Approaches to Learning

Dimitri Comino was through and through an engineer.  When he established the Comino Foundation over 50 years ago, he was keen to encourage young people to develop the habit of using a thinking process which he called “Getting Results and Solving Problems” – or GRASP.  GRASP emphasised the importance, for both individuals and groups, of explicitly exploring their purpose before embarking on any course of action by asking themselves:

“What do I/we really want to achieve?” rather than being satisfied with

“What do I/we feel like doing?”  We recognise that GRASP has close links to what we would now call “design thinking”.

Dimitri’s GRASP stressed the need always:

  • to search thoughtfully for different possible ways of achieving the intended outcomes before selecting the most appropriate course of action
  • to explore interim results, carefully evaluating if progress is actually being made towards the intended outcome
  • to keep re-examining the intended purpose, checking if it still seems to be “what we really want/need to achieve?”

The Foundation has encouraged and supported such a questioning approach to learning for many years in different settings. (The 40th anniversary booklet Demetrius Comino OBE, a life and legacy of achievement contains a detailed account of how, when and where.) .) It’s an approach which means that both students and teachers, individually and collectively, are encouraged regularly to question the purposes of their learning through discussion, reflection and experimentation. Over time they develop habits of mind which regularly confront them with questions such as:

“What do I/we really want to achieve?”
“What would it actually be like if/we I succeeded?”
“What different ways might there be of getting there?”
“Which one shall I/we choose?”
“How will I/23 start? What is my/our plan of action?”
“Is that working?”
“Is that what I/we really do want to achieve?”
“Who might help me/us think that one through?”

In 2014, the Centre for Real World Learning, one of the Comino Foundation’s long-standing grantees, was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering to offer insights into the ways engineers think and suggest ways in which the education system might be designed to develop engineers more effectively.  The summary report: Thinking like an Engineer – implications for the education system, identifies learning methods: “problem-based and project-based learning, for example – which, when rigorously introduced, are highly effective at teaching learners to think like engineers.”

Its companion report: How Reframing Engineering as a Set of Habits of Mind Creates New Opportunities in Education interprets the brief more broadly.  While continuing to explore “Engineering Habits of Mind”, it also explores “Mathematical Habits of Mind” and “Scientific Habits of Mind”, linking all of them them to “Learning Habits of Mind” and the signature pedagogies which are likely to nurture such habits.

Young people’s personal capability can be developed through active problem-solving, where they take on practical challenges which lead to tangible, real-world outcomes. The impact of such learning is enriched through discussion and reflection and by providing opportunities for young people to work in contexts which are new to them. It is helped even more when they have a chance to collaborate with, and learn from, adults other than teachers – especially when those adults come with a breadth of experience and/or specialist expertise. It is enhanced when young people work to achieve results in teams and have the chance to learn while making choices in active participation with their peers.  Comino’s current grantees support schools which are working to provide such rich learning experiences, for instance:

After all that – here’s a poem by our current Chair of Trustees, prompted by exploring the process of making things happen:

Making it
What do I want?
What do we want?
What do we want to make happen?
What do we really need to make happen?

Always our questions
Shape the answer

Behind every question
The answer can be

It is possible
To make things different

And to make them differently