Big Ideas in Education

What every teacher should know

By: Russell Grigg


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Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 234 x 156mm
Pages : 304
ISBN : 9781785830273
Format: Paperback
Published: June 2016

Big Ideas in Education: What Every Teacher Should Know by Dr Russell Grigg provides an accessible and easily understood introductory guide to the big ideas that really matter in education.

The teaching profession is saturated with ideas. Unfortunately, some of these are half-baked or fundamentally flawed. Dr Russell Grigg moves beyond the unhelpful supposed dichotomies that pervade current educational thinking – child-centred versus teacher-centred, traditional versus progressive. Throughout the book, readers are invited to question assumptions and popular rhetoric and reflect on their own experiences. Big Ideas in Education aims to equip teachers with a good understanding of current thinking in a diverse, fluid and dynamic field. Each of the big ideas is discussed within the framework of four questions: what is the big idea, who is behind it, why is it important and what can you do?

Big ideas are important, distinctive, empowering, adaptable and simple to understand. Dr Russell Grigg provides readers with a concise and reliable introduction to twelve such ideas, which are at the core of educational practice. The ideas chosen are general rather than subject-specific in nature. In turn, they invite the reader to look at teaching in wider society, address elements of learning which teachers actively promote, raise questions about why, how and what to teach and, finally, look at ways of improving the quality of education.

The twelve big ideas under discussion are:

1. Education – education goes beyond the school gates and is a lifelong experience

2. Childhood – children need time and space to explore, enjoy learning and develop as children rather than miniature adults

3. Knowledge – knowledge is the foundation for learning

4. Skills – learners need to develop a broad range of skills in real-life, relevant contexts

5. Dispositions – effective learning depends upon cultivating positive dispositions

6. Ethics – teachers' conduct should be guided by a moral purpose

7. Instruction – direct instruction is a tried-and-tested means of effective teaching

8. Curriculum – the curriculum is all the learning and assessment activities in school, both planned and unintentional, that contribute to agreed educational goals

9. Feedback – providing personalised, accurate, specific and timely feedback is one of the keys to improving learning

10. Reflective practice – good teachers critically analyse their practice with a view to improving what they do

11. Research – research has a central role to play in the professional development of teachers

12. Professional leadership – effective school leadership operates at all levels and is about shared vision, support and securing improvement

An ideal book for busy teachers who need to be kept up to speed with the latest thinking in education, this comprehensive guide provides the essential knowledge to keep you fully informed, whether leading staff discussions, submitting assignments or preparing for interviews. Suitable for teachers in any setting, from trainees and NQTs to more experienced practitioners looking to reflect on their practice, the book will also appeal to school leaders and teacher training providers.

Picture for author Russell Grigg

Russell Grigg

Dr Russell Grigg was previously an associate professor at the Wales Centre for Equity in Education, and has extensive experience in teacher training and has written many books and articles on the subject of primary education. Since 2018, Russell has been working as an education inspector for the Ministry of Education in the United Arab Emirates.

Click here to take a look at Russell's Padlet page, where he asks for your contributions to the question, What's the best idea in education ever?'.

Check out the new Teaching on a Shoestring website. 


  1. This book is ideal for teachers who would like to step back from day to day teaching or training, and reflect on education, in general, and on our practices, in particular. We need this kind of reflection from time to time as in our profession we encounter various ideas which we might find attractive but are not suitable for our practice or don't hold water. The book invites the readers to question popular beliefs and reflect on our own experiences. The book is divided into twelve chapters which among others address such issues in education as: healthy childhood, taking on board dispositions to make learning effective, the ethical and moral purpose that drives teachers, feedback as a tool to improve learning, and professional school leadership. The book is very accessible and a very good read. Where appropriate, the book has diagrams, tables and other visual material that clarifies the points the author is making. Finally, the book has very impressive bibliography which will point the readers towards other titles they may find worth consulting or reading.
  2. Russell Grigg has set himself the challenge of discussing 12 general ideas in education “presented in a largely objective manner, free from ideological positioning”.

    Although the book aims to serve as a reference guide and practical manual, the choices Grigg makes about what to include or emphasise demonstrate his biases as a historian of teacher education. Ideology is useful to clarify reasoning, justify editorial choices and critique other opinions, which this book lacks.

    The ideas are: education (perhaps tautological, though handy to question some very basic assumptions), childhood, knowledge, skills, dispositions, ethics, instruction, curriculum, feedback, reflective practice, research, and professional leadership. Each chapter summarises the idea, considers its importance, suggests how it can link to what teachers do, and identifies points of reflection. New teachers will find it a useful first step towards further reading, but should be wary of the lack of criticism.

    The text is clearly aimed at a British readership, as Grigg's language is very particular to the UK, from references to Karl Pilkington (in the chapter on dispositions), to the use of phrases such as “behaviour for learning” and a discussion of Ofsted without any gloss. Although he argues that “both knowledge and skills are necessary for a well-rounded education”, this dichotomy is promoted by the book's structure, which includes both qualities/approaches as two separate chapters.

