How to walk the skills v knowledge tightrope

17th January 2014 at 00:00

Tom Bennett's timely piece raises an important issue regarding the apparent tension between the teaching of "facts" and "skills" in the classroom. The idea that there is a cost to teaching skills is clearly a concern to some types of teacher. But this ignores the significant benefits to learning and achievement being realised by a growing body of teachers and education ministries around the world. These practitioners take an expanded view of intelligence and the purpose of education, and thus strive to instil valuable mindsets and dispositions in learners.

Happily for teachers, teaching for intelligence (which can lead to improvements in academic achievement) and covering material required by the curriculum need not be conflicting endeavours. Professor Carol Dweck puts it powerfully: "The Expansive Education approach is often misunderstood as a desire to teach students things that are not part of core learning. It is often seen as a luxury when human and financial resources are in short supply. It is important to convey that the Expansive Education approach is at the heart of learning - it's what motivates students to learn and guides and sustains their learning."

Professor John Hattie's Visible Learning, an impressive meta-analysis of all the evidence about what makes education successful, reaches the same conclusion. Essentially, meta-learning and conscious, visible development of learning dispositions that some might dismiss as a distraction from the "real" business of passing exams make the biggest impact on student learning - particularly when demonstrated by teachers themselves. Good teachers "infuse" the teaching of learning across the whole of school life. It should not be a choice between facts and dispositions.

Dr Ellen Spencer, Centre for Real-World Learning, University of Winchester.

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