The Learning without Limits project is dedicated to developing approaches to teaching and learning that do not rely on determinist beliefs about ability.
We are a group of teachers and researchers who believe strongly that it is not helpful to children, or to teachers, to categorise children as being ‘more able’, ‘less able’ or ‘average’, and plan for their education on that basis. These are not fixed attributes that can be reliably predicted from an early age. There are many complex ways in which ideas of fixed ability, and the practices based on them, can place limits on learning, as decades of research have shown. The purpose of the project is to support the development of approaches to education that allow every child’s learning to flourish, free from such externally imposed limits.
Through studying the work of teachers who share these commitments, we have begun to identify some of the ideas and principles that guide their approaches to teaching and learning. Their work is inspired by the core idea of ‘transformability’: the idea that things can change, even dramatically, through the choices that teachers and young people make.
In order to exploit to the full their power to make a difference to future learning, teachers make principled choices designed to increase young people’s active engagement in, and control over, their learning (co-agency); they encourage learning as a collective experience, making choices that are in the interests of every member of the community (everybody); they trust in every child’s capacity to learn and to become a better learner given enabling conditions (trust); they expect to be surprised and make learning experiences as open as possible, recognising that all young people are unique, complex individuals, who are constantly growing and changing in unpredictable ways (unpredictability).
The big idea of ‘transformability’ and the four practical, pedagogical principles outlined above have been used to inform and inspire whole-school development; to support teachers in initial training and courses of further professional development; they have helped to inform a foundation degree course in Higher Education and a local authority support service dedicated to fostering the inclusion of children deemed to have ‘special educational needs’.
More information about the project can be found on our website: http://learningwithoutlimits.educ.cam.ac.uk. Detailed accounts of our research can be found in the following two books:
Learning without Limits by Susan Hart, Annabelle Dixon, Mary Jane Drummond and Donald McIntyre (2004, Open University Press)
Creating Learning without Limits by Mandy Swann, Alison Peacock, Susan Hart and Mary Jane Drummond (2012, Open University Press)
Learning without limits and the Index for Inclusion
The main principles of ‘learning without limits’ are very close to values within the Index for Inclusion. For example, the concern with ‘everybody’ is closely linked to a central principal of the Index of the equality of value of all children, young people and adults within, and connected to, education settings and also with the value of ‘community’. Trust is part of the Index framework of values. Questions in the Index ask adults and children not to predict what they will know, be and do, but to focus on creating the conditions in which they can best flourish.
A review by Tony Booth of ‘Creating learning without limits’ can be found in a review symposium in Forum, 54 (3) pages 473-481.