Below is a list of titles about various aspects of educating, working with, and parenting children. We have personally read these books and they come with our recommendation as being worthwhile reads that can help you transform your work and continue your learning. The links provided are to a national library database. On the right-hand side of the displayed page is a listing of local libraries that contain this title. Being able to get the book for free from a library fits in anyone’s budget, and you support your local library.
What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America
by Ted Dintersmith
Having been through a fairly typical American education during the 70s and 80s, I graduated with a feeling of frustration and lost opportunity and a wish that school could be more. I love to learn, but the bureaucratic, box-checking, grade-focused experience I had did little to inspire me. Ted Dintersmith recognizes this issue, and his book catalogs visits to various schools across the 50 United States to identify the problems with our current education model, but more importantly to uncover points of radical innovation by teachers, schools and districts that he sees as transforming education into the inspirational, compelling, and motivational force that it can and should be. While the stories of his visits are full of great anecdotes and interesting ideas, I found myself wishing he had spent a little more time analyzing what he encountered and providing more details about these programs, what made them work, and drawing more in-depth conclusions and generalized principles that could be used to transform more traditional schools. All in all, it was an enjoyable and insightful read, but I think he could have provided more actionable material.
Everyone suffers from lapses of memory from time to time, and we have all wondered if there is a way to improve memory. Joshua Foer asked himself this question and wrote a book as the answer. Part memoir, part investigative journalism, the book recounts Foer’s research into memory and his subsequent participation in the United States Memory Championship. It is an engrossing tale that touches on the history of memory efforts, the science behind it, various methods people have employed, and philosophical speculations on the nature of memory and what it is to be human. As thoroughly entertaining as it is informative, this is a great book for anyone curious about what’s possible with their memory, or that of their students.
How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why it Happens
by Benedict Carey
Everyone has been a student and been frustrated at how difficult it is to absorb, retain, and recall material, or in other words, learn. Benedict Carey is no exception, and it was his frustration at the seeming lack of knowledge about how the brain learns that lead him to author this book. Aimed a student audience, each of the ten chapters lays out an element of the learning process, reviews the research about it, and then summarizes how to best use it. Written in a casual, humorous tone, the book is highly readable and engaging, even when relating the research studies upon which the content is based. If you want to learn some science-based strategies to make your studying more effective or help you students develop some best practices for their learning, Carey’s “How We Learn” is a good place to start.
Learning how to learn is regularly touted as one of the must have 21st Century skills, and one that every educator should be instilling in their students to prepare them for the future. Author Ulrich Boser, a Senior Fellow studying education policy at the think tank Center for American Progress, has written a book that offers a 6-step plan for creating master learners. His approach distills a lot of current research on learning into an easily readable book that discusses the research, provides examples of the findings, and combines them into one of the 6 steps. In actuality, each step consists of a number of learning techniques and tips that Boser has subsumed under a general approach. For instance, the idea of deliberate practice, stretching our abilities by practicing skills just beyond our current level, is categorized into the step DEVELOP, about improving skills, along with other things like receiving feedback. His approach does a good job of covering a lot of the current thinking on learning, and his distillation of all the material into 6 concepts is helpful. For a condensed review of current thought on learning, this is a good starting point that will go along way toward helping teachers and students understand how to master the art of learning how to learn.
Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined
by Scott Barry Kaufman
Defining the nature of intelligence and being able to measure it in any meaningful way has been an elusive endeavor that has confounded psychologists for decades if not centuries. The various attempts made have had problematic results for the whole of pedagogy as well as many individuals. Author Scott Kaufman is one such person. Early school difficulties and testing regimens defined him as a “special needs” student and relegated him to classrooms filled with other “learning disabled” students. His diagnosis and struggles, however, were transformed into a personal passion that sent him in pursuit of what constitutes intelligence, what being intelligent means, and the kind of teaching that can elicit it. Kaufman deftly weaves together his personal story of overcoming his learning challenges with the history of intelligence testing and research, revealing the problematic nature of this endeavor. His compelling narrative succinctly reviews years of research, and from his discussion he frames a new model of intelligence that reflects a much more holistic and fluid trait. Along the way, he also examines different education methods that can improve learning outcomes for all kinds of children. Having triumphed over his “diagnosis” to receive a PhD from Yale in Psychology and become an intelligence expert, his story makes him the poster child for what is possible when you abandon a fixed mindset for a growth mindset, and throw in some grit.
