How learning is a two-way relationship

20th June 1997 at 01:00
TEACHING IN THE PRIMARY SCHOOl: A LEARNING RELATIONSHIP. Edited by Neil Kitson and Roger Merry. Routledge, Pounds 12.99

Immersed as we are in the delivery of the national curriculum, we are in danger of forgetting what makes a successful learner or teacher. This book promotes the successful learner as being an active participant in a learning relationship with others, including teachers.

It is in two parts. The first emphasises the child's contribution to the relationship, and the second looks at what the teacher brings to it. Different authors deal with each of the different age phases - but each provides the same structures in which the theories of child development are critically looked at, followed by an analysis of how the child's learning takes place in school, at home and in the wider social context.

Linda and David Hargreaves show that Piaget's theory has been unjustly criticised. It has been said that the artificial and socially awkward situations in which Piaget observed children led him to underestimate their thinking. Newly-translated work provides strong evidence of Piaget's recognition of the role of social encounters in development.

The Hargreaves explore the correlation between the child's co-operative learning at school with his social development. Teachers may even have to teach children strategies for how to make friends.

Roger Merry looks at the next phase of cognitive development in the 7 to 11-year-old. He investigates how children can show the beginnings of more adult use of strategies for improving memory, which may progress from rote learning, to forming visual images and then to linking the information in some way to preserve the sequence, for example in a story.

With a little "metacognition" - or what psychologists call the ability to reflect on your own thinking - children can learn to tackle problems and are not afraid of meeting negative information. The behavioural models shift both adult and child away from the traditional teacher and pupil roles to an ideal situation where children learn for themselves.

The role of the teacher is examined alongside that of the learner. Effective teachers need to be reflective and identify how they feel about the learning process rather than fall into assumptions or habitual practices. Neil Kitson proposes the cyclical "action research" model where teachers are encouraged to develop their own theories based on their own practice.

This is an important textbook for students and practising teachers wanting to update themselves on what underpins their own role and understanding of learning in the classroom and school.

Gustav Macleod is headteacher at Hotspur Primary, Newcastle upon Tyne

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