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The Review: Why learning fails by Alex Quigley

In the crowded field of educational literature, Alex Quigley’s Why Learning Fails (And What to Do About It) stands out as a refreshing, pragmatic guide that provides actionable strategies for teachers.

Quigley, renowned for his contributions to vocabulary instruction, expands his focus to encompass a comprehensive analysis of learning failures, providing educators with both a theoretical understanding and practical solutions.

The book is organised into eight sections, each dedicated to a specific learning failure. This structure allows for a focused exploration of each issue and ensures that readers can easily navigate to areas most relevant to their needs.

Every section is divided into two main parts: the first identifies and explains the problem, while the second offers clear, actionable strategies for addressing it. As a teacher, I find this format incredibly beneficial. Too many educational books delve deeply into theory without offering practical applications, but Quigley strikes the perfect balance, making the book both informative and usable.

Within each chapter, there are examples spanning key stages in primary and secondary education. Initially, I was sceptical about the effectiveness of such a broad approach. I was concerned that the book might try to cater to too many audiences and end up serving none effectively.

However, Quigley manages to dispel these concerns deftly. The examples are not afterthoughts but integral to the narrative. They demonstrate a deep understanding of the diverse educational landscape. Whether you’re a Year 4 class teacher or a Year 11 science teacher, you’ll find relevant, applicable insights within these pages.

Quigley breaks down how students learn and the obstacles they face. He articulates these challenges with clarity and offers realistic, classroom-tested strategies to overcome them.

For instance, in tackling ‘Learning Failure #6: An inability to learn independently’, Quigley highlights the barriers students face regarding self-regulation in their learning. He effectively dissects why students struggle with independent learning and provides a practical framework for teachers to support them.

The steps to success at the end of each chapter are particularly useful

In this particular section, Quigley introduces the ‘naming, framing, and sustaining’ strategy. This approach is particularly insightful as it breaks down the process of teaching independent learning skills into manageable steps.

‘Naming’ involves explicitly labelling the strategy so it is clear and memorable. ‘Framing’ then places these strategies within a broader context, describing why it is useful and how it can be used. Finally, ‘sustaining’ focuses on guided practice, reiteration and reflection.

The method not only equips students with the tools they need but also empowers them to become autonomous learners.

The steps to success at the end of each chapter are particularly useful. They summarise key actions in a concise, accessible manner. These summaries ensure that the essential points are not lost in the more detailed explanations and provide a quick reference for busy teachers.

One of the book’s greatest strengths is Quigley’s ability to distil complex ideas into actionable steps, making it a practical guide rather than just a theoretical discourse.

The reflective questions at the end of each chapter are a brilliant addition. They prompt educators to think critically about what they’ve read, fostering a deeper engagement with the material. These questions are not just about recalling information but about considering how to implement strategies in one’s own teaching context.

Another highlight is the book’s visual aids. Diagrams and illustrations effectively demonstrate how various concepts look in the classroom. These visuals complement the text beautifully, making complex ideas more accessible and providing concrete examples of implementation.

In sum, Why Learning Fails is an exemplary resource for educators at all levels. Its well-organised structure, clear distinction between problems and solutions, and wide range of practical examples make it an invaluable tool for addressing learning failures.

Quigley’s ability to combine theory with actionable advice sets this book apart from many others in the field. That makes it a must-read for any educator committed to understanding and overcoming barriers to student learning.

I wholeheartedly give it five stars and highly recommend it to my colleagues.

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