In addition to the pre-publication reviews from some of the most eminent thinkers in education and psychology such as professors Dylan Wiliam, Robert Bjork, Daniel Willingham and Robert Coe, some ‘real’ readers have had a chance to plough their way through the 400+ pages. I realise this is a big ask but I hope the Amazon reviews below give you a sense of why it might be worth reading.
Many thanks for all the kind comments and also for some of the rather blunt feedback. (I hear @HeyMiss Smith has given it a savaging in Schools Week!) Anyway, here’s a taste of some of my favourite comments so far:
This is a big book. Over 400 pages have been given over to one of the most interesting reads to arrive for a while. David does not present material based on personal dogma and does not present in a didactic tone which ends up making the reader feel woefully inadequate. Instead his discussion of many of the current issues in teaching is lucid, witty and wonderfully objective. David is open and honest about the fact that, for many, there is a level of engagement with many ideas which “works” even if it shouldn’t. This book is not a sledgehammer, it is a gadfly to make all readers pause and examine their practice before moving on. David manages that tricky skill, to make us empathise with his experience in the profession whilst seeing ourselves in a clearer light. I love his treatment of recent panaceas such as SOLO taxonomy. The alacrity with which many of us seized on what seemed to be a grail like phenomenon has been replaced in many by a slightly shamed retreat. I can relate to this, but it does work in some ways. My blog has many SOLO activities in its pages, and I still believe that the uni-, multi-, relational path is an excellent way to engage students in understanding the current state of their knowledge and understanding. As a result of a youtube video I still relate individual pieces of knowledge to lego bricks and students seem to understand the metaphor as part of the development of writing skills. What has gone are the reliance on the terminology and the wall charts. At last I am reading a book in which my journey through the minefield of paedagogy is validated by an expert who seems to suggest that our journey to excellence should be littered with ideas and experimentation as we strive to improve, before shedding the unnecessary and developing the useful. He is clear and staggeringly well researched and possibly is at his most useful for providing a critique of many strands of practice in one convenient place. Now I can shoot down VAK and Brain Gym, to name two of the most pernicious false dawns to have blighted our profession in recent times, from a single book. This book demands to be read by all who enter and share in a classroom.
The compliment that any commentator might make on a writer’s voice that it is ‘inimitable’ is usually dispensed via the back of the hand. But the satirical intent backfires, it falls flat, as being inimitable is, of course, what every writer wants: to have a voice that is so fully their own that no one else would be able to produce it. It also implies that one might find reason to want to imitate it. Finding such a voice, so I have read, takes training, working on your scales, night after night; it takes time shackled to the desk, tapping away with ideas that half work; it takes perhaps years of daily commitment to a form that eludes you only to wake up and discover (one morning) that the scales are automatic and that you can really sing.
At some point during the mammoth amount of work David has done on this hugely ambitious and quite brilliant book, he has awoken to find that the scales were automatic and that he can really sing. His work has always had the grain of a real singer, but the voice in which this is written is virtuosic, finely nuanced; it is elegant and, yes, it is inimitable.
There is little point, though, in wasting a good voice on a rotten song. And stronger even than the writing is the material that David has constructed, filtered, thought about, judged and very finely argued. Each paragraph contains at least one sentence that will have you putting the book down and thinking two things: firstly, “Man, that’s a very fine sentence!” and, secondly, “Do I agree with this?”
The book presents the findings of cognitive psychology and looks at how they might affect educational policy and the practice in classrooms. He presents information that threatens value systems by entering a dialogue with the reader, meeting them half way in order to guide them to new understandings. The book is entirely on the side of the teacher and is expressly good at pointing out some of the fallacies on which educational orthodoxies are based: he takes on the cult of outstanding, the false deity of false interpretation of useless data, observation grades and the notion of learning as being observable: no darling is left un-murdered, no hogwash left standing on its three feet. And it is written in a way that avoids hectoring, or casual expressions of ideological bigotry. As a result, even the hardiest of progressive will find things to agree with here, or a subtle way of shifting their beliefs. I have closed the book twice in partially angered disagreement, and then gone back to read the section again and find that I was (probably) wrong.
I predict that this book will remain influential for many years, decades even. Posterity will judge it a seminal text, and it will remain on teachers’ bookshelves even after someone has written a newer or better version of it. However, from this evidence, I think it likely that the only British educator capable of writing a more satisfying, more important, more tree-shaking book than this is Didau himself.
Whereas some tomes in the recent rise of edu-mythbusting have been difficult to swallow for many and have often been divisive, Didau’s charming and avuncular style mean that this book will perhaps reconcile the divide where other books in the tradition have maybe struggled.
Indeed, his self-deprecation and affability means that we nod along when he presents us with potentially abrasive truths such as this one: “If your beliefs won’t bear up under close critical evaluation then maybe, just maybe, you believe something silly.”
And it is truth that is at the heart of this book. One gets the sense that this book has been a personal quest for the author. A quest in which he has had to challenge his own assumptions and beliefs. Didau could quite easily present this book as an assertive reportage of his findings, but thanks to his convivial approach, it feels like we are on that quest with him…
The reason this book ultimately succeeds, though, is because David never actually asserts that he is right. What he does is present very convincing – and often indisputable – reasons why we might be wrong. It leaves the reader thinking: but what if everything David Didau thinks about education is right? And that can only be a good thing.
This not is not an ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ book in the slightest. Despite the title he’s not saying that you are wrong. You may be, probably are in some areas, but what the author is trying to do here, I think, is to ask you to at least question some of your long held beliefs about what you’re doing. We do things in teaching which we’ve always done because we convince ourselves that they work and they fit with our principles and beliefs but do they work for our students? How do we really know that? They may well work but we should be asking those questions…
This is a book that left me unsettled. I read a lot of books on education and like to be challenged but this was different. It goes to the heart of what a mature, intelligent profession like teaching should be. Questioning ideas, not people. Unpacking policies, not egos. It is a hugely readable and entertaining monster of a book and you will hate it at times. But, the thing is, I’m never usually wrong, or so I thought. I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes I might be. And If I can do it, so can you.