What Books About Learning Should Every Teacher Read?
In the age of blogging and social media, is there still room for books about learning? Of course there is!
While digital content is handy and accessible, many of the issues we face as educators are deeper than any single post–or series of posts–can adequately address. While RSS skimming and short eBooks are beginning to find favor with busy teachers–and for good reason–pairing that kind of persistent content with longer-duration reads is never a bad idea. Where will you find the time? That’s another post. Or book.
Note, there are scores of incredible books about learning and teaching, from When Kids Can’t Read by Kylene Beers, to seminal works from Tomlinson, Marzano, and Atwell, to “new learning” stuff like The World is Flat, and classic works we don’t even begin to cover from Thorndike, Dewey, Piaget, and others. The big idea of this list was a well-rounded look at learning and education, rather than strictly pedagogy, or strictly ed-reformy books.
If you can add more books about learning to this list in the comments section with other suggestions teachers might consider and why, your colleagues would certainly benefit.
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1. Teaching What Matters Most by Richard W. Strong, Harvey F. Silver, Matthew J. Perini
This short book offers 4 standards for prioritizing in your classroom: Rigor, Thought, Diversity, and Authenticity. It defines each, and offers a helpful rubrics to begin measuring how each standard does or does not function in your classroom.
2. What Are People For? by Wendell Berry
What Are People For? is a collection of essays by Berry that attempt to clarify what the title sounds like it might–what does it mean to be human, and how can we best relate to the world around us. This isn’t a teaching book, but a human book, and is best read in small sections at a time.
3. Essential Question: Opening Doors by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (or any of their UbD series)
Whether you choose this or any other Understanding by Design resource, you’re going to get a focus on understanding, and how to promote it through intentional backwards design of learning experiences.
4. Developing Minds by Art Costa
This resource is a collection of short essays/chapters that explore different strands of how people think, and how to better teach it. Chapters include Teaching Thinking in Science, Teaching for Transfer, Making Thinking Visible, and What is Problem-Solving?
5. Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks
While not a book about formal education, it is an absolute treasure in (indirectly) examining how informal learning, passion, curiosity, and family nurture a lifelong love of learning and critical examination of our surroundings. In the autobiographical Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks takes us on a journey through his childhood in England during WWII, going on calls with his father (a doctor), working alongside his light-bulb pioneering uncles, and more. In his writing, Sacks unknowingly describes the perfect classroom (the world), and the perfect approach to learning (play). He also talks about deep influences from his family, and how many of them were “autodidacts” (teach themselves).
“Many of my childhood memories are of metals: these seemed to exert a power on me from the start. They stood out, conspicuous against the heterogeneousness of the world, by their shining, gleaming quality, their silveriness, their smoothness and weight. They seemed cool to the touch, and they rang when they were struck.
I loved the yellowness, the heaviness, of gold. My mother would take the wedding ring from her finger and let me handle it for a while, as she told me of its inviolacy, how it never tarnished. “Feel how heavy it is,” she would add. “It’s even heavier than lead.” I knew what lead was, for I had handled the heavy, soft piping the plumber had left one year. Gold was soft, too, my mother told me, so it was usually combined with another metal to make it harder.
It was the same with copper—people mixed it with tin to produce bronze. Bronze!—the very word was like a trumpet to me, for battle was the brave clash of bronze upon bronze, bronze spears on bronze shields, the great shield of Achilles. Or you could alloy copper with zinc, my mother said, to produce brass.”
6. Visible Learning & The Science Of How We Learn by John Hattie and Gregory Yates
This is basically an updated, more accessible version of his original work (see below) that is designed for professional development, staff meetings, and other forms of teacher training. His original, much longer publication was a ground-breaking effort gathered 15 years of data synthesis from over 800 meta-analyses, and thousands of individual studies. The goal of the book was to provide an evidence-based “effect size” for many “pieces” of education, ranging from instructional strategies to family structure and teacher training.
It’s easy to misunderstand how best to use this information, with the tempting method being to simply start at the top and “do that.” But it’s this kind of reductionism that makes this data a book you have to read rather than a simple graphic or blog post you can “pin.” If there is a downside to it, it’s the considerable time and effort it takes to unpack, internalize, and integrate into your instructional and curriculum design.
