Daniel Willingham

The trouble with troublesome knowledge

2018-06-16T07:32:11+01:00June 16th, 2018|Featured|

A recent blog post made some interesting assertions about knowledge. In doing so it presented a series of opinions as facts. That is not a criticism - we all have a tendency to do this. But in order to confront the troublesome nature of knowledge we should address these claims head on and to do so I will treat them as if they were factual. Fact claim 1: we can teach children [about the world using a globe] as a set of facts to recall, but it just won’t go in like it does later on – they simply cannot place it [...]

Can thinking hard be incidental? A conversation with Daniel Willingham

2016-11-27T17:08:36+00:00November 27th, 2016|Featured|

For some time now, Rob Coe has been suggesting that a good proxy for students learning in lessons is that they "have to think hard". This seemed eminently sensible and I've written about this formulation on a number of occasions, most recently here. I saw Rob speak at a conference on Friday and tweeted the following: "Learning happens when you have to think hard." How many minutes do children spend in a day really thinking hard? Asks @ProfCoe — David Didau (@LearningSpy) November 25, 2016 Rob suggested the answer might be as little as 10 minutes a day and that this [...]

Does ‘brain training’ increase intelligence?

2016-11-08T11:34:38+00:00November 8th, 2016|psychology|

In my last post I outlined the differences between fluid and crystallised intelligence and argued that fluid intelligence (Gf) - the ability to reason and to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge - is fairly fixed, whereas crystallised intelligence (Gc) - the ability to retrieve  and apply information stored in long-term memory can be improved relatively straightforwardly by teaching students knowledge and then giving them practice in retrieving and applying this knowledge in a variety of contexts. This is a shame because as Daniel Willingham says in Why Don't Students Like School? The lack of space in working memory is a [...]

The trouble with transfer: How can we make learning more flexible?

2016-10-24T12:22:16+01:00October 17th, 2016|learning, psychology|

I define learning as the long-term retention of knowledge and skills and the ability to transfer between contexts. The retention bit is fairly straightforward and uncontroversial: if you can't remember something tomorrow, can you really be said to have learned it? As Kirschner, Sweller & Clark put it, "If nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.” Transfer though is a bit trickier. In essence it's the quality of flexibility; can what you know in one context be applied in another? As Daniel Willingham says, "Knowledge is flexible when it can be accessed out of the context in which it was [...]

On gimmicks

2017-07-15T21:47:07+01:00October 2nd, 2016|learning|

What is a gimmick? The dictionary defines it as "a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or trade." So, putting a cartoon tiger on a packet of breakfast cereal in order to attract children's attention is a gimmick. So is repackaging ordinary Shreddies as 'Diamond Shreddies'. In the words of Rory Sutherland, these sorts of gimmicks attempt to solve problems by "tinkering with perception, rather than that tedious, hardworking and messy business of actually trying to change reality." An example of something that isn't a gimmick is a BOGOF offer where the customer gets something of practical value that they might actually [...]

From Scared Straight to Reading Wrong

2015-10-24T10:56:16+01:00October 24th, 2015|reading, research|

He that will not apply new remedies, must expect new evils: for Time is the greatest innovator: and if Time, of course, alters things to the worse, and wisdom and counsel shall not alter them to the better, what shall be the end? Francis Bacon In 1978, Scared Straight! won the Academy Award for the best documentary film. It followed a group of teenagers from the wrong side of the tracks who, as part of a new crime reduction programme, were taken to a maximum security prison to be threatened, humiliated and intimidated by a bunch of murderers and rapists. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ri7G7xHj5LE The premise [...]

Intelligent Accountability

2016-10-05T20:44:27+01:00October 4th, 2015|Featured, leadership|

The history of human growth is at the same time the history of every new idea heralding the approach of a brighter dawn, and the brighter dawn has always been considered illegal, outside of the law. - Emma Goldman So many teachers I speak to are afraid to make nuanced professional judgements. When I make suggestions on how they could manage workload, organise classroom, speak to students, select curriculum content or plan lessons very often I'm confronted with,"That sounds like a great idea but I wouldn't be allowed to do it." Too many school systems have become blunt instruments used to [...]

The Science of Learning

2015-09-30T19:02:36+01:00September 30th, 2015|psychology|

Loyal readers may remember my attempts to wade through the Top 20 Principles of Psychology for Teaching & Learning report from the APA. If you haven't already read it, don't bother. This remarkably concise digest, produced by Deans for Impact does the job much better. Well-informed readers probably won't learn anything new, but I've not come across another document which presents the evidence so clearly and gives such unambiguous advice to teachers. Basically, a group of American independent school heads, ably supported by Daniel Willingham and Paul Bruno, have summarised pretty much everything a busy teacher ought to know about how children learn, remember, solve [...]

20 psychological principles for teachers #5 “Learning is dependent on practice”

2016-02-04T10:08:30+00:00May 28th, 2015|psychology|

This is the fifth in a series of posts unpicking the Top 20 Principles From Psychology for Teaching And Learning. In this post I investigate Principle 5: “Acquiring long-term knowledge and skill is largely dependent on practice.” Whenever the going got tough, my mum always used to remind me that 'practice makes perfect'. Well, I'm delighted to say it turns out she's wrong. Sorry mum. Practice makes permanent. What we repeatedly practice we get good at, and if we practice doing the wrong things, we'll get good at them. So, while practice is certainly necessary for us to acquire long-term knowledge and [...]

I ♥ rote learning

2014-08-30T23:17:04+01:00August 26th, 2014|learning|

Memory is the cabinet of the imagination, the treasury of reason, the registry of conscience, and, the council chamber of thought. St. Basil I've been reading and enjoying Getting it Wrong from the Beginning: Our Progressivist Inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget in which Kieran Egan launches a blistering attack on the tenets of progressivism. What's particularly interesting about it is that it's written by a man who describes himself as "someone who has considerable sympathy with progressive ideals." (p6) I'll write more on the general and fascinating thrust of the book another time. Today I want just to pick up [...]

Back to School Part 4: Planning

2020-09-02T14:06:11+01:00August 23rd, 2014|Featured|

This series of #backtoschool blogs summarises much of my thinking as it’s developed over the past few years and is aimed at new or recently qualified teachers. Each area has been distilled to 5 ‘top tips’ which I hope prove useful to anyone embarking on a career in teaching. That said, I’ll be delighted if they serve as handy reminders for colleagues somewhat longer in the tooth. So far in this back to school series we've covered establishing clear routines, building relationships and an awareness of the need to make language and literacy explicit in lessons. This next post concerns itself with the time consuming business [...]

Squaring the circle: can learning be easy and hard?

2014-09-17T19:56:47+01:00May 11th, 2014|learning|

Regular readers will know I've been ploughing a furrow on this question for quite a while now. Last June I synthesised my thinking in this post: Deliberately difficult – why it’s better to make learning harder. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the arguments, I'll summarise them briefly: - Learning is different from performance (the definition of learning I'm using here is the long-term retention and transfer of knowledge and skills) - We can't actually see learning happen; we can only infer it from performance - Performance is a very poor indicator of learning - Reducing performance might actually increase learning This [...]

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