Hattie and Yates – Part 2

Last week I summarised the first section of Hattie and Yates’ new book here http://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/hattie-and-yates-visible-learning-and-the-science-of-how-we-learn-section-1-review  It was quite a long blogpost as the section is so important, asking as it does the fundamental question of what does an expert teacher look like? The middle section, dealt with here, looks at how our brains work and puts to bed some of the common myths which have become quite pervasive in education. It’s worth bearing in mind of course, that both neuroscience and cognitive science are very recent fields and sensible scientists working in this field will tell you that they still know relatively little. Tim Taylor memorably described this field as being akin to medieval cartography which is a lovely image of these people travelling to the very exciting edges of discovery in exploring what it is to be human.

Chapter Thirteen – How Knowledge is Acquired.

The first thing Hattie draws our attention to is the fact that learning is not linear or straightforward. Instead, he describes the learning process as “staccato”; a process that takes time, involves making mistakes, trying again and learning together.

He returns to themes in the first section, organising his definition of learning into three areas – the acquisition of knowledge, memorisation and managing overload and I covered those points fairly extensively in the first post. Hattie repeats much of that but adds:-

1. What you already know affects what you learn – you should always start where the learner is at. This simple maxim, states Hattie, quoting Ausubel, is ‘the biggest single factor influencing learning’. New learning that cannot be connected to existing learning is quickly shed so try to find resonances and connections to that which is already known. Draw attention to the familiar. Ensure that you uncover any existing misconceptions in that which is thought to be already known. Take time to find out.

2. Hattie also points to the usefulness of ‘advance organisers’ – tools which allow students to see the big picture of where their learning is leading. Although this seems to jar with research by Paul Howard-Jones on the process of generative or creative thinking, in which too much advance organisation can limit ideas, I think Hattie is saying that for situations in which there is a clear learning goal, it is better to have a map. Let’s imagine then (she says, going off piste) that we are in Paris. If we want to discover Paris, have plenty of time and want to find its authentic flavour, then we might simply set off from our hotel and wander. But if we have a shorter amount of time, and a list of five things we definitely want to see, we would be better off with a map and planning a route. I think this is what he’s saying.

3. The mind responds well to multi-media input – i.e. a combination of sensory material which presents the learning in different ways. Our brain is superb at responding to multi-sensory stimulus to help to build a strong and memorable association. The more ways the information is presented, the better.

Hattie then goes on to explore memory retention, suggesting that while we may recognise information we have seen before, we struggle to recall it. A student may score well on a test in which the answer is there to be picked out as its presence will trigger memory, but will struggle if he/she is asked to recall it independently.

We tend to remember what we heard first and last – something, of course, that Shakespeare knew long before there were cognitive psychologists around to tell us. Bookend your information with the most important bits.

Only 20% of what is learned by rote can be remembered the next day. To keep information in the mind, it has to be constantly rehearsed and utilised, or linked to deeper and more significant patterns. The human mind is much better at remembering motor actions than facts or words, so attaching a movement to a word might be helpful.

Memory is subject to interference so for example, learning two languages at the same time can lead to confusion between the two. Similarly, prior knowledge can interfere if definitions are not clear or if misconceptions are present. The word ‘describe’ is used differently in Science than in English for example. Homonyms can confuse children and need to be carefully unpicked – the word ‘matter’ for example.

The biggest enemy to memory is overload and learning can easily lead to overload. Firstly, learning is hard and can quickly lead to stress and uncertainty. Supportive feedback and small goals are crucial to help children through this difficulty. Learning can be overwhelming, especially when children have not yet reached automaticity in the basics. It is essential to teach children coping strategies for managing stress and overload.

We can help to manage overload by understanding how memory works. Hattie divides memory into three sections centred around retention time – iconic, working and long term. Iconic memory is powerful, sensory and momentary. Our working memory is a kind of workbench and we can only fit so many things onto it at any one time (somewhere between 5 and 8) and those things are lost within minutes if they are not processed. We can’t rely on it for long term retention. So the goal is to get information or learning into long term memory.

Long term memory is tricky – it’s hard to get stuff in there and it’s hard to get stuff out. We need to do something with new information to make sure it sticks and we need to know how to find it when we need it. Patterns are essential here as is rehearsal. Reading this in Hattie made me remember some of the techniques I was taught by Spencer Kagan some time ago in chunking up information, attaching icons or images to it and distilling it by sharing and repeating in a round robin. None of these techniques are in Hattie’s book, but they rang a bell when I read what he was saying here. They do work  and they fit with Hatties mantra of CRIME – chunking, rehearsing, imagery, mnemonics and elaboration.

Chunking – classifying the knowledge so it connects to something else.

Rehearsing – practising, perhaps by turning it into song, rhyme or movement. Repeating.

Imagery – ‘seeing’ the information, or attaching an image to it – seeing a bus in business, for example or a bra in library!

Mnemonics – eg Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, or Big Elephants Can’t Always Understand Small Elephants, or as my functional english class say Never Eat Caterpillars Eat Slimy Slugs and Rectum Yoghurt (yum yum). I hasten to add that neither Hattie not I came up with that one.

Elaboration – attaching a story to or personal significance to information.

While Hattie points to the usefulness of such techniques, he is keen to point out that they work at a superficial or procedural level – they allow the basics to be memorised so that they can be moved aside to make room for the important stuff – the application of knowledge.

He also points to the crucial importance of remembering that human beings learn socially, with and from each other. Most of our brain power is spent on each other.

Chapter 14 – How Knowledge is Stored in the Mind

This chapter looks at types of knowledge and how they are stored. Hattie starts with Sensory Knowledge and not for the first time in the book, he draws our attention to the power of our senses and how experience builds up sensory expertise – knowing when the dough is ready for example, or when it might rain.

The second type of knowledge, Hattie refers to as ‘string’ knowledge – it is associated with sequencing and ordering information to make simple connections like telephone numbers or times tables. Hattie describes this knowledge as crucial because it forms the basis of an understanding of significance and sequence. When the structures of strings are learned, deeper learning can build.

The third is ‘ideas’ – which take the form of facts. For example, dates, or names or labels. Sentences can carry many ideas. For example, Hattie uses the sentence ‘The major population centre of Western Australia is the beautiful city of Perth.’ In that sentence there are several ‘ideas’ or propositions. Children would only be able to access the sentence if they know where West is, what a city is, that a population centre indicates a town or city, that Australia is a country and so on. Too often as teachers we make assumptions at this level which form a barrier to further learning.

