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Let’s talk diets… Information diets!

The cognitive equivalent of ‘You are what you eat' could perhaps be, ‘You think what you read'Two things I've listened to recently have gotten me thinking more about the idea that we think what we read, and the idea of information diets more broadly.The first was James Clear on the Tim Ferriss Podcast. Here's an excerpt (it's kinda long, but that's because it's so great! Worth persisting with the couple of blocks o'text below).

  • Tim Ferriss: I have read a bit about your use, or past use, of Asana for capturing ideas….Then I separately read about a 600-page Google Doc that you had put together and were compressing in various ways [to write your books]. Where have you landed with idea capture…what is your portfolio of tools?

  • James Clear: First of all, I don’t think the tool matters that much. I think what does matter is crafting great information flows and capturing the good ideas that you come across. Then depending on what you’re trying to do, in my case, I’m trying to create books or to write newsletters, using that raw material that you collected to create something great. I would say the big picture game is always the same, which is first I’m trying to craft better information flows. Almost every idea that you have is downstream from what you consume. We don’t usually think about it that way, but when you choose who to follow on Twitter, you’re choosing your future thoughts in a sense, you’re creating the information flow, what the timeline, what the feed is going to look like. Or when you choose what book to read or which podcast episode to listen to, you’re choosing the thoughts that are going to arise. Now, you may not necessarily know what they are, but over time you can start to learn which sources of information are higher signal than others. I almost feel like that is the main habit to try to build, especially in our current modern society, because information is overflowing and so widely accessible.

  • Tim Ferriss: So choosing your inputs?

  • James Clear: The person who creates better information flows, gets better thoughts.

I couldn't agree with James Clear more. As soon as we accept the importance of knowledge, and the necessity of a knowledge-rich curriculum, we must simultaneously accept that the quality of our ideas stems from the quality of the information sources that we consume.

The second podcast I really enjoyed listening to in the realm of information diets recently was Peps McCrea on the Mr. Barton Maths Podcast.

In this episode, Peps talked at length about how he uses google scholar alerts and journal notifications to keep abreast of recent developments in education research. This is something I've been experimenting with recently too and have really been enjoying curating the list of researchers to follow and journals to keep an eye on (you can seem my current list here).

Whether you use twitter, a reading list app like Pocket, an RSS aggregator like Feedly, or if you're just thoughtful about the newsletters that you sign up to, managing your information diet is just as important for your mind as is managing your nutrition for your body!

Good luck thinking about diets this week!

How to follow an author on Google Scholar and set up Journal alerts

In case you're interested, to follow an author on Google Scholar, simply find a citation by them then click on their name:

That will take you to their author's page. From there, you can click follow.

And then you'll receive an email whenever that author publishes a new article.

You can see all of the authors that you follow, and all of your google alerts more generally (you can also set up alerts for specific search terms), in your alerts from the top left:

(Please excuse the shameless self-promotion there!)To set up journal alerts, simply hunt around on the webpage of the journal/journals of choice and there will be a link somewhere to get alerts or notifications when a new issue comes out. But sometimes the link can be a little tricky to find.

For a well-curated list of open access education journals, see this PDF from the University of Kentucky!

And if you want to access an article that isn't open access, make sure you don't use https://sci-hub.se/, the Russian website that lots of people use to access most articles in the world for free. Because that would clearly constitute copyright infringement!

Some reflections on my own information diet: Teacher Ollie's Takeaways over time

On the topic of information diets…

This weekly newsletter, Teacher Ollie's Takeaways (of which this is now the 142nd instalment!), is essentially a record of the information flows that I've exposed myself to over the past seven years or so!

I feel like I'm currently ‘between information streams'. Making somewhat of a transition.

Twitter has traditionally been the main info source for this newsletter. I used to ride home, sit on my front step, and ravenously consume blog after blog that would satiate my thirst for more info about how to be a better teacher.

But recently I've found myself drawn more to longer form resources, especially journal articles and books. I've just found that this longer form content has held my attention better and has held more insight for me.

I also find it's better for my focus, relaxation, and mental health to be engaging with books and articles more so than social media as sources for quality ideas in education. There's always the Twitter temptation to spend more time responding to comments than actually reading the content linked to on the platform!

