Plato’s Republic, Rousseau’s Émile and Dewey’s Democracy and Education – there’s a strong case to be made, as Dennis Hayes has, that these are the only books on education that teachers need to read.
But if I was about to enter the classroom as a teacher for the first time or was looking to improve my practice, I would probably want to read something with more practical advice on what I should be doing and, more importantly, on what I shouldn’t.
Much of what happens in a classroom is highly variable and hard to define, but over the last 10 years a wealth of books has sought to draw together evidence from other fields and provide a series of “best bets” on what might have the greatest impact on student learning. Here are just a few of them.
Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham
Understanding is remembering in disguise
In this eminently readable book, Willingham takes findings from cognitive science and applies them to the classroom in a straightforward and practical way. A central claim in this book is that while we are naturally curious, we are not naturally good at thinking and can only truly think about things we know. It also contains one of the best lines ever to feature in a book on education: “Memory is the residue of thought.”
The Hidden Lives of Learners by Graham Nuthall
Learning requires motivation, but motivation does not necessarily lead to learning
For Nuthall, three worlds exist in the classroom. First, the public world that is largely managed by the teacher and features easily-visible lesson activities and routines. Second, there is the “semi-private world of ongoing peer relationships” in which students foster and maintain social roles in the classroom. Last, there is the private world of the student’s own mind where learning actually takes. This book peels back the layers of those worlds and reveals many surprising findings.
Trivium 21c by Martin Robinson
In a true democracy all citizens share responsibility for their community
As a general model of what should happen in schools, this book has it all. Drawing on the classical triumvirate of grammar (knowledge), dialectic (questioning and debate) and rhetoric (expression), Robinson offers a model of education he wishes to see for his daughter and that seeks to draw on the past to anticipate an uncertain future.
Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam
The first fundamental principle of effective classroom feedback is that feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor
Formative assessment is probably the most influential idea in schools today, and possibly the most misunderstood. In this book, the architect of formative assessment sets out the core principles of effective assessment but crucially applies them to the classroom with highly practical examples based on years of research in the field.
Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou
If you only teach pupils using the knowledge they bring to the classroom, then you will reproduce educational inequalities
In this brief but explosive book, Christodoulou challenges several orthodoxies in education such as prioritising skills over knowledge, the claim that teacher-led instruction is passive, and why you can’t just look it up on Google. Whether or not you agree with everything in this book, every teacher should at least be acquainted with its arguments.
Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by John Hattie and Gregory Yates
Knowing what to do matters more than knowing what your level is
First published in 2009, Hattie’s original book of alchemy, Visible Learning, attempted to illuminate the dark arts of pedagogy through the meta-analysis of hundreds of studies. In this book, Hattie teams up with cognitive psychologist Gregory Yates to provide another highly practical overview of how lessons from cognitive science can be useful in a range of different contexts. An indispensable reference guide for busy teachers.
Bringing Words to Life by Isabel L Beck, Margaret G McKeown and Linda Kucan
It is not the case that one either knows or does not know a word
Simply the best book on teaching vocabulary. The authors offer a three-tier model: tier one words are those that rarely require instruction such as “dog” or “run”, tier two consists of words that have “high utility for mature language users” such as “contradict” or “precede”, and tier three words are domain specific such as “pantheon” or “epidermis”. Tier two words are of vital importance to children’s development and this book provides sage advice on how to expand that vital range, along with a range of different approaches to broaden children’s vocabulary.
Make It Stick by Peter C Brown, Henry L Roediger and Mark A McDaniel
Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow
One of the more concrete findings from cognitive science is that many of the things that engender effective learning are highly counterintuitive. For example, many students will re-read and highlight material leading up to a test, something which the authors of this book show is little more than colouring in. Far more effective are practices such as interleaving, spaced learning and retrieval practice, which are expertly outlined in this easily accessible book.
Urban Myths About Learning and Education by Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul A Kirschner and Casper D Hulshof
It is our prior knowledge and experience that determines how we see the world
Do students really have different learning styles? Do they actually learn better if they discover things for themselves? Do we only use 10% of our brains? Do we need to know facts in an age of Google? If you’ve ever asked questions like these, then this book is for you. The authors draw on a huge body of evidence to address many common classroom myths that we could all do without.
Why Knowledge Matters by ED Hirsch
Thinking skills cannot readily be separated from one subject matter and applied to other subject matters
This important book argues that while students have been taught how to read, they have not been taught what to read and that cultural literacy matters far more than vague notions of 21st century skills. In short, what’s needed is a more serious look at the curriculum and a greater focus on what we are teaching instead of how we teach it.