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How do children learn to speak?

2019-02-08T07:39:29+01:00February 8th, 2019|language|

In chapter 2 of my book, Making Kids Cleverer, I discuss, David Geary's theory of biologically primary and secondary knowledge. Human beings seem to have various universal behaviours and characteristics in common regardless of the specific culture into which they're born. Geary's theory suggests that such species-wide traits must have some root in evolution and he argues that the capacity to learn 'folk knowledge' is a biologically primary evolutionary adaption. This means that we tend to pick up the knowledge of how to interact with our environments quickly and easily through mimicry without the need for instruction. When considering what should [...]

Making Kids #Cleverer – a summary

2019-01-11T12:05:16+01:00December 30th, 2018|Featured|

At long last, my new book, Making Kids Cleverer: A manifesto for closing the advantage gap, is out in the world. The argument is divided into 10 chapters and a conclusion and, over the coming days and weeks, I will elaborate on what each of the chapters contains. Chapter 1 The purpose of education - In which we examine the various claims made about the purpose of education and conclude that if we aim to make all children cleverer we are most likely to achieve whatever else we value. Chapter 2 Built by culture - In which we discuss the ways our brains have been shaped to [...]

"Understanding" and Occam's razor

2017-06-24T09:39:08+01:00June 24th, 2017|learning|

At the beginning of the 20th century, the physicists Hendrik Lorentz and Albert Einstein both concluded independently that measurements of light speed would be the same for all observers. But while both arrived at the same results from their equations, Lorentz’s explanation relied on changes that take place in ‘the ether’. Because Einstein's paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies made no reference to a mysterious, undetectable substance, his explanation was accepted as being the most likely. Even after Einstein's theory of special relativity had been accepted, Lorentz wasn't willing to let go of his belief in 'luminiferous aether'. In 1909 he wrote, "Yet, I think, something may also [...]

Education isn’t natural – that’s why it’s hard

2018-01-10T20:18:14+01:00February 23rd, 2017|psychology|

One of the most troubling conundrums in the field of education is that the common sense observation that children learn so many things simply by virtue of being immersed in an appropriate environment is contradicted by the overwhelming empirical data that explicit instruction outperforms discovery approaches in schools. Why should this be? Surely if children can learn something as complex as speech without much effort, why do we need to go to the trouble of painstakingly teaching them phoneme/grapheme relationships? It's hard to have some sympathy with the view that it would be better to just give them some appropriate reading material and [...]

Robots, evolution and why schools shouldn't worry about innate skills

2016-10-13T22:45:49+01:00October 13th, 2016|learning|

It should come as little surprise to hear that some of what human beings can do is innate. That is to say, we are born with various capacities and abilities which appear to be 'hardwired' into our brains. The evolutionary psychologist David Geary talks about such capacities as being either biologically primary or secondary adaptations. Biologically primary adaptations are those that emerge instinctively by virtue of our evolved cognitive structures, whereas biologically secondary adaptations are exclusively cultural, acquired through formal or informal instruction or training. Evolution, through natural selection, has resulted in brains that eagerly and rapidly learn the sorts of things which allow us to [...]

Can anyone teach? Well, that depends on what you think education is for

2016-12-31T12:14:11+01:00January 5th, 2016|psychology, training|

In a fascinating series of posts, Nick Rose has discussed to what extent teaching is a natural ability and how far it might be described as an 'artificial' science. In The ‘artificial science’ of teaching: System vs Individual competence he explores the implications for teacher training and professional development of these different interpretations of what it is to teach. All of this harks back to the hoary old chestnut of whether teaching is an art, a craft, or a science; whether great teachers are born or made. If the act of teaching is, as Rose suggests, in part a natural ability, a module of what Geary calls [...]


2019-05-09T10:29:06+01:00July 11th, 2013|

Welcome to The Learning Spy In 2011, frustrated by the current state of education I began to blog. Since then I have expressed the constraints and irritations of ordinary teachers, detailed the successes and failures of my classroom and synthesised my 15 years of teaching experienced through the lens of education research and cognitive psychology. The Learning Spy is widely recognised as one of the most influential education blogs in the UK and has won a number of awards. In February 2017, I recorded 2.5 million visitors to the site. So, what have I done with all this influence? Well, Ofsted started listening. [...]