The DI-KR lobby-bubble and my part in it. (FAO Guy).

Hello Guy.

I’ve just been trying to read your Future of Teaching book without getting wound up and, stupid as that is, I’m finding it hard. This is ironic because look what I wrote for your ‘Ruby’ book when you asked me to write a ‘puff’ for it – (your honest word for that thing publishers ask for to jazz up the back of a book. ). I was nice.

Now, I realise it was an error, apparently taking joy in winding people up because actually it doesn’t feel like an especially noble thing – apologies for that folks. But also – look, there’s me flagging my DIKR credentials – in your own book! Bang to rights! LOL.

‘Future’ starts off well with a nice balanced foreword from Dylan Wiliam and you thanking people for making you think; extolling the virtues of changing your mind. As ever, I’m sure we’d agree on a great deal. But quite early on you get started on what becomes a relentless polemic against a certain group of people – some of whom have critiqued your work before. This is the Direct Instruction: Knowledge-Rich bubble or ‘lobby’ that you set up as the antagonists through out the rest of the story. DIKR folk, DIKR people, DIKR enthusiasts, DIKRists.. it’s quite a label, used liberally throughout the book. You really can’t claim to be playing the ball here.. you go for the people, time and time again. That’s how it reads when you are one of them.

Apparently, this bubble (not of bad people of course – we all mean well, as you say) includes me. In itself that’s fine – I’m happy to say I do feel that DI and KR have very significant value in securing a great education for all. Except that, according to you, ‘we’ are responsible for an appalling mischaracterisation of teaching, oversimplifying it, missing the point, misreading the research – and are therefore guilty of holding back the future of teaching. Quite a charge Guy! This of course leaves you, Protagonist Guy, the Good Knight of Reason.. to ride in to save us all with your sensible ‘above the fray’, deeper, truer, more nuanced analysis that us DIKRists have missed. It’s irritating on many levels. Mainly, because, in my experience working with schools in lots of circumstances, the ideas embedded a knowledge-rich curriculum and the use of instructional teaching (a phrase I prefer to DI) make a massive difference to teachers and children – especially when they are grappling with challenging concepts. These are not simplistic ideas. But rather than accept all the strengths of DIKR and build on it to help teachers and students even more in a consensus-building style that might be useful, you’ve opted for this rather melodramatic ‘take-down’ approach.

Let me set out some reasons why it bothers me (more than it should, granted):

  • The Punch and Judy delusion: You’re keen to position yourself above the ‘Punch and Judy’ show but it feels to me -as a member of this lobby-bubble – that you are very much Punch (or Judy). The whole tone and approach feels like this: Set up a simplistic characterisation of a position you don’t like, marshall some selected quotes and examples to turn a group of individuals into a cabal, call it a Myth and then, straw man erected, weigh in with the reasoned conclusion. It’s just so weird reading this as someone placed by you in your DIKR bubble, constantly having polarised caricatures of various opinions ascribed to me that I simply don’t hold. It feels very…. ‘Sixth Form’. Almost juvenile- that need to prove that you are right and the bubble is wrong. Disappointing. Maybe all the years of defending BLP – all those resilience drop-down days you inspired, intentionally or otherwise – has ground you down. It can’t have been easy.
  • The selective interpretation of the LTM/WM model. You don’t seem to have much faith that people know a schematic when they see one. People don’t think of working memory as literally being a physical space that fills up – and the bottleneck effect doesn’t have to apply literally to every single situation – that’s not what what is said. It’s just that, in practice, the model – and other ideas from CLT – really help conceptualise why students can and can’t handle information or understand complex abstract things and what teachers might do about it. Like any partial model (Bohr atom?) it has lots of explanatory and predictive power and is useful – but is obviously – I mean, super-obviously – a simplification. Read this maybe:

A model for the learning process. And why it helps to have one.

One of the most powerful ideas I’ve engaged with recently is using a diagram to visualise a shared model of the learning process; using it to get a feel for how learning works in general but also to identify reasons for why it can sometimes not happen.   This is the diagram I have in…

