Good reads for teachers

Make it Stick – Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roedeiger III, Mark A. McDaniel – This readable, short book offers great insight into how we learn. Their suggestions for students and teachers include formative assessment, interleaving and self-testing. I based my new “20 Questions” re-learning plan on their advice.

The Shallows – Nicholas Carr – Carr paints a scary portrait of how our constant internet use and shallow surfing, rather than deep reading, is actually rewiring our brains. Most intriguing point: Websites and apps that offer us help (like Siri) create dependence and prevent learning from taking hold.

Make Me – Eric Toshalis – If you’re faced with students who resist you in class, you need to read this book. Toshalis has researched every aspect of student motivation and behavior, and he makes a compelling argument that we need to engage student resistance, rather than repress it. Most intriguing point: Students have good reason to object to the way they are treated in school, and we need to listen to and learn from them, not silence them.

Mindset – Carol Dweck – The key to improving student performance is getting students to change from a fixed mindset – believing intelligence is fixed – to a growth mindset that embraces failure as an opportunity for learning. Most intriguing point: Complimenting children for a performance or test score can backfire, causing them to stop taking on challenges due to fear of failing next time.

Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman – We jump to a lot of faulty conclusions because our brains are wired for speed and efficiency, and they resist thoughtful cognitive processing. This is a dense book, packed with details, but it’s worth the time for the insights into why our reasoning isn’t what we think it is. Most intriguing point: We all have lazy brains – not just teenagers – and we need to stop thinking we are experts in everything.

The Invisible Gorilla – Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons – A quicker read that makes many of the same points as Kahneman about why human reasoning is flawed. The researchers who brought you the Invisible Gorilla study (watch it on Youtube) explain how we mix up correlation and causation, how confident impacts our judgment and why self-doubt is a good thing. Most intriguing point: Physical exercise is better for improving cognition than puzzles.

The Upside of Irrationality – Dan Ariely – Ariely’s audience is anyone interested in psychology and economics, but he has a lot to offer educators as well. A few highlights of the book: 1) The Bionicles experiment which showed how important it is for people to feel like their work has meaning and purpose, 2) The IKEA effect and experiments that show why it’s important for people to develop their own solutions to problems, and 3) The lengthy description of “adaptation levels” and why it’s important to inject novelty into your daily routine (and lessons).

Democracy and Education – John Dewey – It’s been years since I read or thought about Dewey, but his progressive observations about education are incredibly relevant today. Most intriguing point: Education in a democracy can’t just be about filling children’s heads with facts – it must be about engaging their minds.

Quiet – Susan Cain – Cain argues that the world of extroverts overlooks the critical contributions of introverts. She may overstate her case — we extroverts end up looking a little superficial — but she offers a powerful reminder that we aren’t all the same. I read it to understand the introverts in my family, but I wish I’d read it a long time ago for insight into introverted students. Most intriguing point: Some students really dread the kinds of activities that educators plan for “fun” and “team-building.”