Tag Archives: David Didau

A Glossary of U.K. Education (Vol. 4)

We present Vol. 4 of our glossary. For previous volumes, please follow these links:

Vol. 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3




apparently one of the most explosive materials on earth, with a level of volatility somewhere between uranium and hydrogen.




the positive action of working with other likeminded people in order to produce something or promote an idea; this is one of the most important things one can do in education and is widely encouraged, unless of course the thing that is being produced or idea that is being promoted is one with which you disagree, in which case it isn’t collaboration, it is a neoliberal conspiracy.




a substance that is difficult to control and can wreak havoc unless it is captured cleanly; it increases its potency as it gets more and more out of control, bouncing back and forth throughout the environment; it is vibrant green in colour and goo-like in its consistency. (Wait… this is the definition for Flubber, isn’t it? Oh, what the hell, I’ll just leave it here. I’m sure nobody will notice – Ed.)

Didau, David

/ˈdvd dɪd… er… dʌɪd… um…ˈdʌɪə… oh say it however you want/


former All England Hula Hoop Champion and prime antagonist of everything you know about education.




iono, is it even a word?

Festival of Education

/ˈfɛstɪv(ə)l ɒv ɛdjʊˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/


like Glastonbury, though with more toilets, less beer, but exactly the same number of Tinie Tempah main stage appearances.

further education

/ˈfəːðə ɛdjʊˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/


an education that is at a greater distance from one’s current location than other educations under consideration.

glue sticks

/ɡluː stɪkz/


the most valuable currency in schools; should you find yourself in possession of a reasonable number of functional glue sticks in the summer term, it is advisable to have these valued by an expert, insured, and locked away in a safety deposit box in the vault of a high security bank.


/oʊ iː siː d/


the official Finland fan club.




the Eurovision Song Contest of education, the prize for which is the legal mandate that the winning country must be mentioned in every single education speech or panel for the next few years; could be made better with an irreverent commentary by Graham Norton.

sports day

/spɔːtz deɪ/


either the hottest or the wettest day of the year.

Teacher, The

/ˈtiːtʃə, ðə/


your magazine from the NUT; you know, the one that you don’t even take out of its plastic wrapping; yeh, that’s it, the one that sits on the side for a month before you decide to throw it out; you don’t even know how often it’s published, do you? Is it monthly or quarterly? Nobody knows. Nobody.




a pejorative term for a pre-printed large collection of sequenced subject resources (cf. individual resources which, due to the fact they are unsequenced, uncollected and you have to spend time creating and printing them yourself, are far superior).

TEDx Education

/tɛdɛks ɛdjʊˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/


conferences for new media types who hated school themselves but think that schools might be a way for them to monetise their ‘creativity’ whilst simultaneously avenging their own schooldays; talks from these ‘thinkateers’ are interspersed with the occasional actual teacher to give the conference some credibility.

toilet break



a luxury for teachers.

Six Thinking Hats

/sɪks ˈθɪŋkɪŋ hatz/


a system designed by U2 frontman Bono as a tool for discussion; each of the six coloured hats represents a particular way of thinking: blue = lewd thinking; white = try not to think about anything (it’s hard, isn’t it? give this hat to the member of your group you want to keep occupied); red = think like a socialist (make placards, etc.); black = harness your dark thoughts, give in to them, strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete; yellow = what would SpongeBob do?


The Reconciliation of The Debate (Is it possible? Is it desirable?)

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about how important debate around the distinct philosophies of teaching has helped me. I’ve had some really positive responses to it, but I thought it particularly pertinent that a large number of people echoed my experiences of watching and taking part in the debate. By way of showing the extent of the debate and how it has helped shape a number of teachers’ understanding of their practice, I thought I’d share some of the tweets where people claim to have undertaken a similar journey to me. I think this shows how important and useful the debate has been.

