Books are transformative. They transport you to new worlds and dazzle you with novel ideas. While online research can be helpful, books are often scaffolded in ways that introduce concepts gradually, rather than providing content piecemeal. This makes them especially suited to aiding in self-study.
For teachers looking to engage in professional development, particularly in quiet months spent contemplating curricula, books are an excellent way to find purchase in innovative teaching practices. The field of education has had its share of upheavals, such as with the debunked idea of learning theories. It can be challenging to keep up with what’s working now, versus what’s failed before.
More and more educators are looking to learn about teaching practices grounded in research. Particularly in recent years, there have been several books published containing insights from cognitive scientists. Learning how to learn has become a vital skill for teachers and students alike.
Although building out an online professional learning network can keep you abreast of current topics in education, reading books about teaching and learning is another way to glean useful info and inspire your teaching practice. To that end, here are five books focusing on teaching and learning.
Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
Make It Stick is one of the oldest books on this list, having been published in 2014, but its “stickiness” comes from the way it shares its psychological insights. The authors — Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel — share tidbits on interleaving, retrieval practice and beyond. This book is written to be accessible to most everyone, and each chapter has a “takeaway” to consolidate new ideas into an easily digestible format.
For teachers, having students remember core foundational concepts in a subject can make a curricular difference. While Make It Stick explores concepts that teachers can use to enhance their lessons, it also provides information from the students’ perspective. This dual focus results in an excellent introductory text to evidence-based teaching and learning.
Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide
This cleanly designed, well-organized book provides not only practical information on learning as it relates to cognitive processes, but also strategies for improving study efficacy. Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide was written by Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeracki, two scholars who go by The Learning Scientists online. They release a podcast, post on their blog and hold Twitter chats. The illustrator, Oliver Caviglioli, is a proponent of dual coding and has collaborated with them on other education-focused projects.
The book focuses its first half on the basics of cognitive science (cogsci), focusing on how memory storage works. From there, it goes into specific evidence-based learning strategies: metacognition, dual coding, interleaving and more. The book itself uses dual coding, with clean illustrations emphasizing key facts and making ideas easier to understand. The visual focus makes Understanding How We Learn beginner-friendly, and it’s a great introduction to core concepts.
Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning
If you’ve ever sat in on an educational workshop, you may have heard the name James Lang, professor and columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education. This book, Small Teaching, offers bite-size tips on incorporating evidence-based teaching into classes. Because each chapter looks at concepts on a small scale, the book offers immediately applicable advice.
Each book chapter is devoted to a single concept, from the value of practice to retrieval strategies to the importance of self-explaining. Weaving in classroom anecdotes by both Lang and his colleagues, the book provides a gentle introduction to cognitive science research. The end result? Small Teaching feels more like a friendly lunch-and-learn than a stuffy academic tome.
A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)
Like other books on this list, A Mind for Numbers was written for readers unfamiliar with cognitive science concepts. Although the name indicates a focus on STEM-related studies, this book supersedes its title. Author Barbara Oakley references things like zombies and pinball machines, making for a fun read. A Mind for Numbers looks not only at cognitive processes — like how memories are formed and accessed, or the value of retrieval practice — but also study skills.
Despite the irreverent tone, it’s chock full of research on evidence-based learning practices. Since its focus is more on the learner side of things, A Mind for Numbers offers a more student-centered view to cognitive science in the classroom. Oakley teaches a popular online course on learning how to learn, and this book illustrates many of its core ideas.
Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning
A recent 2019 release, Powerful Teaching explores evidence-based teaching through so-called “Power Tools,” all of which are based on core cogsci concepts, including retrieval practice, spaced practice, interleaving and metacognition. Although Powerful Teaching may seem to tread familiar ground, the applied approach that authors Pooja K. Agarwal and Patrice M. Bain take make this book especially useful for time-strapped teachers.
Through their collaborative efforts, this teacher-scientist tag-team provides a road map for quickly implementing research-backed teaching methodologies in all classes, K–12 and higher ed alike. Like Small Teaching, this book suggests ways to connect evidence-based practices to preestablished lessons. For teachers who’ve read everything, Powerful Teaching offers a new perspective on old ideas.
Whether you’re at the beach or in your office, if you’re looking to learn a little something new about education, check out these books. Evidence-based teaching and learning, like computational thinking, doesn’t have to be involved. Little changes to lessons — or to personal study habits — can result in big wins.
About the blogger:
Jesika Brooks is an editor and bookworm with a Master of Library and Information Science degree. She works in the field of higher education as an educational technology librarian, assisting with everything from setting up Learning Management Systems to teaching students how to use edtech tools. A lifelong learner herself, she has always been fascinated by the intersection of education and technology. She edits the Tech-Based Teaching blog (and always wants to hear from new voices!).