Skill = knowledge + practice

2021-10-24T23:34:41+01:00January 11th, 2019|learning|

Over the years I've thought a lot about whether we should be teaching children knowledge of the world or the skills to flourish within it. The debate has moved on a lot in recent years and today it's rare to find anyone arguing against teaching knowledge, but there are many who would still advocate for a balance of knowledge and skill. The more I've thought about it, the more I've come to see just how meaningless this distinction is. Knowledge and skill are two sides of the same coin. Or, to attempt another analogy, think about teaching as cooking: 'knowledge' is [...]

Lessons from the dojo

2018-07-23T09:04:44+01:00May 6th, 2018|learning|

Struck with the inescapable knowledge that I'm not getting younger and, therefore, am unlikely to stay fit and healthy without some investment in exercise, I've struggled over the past few years to find a form of physical activity that I don't actively dread. In January I made the decision to try out my local karate club and, thus far at least, I love it. I've been going two, sometimes three, times a week and I increasingly find myself looking forward to it. Without really knowing why or how, I've suddenly become highly motivated to take regular exercise. That said, I'm rubbish [...]

Two types of learning – which one is best?

2021-12-17T19:27:03+00:00July 4th, 2017|learning|

Evolutionary biologists think of learning as being either social or asocial. Social learning is essentially copying - what is everyone else doing? - whereas asocial learning is accrued by interacting with the environment through trial and error. All learning is either social or asocial; we either learn through mimicry or experimentation, innovation or observation. When thinking about how to teach, it's worth considering the role of evolution in shaping the way we have adapted to think and learn. In our distant past, learning was a costly strategy - time spent learning was time we couldn't spend looking for food and opportunities [...]

‘Understanding’ and Occam’s razor

2020-03-28T06:59:44+00:00June 24th, 2017|learning|

At the beginning of the 20th century, the physicists Hendrik Lorentz and Albert Einstein both concluded independently that measurements of light speed would be the same for all observers. But while both arrived at the same results from their equations, Lorentz’s explanation relied on changes that take place in ‘the ether’. Because Einstein's paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies made no reference to a mysterious, undetectable substance, his explanation was accepted as being the most likely. Even after Einstein's theory of special relativity had been accepted, Lorentz wasn't willing to let go of his belief in 'luminiferous aether'. In 1909 he wrote, "Yet, I think, something may also [...]

A Novice→Expert Model of Learning

2018-01-07T15:09:36+00:00June 21st, 2017|learning|

Every artist was first an amateur. Ralph Waldo Emerson One of the best understood principles of cognitive psychology is that novices learn and think differently to experts. These labels are domain-specific, not person-specific; I can be an expert at particle physics whilst still being a novice at evolutionary biology. Or skateboarding. Similarly, you could be an expert skateboarder whilst knowing little of nothing about theatre design or ancient Tibetan languages. What this means is that we're all novices at something, and many of us will be experts in at least one domain. To demonstrate how you think differently as an expert [...]

How helpful is Hattie & Donoghue’s model of learning? Part 2: The meta analyses

2017-06-18T12:09:33+01:00June 18th, 2017|learning|

To help us better understand how we learn, John Hattie & Gregory Donoghue propose a new conceptual model of learning. I've already written about my concerns with the metaphor of depth in Part 1. In this post I want to explore what his meta analyses reveal about the best approaches to take with students at different stages in the journey from novice to expert. Inputs The first layer of Hattie & Donoghue's model is termed 'inputs' or, what children bring to the process of learning. These are grouped into three areas dubbed skill, will and thrill. The most important individual differences between students [...]

How helpful is Hattie & Donoghue’s model of learning? Part 1: The problem with depth

2020-07-01T20:49:37+01:00June 17th, 2017|learning|

I saw John Hattie speak recently at a conference on his latest re-imagining of his Visible Learning work. He was an excellent speaker and charming company. I was particularly flattered that he asked me to sign his copy of my What if... book. After he'd finished his presentation he asked me what I thought and I said I'd have to go away and have a think. This is an attempt to tease out a response. Broadly, I found myself in agreement. Hattie makes the astute point that the 400 learning strategies identified in his most recent meta analysis cannot be directly compared; [...]

O brave new world! The search for 21st century qualifications

2017-02-16T12:37:59+00:00February 13th, 2017|learning, psychology|

It's difficult to ignore the appealing certainty that the times in which we are alive are unique and fundamentally different to any that have gone before. The most cited reason for this is the fact that the internet has changed everything. Technology has been transforming education for as long as either have been in existence. Language, arguably the most crucial technological advancement in human history, moved education from mere mimicry and emulation into the realms of cultural transmission; as we became able to express abstractions so we could teach our offspring about the interior world of thought beyond the concrete reality [...]

Is it worth trying to memorise facts?

2017-02-08T17:17:40+00:00February 8th, 2017|learning|

We can only think about what we know and, no mater how intelligent we might be, we cannot think about something about which we are ignorant. But how well do we need to know things? Is there any point to memorising facts? I had an interesting discussion with some primary maths teachers recently about the benefits of memorising certain basic maths facts. While pretty much everyone agreed that if children had memorised number bonds to ten and times tables then they would have an advantage when performing calculations, there was a difference of opinion on what was reasonable to expect. Some teachers suggested that [...]

Further problems with the ‘thinking hard’ proxy for learning

2017-01-11T19:26:25+00:00January 11th, 2017|learning|

Because learning is invisible, we can only hope to measure whether students are making progress by observing proxies. Most people now seem to agree that certain activities which routinely take place in lessons are, in the words of Robert Coe, 'poor proxies for learning'. Rob has suggested that a better proxy might be 'thinking hard'. This seemed sensible and, like many others, I've embraced the idea, but the harder I think about this the less sure I am. In this post I began considering of the limitations of think hard as a good proxy for learning but was still wedded to the [...]

Post-truth and the best way to teach

2017-01-03T10:25:55+00:00January 3rd, 2017|learning|

A thing is not necessarily true because badly uttered, nor false because spoken magnificently. St. Augustine We've always had a tendency to defer to what is most said most magnificently and shun that which is badly uttered but now it's a thing. To much fanfare, 'post-truth' has entered the lexicon and now we have a made-to-measure term for the emotively uttered truism that turns out not to be er... true. Deliberate falsehoods would be much easier to combat because, as Hannah Arendt put it, "The trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of [...]

Struggle and success

2017-03-14T22:24:39+00:00December 9th, 2016|learning|

The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. Albert Camus The gods of ancient Greece punished Sisyphus, the king of Ephyra, for his hubris by condemning him to an eternity of pushing a huge rock up a hill only to have it roll down again as soon as he got it to the top. One can only imagine that Sisyphus was not a happy chap. Pushing a boulder up a hill with no prospect of ever reaching the top has become the very image of futility. Most people only persist with something difficult [...]

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