How to know

27th May 2005 at 01:00
USING THINKING SKILLS IN THE PRIMARY CLASSROOM. By Peter Kelly. Paul Chapman Publishing. pound;16.99

THINKING SKILLS AND PROBLEM SOLVING- AN INCLUSIVE APPROACH. By Belle Wallace, June Maker, Diana Cave and Simon Chandler. David Fulton Publishers. Pounds 16.95.

Robert Fisher reads books offering approaches to teaching thinking

What is the relation between thinking and learning? Ben, aged 10, once defined learning for me in the following way: "learning is not just doing something, its knowing about how to do it."

These books seek to offer, in slim accessible formats, "know how" on the teaching of thinking. Using Thinking Skills in the Primary Classroom aims to stimulate professional reflection through a personal view of teaching and learning. The author, a teacher and teacher trainer, presents some concise advice on classroom organisation, collaborative work, class discussion and assessment, with a few references to research.

Practical tasks are suggested, such as asking readers to reflect on their own schooldays and to survey children's hobbies and attitudes to school.

These prompts for reflection could be helpful, especially for student teachers.

The author is an advocate of "authentic activities", such as those that real scientists or historians engage in. An example given for maths is to conduct a traffic survey. But is this an activity that "real mathematicians" do? Surely real maths is mathematical thinking. Activities such as "doing a survey" or "making a CD for sale" are only useful if they are contexts for thinking.

In Thinking Skills and Problem Solving, Belle Wallace updates her TASC (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) approach to problem-solving, with contributions from an American researcher and case studies from schools.

The approach synthesises research into new models, presented in a range of tables and charts with some linking text. Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is evident, transformed into "multiple abilities", to include "spiritual ability", a problematical concept which is briefly summarised. A future book could usefully provide more detail on the theoretical context of the model.

Belle Wallace presents a step-by-step approach, offering teacher and learners a useful recipe for tackling any given problem. The framework does not guarantee good teaching or learning. The recipe is not the cooking or the meal. Able teachers and able children will want to move beyond the recipe.

In a sample lesson plan illustrating the TASC approach the "learning objective" for one model lesson is to "create a fun place for the community". This may be a good activity or outcome but is not in itself a learning objective. As Ben suggested, it is not the doing but the knowing how that is important in learning.

Robert Fisher is professor of education at Brunel University

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