There have been some really thoughtful blog posts on this topic too:

Can a false choice be an object of research? by Greg Ashman

Varieties of boredom by David Didau

Boredom by Toby French

Dangerous Conjectures by Horatio Speaks

Shutting down debates by Rory Gribbell

The Unexamined Life by Phil Stock

In the last of these links, Phil Stock expertly draws our attention to the importance of the “insights that can emerge from holding two opposing ideas in tension.” Phil also alludes to the way that many teachers who dismiss the debate actually try to reconcile the two philosophies – he notes how people say things like “one day I am traditionalist and another I am progressive”. As Phil points out, this confuses methods and philosophies, but a wider point that we might draw from it is that some see the goal of the debate to reconcile these ideologies. Indeed, if they claim to be bored of the debate and to have moved on, as Anthony Radice points out, the assumption is that they have managed to reconcile them:

If this is the case, I would dearly love to see someone – who positions themselves as having moved on from the debate – write about how they have reconciled these two competing philosophies. At the moment, I follow Phil’s opinion that holding these opposing ideas in tension is where the power of both of them lies, but I’d be incredibly interested to read, from any commentators, about the reconciliation of progressive and traditional education philosophies.

As you can see from the tweets above, I am confirming my own biases that the debate is useful. This is a genuine open request to challenge those biases. Over to you.

Activities: the devil will find work for idle hands to do

Some years ago, when I was still held firmly within the gravitational pull of my initial teacher training, I wrote a blog about praxis.

Not praxis as seen through the work of Paulo Freire. Rather, I came to praxis through the words of Anthony H. Wilson. That’s Tony Wilson to you and I: former TV presenter and record label impresario. As co-founder of the legendary Factory Records in Manchester, Wilson nurtured pioneering bands such as Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays; he also gave the world the fabled Haçienda nightclub –  the spiritual home of rave culture in the late 80s and early 90s. Oh, and he lost lots of money doing all of these things. Whenever he is asked about the reasoning behind these creative pursuits, he always referred to praxis. Here’s what the had to say about it:

So praxis for Wilson was post-rationalisation: he did things that he wanted to, and then he decided on the reasons for doing them afterwards.

In my rookie blogpost on the subject, I advocated this form of praxis to underpin classroom teaching. I was foolish. I thought that getting children to do activities in the classroom and then finding out what was learned afterwards was actually a reasonable idea. But then so did many other people: the post was rather well received.

The reason it was well received is because it followed a creed that was certainly dominant at the time of my training, and is still prevalent now: it prioritised the ‘how’ before the ‘what’. In essence, this is the approach of putting the designing of an activity before the most important thing: deciding what it is that we actually want children to learn.

Some time after I wrote about praxis, I read (and rather enjoyed) Phil Beadle’s book ‘Dancing About Architecture’. Like Tony Wilson, Beadle advocated this post-rationalisation:

“What fascinates me here is the infinity of potential in having the outcome completely led by process. If we take Gardner’s intelligences as being a guiding structure and run them back to front, the lesson outcome would be a thought: a thought about speech about an image of a piece of music, which is written about numbers that have been obtained by a literary text.”

Whilst this resonated with me at the time, I find myself opposed to it as an idea now. However, Beadle’s prophecy was fulfilled this week when David Didau tweeted an image of a grid that used Gardner’s multiple intelligences and Bloom’s taxonomy to suggest lesson activities:

Like praxis, this grid prioritises the undertaking of activities over why they are doing them. There seem to be no discernible objectives behind these tasks: what specifically is it that the teacher wants pupils to learn?

I have a similar issue with ‘takeaway homework’ menus. Both the Bloom’s/MI grid and takeaway homeworks seem to suffer under the same premise: pupils can choose what they want to do and that will differ in both activity and outcome for each pupil. And that is where I see problems: if pupils can undertake just one task from a choice of, say, 9 tasks, how valuable and purposeful are those tasks if pupils don’t have to do 8 of them? If the tasks have different learning outcomes, are teachers saying that 8 of those outcomes are unnecessary? Because if they are saying 8 of them are unnecessary, it means that all 9 of them are. This criticism may seem harsh, but such approaches have an underlying, unspoken principle: it doesn’t matter what the pupil does as long as they are doing something.

