is our project, "Learning how to learn - in classrooms, schools and networks", funded within the Economic and Social Research Council's teaching and learning programme.

It will be some time before we have substantial findings to report but, working with teachers in 43 schools in five authorities and two education action zones, a team of researchers from Cambridge, King's College London, Reading and the Open University is tackling precisely those issues raised by Sir Christopher and Ms Gold.

We are particularly interested in finding out: what teachers can do to help pupils to learn-how-to-learn, starting from well-supported strategies for assessment; then investigating what characterises the school in which learning-how-to-learn is successfully taught.

We also want to find out how educational networks (including electronic networks) can support the creation and transfer of the knowledge and skills of learning-how-to-learn among teachers and schools.

In this way we want to pull together two areas of research that have often been pursued separately: research on teaching and learning, and research on school improvement. More details, and reports of our progress, can be found on our website: www.learntolearn.ac.uk Mary James Faculty of educationUniversity of Cambridge

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