Squaring the circle: can learning be easy and hard?

squaring-the-circle-1

Regular readers will know I’ve been ploughing a furrow on this question for quite a while now. Last June I synthesised my thinking in this post: Deliberately difficult – why it’s better to make learning harder. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the arguments, I’ll summarise them briefly:

– Learning is different from performance (the definition of learning I’m using here is the long-term retention and transfer of knowledge and skills)
– We can’t actually see learning happen; we can only infer it from performance
– Performance is a very poor indicator of learning
- Reducing performance might actually increase learning

This is deeply counter-intuitive and runs against the grain of what goes on in the overwhelming majority of schools. So much so that Ofsted have enshrined the need for schools to demonstrate that pupils make ‘rapid and sustained’ progress. I argued in this post that you can’t have both; rapid progress comes at the cost of sustained progress. But unless you’ve accepted the argument that learning is invisible, this is possibly hard to swallow. But once you’ve passed through this particular threshold, it changes everything!

The evidence is compelling. Last year Soderstrom & Bjork put together a literature review which collated decades of research and hundreds of studies which support the idea that learning is separate from performance and, more troublingly, that performance might not lead to learning. This has led me to the conclusion that grading lessons is wrong and also that much of what we consider to be outstanding practice encourages a focus on rapid performance gains at the expense of sustained learning. Hence the inexorable rise of The Cult of Outstanding.

Still with me? Good. Now hear comes the kicker. In the comments to my Cult of Outstanding post, Kris Boulton raises the problem that introducing desirable difficulties at the point of acquisition appears incongruous. How does that square with the need to minimise cognitive load?

This brings us to the Willingham Thesis:

  • Working memory is severely limited
  • Experts think differently to novices
  • Our brains are not well designed for thinking, instead we rely on memorised schema to solve complex problems.

The reason students don’t like school is, according to Willingham, that we make them think too much, and thinking is hard. Experts rely on retrieving whole schema (connected items of information) from long-term memory to get around the limits on our fragile working memories. Novices don’t have these memorised schema to rely on so attempt to hold too much information in their working memories which leads to cognitive overload. This explains the need to teach number bonds: unless pupils have memorised the fact that 3+7=10 they’ll have to calculate it anew each time they encounter a problem containing these numbers. When calculating a complex sum, pupils forget the answer they have arrived at for the first part by the time they get to end because they’re trying to hold too much in their minds at the same time. This is why Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work.

In my post on metacognition I outline another explanation for this: not only do experts know more, they also think differently.  Novices concentrate on the detail of a problem and ignore its structure. The neural architecture of an expert appears different to that of a novice. So when we ask novices to approach problems like experts their lack of knowledge storied in long-term memory prevents them from being about to think matacognitively.

This would appear to be a clear cut case for making learning easier. In her article Making Learning Easier And Making It Harder: Both Are Necessary, Annie Murphy Paul attempts to force these colliding perspectives together with the recommendation that we do both. But is that really possible? Is this a real or a false dichotomy? I always find duality a useful thinking tool and instinctively want to see this a situation where you can’t just do a bit of both. Paul suggests we reduce cognitive load at the point of instruction and only introduce difficulties once new concepts have been mastered. What she’s suggesting, as far as I can understanding is that first we make learning easy, and then we make it hard. But is that actually possible? How do we actually get our pupils to the point of mastery? The research seems to suggest it’s the struggle that enables us to learn. If we’re waiting for the learning to happen before providing the conditions that best allow learning to occur won’t we find ourselves in a hopeless muddle?

“But luckily we have critique protocols.” Ron Berger

Dylan Wiliam got in touch via Twitter to critique Paul’s post and point out a missing piece of the puzzle:

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 13.18.42

This is something I’ve been thinking about for some time: most teaching is about improving retrieval strength. We provide cues and contexts that make it easier for pupils to retrieve information during instruction. But how do we improve storage strength? And once we’ve stored information, what then This is, I think where the desirable difficulties of spacing and interleaving come into their own.

This then is my attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. First we need to get information in, then we need to make it stick.