The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.
by Daniel Coyle
Common wisdom would seem to tell us that becoming an expert, virtuoso, or high-caliber performer in any discipline requires innate talent. In other words, the fixed mindset prevails, and you either have it (talent) or you don’t. Author Daniel Coyle wondered how this prevailing notion explained “hotbeds” of talent, geographic places that produce more than their share of superstars. If innate talent was really the key to high performance, then these places shouldn’t exist. Yet, they do. His research into this conundrum is the subject of this book, which unveils the neuroscience of high performance and the ways great coaches and teachers help nurture it. His main finding is that “deliberate practice” makes the difference. Teachers are likely familiar with Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), that sweet spot of learning that is just enough beyond a student’s ability to be a stretch, but not so far as to be overly frustrating. Deliberate practice is working in this zone to take advantage of neuroplasticity to make the learning concrete and automatic. Practicing something repeatedly fires neurons together, which in turn wires them together, and with continued practice, these circuits get myelinated or insulated so that they fire “automatically.” Always practicing something that is “hard” (i.e. in the ZPD) means you are developing the circuits to make it automatic, which in turn means you are on a path of continuous improvement. In other words, with the right kind of practice, you will eventually become an expert. The book goes into more detail about the research and science behind this process and examines various talent hotbeds around the globe to reveal it at work. He also looks at the importance of the psychosocial elements involved in developing expertise, such as long term commitment to a discipline and the styles of coaching that play a role in producing world class performers. For teachers with an interest in creating expertise in their students, this book is highly recommended.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
by Daniel Pink
When I first started teaching young children, I repeated, “Good job,” many times a day. While my Montessori certification course weaned me of this vacuous saying, I didn’t know the reason why it could actually de-motivate children! Fast forward to several years ago when I had the pleasure of hearing Daniel Pink as a keynote speaker at an American Montessori Society conference. Firstly, I was blown away at his ability to engage the audience and was more intrigued by the research he shared regarding motivation. His findings are relevant not just in the business world which spoke to me as a school administrator, but how we can apply this profound body of research on motivation to learning environments. His seminal book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us outlines in depth the research on how extrinsic rewards for anything more than rudimentary tasks can actually minimize or reduce performance! His focus on three factors that increase intrinsic motivation in humans is truly a game-changer for educators and I highly recommend you check out Pink’s Drive today!
The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them
by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, Kristen P. Blair
Sifting through innumerable studies to find proven teaching strategies is a daunting task that very few people have the patience and fortitude to accomplish. This title has done the heavy lifting for you. Daniel Schwartz and his colleagues have produced a wonderfully organized and highly usable guide to twenty-six of the top teaching strategies that they gleaned from the research data. The book is divided into twenty-six sections, each representing a letter of the alphabet such as “F is for Feedback.” Each section is about twelve pages on average, and covers a teaching strategy or learning concept that instructors of all persuasions can use to maximize the effectiveness of their pedagogy. Within each section are subsections that explain the concept, the research behind it, practical examples of how it is implemented, potential pitfalls to be aware of, and a one to two page summary of the entire section at the end for quick reference. At the back of the book is a reference guide for which strategy to employ in a particular situation, almost like an instructional troubleshooting guide. This book is highly recommended for all types of teachers and is well worth the investment.
Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius
by Angeline Stoll Lillard
Twelve years ago, my career as a Montessori educator received a jolt of new knowledge when I read Dr. Angeline Stoll Lillard’s first edition of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Not only was I able to finally articulate why Montessori methodology is effective to parents touring my school, this seminal work ignited my understanding of how to better train new teachers. This newest, third edition, is worthy in it’s steadfast commitment to scientific discovery and the inclusion of crucial new research about learning such as executive functioning, epigenetics, sensory integration, and newfound work regarding fantasy play. I believe Lillard’s work is essential reading for all practitioners of Montessori, skeptics of this progressive education, and parents wanting evidence of how Montessori environments are optimal for children.
I can say unequivocally that this book was the catalyst to changing how I view the social emotional climate of every classroom culture and whether the curriculum fairly represents and honors the identity of every member of the community and beyond. Author Louise Derman-Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force identified a clear path for educators to cultivate an anti-bias approach resulting in student confidence in their identity, increased sense of belonging and significance in their community, and the tools to proactively stand up for social justice. The version I own is the first edition from 1989 yet the message for it’s need remains today. I’m interested in reading the the next title released in 2012, Anti Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves 2012 by this revolutionary author.
Angela Duckworth’s book Grit is an insightful and interesting read for educators. She relates her many years of research on perseverance in a quasi-memoir style that makes a compelling story while relating the results of her’s and other’s research into the topic. While she recognizes the there is still plenty of research to be done on the topic, she also relates many practical strategies for how to not only bring more “grit” into your own life, but also how to foster this quality in others.
Her book ranges over a variety of settings, from Westpoint Military Academy to school room to corporate board room to relationships, and relays many interesting anecdotal stories from people in all these settings. These are interspersed amongst her review of the research data on the topic, both hers and others. I found it well worth the time and can recommend it to all who are interested in helping themselves and others learn the art of perseverance in the face of adversity. A favorite quote from the book is:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right!” -Henry Ford