Book Review: Powering up Children

[Originally published in The Psychologist]

Powering Up Children: The Learning Power Approach to Primary Teaching. Guy Claxton and Becky Carlzon, Crown House Publishing 2019 £16.99

Powering Up Children represents the latest addition to Claxton’s highly successful Learning Power Approach, a set of strategies and metacognitive skills that aim to empower learners to become more confident and independent. The emphasis in on learning to learn through building persistence, approaching mistakes constructively and collaborating with others, it, therefore, adopts a broad view of learning, rather than being shackled to the growing trend in education that emphasises memorisation and test-taking. Indeed, Claxton and Carlzon are eager to emphasise all that is wrong with the current education system and the obsession with exams.

Powering Up Children shows how the Learning Power Approach has evolved over the past few years and it’s good to see that it has developed into a useful and useable set of strategies. Real-world examples of how to deploy the strategies and techniques add a practical element and case studies are used effectively. There are numerous ideas that can be taken straight into the classroom with very little additional work for the busy teacher. The emphasis is on challenge as a transformative process and I particularly like the view of the learning pit, where challenge occurs at the bottom and children have to think about how they are going to climb out, allowing them to think a little more deeply about their own learning.

Those familiar with Carol Dweck’s ideas around growth mindset and the grit model developed by Angela Duckworth will feel at home with Powering Up Children, for example, the section on using  praise to challenge children and the use of ‘yet’ to build the belief that learning is challenging and takes time is reminiscent of Dweck’s own ideas.

There are a few ideas that may well cause some teachers to wince, for example, the way the authors promote a shift from teacher to learning coach or the use of motivational quotes. The suggestion that children decide their own success criteria could also prove problematic. But these are minor quibbles and by no means detract from the many great ideas included in the book.

Powering Up Children is an excellent resource for primary school teachers with many of the techniques easily adaptable to work with children in the early secondary school years as well.

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