As an example of the kind of longer form content I've been exploring, here are the books I've finished or read parts since the start of 2023 (I'm sure you can see the impact of baby Ada on this reading list too!):

  • Almanac of Naval Ravikant – Naval Ravikant*

  • On Becoming Babywise – Gary Ezzo Robert Bucknam*

  • The Discontented Little Baby Book – Pamela Douglas

  • 10 things that schools get wrong -Jared Cooney Horvath and David Bott

  • Essentialism – Greg Mckeown*

  • Building Culture – Lekha Sharma

  • The Science of Parenting – Margot Sunderland

  • The power of moments – Chip and Dan Heath*

  • Why Induction Matters – Rachel Reed

  • Anything you Want – Derek Sivers*

  • Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath

  • Reader come home – Mary Anne Wolf

  • Happy – Derren Brown

  • The 10X rule – Grant Cardone

  • The Wisdom of Practise – Lee Shulman

  • The Trouble with English and How to Address it – Sam Gibbs and Zoe Helman

  • Theory of Instruction – Siegfried Engelmann

  • Outsmart Your Brain – Daniel Willingham

  • Tips for Teachers – Craig Barton

  • Cribsheet – Emily Oster

  • Save our Sleep – Tizzie Hall*

  • The Plague – Albert Camus

  • The Complete Secrets of Happy Children – Steve Biddulph

  • Elements of Eloquence – Mark Forsyth

(Please don't take the inclusion of a book on the above list as a recommendation. Whilst many are excellent, many are very bad too and I there stopped reading them! The ones with an asterisk* are those that I've finished, there are many more on the list that I'm still incrementally working my way through : )

As a result of my reduced reliance on Twitter, and my greater focus on longer form content, my takeaway links have reduced and I've started to write more in this header section of my takeaways.

In the early days of Teacher Ollie's Takeaways, they looked like this:

That is, there was often very little of no preamble or original content from me and it was more or less a list of links to interesting articles.

These days, I've completely flipped this balance. Now it's almost all original content (based upon inspo from an amalgamation of sources) and thoughts from me and barely any links!

I'm not sure how you, the readers of this newsletter, feel about this (feel free to reply and let me know!), but I think it's natural for our outputs to change over time, and for balances to shifts.

I have always allowed my curiosity, interest, and passion drive my explorations in education, and that's what's made it sustainable for me. Hopefully that's what's made it interesting for you too!

I guess that, above all, this highlights the benefit of always being open to altering and adapting information streams as we ourselves change and develop over time : )

You are reading an instalment 142 of Teacher Ollie's Takeaways, an (aspirationally) weekly email in which I share some personal thoughts on teaching and learning, as well as great resources from others.

Subscribe here, view all back issues here.

Announcements and Opportunities

  • Be sure the check out the set of six masterclass sessions that I'm doing in partnership with Peps Mccrea, Daisy Christodoulou, and facilitated by Lyn Stone. I'll be talking about explicit instruction and using evidence from my Tools for Teachers book, Daisy will be speaking on the science of writing, and Peps will be talking about the science of motivation. These masterclasses will happen on six consecutive weeks from late August to early September.

  • Dr. Mark Dowley and I will be running a Coaching in Action day on June 9th. On this day we'll cover in detail what it takes to deliver quality coaching, and you'll have a chance to see real classroom teaching, then to practise a coaching session with a teacher in a real schools setting. This day is a collaboration between the Crowther Centre and Steplab Australia.

This week in Ollie's Learning (Takeaways)

To explore:

  • Peps Mccrea has just released the fourth book of his High Impact Teaching series, Developing Expert Teaching. This has been a 10-year project for Peps. I can't wait to read this one, Amazon just told me it's arriving today!

Writing strategy:


In recent months I've tried to apply the writing strategy that I learnt about within the newsletter itself, but blazon is so ridiculous that I couldn't bring myself to do it. Blazon is when a writer connects together a whole heap of metaphorical language to the point of ridiculousness. Here's an example from Thomas Watson’s Hekatompathia (1582) (via Mark Forsyth):

Hark you that list to hear what saint I serve:Her yellow locks exceed the beaten gold;Her sparkling eyes in heav’n a place deserve;Her forehead high and fair of comely mold;Her words are music all of silver sound;Her wit so sharp as like can scarce be found;Each eyebrow hangs like Iris in the skies;Her Eagle’s nose is straight of stately frame;

As Forsyth writes, ‘There’s something basically and horribly wrong with cutting somebody up and replacing them with a bunch of inanimate objects'

But hey, I didn't know that this practice had a name. Now I do. Blazon. Something I probably won't use… but a takeaway none the less.

Quote:‘It is not the accumulation of facts which constitutes progress in science; it is the organization and reorganization of those facts into a coherent conceptual scheme that characterizes the growth of knowledge.' – Lee Shulman

You're reading an instalment of Ollie's weekly email. Subscribe or see all back issues.

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