Through the threshold library

Through the threshold library

My second daughter was born at the end of January 2017. I found the experience of adding a fourth person to our family, and the subsequent adjustment much, much more challenging than when my eldest was born, especially when we threw a house move into the mix when she was four weeks old!

A really tiny part of this whole process was my realisation in April that I had basically stopped reading since she was born. This thought really worried me. So, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on what I managed to read last year. That thought then evolved into the idea of publishing a library on my blog. So here it is:

Education bookshelf

These are all the books that have impacted my thinking about education for better or worse since I started teaching. I include the year I read it and titles in bold mean that I would currently recommend it. If I have written a review of it this will be linked.

I include all the books about teaching that I have read, firstly as a record of my own CPD and secondly because of even those books that contain arguments and ideas that I now disagree with, I recognise that my thinking about education is still fluid, open to change and these books will still have provided me with some basis for my own reflection and development.

The biologist’s bookshelf

One of the first things that I did when I started this blog was to publish the bio reading list, basically a list of books that I considered useful for biology teachers and their students to read. That post is a little tired now, so I update it to the biologist’s bookshelf and include all the books that I have read since it was published.

The guidance bookshelf

Useful books that I use for university guidance.

The parenting bookshelf

Books that I have read and that have informed my thinking as a parent. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, they have also influenced the way that I have thought about education too.

Miscellaneous bookshelf

Simply a list of all the other books I have read recently that has nothing to do with education or biology. Quite often, especially during term time, I just find I need an escape from thinking about learning and teaching. Horror and Sci-Fi/Fantasy is where I tend to go. Now that I am moving to China, I have parted company with many of my books and so want to keep a record of them here.

My reads by year

A list of the all the books I have read each year.

Review: What if everything you knew about education was wrong?

This Easter holidays I read David Didau’s 350+ page compendium.

Basically, this book is an essential must read for any teacher. It is detailed and covers quite the range of ideas relating to classroom practice. On top of that, it is very well written, with clear and accessible language.

It is broken into four parts.

Part 1 “Why we are wrong” introduces the reader to a few general psychological concepts. Throughout the book, David references Daniel Kahneman’s work “Thinking, Fast and Slow” a lot and I think much of what is written here is sourced from that book, although, perhaps, simplified and certainly written in a much less head scratchy way. If you have read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” many of the ideas about psychological traps and biases will be familiar to you. Still, David is able to show how to apply these concepts succinctly to the classroom setting. He also provides an excellent explanation of effect sizes and the statistical techniques used to compare the effectiveness of classroom interventions before giving some real food for thought as to why this evidence might not be as robust as we think. His critique of Hattie’s work was quite surprising for me and I welcomed the explanation of a concept I had heard lots of people talk about, but nobody has ever explained.

Part 2 lays out what David refers to as the threshold concepts for learning to teach effectively. David unpicks many commonly held myths about classroom teaching and learning and makes an argument as to why many of these cherished ideas are wrong. The key idea here is that learning does not equal the same thing as performance in class. Learning is essentially an invisible process happening in peoples heads and by looking at performance in class we assume that this equates to learning in the mind of the student. Classroom observers look for evidence of “rapid and sustained” learning during class time, however learning, David makes the case for, is messy, non-linear and if it is going to be sustained cannot be rapid. Aside from the difference between learning and performance he covers concepts such the difference between novice and expert learners, the structure of our memory in terms of storage and retrieval strength and cognitive load.

After explaining our cognitive biases and how they apply in education before unpicking many myths about classroom practice held in educational circles, in part 3 David goes on to apply the cognitive concepts from part 2 directly to teaching practice. He gives a clear exposition of interleaving, the spacing effect, the testing effects and the effects of feedback. His writing will prompt you to think about these topics and how they may apply in your own planning and instruction – I know that they certainly have for me.

In the final part, he examines other pet theories in education that we could be wrong about. The first chapter deals with formative assessment and presents a surprising critique of Dylan Wiliams work, with a reply for Dylan Wiliam. There are also chapters on the problems of lesson observations, differentiation, praise among others.

One of the things that I was most surprised about and enjoyed reading was the critiques of the work by very established researchers. The work of both Hattie and Wiliam were picked apart at different points in the book. I am not sure I am fully convinced by the arguments but it was a pleasure to read something that was a little bit different in the sense that I have never come across critical reflections of these, much discussed, in schools at least, concepts before.

I also like the way the book is laid out. Now that I have read it through, I am able to easily go back and find relevant chapters for different concepts again.

This book has given me quite a bit to think about in terms of my curriculum planning and my classroom practice. Despite having just finalised my DP curriculum, I am already prompted by thoughts in this book to review it – particularly in line with David’s thesis that we should plan curriculums around threshold concepts. Doing that first involves identifying them which will probably be the springboard for my next CPD drive. However, I am fully aware that even the threshold concept of threshold concepts may turn out to be an unevidenced and unprovable claim made by education researchers and that my time here will be wasted. Only time will tell!

Bio Reading List

August 2016

Reading, Reading, Reading! Reading for research and Reading to support a deeper understanding of the subject. It can be a tricky one with some DP students. For one they already have six subjects plus TOK, Extended Essay and CAS and so encouragement to take up some “outside” reading of their subjects can appear to some of them as overkill and an extra burden. Secondly in the internet age I notice that more students will readily turn to google and a variety of dubious websites to try to quickly find information in the name of “research” for assignments, instead of relying on their course textbook as the first recourse for research.

How to get students using the materials like reference textbooks more readily as well as encouraging a deeper interest in the subject is a perennial question for me.

Below is a list of books that I give to DP biology students which I started compiling in 2014. Some of these I award as internal prizes for a variety of competitions and some I try to build into my course.

You can now add to this list and download your own copy by clicking here.

If you do download please do add to the list.