    Grigg does mention some of the concepts that are currently transforming teaching and learning in schools in novel ways (teaching as performance, learning as mastery, or limits of working memory, for example), but these ideas are not his focus. In this sense he reflects categories of “big idea” that most teachers would feel familiar with.

    Educational theories that are perceived as diametrically opposed to each other, and that have unequal evidence bases behind them, are presented with equal attention. The chapter on instruction draws heavily on Siegfried Englemann and the large Project Follow Through study from the USA; the chapter on skills explores different approaches to problem-based learning, citing Guy Claxton.

    Grigg is careful not to be too directive with his own opinions. He appeals to Robin Alexander's authority to explain that this is a deliberate approach to avoid an unhelpful “discourse of dichotomy”. For a teacher new to such discussions, however, this softens the much-needed critique of certain research. Rigorous analysis and criticism can clarify the very myths held by many teachers that Grigg himself says it is important to debunk.

    The research chapter focuses mostly on the history and value of action research, and would benefit from a lucid summary of how different academic disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, history and social sciences pose different questions and take different approaches.

    The book's strengths lie in its accessibility. It is simply written and the author intersperses descriptions of the ideas with case studies from research and news stories.

    Each chapter takes us on a whistlestop tour of each idea - they don't aim to do so with any depth - although this does mean that the text can read like a list of one-sentence summaries of a bibliography.

    Without a strong argument about education for us to get our teeth into, the most interesting parts are the sections in which Grigg elaborates on the history of some of the ideas. Each chapter also contains a section called “points for reflection and action”. If the book is to be used as a teacher training manual, it serves its purpose as a starting point for further inquiry, but it lacks the depth to cover any idea or practice alone.

    Some of the exercises are very specific and give trainees useful pointers, such as when they are urged to practise giving feedback in different tones of voice to see how it is received. Here Grigg's voice and ideas came through most strongly and demonstrate his own approach to teacher training.

    You can see the review in full here.
  3. Big Ideas in Education: What Every Teacher Should Know is a guide written especially for professional teachers about core concepts of the profession. Chapters discuss such ideas as the importance of cultivating a positive disposition; moral purpose and ethics that guide teachers; how providing personalized, accurate, and timely feedback improves learning; the role of research in the development of teachers; and more. "...Great teachers vary considerably in their style - some were quiet, others animated; some kept to the basics, while others veered away from the set curriculum. Yet what emerged was the capacity of these teachers to adapt new ideas to their own contexts as well as common practices that proved effective across the board." A bibliography and an index round out this excellent reference, guide, and resource.

    Read the review here.
  4. Russell Grigg, from his broad experience within education, has written a stimulating and thought-provoking text. The author has successfully promoted the case for extending the boundaries for learning as a lifetime experience and that -˜education goes beyond the school gates'. The focus within the easily read text examines current thinking with regard to the curriculum offered at all levels and strategies to deliver learning, skills, knowledge and effective participation more effectively. As the author emphasises, what really matters is what -˜learners take from school and how we can ensure that the quality of teaching is consistently good'.

    Sections within the text focus on key areas impacting upon the quality of the learner's experience, including -˜the variation in the quality of education between schools', -˜promoting personalised learning and the learner voice', -˜developing relevance within the curriculum and equipping learners', and -˜cultivating positive dispositions'.

    This is an excellent text which provides the reader with insight into key aspects of educational provision based on informed research, a range of literature and research findings, and reflection by the author on his personal experiences.
  5. - Provides an excellent commentary in 12 key issues within education.

    - Encourages the reader to reflect upon their own practice.

    - Relevant to NQTs, experienced teachers or leaders.

    - Backed up by research and theories.

    - Questions common edu
  6. Russell describes the book's purpose as to prompt the reader to try out some fresh (or even old) ideas and re-examine their thinking and practice. It's done that for me. It makes a very positive contribution to the evidence base for what constitutes excellent teaching and excellent education.

    This is a refreshing, honest, timely and thought-provoking book which challenges all of us involved in education to think again about what education in the twenty-first century should be all about, how we got to where are now and what action we should take to help achieve the best possible education for our children. It encourages us to reflect on how philosophies, attitudes and approaches from the past have shaped current thinking and practice, and also on the extent to which some of that thinking is outdated while other components remain relevant and true. Russell's call for a more balanced, less polarised approach is especially welcome, as is the emphasis on using a diverse range of evidence-based strategies which work both singularly and in combination.

    As a consequence of reading this book, I have reframed my thinking on what the key factors are which lead to a thriving education system for our children and society. It has forced to me to think again about what I do and how I could be better at what I do; my practice will change as a result of reading this book.

    From the title onwards, Russell encourages us to think -˜big'. He wants us to understand the bigger picture as well as provide us with useful tips to help us become better professionals. The book forces us to be active producers in shaping what our contribution could be in striving for an education system which is worthy of our children. That encouragement to be active participants in education is driven by the book's structure as equally as its content. His move to identify twelve big ideas is bold and is not, as he declares, -˜playing safe'. Not all would agree with the twelve; but that's not the point. Russell isn't looking for affirmation of his twelve ideas; he's looking to provoke debate, promote a deeper understanding and encourage intelligent discussion. As active producers, we should now act on our responsibility to take these ideas and engage in rigorous debate by challenging each other and ourselves to continue the discussion and, where possible, model much of what is written in this book.

