Grahams Nuthalls posthumously published book “The Secret Lives of Learners” is the culmination of a lifetimes work as an educational researcher. Nuthall is rarity an academic who has passion, clarity and his finger on the pulse of learning. This book although based on his research is very much from the hip and as a result you get a challenge, passion and candour in equal measure. The title alludes to the three co-existing (although not necessarily interacting) worlds a learner experiences within a classroom. Firstly the teachers classroom we are all know, secondly the world of the peer, where teachers/ adults seldom gain access and finally their own world that exists in all our individual heads. In here lies the richness of Nuthalls’ writing, as an educator he is imploring you to look closely and widely at your student’s interaction, actions and thinking. Illustrating that metacognitive thinking is a vital part of learning. This book requires several readings to winkle out the implications to classroom practice.
The difficulty for a teacher to see learning is another explicit challenge, with Nuthall making clear those teachers (and I would suggest the wider education community) misconstrue good behaviour as good learning behaviour. How might technology allow teachers to see learning that is taking place rather than just “on taskness”?
An insight into this can be gleamed from the methods Nuthall used assessed prior learning, wired each student and teacher for sound, used classroom observers to note interactions and available resources, assessed again, interviewed learners about their learning experiences and finally correlated learning with this data. Even the methodology employed has a useful message for teachers, we must listen and look out for the learning that is taking place, and this could be the role technology will play in a modern classroom, through blogs, message boards and wiki’s and the like the process and the interactions necessary for learning to take place are they for all to see and reflect upon.
The book is filled with extracts of the dialogue from the classroom and the interviews between researchers and students. These act exegetically of the main findings of his work rather than mere anecdotes. The biggest of these being that for something to be learned a learner must interact with the information in three or four different ways during a learning episode. The implication being that teaching alone does not suffice, and that teachers and students need to be able to work and think in different ways. Therefore the need for pedagogical structures such as a basic accelerated learning cycle is imperative
Few statistical devices appear in the book one that does is again based around individuals rather than Educational Technology could however revolutionise the next finding.. Nuthall demonstrates that students arrive with a lot of prior knowledge- around 40% of the items to be learned were already known. This is shown to be dependent on ability with the more able or should I say the students who perform better in test, having greater prior knowledge. It is shocking to note that there is no difference in the quantity learned between these students, although how it’s learned and how much teacher support does vary, with the more able requiring less teacher support.The quantity of previously known information is one of the big “hiddens” within the classroom. This is why assessment for learning works, especially the use of pre-assessments to determine a more personalised route through a scheme of learning. But, this requires training of students that the assessment is helpful and will inform them of their next steps, and not a judgement and it also requires a lot of effort on the part of the teacher. This is a big opportunity for genuine Educational technology, making this rich information readily available to students and teachers. Although marrying this with another finding of the astonishing individuality of learning with up to 80% of the items learned done so by one or a single other student. This is the challenge. The uniqueness of learning needs to be looked for by teachers and curriculum designers.
I have just remembered that this exists of this old presentation form a Teachmeet.