Books Recommended before 2011

Books Encountered & Recommended before 2011
The Power of Mindful Learning – Ellen Langer : Not quackery or new age. Langer is a Harvard Psychologist after all.
The Farther Reaches of Human Nature – Abraham Maslow: Forget the hierarchy, it’s a tiny amount of what this man wrote about and not even the best bit.  He’s also funny.
You Are Thinking of Teaching? – Seymour Sarason (out of print so get a used one for about 50p):  The only book I’ve ever read that tells you all the really crap things about being a teacher.  Sarason is one of the best and most honest writers I’ve ever been entertained by. If anyone asks you about becoming a teacher GET THEM THIS. If they still go into the profession then they are supposed to be there.
How to Write a Lot – Paul J. Silva : It’s not really about writing a lot, it’s about writing well.  I did two degrees before I could write a clearly understandable essay.  The switch never came about because of a professor, or pratice, or a writer’s workshop – it happened because of this book (andanother by Howard Becker but if you’re only going for one then Silva is the snappier read).
Attachment Theory and the Teacher-Student Relationship – Philip Riley (£24.60):  Freud said that everyone should have therapy, but if one group really really should have it, that group is teachers.  Of course, Freud also seemed to suggest women couldn’t really comprehend existence so there’s a lot of bullshit in his developmental twaddle too.  However a few idiotic proclamations should not have us denying the importance of attachment and relationships to what happens in our classrooms.  People sometimes get scared when I recommend this book, afraid that their own moments of feeling unloved are going to resurface when it is ‘long behind them’, but that is precisely why teachers should read this.  All day long we deal with kids who use emotion as a weapon to get at us – being prepared for that is part of the responsibility of a teacher and learning to respond in healthy ways is a life’s work. If you’re not scared of reading it, do so, and see if you still think it’s psycho-crap by the time you get to the end.

Recommended Books From 2011

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance – Atul Gewande:  Gewande is the rare combination of top surgeon and entertaining writer.  He is brutally honest about medicine and the difficulties inherent in his trade. He is also obsessed with improving his own performance and of his whole profession. Not only is it illuminating but it parallels well with the difficulties of working in schools – except that, in our case, things only occasionally end in death.
Charter Schools: Hope or Hype? – Bruckley & Schnieder: A mind-bogglingly deep overview of research on charter schools culminating in the conclusion that: While charter schools are well-liked and popular when they first open – even if they perform poorly – over time this enthusiasm wanes until it matches similar local schools. Achievement in such schools works on the same bell curve as for traditional schools once demographics are accounted for and the only thing positive that can be truly asserted is that they have a greater focus on ‘being nice’ than does the average US public school.
The Case for Working with Your Hands: Or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good– Matthew Crawford: Defending the importance of teaching ‘trades’ in school, Crawford intelligently explains why working as a motorcycle mechanic has been more satisfying than his work as Director of a political think tank.  He notes how swathes of office work has become akin to ‘factory work’ with college graduates doing professional jobs requiring little cognitive engagement and that surpress their autonomy. Furthermore, while office jobs are being outsourced, no-one can employ a virtual plumber when their washing machine goes kaput making trades a more savvy economical move too.
He also makes the argument that fixing something you didn’t create – whether as a doctor mending a punctured lung, or a builder repairing a roof – means being attentive, patient, considerate and tenacious.  Trades also encourage an ethos of self-reliance and a care for the environment. In Crawford’s eyes these are the most important things a school could teach; I’m not sure I agree, but it certainly made me think.
Learning on Other People’s Kids: Becoming a Teach for America Teacher – Barbara Veltri:  Having spent 10 years working as a mentor to Teach For America (TFA) participants (sister to the UK’s TeachFirst programme), Veltri uncovers the TFA process to anyone who hasn’t gone through it.  Starting with the admissions procedure, through the fabled ‘6 week Institute’ and across the 2 year programme Veltri talks about the many people she mentored, the situations they found themselves and her recommendations for making the programme more stable. Veltri is far from positive about TFA itself, and  I found some parts laborious but for the TFA novice it definitely explains the programme clearly – warts and all.
Building Academic Language– Jeff Zweirs (£14.44):  Teaching across humanities and social sciences I must teach students two things: first, there is the content students must understand; then second, is the skill of reformulating that content so that a third person can understand it – whether through an essay, exam answer or some other format.  It is all too easy to focus on the content and ignore the skill of re-explaining.  Zweirs’ book gives lots of practical ways to develop the language skills necessary to demonstrate one’s knowledge while also developing the content.  This is not an either/or book. Zweirs isn’t saying that students must develop ‘skills’ – what he does say is that as students are learning words about a topic, it is useful to think about how they acquire those words and how they will start putting them into sentences that make sense.

"How to Set Up A Free School" Book Review

I did a book review of Toby Young’s “How To Set Up A Free School” in the Times Ed this week.  It was a tough gig as the space given was tiny and there’s a lot to say about this book. At some point near the end of Jan I might release the ‘uncut’ version on here.
One thing I worried about is Young’s tendency to over-idealise the Free School solution. I wrote a book for LKMCo showing that there are possible ups and downs of Free Schools, but with a focus on minimising the downs.  The Press Release for the original book is here and the e-book release is here

The National Curriculum Review in less than 2000 Words

The National Curriculum Review is a great document. Thorough and well-researched. It’s also long.
Cutting it down to less than 2000 words for the LKMCo Summary was a great challenge, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. The only issue was writing with brevity while not being sarcastic. At times I felt like the interpreter in those comedy sketches when a person talks for ages and then the translator sums up two minutes of speech in one word.
Being a teacher takes up quite a lot of our lives and quick summaries help get the word out to more people involved in schools. No malice, at all, is intended!