Thinking skills may not be smartest move

David Henderson & Karen Thornton

The Scottish shift away from a narrow focus on targets and academic performance is being backed by the biggest UK research project yet into teaching and learning. It will also challenge the increasing use of "thinking skills" in schools.

The pound;32 million teaching and learning research programme (TLRP) at the Institute of Education in London, partly funded by the Scottish Executive, is set to challenge the Westminster obsession with a target-oriented economic model that has influenced education across Britain.

Andrew Pollard, programme director, last week told a conference in Cardiff:

"History is moving out of a phase of education dominated by the obsession with performance, targets and structures. We have got a more balanced, authentic and evidence-informed understanding of learning that is emerging.

From that comes a sensible model of teaching."

Professor Pollard said the research programme was pushing the social aspects of education "very hard", a dimension that had recently played second fiddle to exam results.

Findings emerging from the programme were also critical of teaching methods based on new thinking about multiple intelligences and learning styles.

Many schools were promoting different methods - for example, identifying pupils as kinaesthetic or visual learners and teaching them accordingly.

They were also promoting brain skills and mind-mapping, Professor Pollard said.

Such methods might imply pupils have fixed learning needs or styles, he said, "rather than temporary capacities that can be built on or changed".

David Stone, a headteacher and adviser to the Welsh Assembly, said: "Some research suggests moving along these lines hasn't been as effective as we thought." But using different methods and variety was still worth while.

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David Henderson & Karen Thornton

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