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:
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.
- The Trivium 21st C: Could this be the answer? – referencing Martin Robinson, fellow DIKRist. (Have you actually read this book?)
- The progessive-traditional pedagogy tree.
- The Learning Rainforest (I cite you in my book from 2017 – did you miss that? You might find it interesting- and rather familiar.)
- Mode A + Mode B = Effective teaching and a rich enacted curriculum
- Teaching for understanding: Schema building and generative learning
- Myth: Teacher-led instruction and student-centred learning are opposites.
- Knowledge and skills: Explicit; sequenced and, ultimately, interwoven.
- The Pedagogy Postcard Series.
- Schema-building: A blend of experiences and retrieval modes make for deep learning.
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.