Making Kids Cleverer

A manifesto for closing the advantage gap

By: David Didau


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Size: 234 x 156mm

Pages : 352

ISBN : 9781785833663

Format: Paperback

Published: December 2018


In Making Kids Cleverer: A manifesto for closing the advantage gap, David Didau reignites the nature vs. nurture debate around intelligence and offers research-informed guidance on how teachers can help their students acquire a robust store of knowledge and skills that is both powerful and useful.

Foreword by Paul A. Kirschner.

Given the choice, who wouldn't want to be cleverer? What teacher wouldn't want this for their students, and what parent wouldn't wish it for their children?

When David started researching this book, he thought the answers to the above were obvious. But it turns out that the very idea of measuring and increasing children's intelligence makes many people extremely uncomfortable: 'If some people were more intelligent, where would that leave those of us who weren't?-

The question of whether or not we can get cleverer is a crucial one. If you believe that intelligence is hereditary and environmental effects are trivial, you may be sceptical. But environment does matter, and it matters most for children from the most socially disadvantaged backgrounds ' those who not only have the most to gain, but who are also the ones most likely to gain from our efforts to make all kids cleverer. And one thing we can be fairly sure will raise children's intelligence is sending them to school.

In this wide-ranging enquiry into psychology, sociology, philosophy and cognitive science, David argues that with greater access to culturally accumulated information ' taught explicitly within a knowledge-rich curriculum ' children are more likely to become cleverer, to think more critically and, subsequently, to live happier, healthier and more secure lives.

Furthermore, by sharing valuable insights into what children truly need to learn during their formative school years, he sets out the numerous practical ways in which policy makers and school leaders can make better choices about organising schools, and how teachers can communicate the knowledge that will make the most difference to young people as effectively and efficiently as possible.

David underpins his discussion with an exploration of the evolutionary basis for learning ' and also untangles the forms of practice teachers should be engaging their students in to ensure that they are acquiring expertise, not just consolidating mistakes and misconceptions.

There are so many competing suggestions as to how we should improve education that knowing how to act can seem an impossible challenge. Once you have absorbed the arguments in this book, however, David hopes you will find the simple question that he asks himself whenever he encounters new ideas and initiatives ' 'Will this make children cleverer?- ' as useful as he does.

Suitable for teachers, school leaders, policy makers and anyone involved in education.

On this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, Craig Barton speaks to David Didau.

Listen to this episode of the Becoming Educated podcast with Darren Leslie to hear David Didau discuss the thinking behind Making Kids Cleverer (and how it can be done).


Picture for author David Didau

David Didau

David Didau is Senior Lead Practitioner for English at Ormiston Academies Trust and a freelance writer, blogger, speaker, trainer and author. He started his award-winning blog, The Learning Spy, in 2011 to express the constraints and irritations of ordinary teachers, detail the successes and failures within his own classroom, and synthesise his years of teaching experience through the lens of educational research and cognitive psychology. Since then he has spoken at various national conferences, has directly influenced Ofsted and has worked with the Department for Education to consider ways in which teachers' workload could be reduced.

Read this article on the 3 reasons why you need to buy The Secret of Literacy.

Read this article on David Didau's journey to becoming an edu-sceptic in Schools Week.

Read David's profile in Schools Week.

On this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, Craig Barton speaks to David Didau.


Reviews

  1. Making Kids Cleverer is a stimulating book which gives teachers, parents, school leaders and policy makers key insights into how to go about closing the advantage gap. In a thought-provoking introduction, Didau sets the scene for an enthralling text when he outlines a range of his personal experiences and his quest to raise children's levels of intelligence. He emphasises, however, that intelligence is not merely a measure of a person's book learning or a narrow academic skill, but rather a deeper capability for making sense of things and figuring out what to do when faced with a problem.

    Didau highlights key factors that teachers and parents can address in their efforts to help their children “get cleverer”. He discusses a range of strategies to improve the performance levels of all learners and suggests effective means of support to close the advantage gap caused by family circumstances, poverty, ineffective teaching, inappropriate curricula and other issues. The emphasis is on providing an education that will benefit all children regardless of their beginnings. The author also delves into a range of key areas impacting upon performance levels and opportunities for learners. These include: using schools to promote effective social learning, addressing intelligence as the product of what we have learned, the irrelevance of potential if we don't experience the right environmental factors, raising intelligence and awareness as a social good, addressing retrieval in long-term memory, the value of knowledge which is powerful and culturally rich, and how to get from competence to mastery.

