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Zoë Elder starts (and ends) Full On Learning with a metaphor about boat-building. It was only when humans were faced by a river and decided the best way of getting across it might be by floating, that we began having a go at constructing something to do the job. In other words, the skills involved in boat-building only came to the fore when they were needed. No problem, no skills.

Full On Learning, she explains, taps into this ability to “learn new things as a way of overcoming problems.” It’s long been argued – from this site included – that we’re sending our students out into a rapidly-changing world and so it’s our duty to develop skills that will help them out there. Which is difficult when the only two things we can predict are “the unpredictable and the unexpected” (Full On Learning, p.4).

Full On Learning is about understanding this brave new world, recognising the skills that our pupils need to develop and understanding how we can help them develop them. In boat-building terms, Zoë Elder takes a long hard look at that big wide river and gives us a comprensive lesson in raft construction.

Eleven of the twelve chapters of Full On Learning describe a different characteristic of 21st century learners. We need to be sending students into the world who…

    - are collaborative
    - are emotionally intelligent
    - develop expertise
    - think creatively
    - get involved
    - are digitally literate
    - give and take feedback
    - question
    - are motivated
    - are risk-taking and can be described as learning entrepreneurs

Each chapter is as much a wake-up call to us as teachers as a blueprint for developing these skills in our students. If we’re honest, isn’t it easy to just go through the motions in a lesson? Just glide along for 50 minutes or so, dealing with issues as they crop up and generally make sure everyone gets on with their work? What Zoë Elder argues is that each and every interruption, activity and lesson is a considered one…

This idea hit home with us and proved to be one of the most powerful themes in the book. To be honest, this sort of thing doesn’t come naturally and it provoked some guilt! When was the last time we approached a lesson with that level of insight and planning? Like the movements of a surgeon’s knife, each time we intervene with a question or a direction, it should be considered and precise. And if we’re going to interrupt a student’s train of thought, the development of an idea or a learning journey, we’d better have a good reason to do so. Full On Learning gives us those reasons, ensures nothing is in our planning that doesn’t need to be there and provides plenty of effective strategies that do.

If you follow Zoë Elder on Twitter (which you should do, she’s @fullonlearning), you’ll realise the author is a well-read individual with a keen taste in TED talks! And so, Full On Learning contains ideas, examples, quotes and website links* drawn from all over the place to tie her thinking together. Try reading a chapter at a time with an open laptop next to you to watch the appropriate YouTube video or check out a related blog – it makes for a rich feast of ideas. Immensely practical, you will want to try out these ideas at once. Perhaps, though, to borrow an idea from the author’s Marginal Learning Gains blog, it’s more important to focus on doing a few small things well and reap the rewards from those before trying to cover more.

*Some of the links could have possibly done with being put through a link shortener (e.g.–1 !!)

We’ve heard it said before that teachers can sometimes tend to overplay the whole “sending them out into the big bad changing world” card. This isn’t the case here. Full On Learning gently shows us how many of our 21st century learners are already pretty collaborative and creative outside of school through the internet. It’s our role to tap into these skills in the YouTube generation. The author “provides a blueprint for teachers to methodically and artfully create opportunities for learners to flourish” (Full On Learning, p.5). And as blueprints go, it does a pretty comprehensive job.

Full On Learning is a beautifully designed book. If you’re familiar with Zoë’s blogs, you’ll know she has an almost minimalist eye for design that (credit to the Independent Thinking Press designer too) has been translated onto the written page. Or perhaps her eye for a well-designed book has been translated onto her blogs?! Either way, it’s a well-presented book.

At just over 300 in-depth pages, this is no light read. You’ll need to devote time (how about this summer?) if you want to fully understand the river and how you can help your students build that boat. If you realise you have a duty to transform your teaching and make every intervention matter, you’ll need to sit down and concentrate. This is a book to make notes alongside, scribble in the margins of and fill with Post-Its.

But perhaps you’d expect that with a title like Full On Learning. As someone said to us recently – this is a pretty full on book.



– Find ‘Full On Learning’ on Amazon
– Follow Zoë Elder on Twitter!
– Zoë’s blogs: Full On Learning and Marginal Learning Gains
– If you aren’t familiar with TED talks, you should be!

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