Less haste, less speed

Every day we come under increasing pressure to do everything that little bit quicker and better than before. Whether it it is meeting ever increasing work targets, working longer hours, working through breaks, eating fast food rather than cooking fresh, 30 minute work outs, 30 minute make overs, faster, faster, better, better… Of course, the same applies in education. In Further Education, funding is cut yearly which results in a ‘more for less’ approach, whereby teacher workload increases in conjunction with an increased pressure to beat last years results. How to do this? Increasing speed seems to be the answer doesn’t it? 


Well, no actually. Take a moment to pause and think about whether speed is actually beneficial. Are we too focussed on the outcome rather than the process? I’d say many are.

Thank goodness however for the brand spanking new Common Inspection Framework (CIF), which has removed those awful criteria about rapid progress within lessons. It seems that Ofsted have realised the issue with speed, but will your school or college? If they’re still expecting rapid or exceptional progress in every lesson, then I suggest you point them to some of the following research:

Daniel Kahneman (2012) in his book Thinking Fast and Slow argues for more focus on the slow rational thinking and argues that when we have to think quickly, our mind makes errors, despite how logical we think the thinking is at the time. In one example he uses the question below:

If a bat and ball cost £1:10 and the bat is £1 more than the ball, how much is the ball?

Most people’s immediate response to this is 10p. It’s got to be hasn’t it? – well no. Slow down. Take a minute to think about the question… Got it yet?

The thing is, when we teach, we often forget to give the learners the opportunity to think. How often do you question learners and expect an immediate answer? In doing this, we are essentially forcing them to make errors.

Newkirk (2011) found that reading slowly had significantly greater impact on a child’s reading ability than reading quickly, as they are able to fully immerse themselves in the act, as opposed to skim reading. He states that children ‘learn more by reading slowly: in effect, they can watch themselves determine when something doesn’t make sense or when they have lost the drift of what they have read’.

A study by Dieman-Yauman et al (2010) found that giving learners difficult to read fonts improved long term retention of the learnt material compared to learners that read easier fonts. This is arguably as a result of having to slow their reading to comprehend the text. Moreover, McNamara et al (1996) found that more unorganised learning material aids long term retention – seems counter-intuitive, but certainly slows the learning down – the theme continues.


In addition to desirable difficulties, Willingham’s (2009) fifth principle in his book ‘Why Don’t Students Like School’ emphasises the importance of deliberate practice to gain confidence and improve basic skills, protect against forgetting and aid transfer – all of which are essential in the learning process. Giving more time for learners to deliberately practice arguably slows the ‘performance/progress’ they make in sessions, but again, slowing down seems key. 

The abovementioned studies all demonstrate the need to slow down and increase challenge in lessons in order to give the learners time to process and practice their learning, thus increasing long term retention. Take a minute (or several) to think how you might do this in your context.


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