    Highly recommended as a key resource for all schools, colleges, administrators and governing bodies.
  2. "My reading viewpoint

    I was very lucky to receive a review copy of Making Kids Cleverer courtesy of Crown House Publishing. Having read some of his tweets and blogs via Twitter, I was curious to read his book. In the often polarising world of Twitter, Didau is a -˜Trad' (or considered to be, I wouldn't want to label!) and, while I won't get into the ins and outs of that particular debate, I am not sure that I fall into that category. However, I am keen to learn and listen and understand viewpoints that differ from my own, so naturally Didau's book was a good place to start.

    Summary

    Didau's premise is seemingly a simple one: “our best bet for making kids cleverer is to increase the quantity and quality of what they know.” (p.250) In my experience, having visited many primary schools in the last three years, many schools know this and I doubt many teachers would deny that their purpose, or part of their purpose, is to teach kids stuff. Didau takes this premise and leads the reader through a carefully sequenced argument of why this is important and how it might be done. He argues that there is a connection between intelligence (IQ) and people having a happier, longer, healthier life and, since that should be the aim for all pupils, schools should work to make pupils more intelligent. Having set out his stall, so to speak, Didau sets out his manifesto for how this could be achieved.

    The text itself is easy to read: I enjoyed his style and the way in which he intertwined research and analogies in a way that was easy to follow and understand. His arguments are logical; they make sense. Whether you agree with them or not is not really the point, I don't think, because Didau makes a compelling argument for knowledge based curriculum, careful consideration of the knowledge to be taught and the use of explicit instruction (laced with cognitive load theory input) as the way in which to ensure pupils learn that knowledge. For more on this, see my takeaways below.

    The chapters are laid out in a way which makes it easy to read. Each begins with questions to ponder, which are answered within the chapter. Each chapter ends with a bullet point list summarising the key points of each chapter, followed by a short paragraph which links the arguments of the chapter to the next. As I said, the book is organised in a logical and structured way, and the format of the chapters supports this. The summaries at the end are particularly useful, I found, as a way of matching my key takeaways of the chapter with the intention.

    My key takeaways

    1. Intelligence can be seen as -˜fluid intelligence' and -˜crystallised intelligence' and it is likely we can develop one and not the other. While this is laid out in much more detail by Didau, I will attempt to summarise and explain why I felt this was important. He reasons that we are unable to do much about fluid intelligence, which includes the capacity of working memory. What we have is what we have, and we are unable to change this. He argues that we can develop our crystallised intelligence, defined as “the ability to access and utilise information stored in long-term memory.” (p.117) Throughout the book, he uses research to argue that by increasing our knowledge base, our schema, our understanding of domains, we are able to more easily chunk this information in order to work with it. Developing deep subject knowledge means you are able to work with it and manipulate it, whatever your -˜fluid intelligence' may be.

    2. We need to think carefully about what knowledge we give, and in what order. Didau makes the case for a knowledge rich curriculum which, while remaining broad and balanced, focuses on teaching pupils knowledge. In this way, pupils are able to be creative and problem solve within that domain because they have knowledge to do so. However, he recognises that there is a huge amount of knowledge to know, and that choices have to be made. Careful thought needs to go into not just what the pupil is taught, but also in the order that it is taught in. He identifies some knowledge is -˜foundational' and should be taught first.

    3. How knowledge is taught is key. Like Craig Barton, Didau talks about aspects such as deliberate practice, worked examples, explicit instruction, reducing extraneous load and retrieval practice as the way to impart knowledge to pupils. He says “a knowledge-rich curriculum and explicit instruction will make children cleverer and increase the likelihood that they live happier, healthier and more secure lives.” (p.276) It is worth noting that he does recognise this as a need for novice learners and not all learners, but it is still, I feel, a contentious claim. Having said this, I do believe that these aspects should be part of the -˜teaching toolkit' of all teachers, even if they believe that including more -˜discovery learning' approaches are also beneficial. While Didau's conviction that this is the way to do it makes me slightly uncomfortable, I absolutely see the sense and logic of it through his book. As I said earlier, he makes a compelling argument.

    4. Problem solving and creativity is domain specific and probably cannot transfer. Interestingly, I cannot decide if this is obvious or not. Didau makes the case well: if you do not have deep subject knowledge you cannot solve problems or be creative, and therefore if you do not have a deep subject knowledge in a different domain you can be creative / a great problem solver in one area without being so in the other.

    I think you should read this book if-¦

    - You are SLT, a subject lead or department lead looking to or being asked to introduce a -˜knowledge rich' curriculum within school.
    - You are a teacher working in a school with a -˜knowledge rich' curriculum.
    - You are interested in cognitive load theory and its related ideas, have a little background knowledge on this and want to consider how they would apply within the classroom."

