May 17th, 2022
One of the best ways to deeply learn a subject is by teaching it to others. But being a good teacher is about more than just brain-dumping everything you know about a topic. How can you make sure you're teaching in a way that's actually helping people learn?
I've read a lot about learning and education since I started teaching in 2014. Here's a list of my favorite resources on how to become a better educator.
Teaching Tech Together: How to create lessons that work and build a teaching community around them, by Greg Wilson
If you only read one book from this list, let it be this one. The whole time I was reading it, I constantly nodded my head emphatically at each new point.
Teaching Tech Together covers education best practices touched on by other resources in this list, but what sets it apart is its specific focus on people who are teaching programming. It's perfect for anyone looking for a crash course in pedagogy within the context of engineering. The book is extremely well researched, and it's jam-packed with interesting concepts and practical techniques.
Quote from the publisher's website:
Hundreds of grassroots groups have sprung up around the world to teach programming, web design, robotics, and other skills outside traditional classrooms. These groups exist so that people don't have to learn these things on their own, but ironically, their founders and instructors are often teaching themselves how to teach.
There's a better way. This book presents evidence-based practices that will help you create and deliver lessons that work and build a teaching community around them. Topics include the differences between different kinds of learners, diagnosing and correcting misunderstandings, teaching as a performance art, what motivates and demotivates adult learners, how to be a good ally, fostering a healthy community, getting the word out, and building alliances with like-minded groups. The book includes over a hundred exercises that can be done individually or in groups, over 350 references, and a glossary to help you navigate educational jargon.
Learning How to Learn, by Barbara Oakley
This Coursera course covers cognitive-science research on how your brain works, and how you can optimize your learning strategies to retain information more effectively. The videos are short and sweet, with plenty of analogies to make the content relatable.
Quote from the Coursera course page:
This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. We'll learn about how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information. We'll also cover illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.
Using these approaches, no matter what your skill levels in topics you would like to master, you can change your thinking and change your life.
Make It Stick, by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel
This book is a great introduction to learning science and how your memory works.
Make It Stick covers similar material to Learning How to Learn, interwoven with stories and examples from cognitive-science research. The tone is conversational and easy to read, and each chapter ends with a handy "Takeaway" section that reiterates the key ideas.
Quote from the publisher's website:
Many common study habits and practice routines turn out to be counterproductive. Underlining and highlighting, rereading, cramming, and single-minded repetition of new skills create the illusion of mastery, but gains fade quickly. More complex and durable learning come from self-testing, introducing certain difficulties in practice, waiting to re-study new material until a little forgetting has set in, and interleaving the practice of one skill or topic with another. Speaking most urgently to students, teachers, trainers, and athletes, Make It Stick will appeal to all those interested in the challenge of lifelong learning and self-improvement.
Practice Perfect, by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi
This book refutes the old saying that "practice makes perfect," and instead argues that "practice makes permanent." In other words, the way that you practice will be the way that you perform, so make sure you practice doing it right.
Practice Perfect includes 42 techniques for how to practice skills effectively. It includes examples from a wide variety of industries, including sports, music, and medicine. This book changed the way I think about facilitating workshops and my stance on rote memorization.
Quote from the publisher's website:
By researching the latest in brain and behavioral science and in their work training teachers with Uncommon Schools, the authors found that what you do in practice matters as much if not more than how much you practice. There is a right way and a wrong way to practice. The right way involves breaking through assumptions, modeling excellent practice, using feedback, creating a culture of practice, making new skills stick, and hiring for practice.
Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
This book is the go-to resource on backward design, a framework for planning and writing curricula. It's the approach I always use when I'm working on a new course.
Instead of the conventional approach of starting a lesson plan with an outline of the activities you want students to complete, backward design flips things around and starts with learning objectives first. What do you want students to be able to do after this lesson? What assessments will help you measure whether or not they're able to do those things? Only after answering those questions do you start thinking about the activities that will help students complete those assessments and achieve the desired learning objectives.
The authors also created an Understanding by Design Professional Development Workbook, which has lots of examples of putting the framework into practice. It also includes several worksheets that you can use to apply the process to your own courses.
Quote from the introduction:
As the title suggests, this book is about good design—of curriculum, assessment, and instruction—focused on developing and deepening understanding of important ideas. Posed as a question, considered throughout the book and from many perspectives, the essence of this book is this: How do we make it more likely—by our design—that more students really understand what they are asked to learn? So often, by contrast, those who "get it" are learners who come to us already able and articulate—understanding by good fortune. What must our planning entail to have an intellectual impact on everyone: the less experienced; the highly able, but unmotivated; the less able; those with varied interests and styles?