We get it in through explicit explanation and modelling. I can’t see much benefit to giving students garbled information (although according to this study charisma and quality of exposition may have little bearing on how well information is retained, so I could be wrong.) The trouble is that left to our own devices we will subsequently forget about 70% of everything we’ve learned.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 14.06.11

Quote from Nuthall (2005), graph from Ebbinghaus

UPDATE: Dylan Wiliam suggested this is a better representation of Ebbinghaus’s 1885 data:

Ebbinghaus

Once new information has been encountered, we know need to make it stick. The least useful thing to do is to teach or review what’s just been taught: if we want if to be retained we’re better off using testing, generation, spaced retrieval practice and interleaving different topics. This is deeply counter-intuitive because it feels hard. If study is easy it produces the illusion of knowing; we think we’re learning. Reducing performance makes us feel like we’re not getting any better, but the evidence is, time and time again, that making learning deliberately difficult makes learn better. And weirdly, forgetting makes space for us to better store information. Items we’ve not practised retrieving are more likely to be forgotten in the short term, but, forgetting increases chances of retaining information that is recalled in spaced retrieval practice.

But why? Well, when asked what he thought a good proxy for learning might look like, Professor Coe came up with this: “Learning happens when you think hard about subject content.” In struggling to piece information together into schema we have to struggle with what we’re learning. If we’ve forgotten part of the schema we have to work hard to dredge it up from long-term memory. It’s all real effort and we make mistakes and get it wrong. It feels like we’re not getting better. But we are. Arguably, we might be able to remember up to 90% of what we learn by taking advantage of the forgetting curve and spaced retrieval practice.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 14.15.13

Maybe we can also profit by adding in Kahneman’s model of Thinking, Fast and Slow: we need the process of slow, deliberate System 2 thinking to allow us to build up the necessary schemas in long-term which will in term lead to better lightning fast, automatic System 1 thinking.

Now obviously this isn’t the complete picture. I’d be the first to object that there’s more to education than getting stuff in and making it stick. But hopefully no one will dispute that this is an essential consideration and one it behooves us to get right. Yes context matters. Of course motivation matters. Naturally no  one way of approaching a problem will work in every situation with every pupil. There is no magic formula for success. Expert teachers will always be required to make expert judgements about what might constitute the right level of difficulty for each pupil. But this is about our ability to make meaningful predictions about what might be effective for most pupils in most situations.

In summary, we can’t wait until students have mastered a subject before introducing difficulty; it’s the difficulty that leads to mastery. Cognitive load theory reminds us that pupils will struggle to solve complex problems with minimal guidance but the best way to build long term memory to over come the limitations of working memory might be to reduce classroom performance and ‘think hard about subject content’ in order to improve storage strength of the concepts needed to think like experts. If we want learning to be easy, we need to make it hard.

NB: I’m about a fifth of the way through the papers cited in Soderstrom and Bjork’s literature review and am in danger of being swamped by cognitive bias. I would be extremely grateful for any research which seems to contradict any of the points made above.

 

 

 

 

28 Responses to Squaring the circle: can learning be easy and hard?

  1. I find this research you are doing so helpful. My students don’t necessarily *enjoy* my lessons. However, when I am not their teacher the following year, even the most unlikely of students stop me to ask why I’m not teaching them this year as I *made* them learn. I am very interested in looking at ways to do spaced learning, against very tight time restraints it is crucial to get the pitch and balance right. Thanks for sharing.

    • David Didau says:

      Thanks Janette – what subject do you teach?

      • Hi David, sorry for the delay – crazy exam season – I am a chemist teaching science, which as you know is crammed full of facts with little time for repetition. I have been experimenting with my year 10 class to improve behaviour for learning, knowledge acquisition and meta cognition for the language of exam questions. After a very recent year 10 re-jig – I lost my *shirkers* and gained some weak but keen *learners* it seems my existing students by comparison to the new incomers, have made much more progress than I had realised, so my efforts seem to be paying off. I have twitter and generous people like you to thank for rekindling my inner researcher. I will continue my own blog when I get some time and some actual outcomes as evidence.

