This post is part of a series of chapter summaries of the arguments made in my new book, Making Kids ClevererThe rest of the series can be found here.

This last chapter is aimed specifically at teachers and makes the case that if our aim is to make children cleverer then we should adopt explicit instruction. We look at why other methodologies which have problem solving at their heart are likely to be ineffective and look back to Chapter 6 on memory to understand why explicit instruction is likely to work best.

One thing to make clear is that explicit instruction – or fully guided instruction if you prefer – is not the same as lecturing. It involves lots of interaction and guided practice but is all mediated by the person who is hopefully the most knowledgeable in the room.

Another reason for electing to use explicit instruction is that it is likely to be more motivating. Many people make the mistake that giving children lots of ‘authentic,’ ‘real-world’ and ‘hands on’ activities is the best way to motivate them but I suggest that helping children become successful and difficult things is much more likely to result in sustained motivation.

I suggest that although it’s important for children to be challenged, success must precede struggle. In the past I’ve made the mistake of thinking that instruction should be full of ‘desirable difficulties’ but now understand that on first teaching we should, in fact, be making things as easy as possible for children to perform well. Only when they have ‘encoded success’ should we consider ramping up the challenge. Techniques like spacing and interleaving work best when children are truing to recall what they have already been taught. The effort of trying to dredge something up from memory build better storage strength (the ability to remember things later) whereas being asked to struggle at something you haven’t yet learned is just annoying.

The argument is that if we are teaching to make children cleverer we should have two goals: to get them to experience successful performance and to internalise their ability to perform successfully without assistance. These are long term goals and cannot be accomplished in single lessons or even in brief sequences. Instead, we should expect to see children slowly acquire expertise over months and years.

The project of making children cleverer requires that we focus on the minutiae as well as trying to maintain a sense of the bigger picture and so, much of the chapter is taken up with specific, practical advice for encoding success and for judiciously increasing challenge. 

However, we must remember that how we teach is only meaningful if we have made good decisions about what we teach. And thinking about what we teach is enhanced by remembering that our aim is to help children become more creative, be better problem solvers, think more critically and be more collaborative.