Seeing the Wood for the Trees in the Learning Rainforest

Seeing the Wood for the Trees in the Learning Rainforest

I read the brilliant ‘Why Don’t Students Like School’, by Daniel Willingham in the summer holidays last year.  I love it.  So clear.  So thoughtful.  So easily applicable.  A fantastic summary of cognitive science with a series of suggestions for how this should inform teachers’ practice.  I found that I was mentioning it in every Conference, Clinic and Coaching session I delivered for Ambition Institute.  I try and read all really good books twice, quickly.  Once for pleasure, a skimming joyride.  The other is a more detailed and deliberate search for understanding.  This practice has helped me remember and understand and I so wanted to remember every bit of this one.

Last year I was also fortunate to hear Doug Lemov, the author of ‘Teach Like A Champion’ and a really lovely caring educator and academic.  Lemov’s work has inspired schools in the States and worldwide and many of his ideas are now evident in the UK National Professional Qualifications.  In particular the I Do, We Do approach to lesson structure is now evident in a number of settings.

And then there is Rosenshine.  Popularised by the impressive and inventive Tom Sherrington in text and on social media, Rosenshine’s Principles are a blend of cognitive science, pedagogy and practice and seem to offer a ready-made menu for a great lesson.

Of course, many of us have also been schooled in Wiliam and Black’s Assessment for Learning strategies and more recently, we have been shown Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve at many events so as not to forget. 

Such rich evidence.  Such well-written work.  Such easily memorable approaches.

Until it comes to deciding exactly what we want for our schools or our Trusts.  Do we choose one of these models, buy into the extensive support materials and get cracking with a shared language and a ready-made community or do we try and amalgamate the best of the best into some kind of metadata smorgasbord of amazing teaching and learning for ourselves?

This decision matters.  Choose an evidence-based well-marketed model, and you feel safe but you pay for the privilege and run the risk of losing context specificity.  Try and create your own model and you forever fear that you have not grounded your ideas in adequate research, or that others with their off-the-shelf models will be looking down on you with knowing pity.

After some consideration, we are making the decision to create our own framework.  It is underpinned by the pedagogical greats but it is our model.  It has some flexibility and it has an evidence base for every part, but it is also ours.  It feels like a unique creation.  It is a guide but not a straitjacket.  We hope it blends the best of cognitive thinking and pedagogy with our own specific context and it gives us the pleasure of feeling that we have made something useful and personal.  I think we have learned from the experts but made learning in our Trust very much our own.  

Julian Dutnall,
CEO, LIFE Education Trust