The Hidden Lives of Learners

Last Tuesday the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, launched a book in the Executive Wing of Parliament. What!!!? That doesn't happen very often. But then it was a very special book. Helen Clark made it obvious that she was fascinated by the revelations of what children really talked about in class.

The Hidden Lives of Learners is sure to become a classic among teachers. It summarises the startling results of 40 years of research by Professor Graham Nuthall into the way children learn.

This is no small thing, when most educational research seems to focus on teaching methods and test results, and to be based on anecdotes, fashions and subjective observation rather than hard data. One of Graham's many awards was the Royal Society of New Zealand's Science and Technology Medal, astonishing for a researcher in a traditionally soft social science.

A computer buff since the 1950s, Graham created a huge database of information based on lessons given by excellent teachers. He was involved in every aspect of the teaching, including interviews with teachers and students, lesson plans, personal observations, testing, and video and audio records of what children did and said in the classroom. Exhaustive analysis of the data continued over decades. Only this level of intelligence (in two senses) could produce reliable results. Consequently we now know a great deal about the complex social-psychological process of learning.

In his final illness Graham urgently wanted to pass on this learning to teachers, after a lifetime of writing for academics. The result is a shockingly lucid book, revolutionary, quiet and wise, a riveting read for teachers and non-teachers alike.

His findings apply to you and me, not just to children in school. We too need three different exposures to a concept before grasping it. We too refuse to accept new knowledge unless it matches our experience. We too know that a single brilliant explanation is not enough, and that "just because a teacher is teaching, doesn't mean a student is learning."

After Graham's death, Jill Nuthall ushered the "bare bones book" into reality. Graham was my beloved brother-in-law, a darling man as well as a great one.

The Hidden Lives of Learners by Graham Nuthall is published by NZCER

1 comment

Jun 29, 2007 • Posted by Elisabeth Caton

I’d love to get my hands on this book. Even although my experience is Canadian, I suspect that the information revealed by Graham Nuthall will be as relevant to me as it is to all the Kiwi teachers and parents who have the opportunity to read it. it sounds like compulsory reading for anyone who cares about children and loves learning.

Leave a comment: