Whatever the question is, intelligence is the answer | David Didau

Here are the slides I used in the talk I gave at this year’s Festival of Learning: Whatever the question is, intelligence is the answer from David Didau The antipathy of very many otherwise sensible people to the concept of intelligence is really quite remarkable. This aversion seems only to be increased by bringing up

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“Understanding” and Occam’s razor | David Didau

At the beginning of the 20th century, the physicists Hendrik Lorentz and Albert Einstein both concluded independently that the closer we get to moving at the speed of light, the more we slow down. 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 made no reference to a

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A Novice→Expert Model of Learning | David Didau

Every artist was first an amateur. Ralph Waldo Emerson One of the best understood principles of cognitive psychology is that novices learn and think differently to experts. These labels are domain-specific, not person-specific; I can be an expert at particle physics whilst still being a novice at evolutionary biology. Or skateboarding. Similarly, you could be

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How helpful is Hattie & Donoghue’s model of learning? Part 2: The meta analyses | David Didau

To help us better understand how we learn, John Hattie & Gregory Donoghue propose a new conceptual model of learning. I’ve already written about my concerns with the metaphor of depth in Part 1. In this post I want to explore what his meta analyses reveal about the best approaches to take with students at different stages in the journey from novice to expert.


The first layer of Hattie & Donoghue’s model is termed ‘inputs’ or, what children bring to the process of learning. These are grouped into three areas dubbed skill, will and thrill.

The most important individual…

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The problem with depth | David Didau

I saw John Hattie speak recently at a conference on his latest re-imagining of his Visible Learning work. He was an excellent speaker and charming company. I was particularly flattered that he asked me to sign his copy of my What if… book. After he’d finished his presentation he asked me what I thought and I said I’d have to go away and have a think. This is an attempt to tease out a response.

Broadly, I found myself in agreement. Hattie makes the astute point that the 400 learning strategies identified in his most recent meta analysis cannot be directly compared; some are effective at some…

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The secret of successful schools: the Anna Karenina Principle | David Didau

For men are good in but one way, but bad in many.


Tolstoy’s great novel, Anna Karenina, opens with the famous line, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Tolstoy’s point is that a happy marriage depends on a long lists of variables: mutual attraction, agreement about finances, parenting, religion, in-laws and many other crucial respects. You might have everything else in your favour, but if any one of these vital ingredients is missing, or out of kilter, happiness is doomed.

This is the Anna Karenina Principle: A deficiency in any one…

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Ability is the consequence not the cause of what children learn | David Didau

The evidence on ability grouping appears relatively well-known. The EEF Toolkit summarise the research findings thus:

Overall, setting or streaming appears to benefit higher attaining pupils and be detrimental to the learning of mid-range and lower attaining learners. On average, it does not appear to be an effective strategy for raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, who are more likely to be assigned to lower groups.

It appears that children who are deemed to be ‘low ability’ fall behind pupils with equivalent prior attainment at the rate of 1-2 moths per year when placed in…

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