    Click here to read the review on Lisa's blog.
  3. "“Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it”.

    This quotation by Leo Tolstoy is at the start of the book and in many ways is an pointer to many of the ideas presented by David Didau in this book.

    The book opens with a challenging chapter presenting the reality of our educational system today. There are some truths which are universally acknowledged - those children from disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately more likely to struggle at school. The national performance-¦"

    Continue reading here.
  4. Didau's premise is seemingly a simple one: “our best bet for making kids cleverer is to increase the quantity and quality of what they know.” (p.250) This, in my experience, is not necessarily an idea that has not impacted upon schools. Didau takes this premise and leads the reader through a carefully sequenced argument of why this is important and how it might be done. He argues that there is a connection between intelligence (IQ) and people having a happier, longer, healthier life and, since that should be the aim for all pupils, schools should work to make pupils more intelligent. Having set out his stall, so to speak, Didau sets out his manifesto for how this could be achieved.

    The text itself is easy to read: I enjoyed his style and the way in which he intertwined research and analogies in a way that was easy to follow and understand. His arguments are logical; they make sense. Whether you agree with them or not is not really the point, I don't think, because Didau makes a compelling argument for knowledge based curriculum, careful consideration of the knowledge to be taught and the use of explicit instruction (laced with cognitive load theory input) as the way in which to ensure pupils learn that knowledge.

    Didau argues that some aspects of intelligence (which he accepts there is a wide-reaching definition of) cannot be changed - what we get is what we get. However, his manifesto sets out ways in which we can learn knowledge he suggests is 'biologically secondary' and argues that, if this knowledge is taught in schools, all pupils will have access to this no matter their disadvantage. This development of knowledge has an impact on intelligence that is able to grow and, therefore, children will be cleverer.

    The chapters are laid out in a way which makes it easy to read. Each begins with questions to ponder, which are answered within the chapter. Each chapter ends with a bullet point list summarising the key points of each chapter, followed by a short paragraph which links the arguments of the chapter to the next. As I said, the book is organised in a logical and structured way, and the format of the chapters supports this. The summaries at the end are particularly useful, I found, as a way of matching my key takeaways of the chapter with the intention.

    Whatever your opinions on explicit instruction, working memory and the way in which pupils should be taught, Didau makes compelling and thought-provoking arguments.

    For a further review, please see here: https://elsie2110.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/musings-making-kids-cleverer-by-david-didau/
  5. Who could deny that we nearly all aspire to be more clever - and to achieving that for our children? Nature versus nurture -it's a debate that has been ongoing through history and no doubt will continue. New light is always interesting to read, for practising teachers, students and anyone interested in education, sociology and knowledge. The author offers research-informed guidance on how teachers can help their students acquire a base of knowledge and skills that is both powerful and useful. We are all aware of controversy around measuring intelligence, and on the impact of environment, but unless we understand these factors, we cannot bring about improvement - and closing the advantage gap is at the heart of this book. We can be fairly sure that schooling will raise children's intelligence so we must make the most of that, and this book will help. The author uses his experience to set out practical ideas for improving schools and communicating knowledge.The book takes a deep look at its subject; it's a thought-provoking book that takes consideration to read and apply but the results from applying its insightful ideas will be worthwhile. An excellent basis for staffroom discussion and training.

    Click here to read the review on Parents in Touch website.
  6. David Didau's new book is basically a trad manifesto for closing the advantage gap, whose core argument runs: we should try to make children cleverer because it's the best bet for improving their welfare. Schools can do this by teaching them a knowledge-rich curriculum full of powerful, culturally useful information, using the principles of cognitive science.

    Essentially, he opens, whatever we're after in life (happiness, fulfilment, wealth, good health), you can't go wrong by trying to boost everyone's intelligence. This is because intelligence correlates with lots of societal and personal goods (although he's careful to note that the causal links have not necessarily been established).

    While it's hard to come up with a universally accepted definition of intelligence, we know it has multiple components, says Didau, some of which are more genetically determined than others. With traits such as mental acuity and speed of information processing, “what you've got is all you'll ever have,” but one important thing schools can influence, he argues, is the “quantity and quality of what children know”.

    He doesn't make a big fanfare about it, but this is essentially his underpinning for the knowledge agenda in schools.

    In fact, he argues, if we fail to teach knowledge, we will disproportionately disadvantage the disadvantaged. This is because some cognitive skills are just easier to learn - they are the ones that we are predisposed to pick up through observation and include problem-solving, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

    You'll notice that these are the same attributes commonly referred to as “21st-century skills”. Didau challenges us to think of these instead as “Stone Age skills”, because they are “biologically primary” - ie, kids can learn them by copying.

