The Writing Revolution and blogging

I’ve never really got the hang of blogging. Partly due to time (lack of, although very busy people still seem to manage to do it) but mainly as I didn’t think I would write anything of value to anybody else. Why post stuff online?

This website was initially set up a few years back when I started a (very brief) career as a freelance educational consultant. It was mainly meant as a point of contact, place to explain what I do etc. I rarely used it, as I couldn’t see the point in writing anything. Everything felt a bit cringe. Why would anyone be interested?

I’ve wiped most of the website clean and decided to make an effort to blog more. Not because I’m trying to sell anything (I’m not a freelance consultant anymore, and have nothing to sell). Not (and this is the most liberating part) because I want anyone to read it. I really couldn’t give a monkeys if nobody ever reads this. It’s the writing that’s important.

I’ve been reading (and enjoying) Hochman and Wexler’s The Writing Revolution. Although only being about a quarter of the way in, it’s already changing my perception of writing and its benefits in both the Science classroom and my own professional development.

One of the key points that Hochman and Wexler make (and I’m intending to blog about some of the other points at a later date) is that when pupils write about what they’re learning they synthesise information and produce their own interpretations. The writing becomes a significant part of the learning process.

I’m sure to many this is stating the bleeding obvious. But for a significant proportion of my Science teaching career pupils writing was seen as getting in the way of learning Science rather than helping them. Reading and writing was the responsibility of the English department. Whole school literacy initiatives were something that you’d give a nod to in your formal lesson observations, but otherwise wouldn’t consider.

I’m not sure why recognising the value of writing as an aid to learning has taken me so long, but from having conversations with other teachers (both secondary and primary) I know I’m not alone. It seems really obvious to me now.

As Daniel Willingham is ALWAYS quoted as saying, “Memory is the residue of thought”. To write about something effectively requires deep thought.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see how this has applied to my own learning. When planning CPD I read extensively, make notes, write my own summaries. It takes time, and the writing is really only extended note form. But the writing allows me to become clear about ideas, concepts, and my own thoughts. By writing stuff out I develop and consolidate my own understanding. Worth noting: this is not the same as the zombie edu-myth The Learning Pyramid (this was the top Duck Duck Go search at time of writing).

The Writing Revolution has some excellent, powerful and manageable strategies for using writing within the curriculum (as well as improving literacy) and I hope to make use of these in lessons next week and beyond. In fact, I can see them becoming an established part of almost every lesson. But that’s for a later post.

In terms of my own professional development, it’s inspired me to write. Not for the purpose of anyone else reading (in some ways I hope these blogs posts are pretty much ignored, although I’d love to hear other people’s perspectives on things, especially if they have contrasting views), but because by writing things down I’m consolidating and developing my own understanding.

I’m going to try and use this blog for exactly this purpose. Chances are it will be education based stuff, but it may also be about the other important things in my life (family, books, running, beer, whatever!)

Big thanks to Rosalind Walker for flagging this book up to me in the first place. I’ve still got a lot of it to read but it’s already making an impact.

Short review: “What if everything you knew about education was wrong?” by David Didau (@LearningSpy)

What if… by David Didau

I’ve rarely found the time (or inclination) to blog or write a book review, but this book is special.

First, a disclaimer: this is not an easy read. Not because of the style of writing (David Didau’s style is clear and enjoyable to read) but because

  1. it’s a big book (for an education book anyway)
  2. for many teachers it will challenge an awful lot of what we believe/assume to be good teaching practice.

Didau starts off by explaining how the human brain is pretty bad at making rational, evidence based decisions due to significant cognitive bias: “we make decisions on emotional grounds and then justify and rationalise our choices after the fact“. I was aware of many of these psychological principles before reading this book, but Didau summarises them brilliantly. This is almost like tenderising a steak before cooking; knowing how bad our decision making can be is essential if we are to make it through the cognitive dissonance we are about to experience…

Didau then carefully dismantles large swathes of what is standard (and considered to be good or outstanding) practice in many classrooms across the country. I won’t/can’t go into more detail here, as I feel I wouldn’t do it justice, but it’s really quite an uncomfortable experience. As a teacher who has made a very successful career utilising a “progressive” teaching style, the amount of cognitive dissonance I experienced whilst reading this book was massive. It’s clear that Didau has been through the same process himself. He does, thankfully, offer plenty of ideas (backed up by evidence) for how to improve teaching and learning.

There have been a few education books I’ve been positively evangelical about throughout my teaching career, either because they’ve summarised my beliefs about education or they’ve been immensely useful.  Inside The Black Box (Wiliam/Black), Essential Motivation In The Classroom (Gilbert), The Teacher’s Toolkit (Ginnis), How To Teach (Beadle), Visible Learning (Hattie) and Evidence Based Teaching (Petty) are all books that I’ve ended up buying for others, or raving about to schools and teachers, particularly those new to the profession. What if everything… joins that list (and at times, contradicts some of the content of the other books). However, it will be my more experienced colleagues to whom I’ll be recommending it most; we have the most cognitive dissonance to experience. This is essential reading for all who work in education (particularly school leaders). Providing a copy for staff and giving them two days inset to read (and act) on it would probably be the most effective CPD a school could do. Sadly I can’t see that happening in many schools, as those higher up in schools probably have the most dissonance to experience and the most to lose…

The challenge I now face is to take what I’ve learnt from this book and apply it to my day to day practice. I can already feel the “experienced teacher” part of me itching to start the term teaching in the way I find comfortable. The scientist/rational part of me needs to fight that. It won’t be easy (most of our education system encourages my old habits), but then (and this is a key theme of the book) learning should be hard.