Good practice

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
Geoff Barton looks at secondary teaching

ASK: How to Teach Learning to Learn in the Secondary School

By Juliet Strang, Philip Masterson and Oliver Button

Edited by Bill Lucas

Foreword by Paul Ginnis

Crown House Publishing pound;24.99

Homer Simpson isn't often held up as an educational guru, but I was reminded of something he said when reading this book: "You're a 'but' man.

That's the difference between success and failure - the use of the word 'but'." He's talking about resilience, sticking with things instead of finding excuses to give up, a key element in effective learning.

Many of our pupils think that the main ingredient in determining who does well at school is brain power: the brainier you are, the better you do.

Experience, as well as research, teaches us otherwise. Memory, support from parents and resilience all powerfully affect success, whatever the IQ. This book is part of a trend in some schools to teach pupils how to learn. It is essentially a handbook of practice from Villiers High School in west London, written by the head, deputy and former assistant head, and has its own house style and jargon.

The ASK of the title stands for Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge. Learning is "co-constructed" with students; they develop the "5Rs" of resourcefulness, reciprocity, resilience, responsiveness and reflectiveness; they learn "meta-learning". It's hard not to admire a book which aims to give all students skills which they will need in the real world but which are currently possessed only by a high-achieving few.

Its weakness is, as the authors say, that "we are not yet in a position to evaluate fully the outcomes of ASK". I also felt that despite the detailed and intensive lesson plans (called "learning episodes"), we needed more guidance on how to link the approach into regular lessons.

It would be self-defeating if students were being immersed in a learning-to-learn approach in tutor time or PSHE, but then having the pants bored off them in an old-fashioned didactic science lesson. If you are already a convert to the Campaign for Learning approach, this book will provide many practical examples of how to develop a whole-school approach.

For others, it may provide a tantalising but untested taster of what the emphasis on, er, meta-learning might look like Geoff Barton is head of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

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