    Russell knits together the twelve ideas starting with an analysis of education and the challenges and opportunities associated with modern childhood, and the ramifications of these on our education system. He continues by broadening our understanding of what constitutes a relevant and balanced knowledge and skills based education in the twenty-first century. The two ideas of disposition and ethics, the importance of cultivating the right disposition for learning in and outside schools and having a moral purpose, build the momentum. His final four ideas of instruction, reflective practice, research and professional leadership conclude the journey. When looked at in the round, there is not much that Russell has left out; the reader will come away with a comprehensive understanding of the key pillars at the core of any world-class education system. Not only that, but they will also realise that having big ideas is not enough in and of itself; it's the implementation of those ideas which will deliver the results our children deserve.

    The structure of the book is really helpful in guiding the reader through a comprehensive exploration of each idea; it is very reader friendly. I particularly like how Russell directs the reader to reflect and take action at the end of every chapter; helping us cement our thoughts on what we've just read and resolve ourselves about what we'll do to embed that learning in our practice.

    Finally, this book captures the moment. As education systems rightly continue to devote forensic attention to delivering excellence for all our children, this book is a refreshing and inspiring read for teachers, those who aspire to be teachers and all those who have a stake in education. It provides a structure for professionals on which to frame their thinking and practice. If teachers follow the narrative in each of the chapters and act on the points for reflection, their practice will improve; because of that, this book is a very welcome, informative and practical addition to education literature.
  7. This is a must-read for any professional involved in education. It neatly captures the meaning, context and origins of several big ideas in education and talks the reader through each concept thoroughly. This enables educationalists to consider why each idea should matter and provides teachers with practical examples that can be employed in school.

    At a time in Welsh education where there are exciting changes afoot, Big Ideas in Education will support professionals in the direction that they take.
  8. Big Ideas in Education provides a clear and concise analysis of a number of big ideas that are central to education. These ideas are not new; indeed many of them have been there for so long they no longer seem like -˜ideas' as such but rather fundamental components of education. However, this is intentional, as Russell wishes to refresh these ideas in our mindset and encourage us to explore and reflect on them anew. This is something he does expertly throughout the book; he explains their relevance and history, before moving on to illustrate the debate and research surrounding them, then conclude with a summary highlighting why the idea is important and how you can reflect upon it. This clear structure takes you on a journey of enlightenment, engagement and reflection through each chapter.

    In sharing his views on a number of big ideas in education, it is apparent that Russell acts as the voice of reason in what are often polarised debates. He rightly suggests that we should adopt a more balanced view of education; not see things as black and white but recognise that different approaches should be used in different situations to ensure children have the best learning experiences. This is a strength of the book and represents the author as an honest and realistic individual who truly understands the real world of education.

    A clear theme of the book is reflection. From the very outset, through his imaginary competition to vote for the greatest idea in the history of education, Russell encourages the reader to reflect on their own views and practices and continues to do so until the final page. His clear structure makes Big Ideas in Education an easily accessible book which provides a great starting point for individuals looking to reflect on many core themes in their practice and consider further personal research.

    In his conclusion, Russell suggests that if Big Ideas in Education, -˜prompts you to try out some fresh (or even old) ideas, re-examine your thinking and practice, then it will achieve its purpose.' This is exactly what the book does. It explains clearly each big idea in turn, unpicking its history and debate, before summarising and suggesting opportunities for reflection and action. For anyone working in education, looking to dip their toe into educational research and reflection, this is an excellent book to start with.
  9. Big Ideas in Education is a refreshing departure from the current preoccupation with the new, the novel or the innovative in education. It goes to the heart of twelve core ideas that matter and it speaks to teachers and school leaders in profound and important ways. Sometimes the best ideas are simple and not complex. This book reconnects us with what is important in education and reinforces that revisiting powerful ideas may indeed be truly transformative.
  10. Each of the big ideas is discussed within the framework of four questions: what is the big idea, who is behind it, why is it important and what can you do? The end product is a very expert synthesis of an extensive range of educational research, both in the UK and in other societies. It is presented in an accessible style and varied format that includes very useful charts and checklists. This includes a very useful framework of conclusions, summaries and points for reflection and action at the end of each of the chapters. The chapters on skills and instruction, on their own, make this book worth buying. Even though much more of the often very effective guidance and advice seems pitched at teaching in a primary school, no one who teaches in a school or teacher-training centre should be without this book.

    The author is ready to acknowledge gaps. He states that, -˜Some big ideas in education have not been included even though there are strong arguments to do so - specifically about the teaching of literacy and numeracy, or more generally about parental engagement, tackling educational disadvantage or promoting behaviour for learning.' These four issues are central to both the work with trainee teachers and the professional development of qualified teachers. They are critical areas to focus on if standards of pupils' achievement and quality of teaching and learning are to improve. Given the quality of this book it is to be hoped that Dr Grigg will soon find opportunity to turn his attention to addressing them with the same depth and clarity that characterise his coverage of the twelve big ideas he considers in this very impressive book.

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