Judith RIch Harris

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How do children learn to speak?

2019-12-01T09:46:34+00:00February 8th, 2019|language|

In chapter 2 of my book, Making Kids Cleverer, I discuss, David Geary's theory of biologically primary and secondary knowledge. Human beings seem to have various universal behaviours and characteristics in common regardless of the specific culture into which they're born. Geary's theory suggests that such species-wide traits must have some root in evolution and he argues that the capacity to learn 'folk knowledge' is a biologically primary evolutionary adaption. This means that we tend to pick up the knowledge of how to interact with our environments quickly and easily through mimicry without the need for instruction. When considering what should [...]

Getting culture right Part 2: Understanding group psychology

2018-01-12T15:20:49+00:00January 12th, 2018|behaviour, psychology|

This is the second post on getting cultures right in schools. You can find Part 1, on social norms and using normative messages, here. We are essentially social animals and have evolved to thrive in groups. Although we tend to be disposed to share resources and cooperate with those we perceive as belonging to our group, we are worryingly ready to discriminate against anyone we see as an outsider. Creating a community with a sense of belonging is the ambition of all schools. In part, this involves creating a sense that students are part of an in-group – whether in a local [...]

What’s the point of parenting?

2017-08-11T18:40:03+01:00August 11th, 2017|Featured, research|

As an aside in a recent blog, I made the statement that, "shared environmental effects like parenting have no effect on adult’s behaviour, characteristics, values or beliefs." This excited quite a bit of handbag clutching so I've decided to delve a little more deeply into the evidence supporting this contentious claim. It is, I hope, unlikely to upset anyone to point out that identical twin share (virtually) 100% of their genetic material*. It's also uncontroversial to note that despite this, there are often observable differences in the behaviour and personalities of identical twins. What accounts for these differences is referred to [...]

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 [...]

What's the difference between character and personality?

2016-01-25T11:24:32+00:00January 25th, 2016|Featured|

The recent Sutton Trust report on character education, A Winning Personality, concludes that extroversion correlates strongly with career success. It recommends that schools focus their efforts on improving "less advantaged students" knowledge and awareness of professional careers, using "good feedback to improve pupils’ social skills," providing "suitable training in employability skills and interview techniques" and on ensuring that attempts to improve outcomes for less advantaged students are "broad-based – focusing on wider skills as well as academic attainment". Like others, I feel appalled at the idea of extroversion being preached as a gospel of success. To the extent that career success might correlate with [...]

20 psychological principles for teachers #3 Development

2015-07-07T20:02:04+01:00May 27th, 2015|psychology|

This is the third in a series of posts unpicking the Top 20 Principles From Psychology for Teaching And Learning. This time it’s the turn of Principle 3: Students’ cognitive development and learning are not limited by general stages of development to come under the microscope.  Most teachers' understanding of cognitive development begins and ends with Jean Piaget. Piaget's theory that all children pass through a predetermined sequence of developmental stages has bewitched and bedevilled education for almost a century, guiding how we structure schools and curriculums. Here's a brief summary of Paiget's four stages: Sensory-Motor (0-2) In the beginning, a child's understanding of the [...]