Review by Harry Fletcher-Wood

Associate Dean at the Institute for Teaching

15 Jul 2018, 5:00


Harry Fletcher-Wood’s top blogs of the week 9 July 2018

Our blog reviewer of the week is Harry Fletcher-Wood, an associate dean at the Institute for Teaching

Policy tribes: How allegiances can harm policy making

The last in a series of posts about how behavioural insights can improve how government works by understanding the cognitive biases to which groups succumb, its ideas could just as easily be applied to the staffroom. In explaining why we reject arguments made by another group, “even if they are good ones”, the Behavioural Insights Team note that we “‘believe that the groups we identify with are better than other groups. That is the case even if a) there is strong evidence they are not, or b) they have only just been created, and we therefore have no prior attachment to them.” For example, although supporters and opponents of affirmative action in the United States “did not differ much in their self-reported political views… The supporters thought their own group were more left-wing they actually were, and their opponents much more right-wing; the reverse was true for the opponents of the policy.” In decision-making, “evidence is used to justify the position of a department (or similar group), rather than a collaborative exploration of potential options and approaches”: a useful caution.

Try to resist misinterpreting the marshmallow test
Keith Payne and Paschal Sheeran

You may have heard of a famous experiment in which children who were able to sit alone in a room for several minutes without eating the marshmallow in front of them were promised two when the experimenter returned; those “who were better at resisting the treat had better school achievement as teenagers”. A recent study has debunked psychologist Walter Mischel’s original research, suggesting that resisting temptation “was not about self-control after all, but instead reflected affluence”. But this post emphasises that the overlap between affluence and self-control isn’t news: “While it may be tempting to think that achievement is due to either socioeconomic status or self-control, we have known for some time that it’s more complicated than that.” So don’t give up on the marshmallow test just yet, and don’t confuse gradual refinement of our understanding for failure.

John Hattie is wrong

Education scholar John Hattie’s digest of what works in education has long been popular. Robert Slavin, “operating on the principle that anything that looks to be too good to be true probably is”, took a closer look. He describes Hattie’s core claims as: “Almost everything works, any effect size less than +0.40 is ignorable; it is possible to meaningfully rank educational factors in comparison to each other by averaging the findings of meta-analyses”. Slavin concludes that these “claims appear appealing, simple, and understandable. But they are also wrong.” Hattie falls down, he says, because he grabs “big numbers from meta-analyses of all kinds with little regard to the meaning or quality of the original studies, or of the meta-analyses”. This post feels like a milestone in evidence-informed education.

Five tips for making the most of gained time

Gained time has finally arrived, but an exhausted crawl to the end of the school can mean abandoning our good intentions. Fran Haynes shares five tips from a colleague, Bex Owen, about getting the best out of the summer, including “making a list of the niggling tasks that you have wanted to sort out during the year but have pushed back due to more high-profile jobs”, and drawing up next year’s seating plans, because “it is inevitable that some jobs will only pop up once you are back in school”. She even has a tip for how to avoid a blank mind: “Although your official school timetable may have a few more blank spaces than usual, this does not mean that you should allow your mind to go blank as well. Bex recommends using your planner to slot in when you will complete the different jobs you have allocated to your gained time.” I wish all readers a relaxed and productive gained time.

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