This is the cult of activity: an unconscious belief that occupying pupils with something is the most important part of lesson or homework planning, over and above deciding what it is that we want pupils to learn.

I say that it is an unconscious belief, because it really is for the majority of us. Most of us that have been in its thrall were indoctrinated by teacher training or by observation cultures that prioritise activities as the first concern.

Of course, whilst it’s true that faith in the cult of activity has been unconscious for most of us, some were knowingly performing and promoting its rituals. And those people should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Who are these contemptible, immoral people? I’ll tell you: they were the sort of people who were writing blogposts advocating praxis as an approach to teaching, that’s who. I hope they are suitably embarrassed.

What if everything David Didau thinks about education is right?

David Didau‘s new book, ‘What if everything you knew about education was wrong?’, is potentially a difficult read.

It’s not difficult because of convoluted jargon or purple prose. In fact, one of Didau’s great skills is in his ability to present complex ideas in an accessible and enjoyable way.

It’s not difficult because it’s uninteresting or monotonous (many education books take a straightforward theory or premise and overextend it so it meets the 100,000 word count). In fact, Didau’s book is utterly compelling from start to finish; there isn’t a superfluous word in it.

Didau’s book is potentially difficult because it confronts the reader – which we’ll assume to be largely teachers – with a series of challenges to some of the longest held and strongest held beliefs in education. As the author points out in his book, having our beliefs challenged is at best troublesome and at worst an act of heresy.

Yet this potential difficulty is soothed away by the author. Whilst knowingly presenting the reader with the eddying experience of cognitive dissonance, Didau holds our hand and explains that he is just as susceptible as us mere mortals.

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.

This quest sees him taking on the full scope of current edu-discourse, and the journey through cognitive science that takes us through the central part of the book is absolute gold. Along the way he confronts the gamut of topics,  from sacred cows such as group work (“A class of 30 individuals working in silence on a controlled assessment is still a group”) to recent fads like SOLO taxonomy (“Suffice it to say that I quietly took down my SOLO displays, put away the hexagons and went back to teaching pupils how to get better at reading and writing”), and this might cause some readers to turn on our hero. But it is the incredible depth and breadth of the author’s own reading that gives us faith in the pursuit. Didau has clearly done his homework. What is more, he’s done ours for us as well, the blooming swot. He’s even deferred to experts in their field – Jack Marwood and Andrew Sabisky – to contribute extensively on the topics of data and educational psychology respectively.

Where Didau has littered his book with references, I realise this review is found wanting. Normally when reviewing a book, I’d make references to the highlights and point out the parts that I found troubling. Yet what I found troubling about this book is that on every page is a highlight. I made notes and marked pages as I read it, thinking about what I’d like to share with colleagues. It was a pointless task: I could only conclude that I want to share it all (although ‘Chapter 21: Why observing lessons doesn’t work’ in particular will definitely be finding its way to senior colleagues). In short, I urge people: read it.

This book could change hearts and minds. It should change hearts and minds. It may be ironic then – in the Morissette sense of the word – that a reason some minds might remain unchanged will be due to one of the biases that Didau identifies early on in the book – the backfire effect. I hope that the author has done enough to pierce this common yet pernicious barrier. As he warns us:

“Despite what we may think, most of our beliefs are founded on faith not logic. We have faith in what we believe because it’s what we believe. To have our most deeply held convictions attacked is intolerable and it forces us into a corner. You cannot sway someone’s faith with evidence and we rarely win arguments with logic.”

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.

I ❤ January 2015

When TV shows run out of ideas, they fall back on that old faithful: the clip show compiling all of the ‘best bits’.

And when they run out of their own TV shows, there are always clip shows made up of the best bits of other people’s shows: the I ❤ 1984 (etc.) model, featuring talking heads from D-list celebrities reminiscing about the time that dog said “sausages” on That’s Life.

As a D-list blogger myself (what do you mean I’m getting above my station?), this regurgitation of other people’s brilliance is the perfect model for me to reminisce on the best blog posts of each month (with the added implication that I’ve run out of ideas).

