New teachers’ book list

Southern Hemisphere teachers who are beginning teaching in January will be starting to prepare. Therefore, I thought it might be worth put together a list of books worth reading over the summer.

1. Why don’t students like school? – Daniel T Willingham [Link]

If you are going to read just one of the books in this list then this is the one. In a chatty and accessible way, Willingham covers the major findings of cognitive psychology that relate to teaching. What does it mean to ‘think like a scientist’? Why should we be wary of engaging kids with a flashy hook?

Willingham has also written a lot that is freely available online. I often refer to this piece on critical thinking which will give you a sense of his writing style.

2. The academic achievement challenge – Jeanne Chall [Link]

This is not full of practical applications in the same way as Willingham’s book so it might be a luxury for a time-poor trainee. However, I think many teacher education experiences lack any context of the debates that have raged across education over the past century and this perspective is essential if you want to critically analyse new ideas.

Chall draws on her own experience and gives a masterful summary of the evidence supporting teacher-led instruction, as well as touching on the difficulty of getting people to accept this evidence.

3. Seven Myths about Education – Daisy Christodoulou [Link]

Seven Myths is a seminal book that has been responsible for many a change of mind. It sets out to chart seven myths that Christodoulou thinks she has identified and that are prevalent within the education system. This is difficult to do without setting-up straw men. Yet she is up to the task, meticulously documenting evidence that people believe these myths and why these myths are wrong. The resulting discussion has clear implications for classroom teaching.

The evidence-base is a little parochial, situated as it is within the English system of Ofsted inspections. However, I am pretty certain that most teachers from Australia and New Zealand will recognise these ideas immediately.

4. What every teacher needs to know about psychology – David Didau and Nick Rose [Link]

This is a great little book that gives a briefing on the psychological research that applies to education, both in terms of academic learning and motivation and behaviour. Each chapter finishes with a summary of the main ideas as a series of bullet-points, enabling a new teacher to get a handle on some quite complex and diverse ideas.

The one problem is that it doesn’t seem to have been very well proofed so you have to tolerate a few typos and missing words.

5. Behaviour Management Pocketbook – Peter Hook and Andy Vass [Link]

Classroom management is often overlooked in teacher education. There is a philosophy that if you plan good enough lessons then students will behave. This is not true. Neither is it true that good classroom management is something that good teachers are born with. You can work at it and, provided you are supported by your school with robust systems, you can improve at it. This is a great little book full on hints and tips on how to do that.

Tom Bennett has also written an extremely popular book on behaviour management but I haven’t read it so I can’t recommend it.

6. Teacher Proof – Tom Bennett [Link]

I have, however, read Bennett’s treatment of evidence in education. There are a number of good books on this topic (e.g. this and this) but this is quite fun and accessible. Again, I have put this on the list because I want trainee teachers to develop a healthy amount of scepticism and raise an eyebrow whenever anyone tells them that, “research shows…”

7. Ouroborous – me [Link]

Once you have read all the books above then you might consider having a glance at my own ebook. It is relatively short at around 30,000 words and attempts to summarise many of the issues addressed by the books in this list. My contention is that education has a tendency to endlessly re-badge and then repeat fads of the past. If we know about these past fads then we have some chance of guarding against their reemergence in the future.

What’s not on the list

If you read all of these books then you will have a busy enough summer. But there are certainly other books that I would highly recommend as you continue to develop. I picked Daisy’s myth book but there is another book on myths that is well worth reading: “Urban Myths about Learning and Education,” by Pedro de Bruyckere, Paul Kirschner and Casper Hulshof. It lists many more potential myths than Daisy but deals with each more briefly.

Another very interesting book is Martin Robinson’s attempt to develop a curriculum than unites the best of traditionalism and progressivism; “Trivium 21C”. It’s probably not the first thing you need to read but keep it in mind when you start to ask questions about what should be taught in schools.

E D Hirsch is also a must-read on the curriculum. I am currently reading his new book, “Why knowledge matters,” and others include, “The knowledge deficit”. You can get a feel for his ideas in this article.

If you are a teacher of early reading then Dianne McGuinness’s book is worth considering. It’s quite chunky but provides important insights into how the English language works.

I would like to recommend a book for those who are new to teaching maths but, unfortunately, the books that I know on this subject are just awful. Maths, particularly in elementary school, attracts a lot of people pushing flawed ideas loosely based upon the theory of constructivism. The best I can offer as an antidote is this piece by Hung Hsi Wu from American Educator and the critical Kirschner, Sweller, Clark paper. Oh, and keep an eye on this blog.

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7 Comments on “New teachers’ book list”

  1. Mike says:

    I would like to add a perhaps dated but inspiring book: Gilbert Highet’s The Art of Teaching, or the first few chapters of it at least. Good, sound advice.

  2. Tempe says:

    Hi Greg – As I am homeschooling a yr 7 could you recommend a decent maths textbook that has excellent examples and lots of practice?

    I loved Daisy’s book (finally illuminated and crystalized my own ideas on what was wrong with schools ie lack of knowledge and the way it’s taught) and of course your book was terrific too. I look forward to seeing a review of ED Hirsch’s book.

    • Miss Friday says:

      I’m not Greg, but if you need homeschool curriculum advice, there is no better place than the Well-Trained Mind forums. The community is academic in its focus, and math curricula is a recurring topic.


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