What If Everything We Knew About Educations Was Wrong?

Picture of David Didau
David Didau

Published by Crown House Publishing Limited, 2015

Written by Vlatka Butković

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Are We Really Wrong?

A brave and provoking title of this book should not put you off. Although it may not seem that way at the beginning of the book, Didau is aware that a good teacher has to lean on their instinct on a daily basis, and insists that that instinct must not be a gut feeling but a well informed decision.

“There are two very good reasons for most of the mistakes we make. Firstly, we don’t make decisions based on what we know. Our decisions are based on what feels right…

Secondly, we’re deplorable at admitting we don’t know. Because of the way we’re judged, it’s far less risky to be wrong than it is to admit ignorance.” p.11

Organised in 4 Parts, although quite a lengthy book, it is easy to follow Didau’s thoughts, especially due to his ability to present complex ideas in a clear and accessible way. His writing style, being engaging and conversational, oftentimes feels like a (at times provocative, and, if you ask me, fun) conversation with a colleague. And that colleague just may win that argument.

He uses plenty of real-world examples to illustrate his points. The book is well- researched, with Didau drawing on a range of academic studies and educational theories to support his arguments. After all, forewords by Robert A. Bjork and Dylan Wiliam only show how valuable Didau’s work is for any teacher that is ready to question their ways.

Part 1. Why we’re wrong

Part 2. Through the threshold

Part 3. What could we do differently?

  • Deliberately difficult
  • The spacing effect
  • Interleaving
  • The testing effect
  • The generation effect
  • Variety
  • Reducing feedback
  • Easy vs. hard


Part 4. What else might we be getting wrong?

  • Why formative assessment might be wrong
  • Why lesson observation doesn’t work
    Grit and growth
    The dark art of differentiation
  • The problem with praise
    Motivation: when the going gets tough, the tough get going
  • Are schools killing creativity?


One of the key takeaways from the book is that education is not a one-size-fits-all solution (therefore, there’s no reason to take the title personally). Didau argues that teachers need to be more flexible in their approach and focus on tailoring their teaching to meet the needs of individual students. He also suggests that educators need to be more open-minded and willing to experiment with new approaches to teaching and learning. Although these thoughts are hardly new to any teacher who is ready to critically assess their own work, Didau is very thorough in offering a spy glass that brings various details to our attention, ones we may overlook, or simply habits that have worked so far and therefore would not be submitted to our critical eye.

Acquisition of Knowledge vs. The Development of Skills

Didau begins by discussing the purpose of education and whether it should be focused on the acquisition of knowledge or the development of skills. He then goes on to discuss the importance of memorisation and how it can be used to support learning.

“If we can show how new knowledge links to existing knowledge, we can assist the growth and formation o new schemas. Life provides continual scattergun blasts of new information, but if out teaching is carefully sequences then pupils are much more likely to retain it.

Other topics covered in the book include the value of testing, the role of technology in education, and the need for a more personalised approach to teaching, that he illustrates with the claim that in every educational institution some, if not most, of what is done routinely will be wrong.

“The ability to think about thinking – or meta-cognition as it’s become known – makes a huge difference to our ability to perform well.”

D. Willingham explains that this is because The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought.”

Didau does his best to bring to light all the little mistakes and miss-conceptions that are often made, with hope that once they are out there, visible and obvious, there is no way back to the old ways for a teacher, but only the will to induce changes necessary for the education to be redefined for the generations we teach.

Read this book, slowly, and discuss the premisses in it with your team. Build on it with the teaching of Sonny Magana, Dylan Wiliam, Ewan McIntosh and other authors that are in our #CEESAbookclub library and you will have all the tools you need to (re)create your own path as a successful teacher.

Additional resources

Visit The Learning Spy website.

Follow David Didau on Twitter.

Contact David on LinkedIn.

#DavidDidau #TheLearningSpy #CEESAbookclub #CEESAconnects

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