What every teacher needs to know about psychology

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What every teacher needs to know about psychology

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David Didau and Nick Rose attempt to lay out the evidence and theoretical perspectives on what they believe are the most important and useful psychological principles of which teacher ought to be aware.

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Much of what we do in classrooms is intuitive, steered by what 'feels right', but all too often intuition proves a poor, sometimes treacherous guide. Although what we know about the workings of the human brain is still pitifully little, the science of psychology can and has revealed certain surprising findings that teachers would do well to heed.

Over the past few decades, psychological research has made real strides into understanding how we learn, but it's only in the last few years that education has become aware of these insights. Part of the problem is a tendency amongst teachers to resist being told 'what works' if it conflicts with intuition.

Whilst we cannot and should not relinquish our professional judgement in the face of outlandish claims, we should at least be aware of what scientists have discovered about learning, thinking, motivation, behaviour and assessment over the past few decades.

This though is far easier said than done. Every year thousands of research papers are published, some of which contradict each other. How can busy teachers know which research is worth investing time in reading and understanding?

Here, David Didau and Nick Rose attempt to lay out the evidence and theoretical perspectives on what we believe are the most important and useful psychological principles of which teacher ought to be aware. That is not to say this book contains everything you might ever need to know - there is no way it could - it is merely a primer.

We hope that you are inspired to read and explore some of the sources for yourself and see what other principles can find a home in your classroom. Some of what we present may be surprising, some dubious, but some in danger of being dismissed as 'blindingly obvious'.

Before embracing or dismissing any of these principles we urge you to interrogate the evidence and think carefully about the advice we offer. While nothing works everywhere and everything might work somewhere, this is a guide to what we consider the best bets from the realm of psychology.

About the authors

After 15 years teaching English in UK state schools, David Didau is now a freelance trainer, education consultant, conference speaker, provocateur and writer. His award-winning blog, The Learning Spy, is (apparently) one of most influential education blogs in the world and he is also the author of the best-selling, The Perfect English Lesson, The Secret of Literacy and What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong? His Twitter handle is

Before joining teaching, Nick Rose worked as a post-graduate researcher in psychology - working with Susan Blackmore at the University of the West of England in Bristol. He was also a member of 'Memelab' a cross-disciplinary discussion group who met regularly to talk about memes, evolution, human nature, and other related topics. Having qualified as a science teacher in 2003, Nick later gravitated back to teaching psychology. As a leading practitioner in psychology and a research lead, he created - an education blog which focuses on how cognitive psychology and education research might be applied to classroom teaching and professional development. In 2015 he was shortlisted for a TES award (Teacher Blogger of the year).


“This is a must-read book for every beginning teacher. And even the  most experienced teachers will also find many new and useful things here. I certainly did.” — Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment, University College London

“In an era when policy makers deem that teachers needn’t be qualified, this book explores the complex psychological processes that underpin all teaching and learning.”
Alex Quigley, Director of Teaching and Learning at Huntington School and author of The Confident Teacher

“A book of rapacious research, relentless drive and keen intellect. It works as an entry point into the history of cognitive psychology, presenting findings from an array of inter-related areas with such clarity that the previously forbidding is easily understandable to even the most distracted of ingénues. The key thing with this work though is that the evidence is not just presented and left to grow cold, but is sifted and judged so that easily implemented recommendations are made as to how a teacher might use such research.” — Phil Beadle, author, Rules for Mavericks

“This book fills this yawning gap in our collective understanding of the way our students think and behave. Didau and Rose enable teachers to beat a path between the intellectual rigours of their subject and the patchy prior knowledge of their students. I look forward to seeing a copy of this book in every staffroom I visit.” — Stephen Adcock, Deputy Director Academies, United Learning and co-author of Headstrong: 11 Lessons of School Leadership

“Every teacher, at any stage of their career, should read this book. It makes you think and challenges some of the assumptions, so that we approach the latest fad with a healthy scepticism and a determination to self-evaluate our own impact.” — Jackie Beere, author, trainer and school improvement consultant

“In these days of such monstrosities as ‘brain based learning’ and the pursuit of ‘the answer’ when it comes to ‘how to teach’, this book offers salvation. What Every Teacher Needs To Know About Psychology should be the first stop and, more importantly, the last stop on every teacher’s itinerary into this field. Disarmingly well written, and accessible even when it deals with some difficult concepts this book can serve as the teacher textbook for this area.” — Martin Robinson, teacher, consultant and author of Trivium 21st Century

“...manages to strike the importance balance between the world of cognitive psychology and practical application in the classroom. If you are interested in how students think and learn and want to use that knowledge at the chalk face, this is the book for you.” — Liam Collins, Headteacher of Uplands Community College and vice-chair of the Headteachers’ Roundtable

“I predict that a great many students will benefit from their teachers having read this terrific book. A very helpful and accessible guide to understanding the complexities of learning.” — Phil Stock, Assistant Head, Greenshaw High School

“The perfect blend of research and thought-provoking questions for schools to grapple with. The beauty of the approach is that it opens up a range of issues and presents the research and then lets schools debate and move forwards.” — Oliver Knight, Headteacher at Greenwich Free School and author of Creating Outstanding Classrooms

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Additional Information

Author David Didau and Nick Rose
No of pages 280
Format Paperback
Publication Date 20 Jun 2016

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