It’s Complicated by Dana Boyd. Didn’t get it. Just didn’t get why so many people raved about this book. I felt like I had heard many of the book’s core ideas in water-cooler talk. For example, there’s a whole chapter devoted to the idea that online social networking sites lose their appeal to teens once adults populate them. The academic prose doesn’t make the insight any deeper. And a book like this that uses mostly narrative and a selective, not systematic, look at statistics needs deep insights to be interesting. You need to feel challenged by these new ideas, otherwise the book feels like an apologia for a particular point of view. You can’t help think “Well, Sherry Turkel and Nick Carr have a different take on that.”
How We Learn by Benedict Carey. I read this book in manuscript and provided a blurb for the back cover. I enthused, and in fact enjoyed it so much that I read it again about six weeks ago. Learning and memory was my specialization as an empirical researcher, and I keep up with the literature. Thus, almost none of the findings was a surprise to me, but Carey does such a terrific job of pulling it all together in a way that’s practical for everyday use, I wanted to reacquaint myself with his take, for my sake and for when I advise students. It’s a great book.
Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green. I really appreciate the central message of this book: “teaching is a skill that can be communicated and taught.” Sure, some people have abilities that seem to come naturally that others lack: they understand kids’ motivations, for example, or they seem to have a sixth sense about which ideas will be hard or easy for a given student to understand. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t teach people how to improve, and in fact, how to teach. Green’s book is a chronicling of some of the success stories in this vein, including efforts by Doug Lemov and Deborah Lowenberg Ball. It makes for compelling reading. What’s missing for me is a more probing analysis of why these ideas are not more widely adopted. It’s not as though they are unknown; why don’t people use them? That question must be answered before these ideas (or take your pick of which you think ought to be more widely adopted) will make their way into more teacher education programs.
The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. How often does a book articulate a problem that you perceived but couldn’t say much about, and then solve the problem for you? That’s what this book did for me. I’m the parent Lieber targets in this book. I want my kids to have the values my wife and I share when it comes to money, but I don’t know how to impart them. Worse, when seven-year-old asks questions about money (“How much do you make?”) I often don’t know what to say. Lieber offers specific advice that strikes you as perfect common sense…once he’s told you what to do or say. For example, he suggests that most money-related questions from younger kids—including “how much do you make”--be answered the same way: with the question “why do you want to know?” Lieber’s point is that kids often ask questions for reasons other than the one adults assume they have in mind. “How much do you make?” may be an effort to figure out whether your family is comparable to others, or to get a ballpark idea of what a grown-up salary is, or any of a hundred other reasons. You won’t agree with every bit of advice the author doles out, but as he says at the outset, the point is to start a conversation. I loved this book.
From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse by Jack Schneider takes on the question “why do some ideas from academia gain influence among educators whereas others do not?” As someone who seeks to identify and translate ideas from research to practice, this question strikes me as enormously significant and if Schneider doesn’t provide an iron-clad case—it’s not obvious that’s even possible—he at least makes a good start at addressing the problem. Schneider names four key factors. For ideas to be influential, they must be compatible with teachers’ general philosophical orientation regarding childhood, they must seem of potential importance, there must be some hope of realistically acting on them in the classroom, and they must be transportable across contexts. Schneider offers case studies of four influential ideas (multiple intelligences, Bloom’s taxonomy and two others) and compares them to ideas that seem very similar but that, he argues, lack one of the key features. This is an interesting read on a difficult problem.