  • And then compare to this:
  • The LTM/WM model is just incredibly useful, resonating with multiple situations. You are the one, it seems, who needs this model to be more literal, more exact, more limited – so that you can knock it down with the usual (and absolutely obvious) ‘it’s a bit more complicated’ stuff. Of course it’s more complicated. You’ve made reference to various other theories of memory – but you missed the opportunity to explain them in a useable manner, perhaps developing a consensus around an enhanced model. For example, you might argue for an arrow that goes from Environment direct to LTM for those ‘hard to explain’ feelings and memories that we gain from experiencing things subconsciously. Go for it. It’s not so useful for teaching a specific curriculum but sure, add it for completeness. The point is to refine a model and propose a better one – not just waft some vaguely described alternatives.
  • Linked to this frustration is the implication that when you give Willingham’s work ‘closer reading’ it’s all a bit more subtle than the rest of us realised. Hello! Maybe, us DIKRists gave it that closer reading in the first place and you’re only just catching up. There’s a kind of arrogance there, don’t you think, to assume your reading of a book is somehow more sophisticated than anyone else’s? But, it seems to me, you need your DIKRists to be shallow readers in order to prove your points and that seems very important to you. (ie From QED to ‘not proven’. Boom Tish!)
  • Slightly oddly, after the all the DIKR take-down stuff, when I read your conclusions – at the end of chapters and in the final conclusion – mostly, I think – yes, well obviously – this is what people I meet think and believe and have for years. It feels to me as if you’ve arrived at a balanced position that has always been there – real teachers in real classrooms, know there’s more to it than a simplistic ‘Rosenshine’ checklist. At the same time ‘Rosenshine’ includes questioning, modelling, scaffolding, independent practice… you know, the core interactive responsive teaching teachers do all day! However, rather than describe how you’ve reached a position where you now can see agreement with a wider range of voices, you’ve tried to claim this as some kind of fresh balanced wisdom; some kind of unheard, liberating call to arms. I can’t tell you how strange this is from my perspective on the DIKR naughty step – being told what I must think.

If you had time you might find this set of posts gave a full flavour of what I actually think, going back over the years. Whilst certainly a champion of both DI and KR… it’s always, always in a rich context.

Again, I’m only speaking for myself here – but really, when I first read ‘Future’ I just thought, where have you been? Building a straw man army somewhere?

  • The weird use of book ‘puffs’ as evidence of the DIKR bubble. This is just odd. I’ve done a ‘puff’ for you.. and another for Bill Lucas’ Zest for Learning book… I’ve also spoken positively about Battle Hymn. Each of these books has some really good ideas in them and I’m happy to support people sharing ideas. But, now this is evidence of some wider lobbying and narrow understanding of what schools are for? When you go off on a 6 page rant about Michaela -I’ll tell you Guy, it just seems weirdly irrational and personal. Pointed. You wrap up Michaela – which is a unique school with special circumstances and approaches – with the whole DIKR concept to make your case stick; but the tone is so antagonistic, it’s unseemly. Rather than avoiding the punch-up, it’s as if you have this need to bring down the whole sorry lot of the DIKR gang. Why? Haven’t ‘we’ shown you enough respect. Is that it?

I honestly feel you’ve missed an opportunity here. The book would be a lot more palatable and useful to teachers if you stripped out all the polemic and re-asserted the core ideas with some clear diagrams and examples from actual lessons. Now that would be interesting. Teachers all around are already thinking in the balanced research-savvy way you advocate. I’m heartened by the level of dynamic engagement there is; the curriculum thinking; the extent of the debate on how to solve particular learning problems, the balancing of instructional teaching with other modes of learning. For sure, my strong sense is that improving instructional teaching and deepening the knowledge of the KR curriculum has lots of mileage in it. It really is very far from a limiting set of concepts – I see doors opening everywhere. So it winds me up when I sense that modern British schools are being presented as some kind of factory-model prison-ships – except the few schools you personally like the sound of. Who exactly needs to get out more – that’s what came to my mind.

We can all make lists of schools we rate. Take a look at some of these amazing places – all schools that wrote case studies for the Learning Rainforest Fieldbook. I’d say that DIKR was alive and kicking in all these places, amongst other things. I don’t think you appreciate just how much great work goes on in our schools – right now, never mind in the future.

Instructional teaching and a knowledge-rich curriculum resonate with a lot of people. Why? Because there they are, teaching actual children in real schools, finding these ideas really help to make sense of it all; to help children grapple with difficult things. Your conclusions aren’t all wrong – that’s not the source of my frustration – it’s just even though you’re not really breaking any news here, you’ve gone a long long way to denounce a lot people who’ve made amazing contributions to our collective understanding of teaching and learning. Unlike you, none of them are responsible for spawning silly lessons about resilience muscles. (True experience). And still you claim to be the one above the fray. And that winds me up. Not it a good way.



  1. Hi Tom,

    I’ve just been recommended this book by one of my MA lecturers. Now I’m wary that I might end up just as enraged!

    The false dichotomy that exists in pockets of our sector (mainly on Twitter and in Edubooks it seems) is one thing that is guaranteed to leave me annoyed. Surely, as professionals we are able to conduct a reasonable debate and understand the nuance of the key positions? Most I have encountered in the real world certainly are!

    Not to fall into the echo-chamber trap (I’ve read more than enough combative rhetoric from both sides of the debate as part of this course) but in your opinion, is there enough of worth in here to warrant my reading it?

    Here’s to common sense winning over!