The fourth is ‘schemata’ – the building of concepts in which facts become organised and classified. If barriers to propositions are removed or explained, then children can start to build schemata. The facts of propositions or ideas are largely useless unless they are then built into meaningful and connected concepts. For example, Hattie uses planning travel as a useful schemata for ideas – giving a purpose to the knowledge. This form of knowledge is complex and requires constant refinement in response to new information. Hattie links this to Piaget’s notion of disequilibrium and states that it is important to remain open to new data.

The fifth is ‘mental’ – moving ideas and schemata into  problem solving, ‘what if’ modes of thinking. Mental modes of thinking require high level applications of imagination and tenacity to solve problems. This means drawing on all available knowledge and experimenting. In this mode ‘what if’ is given free reign. This idea has led to a major level of misunderstanding in educational discourses recently leading to an absurd claim that creativity cannot exist without knowledge – a position which Michael Gove spouted on Question Time earlier this year. I discussed briefly in my post on Sir Ken Robinson, that we should be careful to distinguish between generative thinking, play and creativity. What Gove should have said and what Hattie does say quite clearly, was that creativity cannot be a substitute for knowledge. That creativity which draws from the integration of knowledge from different schema can be a potent and powerful force.

The sixth is procedural – automaticity – driving a car etc – knowledge which is no longer consciously enacted. To get to that point, a complex process needs to be broken down into procedural elements – like a recipe. Sometimes teachers find this difficult because the skills has become so automated that they have forgotten the steps. Hattie returns to ideas in the first section here, drawing our attention to the importance of worked examples that break processes down into logical steps.

Hattie warns against trying to group all the above into taxonomies as they require different things, but points to the usefulness of SOLO taxonomy as ‘promising’ in terms of rooting thinking processes into developing knowledge – i.e. contextualising.

Chapter 15 – The Role of Gesture

At any one moment in time, as many as 11,000,000 signals may be sent to the brain. No wonder it becomes overloaded! Such is its complexity that we filter out as much as possible. One priority for teachers is to ensure that the signals they are sending are a) those that they intended and b) received.

This complexity has led scientists to ask whether it is possible that we learn material subconsciously without knowing it. This form of knowledge is referred to as ‘implicit’. Much of this form of learning manifests itself at an emotional or physical level and is generally recognised as that which has been learned but which struggles to be communicated in words. For example it is almost impossible for example to explain to someone how to walk or ride a bike. Hattie also points to studies which show gut instinct can be based on good sensory information that has not been consciously processed but is nevertheless correct. He states that these instincts create biases that guide our behaviour in ways that are more advantageous than overt or reasoned knowledge.

Implicit learning emerges through social interactions and experiences with the natural world so these elements are crucial to human learning. Hattie does not touch upon this, but it is a key area for consideration when closing the gap educationally between children who have been raised with rich social and multi sensory learning opportunities and those who have not. He does not claim that implicit learning can be a substitute for knowledge, but a powerful partner to knowledge.

He goes on to explore the work of Susan Goldin-Meadow on the communicative power of gesture in the classroom. Her research found that many students demonstrate understanding of mathematical concepts in their hand movements that they cannot yet put into words. This has led to the conclusion that learning can be understood before it is articulated and that being able to read gesture may be as important to assessment processes as interpreting language. In addition, she found that having attention drawn to the gestures allowed the children to immediately move onto higher level mathematical work. The gestures seem to not only communicate understanding, but to activate application. In short, gestures reveal thought sitting at the edge of verbal competence and are a vital form of human communication. So much so, that Goldin-Meadow also found that the use of gesture in baby and toddlerhood was a powerful indicator of the future development of vocabulary.

It was also found that teachers who used gesture in their explanations were more easily understood by children and rated more highly as being knowledgeable. Whether they know it or not children are learning through what you do as well as by what you say, especially when gestures add to what you are saying.

Chapter 16 – The Impact of Cognitive Load

Hattie goes into more detail in this chapter on Cognitive Load Theory – CLT. It builds on and repeats some of the information in previous chapters which I’ve summarised elsewhere, so I’ll focus on that which has not been said elsewhere. CLT is built on the idea that working memory is too limited, overloading it leads to stress and too much stress inhibits learning. As teachers we massively underestimate cognitive load because we have forgotten the complexity of that which is being taught and our minds can really only cope with three interacting elements at a time so we need to build step-by-step working examples and link new interactions to existing schemata in order to support students through complexity.

Firstly we need to reduce extraneous load. This is basically stuff that is not necessary at this time. It could be emotional baggage the student brings with them ( I used to have a little ‘worry suitcase’ at the door of one primary I worked at – children would either whisper their worries into a little bottle and pop it into the case, or write them on a piece of paper and pop them in – it helped them to unload. With older children I’ve used paper aeroplanes into a big bin). Extraneous load can also be coming from the teacher – unnecessary information, or excessive and competing demands on their attention. Hattie points to the problem of ‘talking too much at students, assuming we’re motivating them’ when we’re just overloading them.

Generally students can cope with more loading once knowledge has been stored and when the complexity of interacting elements is low. One technique can be showing children the component parts of a task before beginning it – breaking down. Or preparing them in advance – Hattie points to the usefulness of ‘Flip’ teaching in this respect. If they are exposed to the vocabulary in advance, shown a working example and understand the ‘big’ ideas, then they are likely to feel less overloaded. This reminded me of how much more successful I am when building flat pack furniture if, as well as step-by-step instructions, I am also able to see the finished object in a picture – perhaps it’s the same concept! In short CLT techniques involve:-

1. Worked examples

2. Multi-media formats for information.

3. Contiguity – close alignment of the word and image.

4. Temporal contiguity – presenting multi-sensory modes simultaneously.

5. Coherence – focus on the key important information with clear explanation.

6. Modality – Looking at images while listening to words helps us better than trying to read words and images at the same time.

7. Redundancy – reading and listening to words at the same time reduces learning. Beware reading text from ppt!

8. Signalling – draw attention to critical information – pointing, highlighting etc.

9 Pacing – limit and control the pace of incoming information.

10. Concepts first – simple steps before complex processes.

11. Personalise – the use of personal pronouns enhances learning. Address children directly.

Hattie points out that CLT is found to be very useful when teaching beginners but that once a level of understanding has been reached, such techniques are less effective, maybe even time-wasting, quickly leading to boredom. Once the basics are in place, we need to move on. Having said that, there is no point in introducing complex problems if children don’t yet have the tools to solve them. Gathering those tools will vary depending on subject and complexity of the underpinning schema of course.

In exploring problem solving, Hattie suggests it is more useful for children to work through examples than to be presented immediately with a list of, say, equations to solve. This might then lead on to them completing a partially worked example before setting off on a solo voyage to create one of their own.

