A regrettably well-kept secret
This cartoon was originally drawn for me by an anonymous member of the audience at one of my talks about 20 years or so ago. She just came up to me at the end of the lecture and gave it to me – I never even got her name. I’ve recently had it redrawn and updated by a young artist in London, Karolína Varvařovská because I still think it makes a good point, which is this: the best kept secret about Learning to Learn, or Building Learning Power, or The Learning Power Approach (LPA) - call it what you like - is that it benefits teachers as much as it does the students.
A roomful of youngsters who are shy of learning - who don’t know what to do when they don’t know what to do; who don’t bring their innate curiosity to school; who feel they are constantly at risk of being judged and found wanting; who think that if they don’t understand something quickly it means they are stupid; who have learned to remember things verbatim and wait to be told The Right Answer; who think it is your job to keep them in order and on task – such a class is hard work to teach, isn’t it? You are constantly having to coax, cajole or threaten them into learning, and it can sometimes feel that teaching is like the Greek myth of Sisyphus: having to roll a boulder uphill during the day, only to discover that it has rolled back down during the night and you have to start all over again.
The LPA says that with a certain amount of initial effort, you can create a context within which the rocks are a whole lot easier to roll – and even come to start rolling themselves. There are things that any teacher can do to try to reawaken their students’ confidence and appetite for learning itself, so that they come to think for themselves - more deeply, independently and enthusiastically. They rediscover the pride that every baby has in tackling challenges and mastering them – with just the minimum amount of help, or none at all. Of course, it takes some time, effort and ingenuity to get there. And, like all teaching, it’s no magic bullet and some children and students may take longer than you’d like to come on board. But when they do, you’ll see a transformation that makes your job not only easier, but more deeply fulfilling.
So maybe it is possible to see the LPA not as another damn thing to get your head around – when you already have too much – but a tray that helps teaching to be more the way you always wanted it to be. Worth a shot? Lots of teachers would say so!