The problem with problem solving (or, why I struggle to reset my clock)

2017-05-14T10:28:40+01:00May 14th, 2017|psychology|

When the clocks went forward in March and we arrived in British Summer Time, I made an abortive attempt to change the time on my car's clock. I knew, from having eventually changed it six months ago, that this is a process entirely within my grasp and yet, after about 10 minutes of frustrated fumbling, I'd only succeeded in moving the time forward by 20 minutes. I gave up and resigned myself to having a clock that is 20 minutes fast for the foreseeable future.  This has resulted in a few moments of confusion and panic over the past few weeks. Things [...]

Can we improve school interviews? Part 3: The interview lesson

2017-05-11T17:48:54+01:00May 11th, 2017|psychology|

In Part 1 of this series I reviewed some of the evidence on what makes for effective interviews, and in Part 2 I looked specifically at creating a less biased, more structured formal interview. In this post I'm going to lay out my thoughts on the usefulness of the interview lesson. One of the peculiarities of teaching is that teaching a sample lesson has become a ubiquitous part of the interview process. The received wisdom is that we can work out a lot of what we want to know about a prospective employee's teaching ability by watching them teach a class [...]

Can we improve school interviews? Part 2: Intuition vs. statistical prediction

2020-02-27T09:11:40+00:00May 10th, 2017|psychology|

In Part 1 I reviewed some of the research around the best way to recruit and how this might apply to school recruitment. One of the suggestions I made was that schools should "design an interview format around no more than six qualities or attributes and come up with a short list of questions for each attribute. Then score each interview on a scale of 1-5 for each of the metrics you’ve come up with." In this post I will go into more detail about exactly what that might look like. I'm basing these suggestions on the ideas of Daniel Kahneman and [...]

Is resilience even a thing?

2018-01-26T22:25:42+00:00May 3rd, 2017|Featured, psychology|

There is but an inch of difference between the cushioned chamber and the padded cell. G. K. Chesterton Resilience - being able to bounce back from setbacks and cope with challenges - seems an obviously good thing. If we can make ourselves, and our children, more resilient, then we definitely should. Trouble is, it doesn't seem we can. In 1907, William James - often dubbed the grandfather of modern psychology wrote the following in an article for the journal Science: Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked. We are making use of [...]

Why ‘grammar schools for all’ won’t work

2017-04-30T14:23:13+01:00April 30th, 2017|psychology|

A better, but overlong, title for this would be "Why grammar schools don't work for all and why 'grammar schools for all' (probably) won't work". At the birth of the comprehensive school movement, prime minster Harold Wilson made his well-known rallying cry, "Grammar schools for all'! Every child, no matter their background, or academic potential could go to a school which would share the values of the selective Grammar schools. It was a lovely idea and, as we all know, it failed to materialise. The reality, for very many children, became secondary moderns for all. Of course Wilson was well-intentioned; of [...]

The promise and danger of neuroscience

2017-04-26T19:57:13+01:00April 25th, 2017|myths, psychology|

With the advent of increasingly inexpensive access to brain imaging technology, neuroscience has entered a fascinating period of rapid advancement. The ability to generate images of what’s going on in our brains is hugely exciting, and the enthusiasm for trying to apply this science to education should come as no surprise. However, neuroscience is probably the ‘wrong level of description’ to provide meaningful insight into classroom practice: observing the actions of particular groups of neurons, or activity in various regions in the brain is a long way from teaching a classroom full of children. Concepts like neuroplasticity, or findings about the [...]

A summary of my arguments about education

2017-08-16T13:59:14+01:00April 13th, 2017|psychology|

And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew, that one small head could carry all he knew. Oliver Goldsmith A tradition without intelligence is not worth having. T. S. Eliot Debating ideas in education - and anywhere else - is essential if we want to improve the lot of children and society. Over the past 6 years of so I've learned huge amounts from taking part in this back and forth and have, as well as becoming a good deal more knowledgeable, become a lot more adept at thinking critically about the ideas I encounter. My views have changed a [...]

Why do we forget stuff? Familiarity vs recall

2017-04-09T21:50:41+01:00April 8th, 2017|psychology|

Now and then, I've taught whet seemed to be a successful lesson. I'd explain challenging content, check for understanding, get some great responses to consolidation activities and, at the end of the lesson, students would troop out happy, confident and certain they'd grasped what ever it was I'd taught only for them to have seemingly forgotten it all by next lesson. Sound familiar? How is it that children can appear to have understood one day but forget the next? In order to remember something, first you have to think about it. We can't think about everything in the environment because we have [...]

The problem with ‘reading along’

2017-03-27T15:01:54+01:00March 25th, 2017|psychology, reading|

It has become an unwritten law of teaching that when reading aloud to students, the teacher must ensure students are reading along in their own copy of the text. This is, I contend, a bad idea. To understand why we need to consider working memory in some detail. It's well-known that the capacity of working memory is strictly limited - estimates range from anywhere between 4 to 9 items at any one time - but it's less well-known that working memory is almost certainly not a single edifice. Baddeley and Hitch's widely accepted working memory model contains four distinct components. The central [...]

Education isn’t natural – that’s why it’s hard

2018-01-10T20:18:14+00:00February 23rd, 2017|psychology|

One of the most troubling conundrums in the field of education is that the common sense observation that children learn so many things simply by virtue of being immersed in an appropriate environment is contradicted by the overwhelming empirical data that explicit instruction outperforms discovery approaches in schools. Why should this be? Surely if children can learn something as complex as speech without much effort, why do we need to go to the trouble of painstakingly teaching them phoneme/grapheme relationships? It's hard to have some sympathy with the view that it would be better to just give them some appropriate reading material and [...]

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 growth mindset bollocks?

2017-01-28T13:42:55+00:00January 25th, 2017|psychology|

Like everyone else, when I first came across Carol Dweck's theory of growth mindsets I was pretty psyched. There was something so satisfyingly truthy about the way the labels 'fixed' and 'growth' mindset could explain why children failed or succeeded at school. I wanted to believe that something as simple as telling children their brains are 'like a muscle' and showing them a cartoon about synapses forming could make them cleverer. And if praising effort instead of praising intelligence really did make all this happen, then why the hell wouldn't we? And best of all, the whole edifice was established on rock-solid, credible research and [...]

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