However, while research suggests that problem solving as an individual is difficult, when done in groups, it is far more effective. Hattie points to this research to draw the conclusion that well-motivated collaborative groups are far more effective in finding solutions to problems. In this research, the groups worked in threes and outperformed those pupils working alone. Hattie thinks this may be that there is a sharing of the cognitive load in these circumstances, allowing for more complexity to be handled by the pupils.

Chapter 17 – How Memory Develops.

What we think of as learning exists within the explicit memory which is inextricably linked to language and is one of the reasons why we rarely remember anything before the time we spoke effectively. Speech is a powerful tool for embedding memory and so articulating that which is known is important. As is reminiscing about that which has been experienced. Conversations, Hattie says, are the bedrock of memory acquisition.

He points to the quality of elaborated conversations between parents and children, linking of course (though not directly) to Bernstein’s famous theories about elaborated and restricted speech codes and the critical importance of joint talk in early childhood. Purposeful talk is critical to learning but it must be reciprocal and shared.

Starting school has a significant impact on children’s ability to memorise. It builds habits of paying attention and listening. Younger children need more help in classifying and organising the flow of new information than older children do and so KS1 settings will use visual cues and routines to help with this that children need less of as they get older (unless their development is arrested). As they develop and acquire new knowledge, children begin to elaborate their knowledge, for example distinguishing between petrol and electric cars, bringing two areas of knowledge together. This is a major educational tool. The more a child knows, the more they can make sense of the world. The role of the adult is key here and Hattie repeats much of the information in this chapter as he laid out in others about methods of memorisation.

He points out that adults who teach (alongside content, not in isolation of it) memory techniques, are more successful in getting children to remember. Using mnemonics, or other techniques to help remember key information was effective.

Chapter 18 – Mnemonics

I started to drift off in this chapter as I read lots of examples of people who had learned to remember loads of stuff, like the value of pi to 67,890 places. It’s not something that is a priority in my life. In fact, Hattie’s own conclusion is that while it may be impressive, these tricks are not actually very useful. He points out that memory techniques such as those outlined here and in other chapters are useful as tools leading to automaticity and quick processing of check lists – VCOP and so on and lists some useful memory tricks. But I would rather have not had yet another chapter dedicated to small gains and hoped rather for a ‘what next’ approach. At this point, the book was starting to feel really repetitive.

Chapter 19 – Learning Styles.

They don’t exist.

Chapter 20 – Multi-Tasking

I am a woman, so I was drawn to this chapter as a celebration of my superiority. So it was slightly disappointing to learn that multi-tasking does not exist. Instead what we do is to switch our attention between tasks. Women and young people tend to do this more effectively than men and presumably, particularly old men. But switching attention comes with a cost of concentration. It is simply not possible to switch from one task to another without negatively affecting progress in either. Tell that to your teenage child who says they can facebook and study at the same time. They can switch between the two, but it costs them dearly in terms of both attention and retention.

Chapter 21 – Are your Students really Digital Natives?

Yes and no. They won’t become Einstein simply by sitting in front of a computer on the one hand, but on the other, they are born into a technological world and can figure out how to use it well. Hattie points to the importance of bearing in mind the difference in being able to work out how to get something to work and using this to assume that children process knowledge differently as a result. Computers will never and can never take the place of a good teacher and children need guidance in order to be able to learn.

Saying that knowledge need not be taught because children can simply google it is a woefully inadequate way of educating children. Google cannot break down for children into meaningful chunks what is significant or important or process that knowledge in memorable ways.

Having said all of this, computers are a significant part of children’s lives and an important  go to tool for information as well as modes of presentation. Children’s seeming expertise on computers is evidence of the time spend practising on them and Hattie has pointed out all along that if you practice something with a view to reaching a goal, you tend to get better. However these skills, impressive as they are, are not a substitute for knowledge acquisition and children need to learn how to process knowledge in order to understand it. A computer cannot do this.

He challenges the idea that children’s minds are being ‘rewired’ by technology – that it is fundamentally changing human nature and says there is no evidence for this, but then he does not refer to Susan Greenfield’s work in this area at all, or acknowledge the idea that carrying out this research would require a long term view.

Hattie explores the positive effect size impact of technology on learning in Visible Learning, but points out that where effects were good, technology was being used in conjunction with good teaching – i.e. to enhance teaching, not to replace it. He states that there is no evidence that information will leap off a computer screen into a child’s head. In that case, I’d like to offer him two examples:-

1. I learned a lot from reading his book from my kindle screen.

2. Sam, aged six, has a pretty good range of geographical knowledge thanks to GoogleEarth – he can find places on a map I didn’t even know existed.

The things is, that in both examples, Sam and I were building on existing schema. I know a lot about education. Sam already knew what water and land looked like on a map, and what most of the continents were. In short, you can learn new information from a screen, when it builds on and connects to that which is already there. In my opinion.

Chapter 22 – Is the Internet Turning Us into Shallow Thinkers?

In short, yes. Because of the large amount of information available, we tend to scan and move on, rather than reading deeply. Hattie points to concerns about the ‘cut and paste’ generation, although of course, as teachers we use a number of strategies to mitigate this tendency. The more skilled students become in being able to do this, of course, the more possible it is that they can mask deficiencies in their own mastery of a subject. It seems that the internet is both a blessing and a curse. He points to a theory by Dr Wolf in the US that scanning for information on google is undermining or short-circuiting the brain’s ability to process information at a deep cognitive level.

Hattie returns to his idea in the previous chapter in order to reassure and claims that our brains are not as malleable as we like to think, linked as they are to genetic and evolutionary patterns which pre-exist our encounter with computers. He states that there is no evidence to suggest that our brains are becoming less able to focus, but perhaps this links to his work in earlier chapters where he talks about the importance of removing distractions when we need to focus.

Chapter 23 – How Music Impacts on Learning

Hattie firmly dispels the idea that music helps us to concentrate, confirming that it simply acts as a distraction when too loud and makes no difference whatsoever to learning outcomes when played quietly. He says that it may be useful as ‘white noise’ in distracting children from bigger threats to their concentration like a chaotic home environment, but in general that there is no evidence of the ‘mozart effect’. However, he does accept that music has a powerful emotional effect on people and can be used to set mood – pointing to medical evidence that music reduces levels of anxiety in patients. It may be then, that music, while not making you smarter, can help to lower stress.

He sets out the research that shows that singing and listening to music in early childhood is a powerful way of creating bonds between adults and children He also points to some research that suggests children can become more alert if lively music is played at the start of a lesson and that being alert impacts on learning. He goes on to point out that a cup of coffee has a similar effect. I’d rather play music to children than give them coffee personally.

