Some Summer Reads . . . . My Top Ten Educational Books
29 June 2018
Author: Louise Wareing
Looking for some inspiration for summer reading? Here, Louise Wareing (research lead) presents her top recommendations.
o Allison, S. and Tharby, A. (2015) Making every lesson count (Crown House Publishing Ltd)
o Barton, G. (2013), Don’t call it Literacy (Routledge)
o Crehan, L. (2016) Cleverlands, (London: Unbound)
o Didau, D. & Rose, N. (2016) What every teacher needs to know about Psychology (Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd)
o Hendrick, C. and MacPherson, R. (2017) What does this look like in the classroom? (John Catt Educational Ltd)
o Nuthall, G. (2007) The hidden lives of learners (NZCER Press, Wellington)
o Oakes, S. & Griffin, M. (2016) The A Level Mindset (Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing)
o Syed, M. (2011), Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice (London, Fourth Estate)
o Tomsett, J. (2015), This Much I Know (About Love over Fear) (Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing)
o Willingham, D (2009) Why don’t students like school? (Jossey Bass)
Stuck with ideas for what to read this summer? Wondering which books are going to most improve your practice? Here are my top ten educational recommendations. They cover a range of topics and styles and I devoured them all, yet continue to dip back into them regularly.
We are currently blessed with a great wealth of books on which to base our practice. After years of education following fads, hearsay and prejudice, gone (hopefully) are the days of innovations such as ‘VAK Learning Styles’ and ‘Assessment for Learning’ being thrust onto teachers following a one hour presentation and a student questionnaire. We now have research organisations such as the EEF and IEE conducting large-scale research trials, as well as numerous educationalists writing accessible books which summarise robust, lengthy academic research.
My own reading journey began with an interest in resilience borne out of sport and the specific issue of the problem of resilience in Blackpool. What I came to realise however, is that resilience and motivation in the classroom comes directly from students feeling that they have made small achievements every lesson. This therefore means that teaching and learning must be carefully planned to ensure the ‘Goldlilocks’ nature of challenge: not too hard, not too easy, just right. And what this means is that the notion of independent learning, a holy grail favoured in teaching circles for so long, is a mirage. In order for students to move towards any application of independence, they must have a very secure knowledge of the subject matter and be able to retrieve this from their long term memory in order to know where to start. Teaching and learning methods are now being stripped right back to basics, with excellent teacher explanation, instruction and questioning paramount; learning being mastered in small steps; and countless opportunities for review built in.
My list is categorised into several themes. It was fairly easy to compile, because it is the books I found the most memorable and still regularly refer to. However, I have a snuck in an extra three at the end!
Resilience and Mindset
These were the books which began and ended my resilience reading (with many in between). None beats Syed’s for its accessibility and belief that anyone can improve. It made me reflect on my own fixed mindset at certain times in my life and highlighted the necessity of seeing failure as an opportunity. For teachers it challenges the idea that ‘natural flair’ is superior to hard work. In a nutshell, it argues that anyone can improve with purposeful practice.
The A-level Mindset proposes a fantastic model for assessing, monitoring and mentoring student progress (VESPA). The authors created the model over several years as leaders in a sixth form college. They argue that students must have all five of the suggested ingredients in order to be successful. Resilience is a key part of at least three of the ingredients.
- V – Vision. They must know what the purpose of their study is.
- E – Effort. They must be prepared to study for hours. (20 hours per week for Year 12, 30 hours per week for Year 13).
- S – Systems. They must be well-organised so that they have the correct resources to support their study.
- P – Practice. They must purposefully practise the most difficult aspects of their course, especially knowledge retrieval and timed exams.
- A – Attitude. They must keep a positive attitude, accepting that the work will be challenging and that they will fail at times.
How Students Learn
The next part of my reading journey was to improve my knowledge of how students learn and how to engage them successfully with purposeful practice in the classroom. Our understanding of the brain has vastly increased over the last few decades and the cognitive science of learning is endlessly fascinating. These three books explain the psychology of learning and how we as teachers have frequently expected too much of students in our endless quest for progress.
Nuthall’s book is often hilarious in its observations of students’ failure to learn what teachers have painstakingly planned. It deduces that students need to have properly engaged with a topic in three different ways in order to fully understand it and make progress. Didau, Rose and Willingham discuss the cognitive science behind learning and emphasise how difficult it is, since humans were not evolved to learn and think! All of these books hugely improved my understanding of what students are capable of and the necessity of teaching new material in small steps with plenty of repetition so that there is no cognitive overload.
These two books discuss in very different ways the culture of education. Crehan immersed herself in the culture and education system of five top performing PISA countries: Japan, Finland, Canada, Singapore and Shanghai. She tries to pinpoint the reasons behind their success and gives a list of the top ten transferable lessons to learn from her travels. It is a very interesting and thought-provoking read.
Tomsett is a headteacher in York who has successfully transformed his school through the culture of nurture, not accountability. He writes in a very entertaining yet sensitive way, using anecdotes about his own life, career and experiences to weave his story (he is an English specialist). His inspirational account of creating a school where teaching and learning is at the heart of everything is definitely worth a read. This is probably my favourite book.
These two books effectively transfer research to the classroom, explaining what great teaching looks like. Making every lesson count focuses on six ingredients to perfect: challenge, explanation, modelling, practice, questioning and feedback. Each has a chapter dedicated to it with lists of very helpful ideas suggesting how to improve in practice. What does this look like in the classroom? interviews experts in a range of different educational fields such as assessment, metacognition, SEND and growth mindset, giving a summary of current thinking and how best to apply it in the classroom. Both of these books should be a staple for every teacher.
A final mention should go to this book, which I have written about in a previous blog. Barton is passionate about all teachers helping to improve the literacy of the word poor: those students from deprived backgrounds who have not had access to books and language. It is our duty as teachers to explicitly teach tier 2 and 3 vocabulary to students because they do not learn it implicitly and saying ‘read more’ has no effect. Like Tomsett, Barton was an English specialist before becoming a headteacher and he uses anecdotes to sell his story which is simply and effectively told.
Just in case ten isn’t enough . . . happy reading!!
Louise Wareing, Innovation Fellow and Research Lead, Blackpool Research School29 June 2018
Posted in: Blog
Tags: Blackpool, Blackpool Research School, Education, evidence, Leaders, Learners, Learning, Metacognition, Reading, Research School Network, Research Schools Network, Teachers