Head First series created by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates
This one isn't explicitly about teaching readers how to be better teachers. But it's a masterclass on how to make technical content engaging and "sticky" so that it's easier for learners to digest and retain.
One of the hallmarks of the Head First series is the writing style. At first glance, the quirky comics, diagrams, and character dialogue might seem like a gimmick. But the introduction of each book explains how their writing style is based in cognitive-science research. It's intentionally designed to transform potentially dull technical topics into something fun that your brain actually wants to pay attention to.
The series has books on a wide variety of technical topics, from web dev to Git to design patterns, so you're sure to find something you're interested in.
Quote from the introduction of the 2nd edition of Head First Java:
We've all had the "I really want to learn this but I can't stay awake past page one" experience. Your brain pays attention to things that are out of the ordinary, interesting, strange, eye-catching, unexpected. Learning a new, tough, technical topic doesn't have to be boring. Your brain will learn much more quickly if it's not.
Docs for Developers: An Engineer's Field Guide to Technical Writing, by Jared Bhatti, Zachary Sarah Corleissen, Jen Lambourne, David Nunez, and Heidi Waterhouse
This one is for all you technical writers out there!
Docs for Developers walks readers through the process of building a user-centered documentation site—from planning to writing to maintaining, and everything in between. It includes several helpful lists of guiding questions, making it the perfect reference book for any documentarian's desk.
The book also includes a narrative throughline about a fictional tech company called Corgi.ly. Each chapter checks in on the developers at Corgi.ly as they build out the documentation site for their dog-bark-translator API. The narrative helps set up the context for the chapter and relates the theory back to a real-world scenario. (And it means we get cute corgi illustrations!)
Quote from the introduction:
We created this field guide to technical documentation by building on our own expertise and feedback from a multitude of developers. It's designed as a resource to keep at hand, so you can write documentation as part of your software development process.
This book walks you through creating documentation from scratch. It begins with identifying the needs of your users and creating a plan with common patterns of documentation, then moves through the process of drafting, editing, and publishing your content. The book concludes with practical advice about integrating feedback, measuring effectiveness, and maintaining your documentation as it grows.
Lost at School, by Ross W. Greene
This is a book about how to work with students who often get labeled as "challenging." The central theme of this book is "kids do well if they can," a principle in direct opposition to what many believe (that "kids do well if they want to"). The author introduces a model called Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS), a behavior management strategy that stems from meeting students where they are and working together to find solutions to disruptive behaviors.
Like Docs for Developers, this book includes a narrative throughline showing how to use CPS in practice, so readers can see how the ideas from each chapter build on each other and develop the confidence to use the framework on their own.
Lost at School is geared toward teachers working in public schools, but honestly it's also a good read for managers, parents, or anyone who needs help figuring out how to give constructive feedback. If you'd prefer a video, here's a YouTube playlist of Dr. Ross Greene explaining Collaborative Problem Solving.
Quote from the introduction:
Helping kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges is not a mechanical exercise. Kids aren't robots, adults aren't robots, and helping them work together isn't robotic. The work is hard, messy, uncomfortable, and requires teamwork, patience, and tenacity, especially as the work also involves questioning conventional wisdom and practice. This book contains lots of material and examples to help you better understand challenging kids, how to implement the [Collaborative Problem Solving] model, and how to work collaboratively toward the common goal of helping these kids more effectively.
Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov
This book contains 62 practical techniques on everything from engaging students in group discussions to building a classroom culture that normalizes and celebrates error. Each technique is explained with concrete examples, making it easy to incorporate into your next lesson.
It's aimed at teachers working to close the achievement gap in K-12 schools, but the techniques can also be used by anyone who facilitates live workshops.
Quote from the book's website:
Upon studying videos of high-performing teachers, Lemov distills their methods into concrete tangible actions for others to use and adapt...
Through the techniques, Lemov explains how to Check for Understanding, raise academic expectations, increase the ratio of the cognitive work students do, motivate and engage students, make classrooms more writing-intensive, improve discussions, and anticipate when it is necessary to redirect student behavior so it is positive and productive.
For easy reference, here's a quick list of all the resources from this post:
- My #1 recommendation
- Resources on how people learn
- Resources on designing educational content
- Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
- Head First series created by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates
- Docs for Developers: An Engineer's Field Guide to Technical Writing, by Jared Bhatti, Zachary Sarah Corleissen, Jen Lambourne, David Nunez, and Heidi Waterhouse
- Resources on classroom management
I'm always looking to learn more about how to be a good teacher! What are some of your favorite resources on education?