  2. Well, without a background, foundational knowledge, it would be very difficult to even get to the point where learning could be made more difficult and have any effect at all. Perhaps it would be helpful to try and define what is needed to be known by a student before the ‘journey to mastery’ can even be started? It might be that the early establishment of foundational knowledge needs to be as straightforward as possible…but, last year’s ‘mastery’ is this year’s ‘foundational’? So, the recapping of last year’s ‘mastery’ could be as straightforward as possible, with his year’s ‘journey to mastery’ taking the path you describe (making learning difficult). Possibly, the recapping would be at the schema level…..? [this stuff is difficult to think about......]

  3. […] Regular readers will know I’ve been ploughing a furrow on this question for quite a while now. Last June I synthesised my thinking in this post: Deliberately difficult – why it’s better to make learning harder.  […]

  4. […] post is a reply to David Didau (@LearningSpy) – Squaring the Circle: Can Learning Be Easy and Hard?  I urge you to read it because it poses a very good question and he brings, as always, a lot of […]

  5. 10 random thoughts and a conclusion:

    1) Is the brain really not very good at thinking? Is thinking something other than what the brain does? It’s meaningless, a language game, to create a basis from which Willingham socially constructs a discursive argument that has no basis in reality.

    The brain is, as it is, thinking is what the brain does and thought is the output of the brain.

    2) Against what do you compare working memory, To suggest it is severely limited? Like a computer, the brain trades the need to think quickly with the need to scrutinise data or in this case memory. Working memory is the consequence of that trade-off.

    The brain is constructed to manage the load of working memory.

    3) Expertise is a social construct and has no measurable basis in reality. Does an expert think differently in an area that he has little expertise? Is there a correlational relationship between relative levels of expertise?

    Is expertise a dualist conceptualisation between the expert and non expert. I think not.

    4) Do we really rely on memorised schemas to solve complex problems? It’s clear that we rely on memories and no doubt that we have pre-conceptualised some aspects of that thinking but the way we store memoirs and conceptualise is as problematic as it is beneficial.

    Thinking well is not the same as expertise: http://solocontrotutti.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/on-dt-willingham-the-difference-between-thinking-well-and-expertise/

    5) The reason students don’t like school has little to do with thinking hard and everything to do with the same reasons of lack of autonomy and passivity that would annoy any one of us..

    6) Minimally guided instruction does not work with synthetic semantic languages such as Math because like any rule based system you have to learn the rules before you can apply them. And then you have to memorise them it has little to do with cognitive load.

    Trying to use a rule you haven’t learned is not possible.

    MGI would work perfectly well with many other subject areas, which leverage pre-existent social / cultural knowledge and schemas such as history, geography, English Lit, Business etc etc

    7) No doubt some experts develop meta-cognitve techniques to approach a problem but arguably few develop the kind of expertise that you allude to. It seems to me that minimally guided instruction in an appropriate subject area does not mimic expertise but mimics the way that the brain learns in it’s natural environment. The brain largely isn’t constructed to perform mathematical functions.

    Math came about long after the human brain evolved. In fact memorisation of lots of facts is much less suited to cognition than minimally guided instruction. We find it hard work not because of cognitive load problems but because it’s pointless and resource hungry process for an evolved brain.

    Human cognition is well suited to minimally guided instruction – it’s not well constructed to perform mathematical calculations, which is why Kirschner et al and other use Math / Chess etc so often to justify their research.

    8) Is the concept of storage useful to describe the neural networks constructed by the brain?

    9) “The trouble is that left to our own devices we will subsequently forget about 30% of everything we’ve learned.”

    Forgetting stuff is a natural part of sorting information. The brain is constructed to value those connection it uses the most and to forget that which it doesn’t use at all.

    10) “The least useful thing to do is to teach or review what’s just been taught: if we want if to be retained we’re better off using testing, generation, spaced retrieval practice and interleaving different topics. This is deeply counter-intuitive because it feels hard”

    Memory is dependent upon the strength of connections. Re visiting the connections in different ways would help memory and solidify memorisation but it doesn’t say much about added value, ownership of that knowledge and creativity. As you say surely the point of education is to more than just remembering facts.