Hattie points to research that learning to play music on the other hand, does seem to impact on success in other curriculum areas. This may be down to two reasons – children who learn to play instruments tend to come from more affluent backgrounds where education is valued. Or that the process of learning to play an instrument – step-by-step with practice, sets out a good blueprint for learning more generally.

And that is the end of Section Two. I found it less engaging that the first section to be honest, perhaps because so much from the first was repeated and secondly because of the relentless focus on memorising stuff and I believe that education is about much more than just remembering stuff. But perhaps Section 3 will develop that further. It’s half term now. Yippee…..may be a slight delay on Section Three, but hopefully, by now you’ve bought the book and are reading it for yourself 🙂

Hattie and Yates – Visible Learning and The Science of How we Learn. Section 1 Review.

I’ve been ill this week; so ill in fact that for a couple of days I could not stand up. But I could tweet and read and so thankfully, I had a chance to start reading the latest book by John Hattie, written in collaboration with cognitive scientist Greg Yates. It is a hefty tome. Well, it would be if I hadn’t bought it on kindle. I’m a fast reader and I’ve had time on my hands. But I’m still only half way through. What is without doubt though, is that this will be a seminal and important educational text. And wide reaching as it is, I’m going to review it in sections, following the structure of the book.

These are chapter summaries with little personal comment. I think every teacher ought to read this book for themselves, if only to ensure that my interpretation is accurate!

Chapter One – The Willingham Thesis.

Dan Willingham’s work has gained significant attention in recent years and he is one of the names frequently quoted by Michael Gove as justification for his educational policies. This has led to a fracturing in education of being pro-Dan or anti-Dan which is grossly unfair. The fact that Michael Gove has been highly selective in using Willingham’s ideas should not put us off engaging with what is important work.

Hattie summarises the ideas of Willingham simply – our brains are not designed to think. They are designed for moving, learning words, reading people and social situations, recognising objects and other human beings’ faces and holding conversations with a focus on either getting from here to there safely or figuring our whether we are safe in the company we hold. They are not good at organising, retaining and using the kind of information that we value in school. This thesis leads people to shout ‘of course our brains are made for learning – children learn to walk, talk etc…’ but the thing is we’re brilliantly good at processing sensory stimulus and not so good at acquiring and using the kind of knowledge required to become academically successful. We have to understand how the brain uses information in order to help the brain to store and use it effectively. Hattie uses Willingham’s thesis to draw some conclusions:-

1.  Thinking is hard – it is not perceived as ‘fun’ by students because it requires effort

2. Thinking requires a belief that one can succeed – we are programmed to be risk averse and so need to believe that the effort is worth the risk. In short, we are motivated by knowledge gaps but not by knowledge chasms.

3. Thinking requires knowledge and the knowledge needs to be available – it needs to be stored and easily accessible. This requires a complex process of laying down memory; a process that Hattie and Yates go into in greater detail in future chapters.

4. Once stored the information can acquire the level of automaticity allowing the brain to be freed up for higher order activities -deep learning

5. Deep learning – i.e. the application of knowledge takes much longer and requires deliberate practice which will eventually lead to mastery.

6. Being a thinker requires an effort that moves us beyond our natural state – a state that simply processes and responds to the information given. It depends on being exposed to information and then being expertly guided to assimilating and using that information. It requires being taught.

This thesis is well summarised by Hattie and indeed has led to a strong movement in education in support of a core knowledge curriculum – i.e. that the ‘answer’ must lie in giving children knowledge and then making them practice that knowledge. This is a gross simplification as Hattie goes on to explore. For we cannot ‘educate’ children without building confidence, enticing them into being interested in that which is being taught and crucially, building strong, positive and healthy relationships. These are themes he builds on in future chapters.

Chapter 2 – Is Knowledge an Obstacle to Teaching?

Hattie engages with the subject knowledge debate here and points to surprising evidence that suggests that highly knowledgeable experts in a subject tend not to make the most effective teachers. In fact, being an expert in a subject has no impact whatsoever on attainment. In acquiring mastery of our subjects, we tend to lose touch with the difficulties we encountered on the way and to gloss over crucial steps in the learning process. He is keen to stress however, that the teacher’s subject knowledge still needs to be secure, but not so secure that it creates an ’empathy gap’ in which the teacher simply cannot understand why students might struggle. As he says ‘it is not the case that one can be a reasonable teacher when ignorant about what is to be taught.’

What is of critical importance is being able to view learning through student’s eyes and being able to explain with great clarity the steps required to become skilled. It is therefore important to note that being an expert teacher requires not so much expert subject knowledge as expert pedagogical knowledge.

It’s also worth noting that students value the appearance of teacher knowledge highly – this is a key factor in them developing the confidence that they are in ‘safe’ hands. It is important that we appear to be competent and skilled to our children. I’d add (and this is not from Hattie) that this doesn’t mean that we should never admit an area of ignorance or a gap in our own knowledge – we shouldn’t pretend. But we can offer useful modelling if we say ‘I don’t know’ and then show students the process of how ‘we’ can find out.

Chapter 3 – The Teacher-Student Relationship

In this chapter Hattie and Yates go into the idea of the ’empathy gap’ in much greater detail. In short, the conclusion to this chapter is that the relationships between children and teachers are the bedrock of learning. Absolutely critical. Of course, on top of bedrock, you have to have soil and so on, but without these good relationships, learning will not take place:-

1.  Expert teachers can empathise deeply with their students

2.  Pupils read very quickly and with remarkable accuracy whether or not their teacher is to be trusted

3. Expert teachers avoid negative escalations in the classroom

4.  Expert teachers avoid coercion and maintain rich social relationships

5.  Improved relationships have been proven to raise achievement, but this can be a deferred rather than an immediate effect – in short, they take time to build and impact.

6.  It is hard to avoid emotional leakage – teachers’ underlying emotions are very quickly picked up by children.

7.  Tactics like shouting, sarcasm and belittlement may secure superficial levels of student compliance but breed long term conflict – ‘compliance is not a strong educational goal’

8.  Teachers can provide the only working examples of positive child-adult relationships that a child will encounter in their life; providing positive relationships with the child can have a moderating effect – literally setting them off in a new direction. Even short amounts of one to one attention can have significant impact. Every child needs a significant adult.

Chapter 4 – Your Personality as Teacher – Can your students trust you?

Building on from the empathy gap chapter, Hattie and Yates expand on the importance of trust in the learning process and link this to brain science. Effectively, children need to feel that they are safe and can trust their teacher before their brains can be open to learning. Time spent in building these trusting environments is never wasted.