    What they can't learn by copying is “secondary” knowledge, stuff that has to be taught explicitly, and if schools don't teach this, it's only the privileged kids that will get it - thus increasing disadvantage. His argument has nuance, acknowledging that some children will come from homes where even the primary skills need to be taught, thus justifying their inclusion in early years education.



    In chapter two, Didau scores a stealth goal for knowledge transmission over discovery learning, by piggybacking it in off the argument that throughout human evolution, social learning (wisdom of the tribe) has been more efficient than asocial learning (trial and error). I can't work out whether this is a stroke of genius or a Jedi mind trick. In any case, it merits discussion, and he makes a compelling argument for schools being a place where the accumulated wisdom of the tribe is transmitted, rather than where children “tinker around the margins of human culture, maybe discovering something useful”.

    Referencing well-respected academic findings that suggest genetics and peer group are more important than parenting in determining life outcomes, he argues that schools are well placed to curate the peer-group experience. Successful schools in disadvantaged areas often work, he thinks, by creating the sense for pupils that they are part of a privileged “in-group” that values learning. The important thing is to help children develop habits that will serve them well in the long term.

    Didau is careful to point out that the “science of behavioural genetics is probabilistic not deterministic”. In fact, he points out, the impact of genetics is much higher for those from privileged backgrounds. “Your genes might indicate something about your potential, but you're far less likely to develop a high IQ if you're abused and neglected.”

    Environment matters most for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, so the culture of a school is crucial. This is a scientific justification for the social justice heart of the trad manifesto (which those who align more with a progressive view of education don't always acknowledge!).

    In his chapter on what knowledge schools should teach, he makes an impassioned case for a broad, powerful, culturally rich, coherent curriculum that children should be not only taught, but encouraged to critique.



    Whether or not you end up agreeing with all his points, he writes beautifully and presents thoughtful arguments that deserve to be debated. It is a work of maturity that strives genuinely to take into account the counter arguments to his points. Oh, and with a Tango-orange cover that almost wills the reader to think “yes, I can - I can make these kids cleverer, dammit!” what's not to love?

    Click here to read the review on Schools Week's website.
  7. David Didau's latest edu-blockbuster is a compelling and endlessly fascinating read. Weaving together a wealth of evidence and ideas - from the philosophical to the practical - Didau confronts the taboo topic of intelligence head-on. Didau shows us that by teaching children powerful, biologically secondary knowledge we not increase their intelligence but also prepare them for happiness, wealth and whatever adult life throws at them.

    I have not read another education book that brims with as much insight and stimulating thought as this. Every page serves up a new surprise or gentle provocation. Making kids cleverer should become the priority of all schools and teachers. A thoroughly recommended read.
  8. Written with great precision and clarity, and with a good dash of humility and humour too, Making Kids Cleverer is a truly magnificent manifesto. Everything David Didau says chimes deeply with what I know to be true and what I am trying to accomplish in our schools, and I am of course cleverer now than I was before reading it. It is an absolute joy to read, and an incredibly timely tour de force that can, and should, have a national impact.



    A must-read for everyone in education, from trainee teachers to inspectors and policy makers.
  9. In Making Kids Cleverer David Didau provides us with a brilliant and accessible account of why knowledge is opportunity, and of how we can increase children's knowledge through a thoughtful and scientific approach to schooling.

    More than ever, children need a core set of ideas, facts, procedures and other forms of knowledge in order to help them navigate the ever-changing work environment they will encounter and to fully participate in the many opportunities afforded by the modern world. In this book, Didau offers an incisive argument for the importance of knowledge and a solid framework for how to improve the knowledge base of all children.



    Making Kids Cleverer will be an invaluable resource for parents, teachers and policy makers.
  10. David Didau has done it again! Making Kids Cleverer is an engaging, highly readable analysis of the latest research on how we learn and what we can do to improve the achievement of our pupils.

    Like his previous books, David's latest offering contains many strong claims. Your initial reaction, like mine, may be that he has made these claims for effect, but he sticks so closely to the research evidence that you have to take his arguments seriously.

    Anyone involved in the care and education of children and young people would gain a huge amount from reading this book. Highly recommended.
  11. Schools and parents alike invest so much energy in teaching children and yet often understand relatively little about what exactly it is they are trying to achieve. In Making Kids Cleverer David Didau reviews everything we know from cognitive science on how to enhance children's learning, and delivers a powerful argument that we can - and must - help all children succeed at school.

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