    After all we cannot test the output of that which we did not input

    I agree that education is about much more than memorisation. And I agree with some fo the cognitive science except Willingham and CLT however your assertion that you conclude with is entirely socially constructed you haven’t given any evidence to justify the point.

    Hard, Easy, Load limitations expertise are all leveraging pre-existent conceptualisations that the reader then makes sense of. In this context they are essentially meaningless.

    Memory schemas can be as problematic as they are useful to thinking well. Memorisation is an objective process but thinking well is value laden.

    “Cognitive load theory reminds us that pupils will struggle to solve complex problems with minimal guidance but the best way to build long term memory to over come the limitations of working memory might be to reduce classroom performance and ‘think hard about subject content’ in order to improve storage strength of the concepts needed to think like experts. If we want learning to be easy, we need to make it hard.”

    The best way to build long term memory is to use the information being stored that is how cognition works. What is hard, or otherwise, is relative and often as not is related to how we use knowledge and not how we store it.And that is where your problems begin.

    As you say though all this is useful wehether you buy it all, some of it or none of it.

    • David Didau says:

      1) We rely entirely on knowledge in order to think. Try thinking about something you don’t know. You can’t.

      2) I working memory is limited because as George Miller said, “seven is the magic number” and when information is more complex the number we can keep in mind goes down to about four. And real-life problem-solving this reduces further to maybe two or three.

      3) An ‘expert’ is only an expert in areas which has has expertise. In other areas he is a novice. I’m surprised to have to make this clear. One of the few useful things neuroscience has shown us is that different parts of the brain light up when experts in particular subjects think about those subjects than hen novices do.

      4) Yes, we really do rely on memorised schema. We may very well be unaware of this reliance though

      5) That is an assertion which I can’t be bothered to dispute as it’s irrelevant to the points I’m making

      6) Yes exactly: minimally guided instruction works when you know enough not to need it

      7) That’s a really interesting assertion – I’d be really interested in seeing some empirical evidence to support it. If you’re right (and I can find some decent research) that could have real significance for the book I’m writing. Please tell me more.

      8) Yes. Read about the New Theory of Disuse

      9) Yes. But we’re not good at determining what is valuable. Especially if we’re not sufficiently expert in a subject

      10) The evidence for my conclusion is outlined in the post (and those it links to.) It’s based on empirical evidence and really isn;t intended to be ideological. Your counter though really does seem to be just a matter of opinion. Certainly your opinion is interesting, but it’s hard to give your opinion equal weight with the evidence I’ve set out. If you want to dismiss the concepts I’ve outlined, that’s fine, but that gives your counter-assertions even less weight. I’d be genuinely interested to read anything that might provide something a bit more meaty.

      • Doug Holton says:

        No one really argues for “minimally guided instruction”, at least not since the 80s and discovery learning. That’s just a strawman of the Kirshner article (which was refuted in several other articles published in the same journal, among others).

        But, there is plenty of evidence in favor of inquiry guided learning (notice ‘guiding’ is even in the name), problem-based learning, and the like.

        Here is some evidence of the benefits of inquiry guided learning in college math (there are even more on math for lower levels). I just mention it since the previous comment suggested that this type of instruction (erroneously labeled minimally guided) would work everywhere but math.

        Inquiry-Based Learning in College Mathematics
        http://theconversation.com/who-learns-in-maths-classes-depends-on-how-maths-is-taught-21013
        http://www.colorado.edu/eer/research/steminquiry.html
        http://delta2013.net/documents/program/keynotes/Keynote-Monday-Laursen.pdf
        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10755-013-9269-9
        “Comparing students taught with the inquiry-based learning approach and those who weren’t, the study found the former reported better learning gains. An analysis of grades found that students in inquiry-based learning (IBL) classes did as well or better than students who did not complete any IBL classes.
        But more importantly, the outcomes for different groups of students were dramatic in IBL classes compared to non-IBL classes. Implementing inquiry-based learning approaches in mathematics improved outcomes not only of high achieving students, but also females, future mathematics teachers and low achieving students.”

