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Making Kids Cleverer by David Didau

I first learned of David Didau on Twitter, a social media platform that arguably does not make anyone cleverer. In finding out that he was an author and educational speaker I thought I would give one of his books a go. Perhaps it is best not to judge a book by its title because I feared something a little trite. Actually Didau takes the time for an interesting review of research into both genetics and environmental influences on learning. He offers an insightful consideration of what intelligence means and how it might differ from being clever.

Didau raises the interesting prospect that making anyone cleverer is not as desirable as it sounds. Perhaps people champion happiness and well-being over intelligence: “I just want them to be happy,” said a friend of Didau when he asked whether she wanted cleverer children. One thing that is clear from Didau’s book is that, in his opinion, making kids cleverer is possible. It is still not that simple; Didau does not resort to oversimplified claims to his credit. For instance, there is evidence that intelligence is heritable (which means the proportion of variation across a population that is accountable to genes). As a population samples increases, and as people get older, research suggests that intelligence becomes more heritable: genes account for intelligence to a greater degree when measured across a large population. Still, this does not mean that environmental influences (including schools and teachers) are redundant in the drive to make children cleverer. Teachers, argues Didau, are important in providing the learning environments that facilitate innate ability.

Towards the latter stage of the book Didau’s writing veers away from research (and philosophical whimsy) towards practical ways of developing natural ability, although his book is, for me, ultimately theoretical. His practical recommendations for teachers include returning to taught material, as opposed to relying on a one-off instruction (which is an unsurprising strategy). But how long should there be between initial learning and revision? If you are being tested on information in a week wait two days before revising. If you are being tested in a year wait a month. Regular revisiting of information is successful partly because some information is forgotten. When it is re-learned it benefits from other information learned in the interim. So newly learned information aids the consolidation of older information when revision occurs.

Whilst struggle is necessary success needs to be in sight. Creating challenge without ‘overloading’ the student avoids intellectual burnout. Feedback aids pupil learning, but as they increase confidence feedback should become less frequent to allow independent guidance. It is left to the reader to appropriate these ideas into one’s own subject teaching. Refreshingly, Didau leaves you to do this. Educational books can be so prone to patronising the reader (teachers addressing teachers as though they are pupils), but Didau offers plenty of stretch and challenge to his teacher audience. It is the kind of nuanced reflection that will find its way into practical tips for the classroom.

Making Kids Cleverer: a manifesto for closing the advantage gap by David Didau is published by Crown House Publishing

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