Changing Children’s Minds

This is the title of a book by Howard Sharron and Martha Coulter which I’ve recently been re-reading.  It describes the inspiring work of Reuven Feuerstein, the Israeli teacher and psychologist.

It is a lesson to everyone engaged in education to treat with caution the claims of “science” in pre-scientific subjects like psychology. Feuerstein was one of the survivors of the Holocaust who made his home in Israel after the Second World War. As a psychologist, he was confronted with helping children who had survived the camps to lead a useful life in their new country. However, he was shocked to discover that the conventional psychologists of the time diagnosed a wholly disproportionate number of them as educationally sub-normal. Luckily, Feuerstein was more of a teacher than a psychologist and he refused to accept that these remnants of European Jewry, however horrific their experiences, were ineducable. Continue reading

Breaking the shackles of the timetable

In my blog on 6th June I trumpeted the news that a school in the North of England had contacted me to discuss using Breakthrough to Learning in their school.

Three teachers from the school came down to Birmingham on 21st May, and what was my amazement to be told that they had already timetabled in Breakthrough to Learning in every year of the school from next September. This was something different! How was it that a school could respond to the needs of the pupils instead of fitting the pupils into the iron framework of the subject-based school timetable?

Since then I have been in constant touch with the school and have been pursuing the articles and websites they have sent me. I am still working on this, but have to share with my readers immediately a very exciting website:






There are two ways of making abstract words from concrete words: one is nominalisation and the other is metaphor.

When I was working on the structure of abstract  language, I found it hard to flush into consciousness the metaphors embedded in everyday language. For example, we have no way of conceptualising time except by using a metaphor from space. (For instance, the chemist’s is between the grocery and the optician. The meeting is between 2.00 and 4.00.) For me as an adult, the processing of these metaphors had become automatic.

I’ve been reading a recent book on metaphor: I is an Other  by James Geary. He desribes research which indicates that children develop an understanding of different kinds of metaphor at different ages. Continue reading

Teaching the target language

I want to pick up my description of the theoretical foundation of the Wigan Language Project, which I gave in my blogs entitled: Applied Linguistics (June 11) and Applied Linguistics and Breakthrough to Learning (June 18).

The Target Language of Breakthrough to Learning was Academic English, the language needed for success in secondary school subjects across the curriculum. Following the methods of Applied Linguistics, I analysed the linguistic features of this variety of language, and then systematically taught them in the three books of Breakthrough to Learning. The systematic use of the course doubled the percentage of pupils gaining five or more GCSE’s grades A-C across the curriculum.

The effectiveness of the course was shown when the course was abandoned: the results dropped back in line with the parts of the course which the exam cohorts had studied in their first years in secondary school. Continue reading

Interactive peer group learning

This week’s blog continues Bob Farmer’s contribution. He applies his ideas on interactive peer group learning to teaching The Language of Ideas:

Low academic language skills have been shown to be associated with low academic performance in a variety of educational settings. Mary Mason’s computer package The Language of Ideas is a based on the principle that one of the differences between successful and unsuccessful students is that students who succeed have learned the abstract language of ideas. In order to get qualifications in any subject, therefore, students need more than good exam technique, they also need to learn about and raise their level of academic language skills. Continue reading