        And here is some other evidence for other things erroneously labeled ‘minimally guided instruction’, in case anyone finds any of these useful:

        When is PBL More Effective? A Meta-synthesis of Meta-analyses Comparing PBL to Conventional Classrooms
        http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/ijpbl/vol3/iss1/4/
        “Findings indicated that PBL was superior when it comes to long-term retention, skill development and satisfaction of students and teachers, while traditional approaches were more eff ective for short-term retention as measured by standardized board exams.”
        http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/ijpbl/vol3/iss1/3/
        “Across 82 studies and 201 outcomes the findings favor PBL (d = 0.13, +/- .025)”

        Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student
        survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses
        http://web.mit.edu/rsi/www/2005/misc/minipaper/papers/Hake.pdf

        Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research
        http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/Prince_AL.pdf

        Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
        http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast_engage_to_excel_release_powerpoint__final.pdf
        “One study found that students in traditional lecture courses were twice as likely to leave engineering and three times as likely to drop out of college entirely compared with students taught using active learning techniques.
        Students in a physics class that used active learning methods learned twice as much as those taught in a traditional class, as measured by test results.”

        MAA Calculus Study: Seven Characteristics of Successful Calculus Programs
        http://launchings.blogspot.com/2014/01/maa-calculus-study-seven.html
        “Use of student-centered pedagogies and active-learning strategies”

        Problem-based learning even affects (or doesn’t hurt) things like empathy. This article showed that students in engineering & physics had less empathy than students in caring professions. The exception was the computer engineering students, who were taught using problem-based learning:
        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130117084854.htm
        “For computer engineering students, the differences were largely eliminated. The researchers have a theory about why: the computer engineering students are taught with PBL, problem-based learning, which is not the case for the applied physics students. Chato Rasoal believes this can influence the degree of empathy.”
        “In problem-based learning you work in groups a lot. You have to be able to listen to others and accept other people´s thoughts and expressions of emotions. Otherwise it won´t work.”

  6. 1) I made no comment on whether you require knowledge to think but your point is problematic. The brain uses various aspects of itself to think including emotion, and generally irrational thought processes as well as rational ones.

    Whilst it is true to suggest you cannot think without knowledge it is wrong to equate thinking with knowledge. This is an essentially meaningless way of looking at cognition.

    2) Working memory is, as it is, because it has to be so that the brain can process information fast enough to react to social and environmental stimuli.

    Notions of load etc seem to me to be socially constructed and relatively meaningless.

    None of us can provide evidence as to why cognition is, as it is is, we only have theoretical perspectives. It’s a soft tissue there are no evolutionary traces.

    3) I know that experts are only experts in their fields. It was a rhetorical question. MRI scans, by their very nature, give only limited information. Would a young learner’s brain, for example, scan as an expert in the subject of Mine Craft or Kim Kardashian’s love life. It seems to me that expertise is value laden and a dubious construct in this context.

    I think it is a bit presumptious to be jumping to too many conclusions on the basis of MRI scans.

    4) Again I didn’t dispute that we rely on schemas to think, rather I wonder whether there is enough evidence to suggest that we rely on them differently in terms of “complex thinking” and then make the leap to how learners should interact with instruction.

    5) It may have nothing to do with your point but you mention it “The reason students don’t like school is” I think is adds to the narrative you are trying to create but admittedly it’s not a central theme.

    6) And let’s be honest that is a great deal of school learning

    7) What specific evidence do you need? The pre-frontal cortex is only a small part of the brain. The human brain did not involved in circumstance of instruction and memorisation. It is a very specific narrative in cognitive psychology that suggests that memorisation is the key part of cognition.

    There is lots of evidence that even such things as smell and other environmental factors affect our thinking I can dig out that research for you.

    Scientists did an experiment on moral behaviour. One set of participants in a room with no smell and one in a room with a slightly noxious smell. Asked them questions and saw a marked difference in response. In effect people got nastier simply because of a “barely smellable smell” if you will. They thought differently.

    8) OK

    9) We value what we use that is implicit to cognition whether we are experts or otherwise.