7. Reign Of Error by Diane Ravitch
Some of themes in this book contradict much of what we’re about at TeachThought, as Ravitch argues that, fundamentally, schools are doing better than they’ve ever done, which is another conversation (or book) entirely. That said, she provides a compelling argument for why schools are not only worth saving, but also shines a light on less-attended aspects of ed reform discussions, including political, social, and economic impact–truths we can no longer afford to ignore.
8. The Connected Educator by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Lani Ritter Hall
Editor Description: “Connected learning communities are a three-pronged approach to effective professional development using the local (professional learning community), contextual (personal learning network), and global (community of practice) environments. Connected learners take responsibility for their own professional development. They figure out what they need to learn and then collaborate with others to construct the knowledge they need. Instead of waiting for professional learning to be organized and delivered to them, connected learners contribute, interact, share ideas, and reflect.”
Got data? Driven by Data “offers valuable tips and general guidelines about data-based methods and the difficulties surrounding the implementation of data-driven instruction.” The utility of the strategies given here st this one apart from other good choices. (Data Analysis for Continuous School Improvement, for example.)
10. The Pedagogy Of The Oppressed by Paulo Freire or A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne
At TeachThought, we love macro-analyses, and it doesn’t get much more macro than Freire’s manifesto on the philosophy of education, and the relationship between the teacher and taught, the oppressor and oppressed.
Between The World And Me is “a series of letters to his teenaged son, his new memoir, Between the World and Me, walks us through the course of his life, from the tough neighborhoods of Baltimore in his youth, to Howard University—which Coates dubs “The Mecca” for its revelatory community of black students and teachers—to the broader Meccas of New York and Paris. Coates describes his observations and the evolution of his thinking on race, from Malcolm X to his conclusion that race itself is a fabrication, elemental to the concept of American (white) exceptionalism. Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and South Carolina are not bumps on the road of progress and harmony, but the results of a systemized, ubiquitous threat to “black bodies” in the form of slavery, police brutality, and mass incarceration.”
12. So Much Reform, So Little Change by Charles Payne
Editor Description: “This frank and courageous book explores the persistence of failure in todays urban schools. At its heart is the argument that most education policy discussions are disconnected from the daily realities of urban schools, especially those in poor and beleaguered neighborhoods. Charles M. Payne argues that we have failed to account fully for the weakness of the social infrastructure and the often dysfunctional organizational environments of urban schools and school systems. Yet while his book is unsparing in its exploration of the troubled recent history of urban school reform, Payne also describes himself as guardedly optimistic. He describes how, in the last decade, we have developed real insights into the roots of school failure, and into how some individual schools manage to improve. He also examines recent progress in understanding how particular urban districts have established successful reforms on a larger scale.”
13. A New Culture Of Learning by Douglas Thomas, John Seely Brown
“Typically, when we think of culture, we think of an existing, stable entity that changes and evolves over long periods of time. In A New Culture, Thomas and Brown explore a second sense of culture, one that responds to its surroundings organically. It not only adapts, it integrates change into its process as one of its environmental variables. By exploring play, innovation, and the cultivation of the imagination as cornerstones of learning, the authors create a vision of learning for the future that is achievable, scalable and one that grows along with the technology that fosters it and the people who engage with it. The result is a new form of culture in which knowledge is seen as fluid and evolving, the personal is both enhanced and refined in relation to the collective, and the ability to manage, negotiate and participate in the world is governed by the play of the imagination.”
14. The Unschooled Mind by Howard Gardner
In this book, Gardner takes a look at the apparent disparity between how schools are designed, and how students learn best. Thus the title “Unschooled Mind.” Yet he argues consistently for using many of the most controversial elements of schooling, including the widespread application of academic standards.
15. The Classroom Management Book by Harry Wong
This one is more teacher-y, but an unmanaged classroom can’t support learning, no matter the wisdom and curiosity on display. While perhaps a little too formal for our liking, The Classroom Management Book still “offers 50 procedures that can be applied, changed, adapted, and incorporated into any classroom management plan. Each procedure is presented with a consistent format that breaks it down and tells how to teach it and what the outcome of teaching it will be.”
16. Out Of Our Minds by Ken Robinson
Excerpt: “It is often said that education and training are the keys to the future. They are, but a key can be turned in two directions. Turn it one way and you lock resources away, even from those they belong to. Turn it the other way and you release resources and give people back to themselves. To realize our true creative potential—in our organizations, in our schools and in our communities—we need to think differently about ourselves and to act differently towards each other. We must learn to be creative.”
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