David Didau

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So far David Didau has created 807 blog entries.

Do children succeed despite or because of what we do?


One of the most beguiling assumptions in teaching is that children succeed in school because of what schools and teachers do. We feel this to be true because we're acutely aware of all the things we've done; all the hours of teaching, marking, planning, pastoral support and everything else we do. We know these things are what make the difference to young people's lives. But how do we know? It would be obviously unethical to test this assumption using a randomised control trial with some children assigned to a control group in which they experience none of things schools do, but [...]

Do children succeed despite or because of what we do?2018-12-03T12:39:44+00:00

Breadth trumps depth


According to Teacher Tapp, 56% of teachers reckon their schools start GCSE courses at some point during Year 9. Part of the justification for this approach is that Key Stage 3 has sometimes had a reputation for being a bit of an intellectual wasteland. In 2015, Ofsted publish a report entitled Key Stage 3: The wasted years? which argued that "in too many schools the quality of teaching and the rate of pupils’ progress and achievement were not good enough." Clearly, doing something purposeful is an improvement over three years of colouring in, poster making and young adult class readers. The other [...]

Breadth trumps depth2018-12-02T20:53:30+00:00

A tribute to my best teacher


There's little doubt in my mind that my English teacher, Roy Birch was the best teacher I had at school.He became my teacher in what is now known as Year 10. I was part of the first ever cohort to take the GCSE and none of us really knew what to expect of the course but I do remember dreading having Birch as a teacher. He was a physically imposing man - well over 6 and a half foot tall, with a spade beard and size 13 Dr Marten shoes. He was widely considered terrifying and there were rumours that one 1st [...]

A tribute to my best teacher2018-11-27T17:50:56+00:00

“It’s all about relationships”


Every now and then I come across the argument that the success or failure of a teacher is due to the quality of their relationships with students. Poor behaviour? Ineffective lessons? "It's all about relationships."* Most people are incapable of maintaining much more than 50 relationships and the number of people we actively care about tends to be far fewer. Most of the people we encounter we know slightly if at all. How then do we contend with the Hobbesian idea that the natural human condition is a "war of all against all"? Why don't we just take what we want from [...]

“It’s all about relationships”2018-11-11T19:02:35+00:00

How to explain… structured discussion


Over the years I have become increasingly convinced that there is something particularly cognitively 'sticky' about speech. We are more likely to remember that which we have said than that which we have merely read or heard. One of the big problems teachers regularly encounter is that children who are able to articulate interesting opinions and make useful connections orally will often struggle to record these observations in writing. All too often this is because the way children have expressed themselves is the only way they have of expressing themselves. As literate adults, we have the ability to instantaneously translate between [...]

How to explain… structured discussion2018-11-09T08:49:23+00:00

How to explain… schema


I've spent a fair bit of time trying to explain various psychological concepts in a way that is easily grasped by busy teachers and have come to the conclusion that some of my explanations might be worth recording on the blog. First up is a simple explanation of what a schema is, how it is formed and why this is worth knowing. Because we have no capacity to introspect our long-term memories no one has any idea what actually happens in there. We know we must have a long-term memory because we can think about something, stop thinking about it and [...]

How to explain… schema2018-10-31T20:39:37+00:00

An argument for order


The second law of thermodynamics tells us that entropy within a system will always increase over time. What starts off as order descends, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but always inexorably into chaos. In simple words: everything deteriorates over time. Fending off chaos and bolstering order always requires continual effort and careful maintenance. Whatever else it is, a school is a system. The orderly running of schools is something most people take completely for granted, but the balance between order and chaos, especially in secondary schools, is precarious. As they become teenagers, children begin to desire great independence and autonomy. They believe [...]

An argument for order2018-10-24T21:14:18+00:00

Garbage in, garbage out


This is my latest article for the rather wonderful Teach Secondary magazine. Schools are awash with data but do we know any more about how children are performing, how likely they are to achieve particular targets or what’s preventing them from making progress? All too often the answer is no. The problem can be simply summer up as data ≠ knowledge. There’s a lovely video on the internet of celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, showing a group of youngsters what goes into chicken nuggets. He whizzes up a mixture a skin, bone and “horrible bits” and explains that manufacturers squeeze this revolting [...]

Garbage in, garbage out2018-10-16T11:22:54+00:00

Survivorship bias and the enduring appeal of bad ideas


Survivorship bias occurs when we draw conclusions from examples which have passed some selection criteria and systematically discount those which have not. During World War II, British bombers were suffering a fairly awful attrition rate and the RAF were understandably keen to try to improve their survivability. Most of the bombers that limped back to base showed signs of heavy damage around the cockpit and wing tips and so the prevailing opinion was that if these sections of the aircraft were reinforced more planes would survive. Then, along came statistician, Abraham Wald who pointed out that engineers were only considering the [...]

Survivorship bias and the enduring appeal of bad ideas2018-10-09T13:19:52+00:00

Modelling and observation: a low threat model for teacher development


For some years now I've been of the opinion that while lesson observations can be useful learning opportunities the person doing the observation learns far more than the person being observed. This is a bit of a problem as, in the main, the people who observe the most teach the least. This means many schools end up with a class of teachers who know an incredible amount about teaching but don't do all that much of it. Consequently, I usually advise school leaders to use some of their non-contact time to free up colleagues to be able to observe more. As [...]

Modelling and observation: a low threat model for teacher development2018-10-07T17:56:15+00:00

A measurement checklist


Campbell's Law: The more any quantitive social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to measure. Goodhart's Law: Any measure used for control is unreliable. Metrics can be great. We can be so preoccupied at seeing only what’s right in front of us that it’s all too easy to miss anything peripheral. It’s hard to argue that metrics haven’t led to major improvements in education from when I started teaching in the late 90s. Back in [...]

A measurement checklist2018-10-03T20:44:47+00:00

What’s the best (and easiest) way to teach?


I thought I'd said all I ever wanted to say about group until, responding to a tweet from an education professor exhorting all teachers to add group work to their teaching repertoires, I unwisely suggested that maybe that wasn't such great advice. Unless you teach PE, drama, or some other subject where outcomes require cooperation this may not be good advice. Instead think very carefully about what the purpose of asking children to work in groups might be. All too often it adds little and costs much. https://t.co/psx985tnSS — David Didau (@DavidDidau) September 23, 2018 In all honesty, I really don't [...]

What’s the best (and easiest) way to teach?2018-09-25T13:25:50+00:00