  2. Hi Tom
    Thanks for this review, and, as I’m from Australia, I hadn’t heard the term “instructional teaching” before your post – and I just love this language – THAT is definitely what explicit, direct instruction is about, thanks – that’s what I’ve learned from your post this time!

    I like your points, and as I’m back now working in schools, I agree with ALL of these…
    Frankly, I don’t have time to read things that are NOT supportive of what you are about – and I’m adding your term here, IT (instructional teaching) KR (Knowledge Rich).

    I talk about “traffic jams” here, in Sydney, Australia, as our city traffic is particularly slow – that’s MY local example of the LTM/WM model – and also emphasise building on prior knowledge! It’s a valid simplification and one that teachers here seem to understand easily – THAT is my goal, supporting teacher learning.

    It’s difficult with all of the continual stream of publications and social media, to keep on the path that truly supports student learning – there are a lot of distractions and misunderstandings out there in the world, especially online…

    Thanks, yet again, for your blog, as I always confirm my knowledge and LEARN more, extend my knowledge!
    Let’s keep trying to support teachers, FOR improving student learning!

    best always,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi again Tom
    It’s now around 8.30ish – Sydney Australia time – and I’ve been thinking on my morning walk…
    Your term “instructional teaching” – I really do like it!?
    Just wondering if “Teaching FOR Learning” might be a similar term I could use? Fitting in with Assessment FOR learning – so this links in with Review at the end of that lesson – as well as Review to start the next lesson?

    Love to hear any feedback on this language and thinking of mine – maybe it’s crazy?

    Email me and let me know – as I’m not sure if I’m getting feedback posts here?

    Thanks again for making me think MORE!
    Best always
    Gail 👍👍


  4. “For example, you might argue for an arrow that goes from Environment direct to LTM for those ‘hard to explain’ feelings and memories that we gain from experiencing things subconsciously. Go for it. It’s not so useful for teaching a specific curriculum but sure, add it for completeness.”

    I’m not sure whether it’s worth pointing out that Cognitive Load Theory already has such a formulation. Biologically primary knowledge – knowledge we have evolved to learn – is assumed to pass straight into long-term memory without encountering the constraints of working memory. Of course, critics of CLT are sceptical of the biologically primary/secondary idea.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Going out on a limb here, but would that Biologically primary knowledge be facilitated by the so-called mirror neurones?

      If this were to be so, it’d be interesting to know whether modelling processes helps certain key actions bypass working memory.

      Not a CLT expert, so I don’t know if this is handled in the literature somewhere.


  5. Oh Tom – just seen this and I’m so sorry that the book has struck such a nerve. I can understand why, but I do think the acknowledgement in the introduction of how the work of the DIKRist movement had forced a rethink and repositioning was genuine, as well as the “there are no bad guys here” sentiment. I suspect one of the things he is referring to in that section when he speaks of his own errors in the past might well be the kinds of oversimplifications you refer to above. For my part I found the book really useful in pointing me towards a much broader set of theories about learning that I’ve seen recently and I think the central point of trying to find a way forward in education that accepts the importance of knowledge but that also seeks something more – what I think Guy describes as Knowledge Plus in another book – is very important. I know (and I’m sure he does too) that your own work is much more nuanced and thoughtful than simply thinking that knowledge alone will save the world. But there’s no doubt, as with any fad in education, that things get simplified down at school level to the point that it becomes either meaningless or oppressive and I can think of many examples where some of these ideas have been used to strip students of autonomy or self regulation to the extent that it is a significant concern. For that reason, I’d hope that readers could still gain so much from reading what is, above all, a call for a more thoughtful, agentive and empowering educational experience for children.