However, there is no evidence to suggest that a particular personality type makes for a better teacher. It is much more important to be congruent in your behaviour. Being congruent means ensuring that your gestures, expressions, tone of voice and actions match what you are saying. Children are experts at recognising incongruence, even if they can’t articulate it. It is important to be warm, compassionate and competent. These qualities build trust.

It is important to know the children as individuals with histories, interests, names and personal goals. Expert teachers know their classes as human beings, not simply as data. I added that bit, but this is essentially what Hattie is saying! Having said that, we don’t pick out lying very well. Teachers who say they can always tell if a child is lying are wrong. We don’t quite know why, but it may be that wanting something to be the truth leads to similar cues as something being the truth, or that telling the truth when fearing that you won’t be believed leads to the signs of discomfort that we might associate with lying.

Being able to ask for help is essential in learning. In order to feel confident in asking for help, the student needs to be able to trust the teacher. Teachers can build this trust by being open about their own learning as teachers – sharing reflective practice helps students to see how reflection is an important part of mastery.

Chapter 5 – Time as a Global Indicator of Classroom Learning

Effective learning takes place when time is managed effectively. Good leadership systems in schools will maximise the correlation between the allocated learning time and the actual time available, building in for example change-over time between lessons or limiting interruptions of allocated time with other activities.

Once in class, time can be broken down into components of instruction, which involves engaging children in the information to be learnt and academic learning time. In general, we are trying to maximise academic learning time by limiting distractions and interruptions. One critical skill a teacher needs in being able to do this, is being able to observe and judge what individual students need at any one point in time. As Hattie points out in later chapters, it is a myth that human beings can multi-task – instead we switch from one task to another quickly, usually with detrimental effects on concentration. This suggests that a teacher cannot both talk effectively and observe who is learning at the same time. I’m bringing together two chapters here, because there seemed to be a fracture between the two. However, I think that what is being said is that the expert teacher will expertly switch between talk and observation, scanning classes regularly to assess levels of engagement.

What Hattie brings to the fore here is frustrating paradox that while we can scan for impressions, there ‘is no mechanism in the mind that could enable a teacher to continuously monitor and tally individual rates of engagement.’

If we think about that in terms of lesson observations then, it may be that an observer, not being distracted by the action of teaching itself, may be able to notice things that the teacher cannot, but in not knowing the children, the observer cannot be sure whether the child is learning or not. What we can do is provide the optimal conditions for academic learning time to be utilised; building in deliberate practice, reflection and feedback. Knowing whether children are actually learning is impossible in the present. To do that we need constant, reflective feedback – a past – present – future loop and this is the subject of another chapter.

Of course, what Hattie doesn’t engage with at this point is the effect of time on distractions – the impinging of the future and past on the present as diversions to learning. For example the child distracted by the smell of food coming from the canteen – the future promise of food, or the one distracted by thinking about an argument they just had in the playground. Time impinges in many ways and is one of the reasons that Hattie describes the time spent actually learning as ‘hidden’.

In another section, Hattie explores the impact of teaching topics or subjects in short or long time frames. Studies show that whether a unit lasts for 4 or 12 weeks has little impact on achievement in surface learning testing – all pupils perform equally well on factual recall tests. But the longer one spends on a topic, the deeper the learning – on more sophisticated tests which require thought, synthesis and analysis, the longer the time spent, the better. In short, deep learning takes time.

Chapter 6 – The Recitation Method and the Nature of Classroom Learning

Hattie looks at the criticism of Recitation method, alternatively called the ‘sage on the stage’ method of teaching and asks why it has been so pervasive over the past century in spite of evidence to show its lack of effect. He notes that a particular feature of this type of teaching is IRE questioning – initiation, response, evaluation in which the teacher is focused on a single student at the expense of others. A typical lesson consists of the teacher talking to the class and then using IRE questioning as a means of assessing whether they have learned what has been taught.He notes that the problems with the method have traditionally been a low level of closed questions, lack of participation from the majority of the class and a passive mode of learning. He describes the resulting lesson as ‘sterile, non-emotional and rule-bound.’ He offers the suggestion that such learning is designed to suit the logistics of mass education rather than having pedagogical value. Instead it gives ‘the illusion of teaching success.’

Hattie is at pains to point out however, that the role of the teacher is critical and that an expert teacher makes a considerable difference to children’s lives. He points to the importance of the teacher taking children through worked examples of concepts and ideas, but points out that although these have been shown to have significant impact on learning, teacher explanations add very little to impact. He seems to make a significant distinction between explaining/telling and analysing/breaking down.

To this end, he points to the lack of evidence that discovery learning is any better. I wish he had gone into the same depth of explanation about how he would define discovery learning as he does about IRE. Reading between the lines, he seems to suggest that this mode of learning is one where children simply learn all alone with no guidance from an adult. When I was a drama teacher, I used to describe this kind of teaching as ‘radiator drama’ –  not in the Hywel Roberts sense, but in the sense of the teacher sitting warming her backside on the radiator and telling the kids to go and make up a play with no scaffolding or guidance, but this is not what I know many teachers would think of in their definitions of discovery. Words matter and I wish there had been more written on this.

Perhaps the lack of explanation is justified in his observation that in spite of the impression that progressive or discovery led learning is dominant in education, evidence suggests that it is in fact not true – that conventional direct recitation (CDR) methods dominate classrooms around the world. Progressive teaching methods are simply not enacted out in classrooms in most settings. One reason Hattie suggests for this is that they don’t work, or at least are not perceived to work, whereas teachers perceive their impact to be more effective in CDR. This perception is flawed. Hattie is not so much arguing for middle ground as new ground here. He wants us to move beyond this binary and build classrooms based on what we know to be effective. This means taking a new look.

What we know is not effective is too much teacher talk. Hattie points to research showing that teachers tend to talk for 75% of a lesson. It may be that the teacher is brilliantly engaging and entertaining and that students could happily listen for hours, but being entertained does not necessarily constitute learning. He points out that:-

* In order to learn, children need to actively participating in the process

* Listening can be highly active, but our brains can only take in so much information before going into cognitive overload

* Active listening works best in conjunction with socratic questioning

*Observing can be highly powerful and memorable so there is a distinction between teacher talk and teacher do

* The teacher’s role is to ‘invite and induce’ children into learning

* Expert teachers can explain even complex material well in 5-7 minutes. Clarity of explanation is key.

* Mental focus drops off after 10 minutes (thought there are large individual differences) – unless there are opportunities to stimulate and re-engage, attention drops off throughout a lesson.

* If you want them to know stuff, you need to communicate it within the first 15 minutes of the lesson.

