On the side of the learner
When someone writes a book about teaching and learning they hope it will be read. More than that, though, they hope it will have an influence and affect the teacher and, in turn, affect the learner. The author usually wants to convey something that will strike a chord with the reader in the belief that this will move the reader into an active participant. In order to connect with the reader, the writer employs their trusted device to nudge the reader into their direction. The devices used vary; accounts of their own first-hand experience, the testimonies of learners, case studies and examples of practice that exemplify the belief, data or research or theoretical perspectives. Different readers respond to different nudges in a version of the often derided ‘learning style’ preferences.
As Jenny Hawkins writes, she brings to bear a whole range of nudges using many perspectives. The combined force of these nudges becomes more of a concerted shove. It is called a compelling case…the importance of considering seriously emotions and feelings in the practice of teaching to better influence the learning that takes place.
Jenny draws on experience. The practising teacher can relate to the stories of teachers and school refusers. The reader will experience feelings of joy and despair, some of the very feelings that Jenny believes need to be considered within the quest to help learners to achieve. Jenny considers why we all, teachers and learners, can without care, become immune to the consequences of our actions. She cites the pressures placed upon schools by policy makers in their desire to retain power and the risk of people suppressing their inner humanity rather than exploiting the power of feeling to harness opportunities for learning and overcoming challenges.
Rather than allowing the book to become a moan against interference in professionalism, Jenny explores the reasons for emotions and feelings having to play catch up in the learning steeplechase. She charts the historical development of theories of learning and why the person of the learner came a distant second to the pursuit of success measured in results that would sift out enough of the workforce to manage and administer the rest. In the securing of perceived success for a proportion there was relatively little consideration of the collateral damage done to the emotional and social growth of many others. That some seemed to thrive in a bed of emotional stinging nettles would re-assure the drivers of some strident approaches to learning that it was the learner, rather than the teacher, who needed to adapt.
Having put together the history with the theory, Jenny paints a picture of how things might be different, using theory to substantiate her premise. Beyond that, she includes examples, case studies, evidence of success and testimonies. This is not high-flown reactionary rhetoric; it is careful considered, evidence-based research, with practical applications explained in an accessible way. The book is authoritative without being pedantic, deep without being impenetrable, instructive without being patronising and hopeful about the need for rose coloured spectacles.
For the reader, the book represents a critical overview as part of a field of study and it can equally be of benefit read from front to back or by taking sections and considering the message in context while returning to the arguments in a different place to bring a new perspective. For teachers, the book is that wonderful chance to look at an issue from both ends of the telescope; to gain perspective by seeing the big picture and then looking at the fine detail…or vice versa.
What is clear is that anyone who reads this book will be challenged, provoked, affected and enriched. As a result, the life chances of youngsters will be enhanced as practice in classrooms and schools adjusts to take better account of feelings and emotions and, further, uses what science tells us about feelings and emotions to capitalise on learning experience. The book is on the side of the learner and argues coherently for change in schooling.
Enjoy the book. Expect to be nudged…and allow yourself to be shoved towards being the teacher that you want to be.
Mick Waters Professor of Education at Wolverhampton University
[Former Director of Curriculum at the (British) Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), 2005-9. He was responsible for what British children are legally obliged to study at school via the National Curriculum.]
Waters, M. (2013) Thinking Allowed On Schooling Camarthen: Independent Thinking Press