    • My main feeling – aside the the ridiculous need to create some kind of bubble that includes me, Martin, Katharine, Paul K, Dylan – is he DIKR, not sure? – is that there was a good book to be written here – some kind of more holistic model of learning that might well be Knowledge Plus. But to have to wade through all the sixth form sniping to find it is just too much. I’ve had SO many messages from (highly respected)teachers and leaders who feel that they are working hard to improve instructional teaching – that they see as highly interactive and dialogic, by the way – and deepen knowledge. God knows, so many children have huge swathes of knowledge they struggle with – and yet here is their agenda being slagged off. That’s how they read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with Debra. Guy’s book is a useful contribution to the irritating debate of knowledge v skills, progressive v traditional that Geoff Barton accurately called ‘arcane’. Guy’s use of the word ‘cabal’ make sense when you examine the articles and blogs of the KR group. His criticism of Michaela Community School is understandable – Katharine Birbalsingh is her own worst enemy in that regard. In her numerous media interviews she makes outrageous claims that progressivism is widespread, that schools who don’t follow her model have ‘facilitators of learning’ who let children ‘teach themselves’. According to her, group work is ‘just chatting’ and technology is ‘just for fun and entertainment’. I do not recognise this outdated myth about schools today. Of course you will find examples of this practice, as you will find examples of teachers talking at classes for a whole lesson. Neither are representative of schools today and it is misinformation to suggest that it is. Birbalsingh is to be admired for what she has achieved – results were superb at her school, but there are other schools all over the UK achieving fabulous results against the odds. There is no evidence that her KR/DI model will work in what Stephen Tierney describes so eloquently in his Educating with Purpose book – the long-term disadvantaged white, urban school that even the ‘London effect’ failed with. So for her to suggest that there are only two ways to teach – direct instruction or discovery learning – is totally misguided. Like Tom, I have worked extensively with schools on teaching and learning and have been privileged to observe wonderfully gifted teachers using a wide variety of strategies, mixing instruction, group activity, independent learning and use of technology.. So, I get frustrated when I hear Birbalsingh tell a London audience ‘Join the revolution and be on the right side of history, and a New Zealand audience that if the country adopts a competency-based curriculum he country will ‘fall off a cliff and all your children will suffer’. It comes across to me that she and others who spout the same nonsense about ‘the right way to teach’ are missionaries, not educators contributing to a debate. Guy is right in his book – there is a middle way without the need for polarisation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Guy goes to some lengths to describe his cabal or DIKRists including me and Martin Robinson. You’re joining in his overzealous attack on person and their views but the book seeks to critique a whole bunch of people and some broad ideas that have had more impact on improving children’s education than his dubious BLP ever had. Of course there’s a middle way.. this isn’t news. It’s what most schools do. It’s as if Guy has only just realised.


  7. I agree that it’s what most teachers do Tom. In my last book I referred to your Rainforest book several times so I know your views on variety. I am surprised therefore that you don’t appear to confront the excesses of those in the group who make outrageous claims about ‘only one way to to teach’ and group work ‘just chatting’ and technology ‘just fun’. You criticise Guy but not these wild claims about ordinary schools being ‘progressive’. I respect you hugely but please refute these people – as a former head who encouraged staff to be innovative and try new ideas and object to being labelled as ‘progressive’ from someone who is presenting a myth as ‘truth’. I worked through the 70s, 80s and 90s and know progressive ideas when I see them. Worked with over 2000 schools and colleges in past 25 years and haven’t seen a solitary example of ‘facilitators’ apart from LA advisers starting training with ‘I am your facilitator…’ I can’t imagine you using the language of the missionary either!


    • I’m not interested in focusing on one school here or there… I’m constantly promoting an integration of instructional teaching with what I call ‘Mode B’ teaching as part of a knowledge rich curriculum and there is just so much mileage there. Guy could have written a book without reference to individuals at all – just focus on the cognitive models, and the actual things teacher might do differently. I’ve been to Michaela – some stunning ideas there around community, oracy, learning languages and maths, reducing marking to a minimum. I’m not going to slag off a school doing amazing things just because of some rhetoric. I’ve had so many messages from school leaders and teachers similarly exasperated by the whole tone of this book. He’s got some nice puff comments – but it’s not going to change much in any child’s education.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. It’s not just rhetoric Tom. She’s constantly criticising other schools and I’m surprised you haven’t challenged the myth that it’s either direct instruction or discovery learning. You know that’s not true so you really ought to come out and say so. I would respect you more for that honesty.


    • I’ve said plenty Robert.. look at all posts linked in the blog eg the Myths one. I”ve probably said more about it that most. I choose not to get involved in focusing on one person’s views – especially when they’ve done a better job running a school than I ever did.


  9. Read your myth blog and you are quite right. Sorry I missed it. Dreadful treatment by Christodoulou. With so little experience in teaching she must have powerful supporters to get such publicity.


    • I was actually refering to this blog I don’t expect you to have read it but it’s important not to mischaracterise someone’s views based on what you feel they haven’t done rather than what they have. I don’t really like the use myths as a vehicle for discussion but that was the brief so I tried to go with it. Daisy’s and Guy’s books both have this in common – I agree with most of the substance but don’t like the whole mechanism of needing to create a ‘case against’ in this way. Actually I feel Daisy C has made a huge contribution to school’s work on assessment – comparative judgement etc – and again I wouldn’t support anyone seeking to demonise her. I don’t think I do that in my review of her Myths book – and anyway, time has passed since then and she’s done incredible work within our system as a whole.


  10. Good article Tom. Read the wrong one first, sorry. You debunk the nonsense that ‘there’s only two ways to teach, direct instruction or discovery learning’. Think your Mode A and Mode B works well, but the 80/20 split for physics might be different for humanities, social science, and many practical/vocational areas, but you acknowledge that. Disappointed with Daisy C’s latest book Ed v Tech. Agree with her conclusions but she failed to research the technology that meets all the specs she called for, one which won the Innovator of the Year award at Bett 12 months before she published her book. Strange omission.
    Keep safe


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