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Q&A with Guy Claxton on building learning powers and the teenage brain

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Guy Claxton is a cognitive scientist specialising in the expandability of our mental powers. He’s one of the keynote speakers from a stellar lineup at our 2018 secondary conference on Capturing the teenage brain. To give you a taste of what his session will cover, we put our questions to him ahead of the big event.  

What will be the key takeaways from your presentation?

The key things I’ll cover during my keynote session include how the conflict between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘progressives’ is a phoney war. I’ll outline how it is possible to teach in a way that preserves and combines the best of both worlds. We call this the learning power approach.

I’ll also cover a variety of well-researched initiatives around the world to attest the validity and practicality of this approach. And I’ll explain that to embed this approach, it requires focused and determined pedagogical leadership.

What is the one thing you want the audience to understand on a deeper level?

I want the audience to walk away understanding that ‘character’ is taught by every teacher every day. It is a layer of learning that is always present in the classroom. But, it’s important to remember, some forms of ‘good teaching’ develop a passive and compliant character, which is not suited to the demands of tomorrow’s world. As educators, we must inspire pupils to learn but also equip them with the skills to engage in society beyond the school gate.

What is building learning power?

Building learning power is one version of the learning power approach I’ll cover during the session. It’s about supporting young people to become better learners, developing students’ learning habits and preparing young people for a lifetime of learning. 

Other approaches include expeditionary learning education, character lab, cultures of thinking and habits of mind. They all share a common set of design principles to create learning power cultures. 

How does this approach help students to become better learners both in and out of school?

By systematically building students’ confidence and capacity to engage with complex challenges. It shifts the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the learner. It engages teachers and students creatively as researchers in learning. And the approach enables schools to capitalise on previous learning-to-learn ideas. 

If you could only give school leaders one tip to stretch and develop their pupils’ learning minds, what would it be?

Do whatever it takes to convince yourself that this is a real possibility! Learning is not limited by ‘ability’ or IQ. It depends on a learnable set of attitudes and skills – and it is our duty to know what these are and teach accordingly.

I’ll be there! Book your tickets now.  

Guy is the founder of Building Learning Power, a global influence on education which pioneered practical methods of education that combine high levels of achievement with the development of useful, general habits of mind.  BLP has influenced youngsters' lives throughout the UK as well as in, for example, Ireland, Poland, Dubai, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.

First published 08 February 2018