Session 3 – ‘Deliberate difficulties’ and David Didau

Session 3 was a name session. David Didau. A big name in the Twitter world and very popular in the Mandarin Centre. His session entitled ‘Deliberately difficult’ was to provide some food for thought and challenge some misconceptions about the direction in which we are driven by Ofsted.

The first big question was ‘Can progress both be rapid and sustained?’ A resounding ‘no’ came from the audience. If not, what would our preference for learning / progress be? A resounding ‘sustained’ response was given. David Didau himself argued: The most fundamental goals of education are long-term goals. As teachers and educators, we want targeted knowledge and skills to be acquired in a way that makes them durable and flexible.

So, how do we create learning that is sustained, that is remembered? Well, David suggested we do two things:
1) Learn to separate performance from learning
2) Introduce ‘desirable difficulties’

The first argues that whilst students can perform in a lesson, can learning / progress really be assessed within a 20 minute window? David Didau also argues that in training ourselves for that observation / Ofsted lesson we have created a culture where our students are programmed in a certain way which to some extent prohibits deep learning. We need to create uncertain variables and difference within what we do to ensure students are reacting, being challenged and deepening their learning experience.

The second suggests that if we make learning more difficult for students then they will learn more.
David put forward many ideas about how we can deepen the learning experience and why we need to: retention / retrieval rates (or spacing) where it is argued that our memory is limitless but that we have certain ‘storage strength’ and ‘retrieval strength.’ He argued that ‘if learning is difficult, the retrieval strength will decrease in the short term but will increase in the long term.’ We also learnt about generation learning (where students are active learners but also encouraged to make mistakes because that type of learning is essential for the deeper learning to be stored), interleaving (of concepts across a longer term plan) and dare I say it – testing! (the most successful method of enabling students to retain information is study test test test)

All of these were very interesting concepts and ones that take some thought and time to digest. When I am reflecting I think the main idea is that we want out children to make sustained progress and over time that this will mean much of what is learnt will be forgotten. It is important, therefore, that we identify what needs to be retained and use a range of strategies that will enhance our students’ ability to retain information. Strategies such as creating ‘deliberate difficulties’, ‘generation learning’, ‘interleaving’ and ‘testing.’

This was a really useful and thought provoking session. David Didau is a master of his profession – a passionate researcher and I admire his work greatly.


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