Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magic wand somewhere out there made specially for teachers? With one simple wave of it, all of our students would suddenly became avid and successful learners hanging on our every word and performing well above everyone’s expectations. And of course we’d have a lot less work to do too.
It’s nice to dream, and even though we all know that we will never find that magic wand, we’re all still looking out for teaching-tips and resources which might deliver some small shadow of that desired effect. It’s such a shame that we rarely have time to read about what really motivates young people, and how they learn most effectively …
This page provides a brief overview of some of the books and papers which have had a big influence on teachers in recent years. They’re all well worth a look, but do remember that there is still no magic wand: understanding the graph on page 7 of one of these books does not mean you understand the whole book, and a little knowledge will certainly be a dangerous thing if it is misapplied.
If you have been influenced or inspired by authors who do not appear below, please share!
We discussed these books during an INSET session in September 2013. Hattie has synthesised the results of many different surveys into the various factors which influence the quality of learning. He has assigned a different “effect size” to each of these factors: the higher the effect size, the higher the impact. Here he explains how all of this can teachers to make a significant difference to the quality of the leaning they facilitate:
You can see a very brief summary of Hattie’s work at this website, set against comments made by Dylan William, who is himself an important academic to be aware of.
These books emphasise the idea that assessment is not an end point, but rather a crucial tool in planning the next stage of learning. You can see a summary of the earlier book here. The more recent of the two books is more directly relevant to classroom practice: William explores the use of questioning in lessons, desired learning outcomes, diagnostic feedback, collaborative and cooperative learning, and the development of independent learning. Take a look at Dylan William giving a brief overview of where he’s coming from:
Mindset (2012) by Carol Dweck
Dweck explores the difference between “fixed mindsets” and “growth mindsets”. People who possess the latter are much more effective learners, so one of our jobs as teachers should be to help youngsters develop such mindsets. Dweck explains how this can be achieved.
This presentation gives a good feel for what Dweck’s work is about:
Made to Stick (2007) by Chip and Dan Heath
This is not a book written specifically for teachers or indeed about education, but is proving popular because, as the title suggests, it offers some useful advice on how to make things stick. These two video clips outline the basic proposals explored in the book:
Talent is Overrated (2008) by Geoff Colvin
Colvin argues that in all realms of life, the world’s top performers owe their success not to DNA but to practice, constant feedback, and a healthy dollop of resilience. Citing characters such as Tiger Woods and Winston Churchill as two examples of this, Colvin also supports his arguments with evidence from scientific research. His ultimate conclusion? No pain, no gain. Read this BBC magazine article for reaction to his theories.
The Talent Code – Greatness isn’t born it is grown by (2010) by Daniel Coyle
Another author keen to debunk the notion that Tiger Woods just happens to be good at golf is Daniel Coyle. He has carried out in depth studies of talent “hot-spots” around the world and concluded it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it: deep practice makes perfect. In this short video he gives us a bit more insight into this. At first glance, his theories may seem more relevant to practical subjects, but a closer look at his book will suggest that learning in any form can be improved by taking on board what he has to say.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2013) by Steven Covey
The title speaks for itself. This arguably owes more to common sense, good storytelling and articulate arguments than to academic research, but provides good food for thought. The seven habits which Covey describes are:
1. Be proactive
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put first things first
4. Think win-win
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
7. Sharpen the saw
Here’s an animated American overview of what Covey covers in his book:
There are a few points that consistently emerge from all of this reading. The most effective learners:
- have high-expectations;
- are prepared to work hard;
- are regularly tested;
- receive plenty of diagnostic feedback;
- adapt their behaviour in response to the feedback they receive;
- understand that taking risks and failing from time to time are all part of the deal;
- keep going when the going gets tough.
Now a few question for us teachers:
- How well do we fit the above criteria?
- How much can we learn from publications of this sort?
- How much of a difference can we make as a result?