    10) My point is that you haven’t constructed a conclusion based on evidence. What you have done is created a narrative and interjected evidence into it. DT Willingham is particularly good at that.

    But it doesn’t detract from what you say or make it any less valuable. But that’s my view.

    Neither of us can easily produce evidence to make these points but in attempting to make them we make pedagogic discourse much richer whether it is you making them or me challenging them.

    • David Didau says:

      1) That’s just an assertion, if an interesting one. Can you back it up?
      2) Are you saying that working memory is limited so as to allow system 1 thinking? That might need some thinking about
      3) I’m not jumping to any conclusions on the basis of MRI scans although they do seem to indicate that expert brain architecture is different. And yes, of course you can be an expert in Mine Craft: I’m not assigning value to expertise
      4) I’m not understanding this point
      5) I’m not trying to create a narrative, it was just an aside. Happy to leave that one ;)
      6) Ae you saying a ‘great deal’ of school learning requires MGI? Within a teaching sequence that begins with TL instruction, fair enough
      7) Have you read Proust? Isn’t our reaction to smell all about memory?

      9) I’m not at all sure this is true. We use what we think might be valuable. But we’re often wrong.
      10) OK, but I would really like to find some compelling counter-evidence

  7. 1) In some ways it is re-iterating what you are saying. There are two essential systems. System 1 is arguably the larger and most influential system and system 2’s job is to moderate it. Lieberman writes on this issue albeit not in those terms.

    2) Yes albeit that terms like working memory maybe erroneous for the very reasons you give. That in fact working memory is actually system 1 being moderated by system 2. The two are in a relationship that is often conflictual.

    The working memory metaphor seems to me to stem from computer science as does storage I’m not sure it’s helpful.

    3) We seem to be kind of reaching some agreement on that one.

    4) Thinking and complex thinking are not differentiated by schemas. The latter is often very intuitive. We have hunches, we pursue lines of thoughts often is has little to do with memorisation but the executive functions of the brain re-calibrating connections.

    I don’t see complex thinking in terms of memory storage and retrieval.

    5) OK

    6) Yes in a structured environment leveraging existing socio cultural schemas fits in with the general theory but it is still MGI

    7) Yes but is reacting to external stimuli unconsciously thinking in your definition?

    9) In purely physical terms if a connection isn’t used it will dissipate. I am talking here at a biological level.

    10) Well you end up making quite an assertion I would need to pick at how you arrive at it. But we seem to be making progress on 1-9

    • David Didau says:

      1&2) OK – I’m going to deliberate further on the relationship between S1/2 thinking and CLT

      4) I think you’re wrong about memory/thinking, but we’re just trading opinion so not getting anywhere. Happy to leave for now

      6) I also need to give this a bit more thought – thanks for challenging

      7) I don’t think thinking has to be conscious, no. Was that what you meant?

      9) This is about synaptic connections, right? This seems like further need for spaced reminders

      10) Is it really that much of an assertion to say that learning should be made harder?

  8. I don’t think we essentially disagree on the science but we have very different ways of interpreting it

    I agree with you that there are two systems one essentially moderating the other and that each brings with it completely different ways of looking at the world.

    One is slow rationale in effect the moderating influence of the brain. The other is fast, reacting to external stimuli. In some ways almost replicating the dualisms of sociology and philosophy. One is rationale and the other empirical; one imposes meaning onto the world and the other has meaning imposed onto it.

    I think essentially we agree on that. Quite how you get from that to this:

    “In summary, we can’t wait until students have mastered a subject before introducing difficulty; it’s the difficulty that leads to mastery. Cognitive load theory reminds us that pupils will struggle to solve complex problems with minimal guidance but the best way to build long term memory to over come the limitations of working memory might be to reduce classroom performance and ‘think hard about subject content’ in order to improve storage strength of the concepts needed to think like experts. If we want learning to be easy, we need to make it hard”.

    ..is beyond me because I don’t really accept CLT. I don’t see how you can accept the CLT model and the dualist model at the same time.

    I don’t see thinking well in terms of “instruction” and “memorisation”.

