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In praise of uncertainty

2019-10-07T13:20:36+01:00October 7th, 2019|Featured|

I want you to conjure up the spirit of one of your primitive ancestors. Picture yourself hunting for food on the savannah or in a primordial forest. Imagine, if you will, that you catch a glimpse of movement out of the corner of your eye. Is it a snake? Although you can't be sure, the only sensible option is to act with certainty, assume that there is a snake and takes immediate steps to avoid it. We're primed to act with certainty on minimal information. This incredibly useful survival instinct has served the species well for countless millennia. If [...]

The curriculum: Intent, implementation and impact

2019-07-24T18:07:15+01:00July 23rd, 2019|Featured|

This article first appeared in the marvellous free periodical, Teach Secondary. Do pop over and subscribe.  Most teachers will be aware that Ofsted is launching a new inspection framework this September. The big shift in focus is away from inspectors attempting to judge the quality of teaching and learning by observing lessons and towards attempting to judge the quality of education a school provides by, at least in part, interrogating the curriculum a school has in place. In an effort to assist schools in assessing the quality of their curriculum, Ofsted has divided matters into three baskets: intent, implementation and impact. [...]

Why ‘just reading’ might make more of a difference than teaching reading

2019-10-01T14:01:02+01:00June 22nd, 2019|Featured, reading|

Few people would disagree that improving children's reading ability would make a good thing. Not only would it open up greater opportunities in life, it would boost their cognitive development and increase the likelihood of them being able to access an academic curriculum. One barrier to children being able to comprehend what they read is the finding that an estimated 20% of children leave primary phase each year unable to decode with sufficient fluency to read the kinds of texts they will encounter at secondary school. Essentially, the more slowly you read, the more working memory capacity is taken up by [...]

A few thoughts about teaching poetry

2019-06-04T19:36:15+01:00June 3rd, 2019|Featured|

It is, I hope, uncontroversial to say that poetry is not a popular art form. While it's wonderful to hear the sales of poetry rose by 12% in 2018, with over 1.3 million volumes sold, that's dwarfed by the 190.9 million books sold in the UK in the same year, and is still a lot less than the 3.4 million copies of Michelle Obama's autobiography, Becoming. Why is it that so few people read poetry? I'm sure there are a whole host of complex reasons but I suspect it has a lot to do with our prior experience of the form. [...]

What’s the big deal with Big Questions?

2019-05-31T10:48:32+01:00May 31st, 2019|Featured|

You might know them as Fertile Questions, Enquiry Questions, or plain old, Big Questions, but the idea that the curriculum ought to be organised around broad, disciplinary, substantive enquires is a popular one. It seems to be an especially popular approach with the history teaching community. Christine Counsell goes so far as to say that such questions are "vital in history because without [them] you can't learn how the second-order concepts of the discipline work." As an example she goes that a question such as 'Why did Russian Revolution happen in 1917?' are required for students to get a feel for [...]

Three animated films about learning

2019-05-03T08:34:42+01:00April 9th, 2019|Featured|

Back in December I gave a lecture to the staff of BBC Bitesize about how learning works and how they might go about making more effective learning materials. This talk has been turned into a series of three short animated films by the production company Mosaic. I think they're pretty good. Here they are. Film 1: How learning works: A quick guide to how we store and retrieve information Film 2: The myth of multitasking and other modern misconceptions about how we learn Film 3: Cognitive Load Theory: How to make effective learning content I hope you enjoy them. NB If [...]

Ofsted and deeper learning: it’s like learning, but deeper

2019-03-13T17:40:43+01:00March 13th, 2019|Featured|

Recently, I was contacted by a school who wanted some help working on 'deeper learning'. I asked them what they meant to which they replied, "Oh, we were hoping you'd tell us!" According to the school's last Ofsted report, the school is not outstanding because, "Teaching is not consistently of the highest quality because deeper learning is not promoted across the curriculum". In order to improve, the report offers the following advice: "Improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment across the curriculum by leaders and managers ensuring that effective strategies are in place to enhance deeper learning across the curriculum". Now, [...]

What do students think about marking?

2019-03-05T15:03:29+01:00March 3rd, 2019|Featured|

Over the past year or so, I've been doing some very informal research into students' attitudes and opinions with some of the schools I work with on an ongoing basis. Two years ago I wrote 2 posts summarising the problems with marking and suggesting an alternative way forward: Marking is an act of folly Less marking, more feedback: A challenge and a proposal Since then I've been recommending that one of the ways schools can seek to reduce teachers' work load is to move away from the expectation that teachers must write extended comments in response to children's written work and [...]

What’s wrong with Ofsted’s definition of learning?

2019-05-22T20:13:44+01:00February 4th, 2019|Featured|

As everyone already knows, Ofsted have published a draft of the new Inspection Framework which is currently undergoing a process of consultation. Amazingly, one of the most contentious aspects of the document is the definition given to learning: Learning can be defined as an alteration in long-term memory. If nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned. However, transfer to long-term memory depends on the rich processes described above.[1] In order to develop understanding, pupils connect new knowledge with existing knowledge. Pupils also need to develop fluency and unconsciously apply their knowledge as skills. This must not be reduced [...]

Does creativity have a dark side?

2019-01-30T21:28:15+01:00January 30th, 2019|Featured|

Of course it’s desirable that students are able to identify problems, generate potential solutions, evaluate the effectiveness of those strategies, and then communicate with others about the value of the solutions. If you want to call this 'creativity,' so be it. But it may be that creativity isn't always desirable. Kaufman and Beghetto argue in their wonderfully titled paper, In Praise of Clark Kent: Creative Metacognition and the Importance of Teaching Kids When (Not) to Be Creative, that teachers need to encourage restraint in students and that often it is much more efficient to follow well-established processes rather than trying to think of [...]

Can ‘creativity’ be taught?

2019-01-29T12:34:31+01:00January 29th, 2019|Featured|

The way ideas come to fruition is often mysterious; while we may remember consciously thinking a few things, we are unaware of all the ingredients simmering away in the pot of thought. I like the image of placing a pot on the back boiler on a very low heat and allowing flavours to develop over time. It seems, at least to me, that some of my favourite ideas have emerged in this way. This article on creativity by Paul Carney appeared in Schools Week a few days ago, criticising my ideas about how creativity works. It says: [Didau] argues that creativity is [...]

Why smart people say stupid things: a response to Jack Ma

2019-01-24T14:36:07+01:00January 24th, 2019|Featured|

In case you're unaware, I've just published a book that explains the role of knowledge in thought. Rather than rehash the arguments in depth (there are a series of chapter summaries here) suffice it to say that no one, no matter how intelligent they believe themselves to be, can think about something of which they have no awareness. It's literally impossible, but I'll pause for you to give it go if you're unconvinced... We can only think about things we know, and, the more we know the greater our capacity for thought. It therefore follows that if we want young people [...]