Chapter 7 – Teaching for Automacity

Understanding is built on knowledge. Knowledge needs to be stored and then retrieved. One goal for knowledge which is likely to be needed as a foundation for future concepts and understandings is to move it to the procedural memory where it becomes automatic. Doing this allows us to achieve automaticity. We reach automaticity when we can read without the need for decoding, when we drive, when we walk etc. It’s being on automatic pilot so that our brain is freed up for bigger stuff – what do the words mean? Where am I going? What a lovely view!

Adults and experts underestimate their own automaticity and tend to forget that children need to process the information incrementally in order to achieve this. Developing automaticity can justify forms of rote learning – times tables, decoding etc, but it should be remembered that this is a surface learning goal. Without it, however, it is harder to build and develop deeper learning. Automaticity is dependent on memory and in future chapters, Hattie explores memory in much more detail.

Hattie looks closely at reading as an example of moving to automaticity, stating that doing this leads us to a natural reading speed of 300 words per minute. The ideal is to get the brain to leap across the text rather than focusing in on it word by word or sound by sound, but that this is achieved by building up from the units to the whole. He does not advocate a particular form of reading instruction.  Nevertheless, phonics (or what Hattie calls recognition at word level) are an important part of the process of moving towards automaticity and are an important part of a step-by-step approach. Hattie points to successful interventions in Australia similar to the Reading Recovery programme in the UK which have successfully led children to reading automaticity – a crucial foundation for learning other material. Once fluency is achieved, however,  it is confusing and detrimental to a reader to be artificially slowed down – something that here in the UK, the phonics tests does and perhaps this offers an explanation for reports from teachers that some high ability children did not respond well to the test.

Hattie points to similar parallels in Maths – that basic principles need to be in place and learned to the point of automaticity in order for more complex ideas to be developed. In short, some stuff just needs to be learned and learned well. Without it, children are simply overloaded with the sheer effort of processing low level information and can’t move on. For these foundational elements of knowledge, rote learning need not stand in opposition to deep learning, but can be the start of the process. It is not, however sufficient on its own. And crucially, in the chapter summary, there are these words:-

‘Development requires time devoted to practising lower order skills under conditions of relative ease, enjoyment and strong motivation.’ In short, acquiring automaticity should feel easy and enjoyable!

Chapter 8 – Feedback.

Feedback matters a lot. It should always focus on next steps. It is a critical part of learner agency and development. You really need to read this chapter for yourself – it’s too critical to summarise. But in a quick fire list:-

1. Knowing what to do matters more than knowing what your grade is.

2. Understanding what to do is greatly helped by worked examples which are analysed.

3. Great feedback provides a map – it is a mode of processing but also motivating and ensuring that a knowledge gap is bridgeable and does now become a chasm.

4. Praise is potentially damaging. Teachers should use praise sparingly and sincerely so that students know it is genuine. Praise can encourage ego or performance orientation which undermines attempts to strive to achieve a goal.

5. Feedback is as much about reflecting on your own effectiveness as a teacher as it is about pupil learning. Ideally the two work in tandem.

Chapter 9 – Acquiring Complex Skills through Social Modelling and Explicit Teaching

Instead of thinking of the teacher as an instructor or facilitator and arguing between the two, it is far better to think of the teacher as an agent of change. The teacher fails as a facilitator if they don’t provide the knowledge required and fails as an instructor if they don’t allow children to engage with, process and practice the knowledge. Neither definition is helpful. It may be better to think of the teacher as a coach. A coach will model good practice, teach critical skills and crucially intervene to tweak student progress though a relay between observation and intervention. A great coach breaks down skills into component parts to build a whole. A great coach will know how to nudge progress forward incrementally. Rather than simply facilitating, the teacher-as-coach is an activator. Rather than instructional, teacher-as-coach is reciprocal.

A critical part of this process is breaking things down into step-by-step units of analysis. Hattie and Yates offer some concrete examples of this in practice across a range of subjects. This is simply explained as moving from ‘this is’ to ‘if then’ language. If this is done, then…or if this happens then what are the implications of… and so on. It seems that ‘if’ is a big word in learning.

Elsewhere in the chapter Hattie questions the wisdom of the idea that children can just acquire knowledge by themselves – he speaks of the dubious value of this and sees it as time wasted. While enquiry, he says is highly engaging, it adds little to the learning process. It’s a little disappointing that he doesn’t explore the possibility that enquiry in conjunction with teacher directed knowledge building might be both beneficial to learning AND motivating. And in future chapters he describes the idea that small groups perform far more effectively on deep learning, problem solving tasks than individuals do. So to be fair, I expect that he means that in the initial stages of gathering knowledge, it is better done under the careful expertise of a teacher.

He is clear to point out in this, as in other chapters, that any kind of effective teaching can only take place if attention is captured. Boredom does not make for effective learning.

Hattie picks up again on an idea mentioned before that doing does not necessarily equate with learning and that observation can be a powerful tool of learning. He is careful to ensure that activity is as much about focused observation as it is about anything else and so it is perfectly possible for students to be ‘doing’ while being still. It is balancing this finding with the difficulties of cognitive overload and attention spans that makes it so difficult to implement in the classroom. Knowing that the child is actively engaged is difficult without action and evidence.

He ends the chapter with a reminder that knowledge transmission is a deeply social experience and rooted in positive relationships and modelling.

Chapter 10 – Just What Does Expertise Look Like?

Throughout the book, Hattie is attempting to ensure that teachers are focused on becoming expert and so this chapter explores what expertise actually is. He identifies seven traits:-

1. They excel in their own domain but not in others.

2. They see patterns whereas novices see knowledge largely in units which are not linked

3. They work quickly and with little error whereas novices make mistakes and need more time

4. They have remarkable short term memories in their field of expertise whereas novices find it hard to hold much information

5. They see deep implications to their work whereas novices only see superficiality

6. Time is spent analysing problems carefully

7. They monitor themselves well

Hattie distinguishes an expert from a novice in this quote:-

‘You will have noticed how uninformed people are inclined to jump to conclusions, become opinionated, when more knowledgeable people shy away from such views.’

A lesson for twitter bloggers including myself, perhaps 😉

Hattie noted in Chapter 2 that experts in subjects do not make the best teachers, but makes the case here for teachers to become experts in teaching. However, care needs to be taken to keep analysing and breaking down your performance. One of the weaknesses of expert teachers is that they don’t know what it is they are doing so well. Keeping an eye on the steps is important.

Chapter 11 – How does Expertise Develop?

Hattie picks up on themes already widely shared in books like Bounce by Matthew Syed in looking at how superlative performance is created. He connects this to the idea of deliberate practice – the sort of practice that works at the limits of what you can do and which has an element of challenge involved. He argues that this type of practice leads to both automaticity and development of new skill but I felt that both of these issues of practice and automaticity had been well explained elsewhere.