    And I’m not sure what you mean by hard.

  9. A very interesting post. Particularly interesting when I think about how my children tend to learn best – they are home-educated. As we have developed a successful method and as they have grown, they now tend to manage their own study time. We have six children and have home educated since 2002.

    Initial study begins with a textbook and guidance on how to approach a subject is given by us then it is up to them to work through chapters. They may spend a lot of time in the day on one subject then will leave it for a few days. Internet resources may then be used to support the learning and again, quite a lot of time may be spent on this in the course of one day – this is determined by the student. We assist when it is evident understanding of an aspect has not been achieved.
    It is one of the “luxuries” of home education that we can do this but, believe me, there are days when I wish I had a teaching professional at my own shoulder!
    Our method has proved very successful in leading our two older children through IGCSEs before they progressed to 6th form and Uni. The middle two are currently sitting their exams and undoubtably the younger two will follow.
    Thank you for your insight and to other commenters. This sort of information is a valuable resource to us as we tailor our system to most benefit our children’s education and learning.

  10. Kevin Condon says:

    Regarding “First we need to get information in, then we need to make it stick.” For PreK-G1, we can prove beyond doubt that systematic arts integrated learning slashes learning time and boosts working memory. The only problem is that no-one takes curriculum learning songs seriously. If you accept the science of music, for example music therapy is fully accepted, then you will understand why learning songs work – except they are not accepted as a mainstream. The second interesting comment is “As learning occurs, so does forgetting! This should not be accepted as foreordained. Our learning songs are built on advertising jingle skills – they are ‘ear-worms’. Kids hear them and sing them throughout the day; their parents sing them, their siblings sing them. While mini-packs of ELA, they also contain information upon which to build flipped learning/project based learning. While our expertise is in Prek-G1, learning songs are used in medical and science to remember complex information. The only problem is that educators cannot get beyond ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. But in a moment of real clarity, I realized last week that Lesley Beth and I have missed an advertising trick! The comparative ad! I am working on ways to use split screen to compare the traditional ways of learning, say one-to-one correspondence, and the Lesley Beth JazzleOke Way. The Lesley Beth way brings real twinkles to kids’ brains. One of the objections to Jazzles is the use of big/complex words and concepts. The problem is the kids don’t buy the argument. In early education, we can its the big ideas that motivate kids.

  11. […] Great great Regular readers will know I’ve been ploughing a furrow on this question for quite a while now. Last June I synthesised my thinking in this post: Deliberately difficult – why it’s better to make learning harder. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the arguments, I’ll summarise them briefly: – Learning is different from performance (the  […]

  12. Sarah says:

    Lots of interesting points here David, as always.
    I am in no way qualified to comment on most of them, just wanted to point out a potential typo; I think “The trouble is that left to our own devices we will subsequently forget about 30% of everything we’ve learned” should read “about 70%” given the retention rate on the graph is 30%.

  13. […] BLOG is in response to David Didau.  I sometimes disagree with David, and I hasten to add agree as well. His constant pedagogic […]

  14. Kevin Condon says:

    David – I wrote earlier about working memory – I’d recommend following this discussion to download this report from Canada’s Royal Conservatory – http://goo.gl/gu5Upe – I quote just 2 gems “Recent studies have also indicated that individuals who are musically trained show better working memory abilities than those who are not” “Learning to play an instrument or sing requires significant levels of attention and concentration” Singing is a musical instrument.

    • David Didau says:

      Hi Kevin – I can certainly see that music & singing are very ‘sticky’ – but you say there is evidence that playing & instrument or singing will help retention in other areas? Intriguing – I’ll follow the link… Thanks

  15. Beeru Negi says:

    Nice Blogging, thanks For Sharing new Ideas and thought. I am really thankful

  16. […] fundamental arguments that substantiate traditional teaching methods. Responding to David Didau’s pedagogic prodding and probing I began to look at a social explanation of […]

  17. […] 3)  Squaring the circle: can learning be easy and hard? […]

  18. […] tried to address the question here, but In order to try to make my position clear, I offer the following theoretical […]

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