(In all seriousness, I got to the end of 2014 and realised I’d read so many great blogs but not really collected them anywhere. So this monthly blog is a way for me to compile an anthology of some of the best reading in one place and be able to access it when I want to call upon it again.)

So without further ado, this is my ‘clip show’ of the blogposts that I read and enjoyed the most in January…

  • The nonsense of the grade descriptors by @chrishildrew: Chris went down the rabbit hole of grade descriptors and has exposed us to the mad tea party. As Alice said, “How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”
  • Why I Hate Highlighters! by @HuntingEnglish: I like this because Alex confirms what I think I might have always feared, but never quite confronted: highlighters often put a garish neon gloss over a lack of actual learning. Rumours are unconfirmed that this is the first in a series of ‘Why I Hate…’ blogs, which will feature other such objects of Alex’s anathema as children and Maths teachers. (For balance, and because I like him, this is highlighter advocate @jon_brunskill‘s rebuttal.)
  •  Some Problems With “Action Research” by @Bio_Joe: Thanks to this brilliant post by Joe, I’ve now added the word significant to my list of words-that-are-used-in-a-way-which-often-leaves-their-actual-meaning-behind-in-order-to-promote-a-pedagogy (see impact, evidence, research, etc.) The “study” Joe picks apart here comes from a website riddled with spurious arguments and “research” in the name of “evidence”. Which is a shame because it is an area I’d like to see some reasoned thought around.
  • Can we teach students to make inferences? by @atharby: Andy precisely and eloquently pinpoints the very reasons why teaching thinking skills is largely unhelpful, and why building student knowledge is a much more effective approach. I wish I’d had this to hand when I sat through a cognitive acceleration training course that promoted thinking skills in English recently.
  • How do we get them reading? by @katie_s_ashford: Katie generously shares the fruits of her scrutiny on the research and approaches to solving “the problem of reading”. These systematic and practical ideas are absolute gold – send this to your literacy coordinators/English department/SLT/everyone now.
  • Undermining teachers is easy by @LearningSpy: The blogdaddy David Didau reiterates the necessity for schools to master behaviour as requisite for learning, and decries the damaging line of thought (avowed in this instance by a school inspector, no less) that states that good behaviour is merely a product of good teaching.
  • A lesson is the wrong unit of time by @BodilUK: A second blog from Bodil, in which she questions why our discourse and measurement always revolves around ‘the lesson’ as a unit, when the reality of learning expands way beyond that unit’s boundaries. She’s absolutely right, as usual.
  • I Did Not Speak Out by @SurrealAnarchy: Martin’s writing always provokes deep thought, and this clever channelling of Pastor Niemöller is a stirring illustration of the constantly shifting focuses and measurements in schools (and the impact of these on pupils and teachers).

Inspector who? What to make of Ofsted’s latest regeneration

Lada Riva advertHere’s something you can try at  home:

Take three deep bowls (each large enough to immerse your hands in). Fill one with cold water, one with water at room temperature, and fill the final one with hot water. Place them in front of you in a row, with the bowl of room temperature water in the centre. Now place one hand in the bowl of cold water and one hand in the bowl of hot water and leave them for about 20-30 seconds. Take your hands out and quickly  place both in the room temperature water. Interesting, eh?

Now let’s stop pretending that you actually did all of that (but kudos to anyone who did: you’re in my fraternity now – I’d show you the handshake but, you know, you have wet hands). The sensation that one feels when placing both hands in the room temperature water is that the hand that was in the cold water first now feels as if it is in hot water, and the hand that was in hot water now feels as if it is in cold water.

This is called perceptual contrast – the idea that our perception of something is affected by the context in which it is placed. In this instance – as in most examples – by presenting two different things directly after one another, our perception of the second thing is altered. It’s a form of anchoring, which I wrote a little about here.

