It was a pleasure to meet you and get the chance to talk education. Your question about the absolute best two or three books in education that I’ve ever read has really got me thinking. It is a difficult question because the books that had the greatest impact on me are now out of date, I think, so I could not recommend them now for someone else to read. Just for the sake of completeness, I would include in that category:
- the Horace books, by Ted Sizer (I know, that makes them sound a bit like Harry Potter, but for me they re-defined what student engagement might look like).
- The World We Created at Hamilton High.
- The Unschooled Mind, by Howard Gardner. I am not an uncritical Howard Gardner fan, but this book really made a big impact on me because it challenged my idea of what it meant to really understand something. I heard Gardner speak at a conference in Boston around the time this book was published, and he talked about the interviews that were taped of Harvard students on their graduation day, during which they were often spectacularly wrong about why the Earth has seasons. He made the point that we often ask students a question that in effect asks them to parrot back to us what we have told them, and we think that this denotes understanding. If we change the wording so that they have to draw on understanding of a concept rather than what we told them, it is a better indicator. I was teaching seasons to 9th graders at the time, so I changed the wording on the test. And guess what? You guessed it. That experience changed the way I taught and was, looking back, my first foray into formative assessment. If you want to see the Harvard grads on YouTube, click here.
Then there are the books I read when I was making the move into administration. One of those books made a big impact on me, which I mentioned yesterday, and which is very much still worth reading:
- The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge.
Now that I have read more in the field of organizational learning, I would recommend other books that preceded Senge’s work, particularly the work of Chris Argyris and Donald Schön (sometimes together, sometimes individually, and sometimes with other authors). This goes back to what you and I talked about: that sometimes just because a book is recent doesn’t mean it’s best, and often it pays to trace back intellectual ideas to their source. In that vein, I would recommend:
- Overcoming Organizational Defenses
- The Reflective Practitioner
- Action Science
- Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness (this is the book I find most challenging; it challenges common notions of what it means to act with integrity, and it makes me think harder about my own personal and professional practice than any other book I own).
I think you were particularly interested in books about instruction, and what I realized was that there are no books I would recommend on instruction. But there are articles, and particularly, videos and podcasts. My own strong conviction is that the research on formative assessment and self-regulation has the most to offer for increasing student achievement. We often talk about wanting students who are self-directed learners, but our classroom practices often do not actually support the creation of self-directed learners. So here is my list of resources to consult on this subject. First, the articles that I consider foundational, cleverly linked to PDFs in my Dropbox:
- Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-149.
- Butler, R. (1988). Enhancing and undermining intrinsic motivation: The effects of task-involving and ego-involving evaluation on interest and performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 58(1), 1-14.
- Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.
- Sadler, R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18(2), 119-144.
But honestly, some of the best resources are available on YouTube. In particular, I would recommend the snippets of Dylan Wiliam from a BBC series on improving instruction in an English middle school. They are not very polished clips, but they will show you what is wrong with grades and asking for volunteers, and show you how teaching techniques could be better. Check out:
I think Dylan Wiliam is fabulous. A clear thinker, speaker, and writer. I also recommend a chapter he wrote. In fact, if you read nothing else, read this:
- Wiliam, D. (2007). Content then process: Teacher learning communities in the service of formative assessment. In D. B. Reeves (Ed.), Ahead of the curve. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
And if you really want books on what good instruction looks like, I would recommend:
- Teach Like a Champion
- Visible Learning
- The Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning
I look forward to our next conversation!