I feel the need to make a few things clear. A few days ago I wrote this: Six Silly Hats (When is it OK to mock stuff you think is daft?) and some of the response I got suggested that I was confused on several points.

  • I clearly had no idea what the hats actually were (I do)
  • I had gotten confused about the metaphorical nature of the hats and that people don’t actually wear them (I wasn’t and they do. Honestly.)
  • The hats are just a tool to help pupils think laterally and if thinking laterally is a good thing then so must the hats be.
  • How on earth could I prove that hats don’t work. Surely if teachers find them useful I should just shut up and let them get on with it/

Firstly, I really don’t care about Edward de Bono or his Thinking Hats®. Although I read his book in the late 90s and have undergone various training in which I was encourage or exhorted to use them in my classroom, I never actually have. They just seemed like too much trouble and, yes, silly. Now, this in no way marks me out as particularly wise or discerning. In my time i’ve fallen hook, line and sinker for just about every fad and gimmick that’s been and gone. But the hats never did it for me. So, I’m unable to report on their efficacy – I just don’t know whether they ‘work’. To that extent you’re welcome to dismiss my views as contempt prior to investigation.

What’s more, I have never claimed that hats don’t work. In fact in the last post I included a link from the debonoforschools.com site to some research which they feel validates the use of hats. Check it out: I don’t think it shows any such thing but you can draw your own conclusions. Whatever else you think of it, Hattie’s research (Oh! The irony!) makes it clear that everything works and that we should be wary of claims that ‘it works for me’. Instead we should seek out what works best. He is well-known for his claim that we should only adopt strategies which are above a certain effect size: the Hinge Point (0.4). Now one might argue that the Thinking Hats are merely a means of teaching meta-cognition and might then conclude that because meta-cognition is above the hinge point (In fact the Sutton Trust place meta-cognition as the second most effective teacher intervention.) then therefore any means of teaching meta-cognition must also be above the hinge point. Regardless of this lots of people have been in touch to tell me the hats ‘work’. And who knows? Maybe they’re right. You see, we run into trouble when asked to prove a negative. It’s not possible to prove that God doesn’t exist even though Richard Dawkins might disagree. And it’s not possible to prove that a teaching strategy doesn’t work because, as Hattie says, everything works.

Can we have thinking without Think Hats? Yes, of course we can. Although I didn’t mention it in my previous post, my main argument against de Bono’s hats is that it’s possible (and possibly preferable?) to do everything you can do with the hats without them. Heuristics, or ways of enabling students to find out and test information for themselves, are often useful. Francis Michael Farr, commenting on the previous post brought up another de Bono heuristic: PMI, or Plus Minus and Interesting. This is one I’ve used before and am broadly in favour of. There’s no mumbo jumbo and it gets straight to the heart of what you want without the tedious need to ‘teach’ pupils about the correspondence between colours and types of thinking. I’m also keen on applying other simple heuristics such as stereotyping, devil’s advocate, rules of thumb, intuitive judgements, educated guesses and my favourite: common sense. These are all useful ways of thinking about the world that will hold pupils in good stead throughout their lives and prove useful in many different scenarios. The point is, if you want to produce a particular type of thinking, it’s possible and, I’d claim, more beneficial to design your own heuristics. Want Black Hat thinking? Just get a pupil to say, “Yeah, but..” after everything that’s said. So, I’m really happy to concede that the types of thinking identified by de Bono have their uses, and yes, lateral thinking has its place, but there is no need for the silliness; that’s just marketing.

I am concerned about shortcuts though. Often the short cut that gets taken in teaching is the knowledge needed to see issues from different perspectives. All too often we believe the form can substitute for the substance. I’ve been guilty of this on loads of occasions; I’ve taught students how to analyse a poem without providing them with the contextual knowledge to do it well. The problem with Thinking Hats (and all other heuristics for that matter) is they might fool us into thinking that just because we’ve taught the form, pupils won’t need the substance. They will.

But the main point of my post was heavily telegraphed in the title: I was questioning whether mockery, or satire, is ever an acceptable way to conduct a debate. I’d had a debate with Tim Taylor (@imagineinquiry) and Harry Webb (@webofsubstance) about whether poking fun at ideas and belief that some might hold dear was intimidatory and might actually serve to stifle debate. Well, the one thing my post didn’t do was stifle debate! It’s had 38 comments and counting so far and my Twitter timeline exploded with Thinking hat related tweets. But what it has also done is provoke some personal attacks. As a result of sharing my disdain for using coloured hats (metaphorical or otherwise) I’ve had some rather unpleasant invective fired at me:

And why are you David Didau, wasting your and my time writing this rubbish in the first place. I hate knockers who knock for the sake of it. I suspect you are a serial knocker with nothing better to do and no ideas of your own, so you take to knocking others. What are your own ideas about getting people to think about things…and I mean your own ideas…not stuff from other people and places like the PMI…do you have any of your own ideas..if so please publish them. Then we can waste our time continuously knocking them. I personally choose not to use the hats for some of the reasons you state…eg it would take some time to teach kids about the hats first. However I have seen people use the hats idea well…ie ending up with kids doing quality thinking. Do you know what quality thinking is David Didau…if you did you might reason with yourself and figure out that people can decide for themselves whether they think thinking hats is right for their students.. and they dont [sic] need you banging on endlessly for your own entertainment and argument. Do you teach? I feel sad for those students if you do being taught by such an opinionated idiot.

Regular readers might be surprised at the substance of these accusations. Or maybe not.

Here’s another less bilious comment:

You may believe, having written a book entitled “The Perfect OFSTED English Lesson”, having dabbled with SOLO, having concluded that fun is bad and Direct instruction is good that you are in a position to ridicule tools developed and used by others and I am sure that a good numbers of your disciples on here will agree with you. I feel perhaps that this sometimes arises from a mixture of Cult of Celebrity and a lack of real understanding of problem solving processes.

That’s not the first time I’ve been accused of leading some sort of cult and of having disciples. Whoever you are, please get in touch with your credit card details.

And that’s without mentioning some of the ire provoked on Twitter. If you feel the need to launch a personal attack against me for deriding an idea, what does that say about you? I’m a reasonably robust chap but comments like the two above are unpleasant and (cue violins) hurtful. If you prick me, do I not bleed?

Interestingly, when I recently questioned the much hallowed view that AfL is the best thing in education, the quality of debate was much higher. Maybe quality of debate is directly proportionate to the quality of the idea being discussed?

So, what have we learned? Well, maybe that mocking ideas is read by some as a personal attack on cherished beliefs. To that extent I apologies – I don’t want you to feel ridiculed. When I first had some of my assumptions and ‘self-evident’ truths questioned on Twitter, I felt a bit hurt too. I went away to read up to try to justify my practice and learned an awful lot from doing so. Confirmation bias is very difficult to avoid and encountering contrarian views on Twitter has been a breath of fresh air for me. The irony of recent events is that the hats are intended to be a tool for avoiding such emotional outbursts. It’d be nice if more hat aficionados actually wore something other than the Red Hat when engaging in debate. If the hats are so great at prompting balanced thought and lucid debate – why have they failed in this instance?

Further reading

Debra Kidd’s defence of Thinking Hats
Harry Webb’s The Ministry of Silly Hats