This phenomenon isn’t just present as a physical sensation – it also works psychologically. You will have seen lots of optical illusions like the one below. They basically work on the same principle – we perceive the contrast between the two orange circles to be greater than they are. In fact, as your relentless experience of this type of trick has probably told you, the two orange circles are actually the same size. It is the context that makes you perceive the contrast.

Which of these two orange circles is bigger?
Which of these orange circles is largest of the two?

But where perceptual contrast really comes into its own is in the world of retail as, in the words of psychologist Robert B. Cialdini, a “weapon of influence”. In his book ‘Influence: Science and Practice’, Cialdini refers to how both clothing retailers and car dealers use perceptual contrast to make more sales. He writes:

Suppose a man enters a fashionable men’s store and says that he wants to buy a three-piece suit and a sweater… Clothing stores instruct their sales personnel to sell the costly item first. Common sense might suggest the reverse: If a man has just spent a lot of money to purchase a suit, he may be reluctant to spend very much more on the purchase of a sweater; but the clothiers know better. They behave in accordance with what the contrast principle would suggest: Sell the suit first, because when it comes time to look at sweaters, even expensive ones, their prices will not seem as high in comparison. The same principle applies to a man who wishes to buy the accessories (shirt, shoes, belt) to go along with his new suit. Contrary to the commonsense view, the evidence supports the contrast-principle prediction.

The same principle is applied to car sales. Quite often you’ll see an advert for an ‘on the road’ price of a car. Once you’ve acquiesced to pay this price for a car, the dealer will offer you add-ons. After you’ve spent thousands on a new car, a few hundred on some added flashes and gadgets seem trivial and you are more likely to pay for these. I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve paid for add-ons to expensive purchases that I’ve made.

This ‘weapon’ is also prevalent in restaurant menu design. Menu Engineer (‘Mengineer’?) Gregg Rapp talks about how he places expensive items on menus as decoys to make other items seem more reasonable. See him expose his tricks in this video (skip to around 2mins for his use of perceptual contrast):

It is with this phenomenon in mind that I think we should have reservations in our reception of Ofsted’s revised school inspection handbook, released this week.

After years of campaigning for Ofsted reform (by the way, that is a brilliant list of blogs compiled by de facto Chief Librarian of the campaign, Joe Kirby), the Rebel Alliance, led by legendary master Old Andrew Kenobi and flaxen maverick Jedi hero David Didau have recently begun to engage the inspectorate in dialogue. This has resulted in reiterations of policy and rewrites of the handbook, culminating in this week’s revised guidance.

"You're my only hope." Deep in the BlogCave, David and Andrew receive a holographic message from new EdSec Nicky Morgan.
“You’re my only hope.” Deep in the BlogCave, David and Andrew receive a holographic message from new EdSec Nicky Morgan.

The revisions have been received quite warmly – who could complain about the reiterations that inspectors – and I might be paraphrasing here – “definitely 110% guaranteed-or-your-money-back won’t be grading individual lesson observations, oh no siree, Bob, not this time and you can take that to the bank”?

But is it enough? Are we in danger of accepting this Gallifreyan regeneration of the inspectorate because, well, it’s a bit different to the last one and the perceptual contrast means we see that difference as greater than it actually is? Is this a reboot or is it just a shot-for-shot remake with a different cast? I must admit, I think that the differences between this revision and the last aren’t as great as I’d expected them to be.

It’s really important that we look at the inspection process from September in isolation and not in the context of the last few years. It doesn’t matter if it is better than what we had before – perceptual contrast has no actual value. What we should be asking is, just as the relentless bloggers have been asking all this time, is this incarnation fit for purpose? Is this incarnation actually right? I’m not sure that it is… yet.

So let’s take up Joe Kirby’s rallying call:

Now, above all, is the time to keep up the pressure. The education blogosphere is organising. We, the teachers, are reclaiming our profession. The momentum is rising. The next campaign target is to stop Ofsted grading teaching altogether.

If we sustain it, radical reform of the inspection regime is within reach.

Now, go and dry your hands.


‘Influence: Science and Practice’ by Robert B. Cialdini