The Spy Who Loved Us – Part 2: A very special Pedagogy Picnic

DD ped picnic wed 2nd april

In The Spy Who Loved Us – Part 1: “The name’s Beyond…..” I shared how our English Department worked with David Didau to create a new curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch.  I also shared some of the important ideas that underpinned their design.

Not known for looking proverbial gift horses in the mouth and spurred on by that most famous of North East colloquialisms “shy bairns get nowt” I was delighted when David also agreed to reprise his Pedagoo London 2014 presentation especially for us at a very special, one-off lunchtime Pedagogy Picnic.

You are wrong!

First we were introduced to the work of Kathryn Schulz and “The Illusion of Naive Realism” from her book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

Squares A and B can’t possibly be the same colour can they?

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Wrong!

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It feels great to be right, however we aren’t very good at thinking we could be mistaken.  In this way, if someone sees things differently to us or disagrees with us then it must be the result of their bias or shortcomings.  This poor attitude to error can have a strong influence on our actions.  Illusions can help us to accept that it is possible for us to be wrong, even when we are convinced we are right.

The problem with intuition

Still not convinced?  Next we were shown this video clip based on Daniel Simons & Christopher Chabris’ research into the phenomenon known as “inattentional blindness”:

People often fail to notice the unexpected (like someone dressed up in a gorilla suit wandering into full view and beating their chest before wandering off again) when focused on something else.  Even for events as dramatic as the one above, the vast majority of people are convinced that they would notice.  In reality, though, many people do not.  Although 90% of people are convinced they would notice the gorilla, only 50% actually do.  Intuition says we would, the reality is we don’t.  Our intuition can be wrong!

We naturally protect ourselves from being wrong!

We were then introduced to some of David McRaney’s insights from You Are Not So Smart, who points out that accepting we can be wrong and spotting when we might be wrong is generally more difficult than we think.

“Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.”

“The other side just doesn’t get your point of view, and if they could only see things with your clarity, they would understand and fall naturally in line with what you believe. They must not understand, because if they did they wouldn’t think the things they think. By contrast, you believe you totally get their point of view and you reject it. You see it in all its detail and understand it for what it is – stupid.”

When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.”

Your first perception lingers in your mind, affecting later perceptions and decisions.”

With blindfolds urgently being tossed aside amidst the noise of cognitive shackles breaking all around, we were finally ready to re-examine some of the things we had been told were true.

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Mr Didau introduces the case for the prosecution

Wrong! Learning is invisible.  Learning and performance are different.  To paraphrase Bjork: We can only infer learning from performance.  Performance is easy to measure, but learning is not.

For example:

Teacher: “Warsaw is the capital of Poland”……”What is the capital of Poland?”

Student: “Warsaw”

Teacher: “Excellent progress!”

Performance is a very poor indicator of learning.

What we teach, students learn (the input/output myth)…..wrong!  According to Nuthall, over half of what we teach is not learned by most of our students.  We shouldn’t fool ourselves that the performance we see equates to what our students have learned……..or as Professor Robert Coe put’s it:

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As well as being clear about the difference between performance and learning, we heard how the introduction of what psychologist Robert Bjork terms “desirable difficulties” may help.  Although it feels counter-intuitive, making it more difficult for students to learn may actually improve retention and transfer in the long term, despite slowing down performance in the short term.

Why?  According to Bjork, each item we commit to memory has a storage strength and a retrieval strength, for example:

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Bjork’s New Theory of Disuse describes how making learning easier increases retrieval strength and leads to better performance in the short term.  However, without the deeper processing that encourages long term retention, this retrieval strength quickly diminishes.  Instead, we want students to make mistakes and forget, as re-learning forgotten information takes less time each time it is revisited.  In other words – increasing storage strength depends on the power of forgetting.

We can achieve this by spacing learning out.

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With careful curriculum design, interleaving multiple topics allows us to space them out, rather than blocking them together (massed presentation) and gives us an opportunity to revisit and build on prior learning.  Whereas blocking “feels right” and may increase performance in the short term, interleaving is thought to lead to deeper learning in the long term.

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David also urged us to introduce as much variability as possible into our teaching.  Changing teaching rooms, changing the displays students looked at, changing seating were all strategies that supported desirable difficulty, which again ran counter to many of our pre-conceived notions.

Another difficulty that challenged many of us in our thinking was testing.  We were posed the following question:

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You may be surprised to know that 4. is the most effective study pattern – many of us certainly were.  We do need, however, to rethink our definition of ‘tests’ as large, summative assessments to incorporate higher frequency, lower stakes testing, for example quizzes, multiple choice questions etc.

Wrong!  There’s no such thing as an outstanding lesson.  There is such a thing as outstanding teaching however, where students achieve consistently outstanding results and really learn.

David then reminded us of Ofsted’s criteria for outstanding teaching and learning (how could we forget!)….

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….before systematically unpicking and re-examining each statement:

Sustained and rapid progress?  Wrong!  Sustained AND rapid  progress are an oxymoron.  Slowing performance and increasing error increases retention and transfer (see previous).

Systematic, accurate assessment?  Wrong!  Very little assessment is systematic and accurate in the right way.  Mark schemes can be highly subjective.

Well judged, imaginative teaching strategies?  Wrong!  If based on judging performance rather than learning.

Sharply focused and timely support?  Wrong!  Struggle is good – it supports transfer from working to long term memory and avoids learned helplessness.

Enthusiasm, participation and commitment?  Wrong!  They are poor proxies for learning.

Resilience, confidence and independence?  Wrong!  Independent learning doesn’t result in independence, it can create dependence.

Frequent and consistently high quality feedback?  Wrong!  What do we mean by ‘high quality feedback’?  Feedback that supports performance in the short term or learning in the long term? Frequent and immediate feedback can degrade learning.

Engagement, courtesy, collaboration and cooperation?  Wrong!  Politeness is desirable but has little impact on learning.  There is a time and a place for group work.

Despite all the evidence that suggests ‘Feedback is King’ we were encouraged to adopt a more critical stance.

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To further illustrate this, David shared this table from Dylan Wiliam, which shows how easy it is for our feedback to have unintended consequences when students can exert less effort, reduce their aspiration or ignore it altogether!

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The point being – a theme that this presentation had as its very core – was for us all to beware silver bullets and anything that we are told is “the answer”.

In summing up David shared this final slide:

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The one that stuck most for me?  After nearly 20 years in teaching it has to be the Arthur Quiller-Couch quote about being prepared to ‘murder your darlings’ and acknowledging the fact that, over the years, maybe I just might have got a few things wrong….

“I reached the wrong ends

By the wrong means

It was the wrong plan

In the wrong hands

The wrong theory for the wrong man

The wrong eyes

On the wrong prize

The wrong questions with the wrong replies

Wrong”

Depeche Mode: Wrong

With many thanks to David who, in only a short time had such a tremendous and long lasting impact, not only on my own professional development, but also on our English department who “haven’t been this excited in years” as well as our teaching and learning support staff who now question absolutely everything (thanks David!)

You can read David’s original post following Pedagoo London 2014 here.  I’ve also included links within this post to lots of other posts David has written that are relevant to this one.  Do take the time to read them (although be prepared for your head to hurt……a lot!)

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