The chapter also looks at how parental involvement, dedication and commitment contribute to excellence in the fields of music, sport, chess and so on. A sort of Talent Code approach, which is fine, though I found it to be interesting but irrelevant to my classroom practice.

One strand I did find useful to bear in mind though was that these masters of their field rarely started out marked as child prodigies – they became brilliant. That’s an important lesson for us all.

Chapter 12 – Expertise in the Domain of the Classroom

This chapter becomes more relevant, applying the nature of being ‘expert’ to the classroom. Hattie is clear to point out that being experienced does not necessarily equate to being expert. Doing the same thing badly for 20 years does not make you an expert! But he also reminds us that expertise takes time – some studies suggest a minimum of 5 years and on average between 5 and 10 years.

On the whole, studies in secondary settings found that expert teachers:-

1. Tended to be so in their own curriculum area but not in others. This study did not examine primary practice.

2. They found different ways of achieving the same goals, building in sequence and variety.

3. They can explain things quickly and with astonishing clarity.

4. They ignore irrelevant details but focus on the most important things happening in the classroom – they may not notice for example things like clothing (uniform) but are highly attendant to learning.

5. They diagnose learners’ needs and offer detailed and appropriate feedback.

6. They know their stuff, have researched it well and use pedagogical knowledge innovatively and flexibly.

7. They allow students to think about a problem before offering a solution.

8. They set worthwhile challenges quickly moving students on from surface to deep learning.

9. They stop and start lessons efficiently.

10. They keep momentum flowing while being able to improvise and adapt on the spot.

11. They read classroom life to a remarkably high level; reading cues from students such as gesture with great sensitivity.

12. Expert teachers depend on strong relationships and moving towards goals together – placing an expert teacher in a novel class with unknown students undermines their expertise.

13. They engage, challenge and intrigue students without boring or overwhelming them.

14. They know why a student has or has not achieved.

15. They are passionate about their work.

Hattie describes such environments as places where ‘students are too busy and goal-orientated to act out, and where misbehaviour occasions disapproval from other students.’ In saying so he seems to suggest that engagement and challenge are the key to classroom and behaviour management.

‘High quality teaching cannot be seen as a mechanical exercise. Instead, it hinges on developing a relationship with a group of young human beings who have come to trust and respect the goals their teacher has set for them.’

And that’s the end of the first section. Phew!!! In short, as if you’ve not read enough – there is much here to challenge our binaries of traditional versus progressive. We need child centred learning mediated by a skilled adult. We need knowledge and instruction, leading to deep learning. We need to be a little more clever about how we think about labelling teaching and learning. It’s a really important book. There endeth the lesson.

(So) What if Intelligence is Genetically Determined?

When I read Dominic Cummings’…err…article/thesis/rant/manifesto/short story (delete as appropriate) this weekend, I was struck by two reactions. One was to yell “Nazi” and head to the hills as images of eugenics programmes flooded my mind. The other was to think “Oooh Odysseus curriculum led by big questions – I like the sound of that.” I really, really want to dislike Cummings, but I suspect that he, like most human beings, is a complex person with some likeable traits. Perhaps he has inherited a 70% unlikeable personality which has been tempered by 30% worth of warm, human nurture. Or the other way round. Either way, shouting “Nazi” and running for the hills will not help this debate one iota – we should always be careful not to confuse genetic science with the horror of eugenics. So let’s look instead at the implications of his statement that intelligence is genetically predetermined.

Cummings’ claim is based on the work of behavioural geneticist Robert Plomin. Now with the kind of respect I argued for in my blog yesterday, let’s explore what exactly it is that is being said here. Plomin’s earlier work in attempting to explore the heritability of intelligence focused very much on IQ as an intelligence measure. There have, over the years, been enough critiques of IQ as a measure of intelligence so I needn’t go into the flawed nature of this interpretation, but at the time, Plomin found through a series of studies on twins separated in different adopted families that there was a roughly 50% heritability factor of this form of ‘intelligence’. In the last decade, his work with other scientists has led to a clarification of this and an engagement with the complexity of measuring intelligence. In a series of papers beginning with the title ‘More than just IQ’, Plomin and others (Chamoro-Premuzic et al 2010) found that self-perceived abilities – i.e. belief in one’s own efficacy and ability to improve was a more significant factor on achievement than cognitive ability was. That is to say that while intelligence may or may not be heritable, a sense or feeling that one was able to succeed was more important. This chimes strongly with Carol Dweck’s work on growth mind sets.

More recently, Plomin and others have published research conducted on 7 and 12 year olds that he claims suggest genetic ‘architecture’ which support intelligence across a slightly wider range of verbal and non verbal tasks (Trzaskowski et al 2013). The tests for the 7 year olds were conducted by telephone and for the 12 year olds on-line. Let’s leave the obvious flaws with that methodology aside for a moment. The summary of the report suggests that there is evidence that genes impact on intelligence across a range of tasks.

The conclusion to be drawn it would seem, is that even if genes affect the architecture of what we have traditionally considered to be intelligence – i.e. verbal reasoning and non verbal problem solving – there is considerable evidence that self-perception is a factor; evidence supported by the study from the London School of Economics this year, that showed that competition and rank ordering in classes damaged the performance of all but those at the top.

Let’s assume also, that Plomin’s educated guess that genes account for 70% of this architecture is true (and it is certainly disputed), so what? Even if 30% of subsequent achievement was accounted for by nurture, that is a significant factor – put crudely in examination terms, the difference between the Russell Group and the dole. Let’s imagine for a moment, that we only have 30% to play with, is this a problem or limitation or an opportunity? Even within this deterministic model, a genetically enabled child would have plenty of room to flunk and a genetically disadvantaged child plenty of opportunity to thrive based on the development of self perception, confidence and crucially, expert teaching.

Moreover, research by Cheety et al (2013) published in the Economist suggests that good teachers make significant value added impact on the achievement of all children throwing into doubt the assertion that teaching has little or no impact on outcomes. To be fair, Cummings’ writing does recognise this complexity, but this caveat becomes lost in a text in which the relationship between the poverty gap, genetics and teacher quality become confused.

Cummings reminds me of a man standing with head in hands, crying in despair that he will never fly because he has no wings while behind him some enterprising brothers build a plane. Let’s not be drawn into this limiting and damaging mode of thought. Architectures are structures from which a dwelling might be built, but they are not the dwelling itself. It takes more than a steel frame to make a home.


Chamorro-Premuzic, T, Harlaar, N, Greven, CU & Plomin, R (2010) , ‘More than just IQ: A longitudinal examination of self-perceived abilities as predictors of academic performance in a large sample of UK twins’ Intelligence, vol 38, no. 4, pp. 385 – 392.

Cheety, R.  Friedman, J and Rockoff, J “Measuring the impacts of teachers II: teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood“, NBER working paper 19424, September 2013.

LSE (2013)  http://personal.lse.ac.uk/murphyrj/_private/TopOfClass.pdf

Trzaskowski, M, Shakeshaft, N, Plomin, R (2013) ‘Intelligence indexes generalist genes for cognitive abilities Intelligence’, Volume 41 Issue 5, September–October 2013, Pages 560–565

Showing a Little Respect

I grew up in Burnley in the 70s and 80s. It wasn’t the most affluent or thriving of places, but it was full of northern warmth and wisdom. My parents both grew up on council estates in the kind of poverty that has children cowering behind sofas with their parents whenever someone knocks on the door. They brought us up with the kind of determination that only someone who is never going back can have. There were two mantras. Get an education. Respect your elders. You respect them, said my Grandma, because you will never have seen what they’ve seen. So I’ve always tried to keep that in mind. At this point my Mum is no doubt choking on her coffee, remembering her stroppy teenage daughter. Moving swiftly on…

When I disagree with someone who has been around for much longer than I have, I somehow don’t feel I have the right to simply say ‘you are spectacularly wrong’. I feel I ought to listen to them, try to figure out where they’re coming from and then engage with the issues that concern me. In my mind, respecting your elders is not to blindly accept what they say and do, but to recognise that there may be reasons why they say the things they do, why they do the things they do. And for this reason, I feel deeply uncomfortable when young teachers blithely dismiss as rubbish the thoughts and ideas of those who lived through very different periods in education.

I was reminded of this today when I read Joe Kirby’s post on Ken Robinson. Joe Kirby is a gifted and highly intelligent young teacher and having met him, I can also say that he is open minded, friendly and humble – a delight in short. So this is in no way a personal attack on a very lovely person. But I worry about the way some older educational thinkers are dismissed by this new breed of young teacher; those for example who never had to break the love of reading down into the 15 minute blocks of the National Strategies, or who have never seen what a Head teacher like Richard Kieran or David Whittaker can do to light up the lives of children.

Joe’s opinions on Ken Robinson are summarised thus:-

“How is he wrong?

Sir Ken’s ideas aren’t just impractical; they are undesirable. Here’s the trouble with his arguments:

1. Talent, creativity and intelligence are not innate, but come through practice.

2. Learning styles and multiple intelligences don’t exist.

3. Literacy and numeracy are the basis for creativity.

4. Misbehaviour is a bigger problem in our schools than conformity.

5. Academic achievement is vital but unequal, partly because…

6. Rich kids get rich cultural knowledge, poor kids don’t.”

And he ends the post on this note:-


In short, Sir Ken is wrong on education: profoundly, spectacularly wrong.

So next time someone sends you a link to one of his videos, perhaps you could send the link to this blogpost back to them – what Sir Ken got wrong.

And this is where I feel really uncomfortable. I don’t think it is right, personally, to say to someone who has dedicated over 30 years of his life to education to dismiss all that work as ‘spectacularly wrong’. I think we need to be a little smarter than that and a little more respectful. Having said that, we should never seek to stifle debate and Joe is quite right to point out that an enormous number of people have watched Robinson’s video presentations without ever critically engaging with some of its content. He is absolutely right to bring it out into public debate. And so, in the interest of public debate, I would add these points to the post:-

1. Robinson is not using the idea of talent being innate to suggest that some people have it and some people don’t but instead to say that we all have the potential and that drawing that potential out is the responsibility of education (both in and out of schooling). In this sense, Robinson’s view of finding that ‘element’ is very much in line with that of Syed, Coyle, Dweck and others.

2. While VAK and the like are spuriously simplistic and have rightly been attacked, Robinson is right in saying that it takes all kinds of abilities to make up a world. This interpretation is much more in line with Willingham’s distinction between a learning ‘style’ and an ability, which seems to me to be a much more sensible way of looking at things.

3. Robinson’s assertion that schools inhibit creativity does have some research support – look at Paul Howard- Jones’ work on generative thinking, or the book that Robinson quotes on his video which is a wide reaching analysis of the reduction of this type of thinking in children as they go through school. Generative thinking, or possibility thinking, is highly innate, but creativity as Robinson himself points out in the RSA speech, is much more complex.

When we think of creativity, we need to consider the difference between the generative and playful kind that any parent will tell you children have in abundance and they kind Joe refers to here, and which concurs with Robinson’s NACCCE report findings, that creativity leads to outcomes that have value. In this way, we see for example, Einstein’s or Shakespeare’s creativity as a combination of generative thinking and knowledge. That knowledge, of course has to be acquired and mastered – often in school. But too often, the knowledge hook is missing; the deep work of creativity – that lost in the fog time – is lost in the pursuit of quick, Ofsted friendly progress gains and the fear of failure undermines the attempt to try something new. I have always read Robinson’s work as an attack on overly simplistic, objective orientated, measurable academic gains, rather than the pursuit of deep, purposeful and contextualised knowledge.

4. He is also right, in my mind to point to the absurdity of subject hierarchies. Shakespeare was a dramatist – I doubt he would have supported the idea that Literature was better than Theatre. It would have been a ridiculous and false separation for him. Of course literacy and numeracy are important. You can’t be an actor without being literate. You would be hard pressed to manage an orchestra without numeracy skills. But literacy and numeracy are not the same as English and Maths. We need to keep that distinction in mind. Having said that, the quote that creativity is more important than literacy sounds absurd and is one of those soundbites designed to provoke without being substantiated. Mind you, I expect at a point of apocalypse, creativity might well be more important than literacy. Hopefully, we’ll never have to find out and it’s not really a scenario that should dictate our educational choices ;-)

5. Great Arts courses have to contextualise the works they examine. History, Geography, Literature, Philosophy and many ther subjects underpin the Arts. To say that knowledge exists in one set of subjects and is absent in another is simply not accurate. For many children, poor or rich, an arts based curriculum is the very vehicle to the kind of knowledge that is part of the cultural capital that is so vital to children’s success. This is something that a school like Eton understands very well. It is a national disgrace that the Ebacc has led to a 14% decrease in the study of an Arts subject at KS4 and even worse that this rises to 21% in schools with high numbers of FSM children.

On the whole though, I think it is right and proper that we have this debate and many of the points made were important and open up critical distinctions. It is not so simple as to be able to say ‘Robinson is wrong’ but perhaps better to say ‘We need to look at this more carefully’, and to tread forward with just a little bit of respect.