The biologist’s bookshelf

Through the threshold library

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.

Bad Science – by Ben Goldacre

The sixth extinction: an unnatural history – by Elizabeth Kolbert

Thirteen things that don’t make sense – by Michael Brooks

The magic of reality – by Richard Dawkins

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks – by Rebecca Skloot

Creation: the origin of life/the future of life – by Adam Rutherford

The language of life – by Francis Collins

The rational optimist – by Matt Ridley

Quantum evolution: the new science of life – by Johnjoe Mcfadden

The diversity of life – by E.O. Wilson

Impossibility – by John Barrow

Collapse – by Jared Diamond

Thinking, fast and slow – by Daniel Kahneman

The self illusion – by Bruce Hood

The selfish gene – by Richard Dawkins

Genome – by Matt Ridley

Your inner fish – by Neil Shubin

The secret life of trees – by Colin Tudge

The man who mistook his wife for a hat – Oliver Sacks

The Handmaid’s tail – by Margaret Atwood

The Inheritors – by William Golding

The Baroque cycle – by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves – by Neal Stephenson

Aping mankind – by Raymond Tallis

Getting Darwin wrong – by Brendan Wallace

The vital question – by Nick Lane

Life Ascending – by Nick Lane

The greatest show on earth – by Richard Dawkins

The song of the Dodo – by David Quammen

The lives of a cell – by Lewis Thomas

Why evolution is true – by Jerry Coyne

Faith vs fact – by Jerry Coyne

The Serengeti rules – by Sean Carroll

Being mortal – by Atul Gawande

Patient H.M. – by Luke Dittrich

A brief history of everyone whoever lived – by Adam Rutherford

I contain multitudes – by Ed Yong

Fifty ideas you really need to know – by Hayley Birch

The violinists thumb – by Sam Keen

Neanderthal man – by Svante Paabo

The serpents promise – by Steve Jones

The education bookshelf

Through the threshold library

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 (with the exception of some from my training year), 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.

2018

  1. What if everything you knew about education was wrong? – by David Didau – my review.
  2. Cleverlands – by Lucy Crehan
  3. Seven myths about education – by Daisy Christodoulou
  4. Making good progress? – by DaisyChristodoulou
  5. Why knowledge matters: rescuing our children from failed educational theories – by E.D. Hirsch
  6. Ouroboros –  by Greg Ashman
  7. What does this look like in the classroom? – by Carl Hendrick and Robin MacPherson

2017

  1. Why don’t students like school? – by Daniel Willingham
  2. What every teacher needs to know about psychology – by David Didau and Nick Rose
  3. The battle hymn of the tiger teachers: the Michaela way – edited by Katherine Birbalsingh

2016

  1. How to raise an adult – by Julie Lythcott-Haims – my review.
  2. What is the point of school? – by Guy Claxton
  3. Making thinking visible – by Ron Richhardt – my review.

2015

  1. The brain at school: educational neuroscience in the classroom – by John Geake
  2. Classroom-based research and evidence-based practice – by Keith Taber
  3. Ways of learning: learning theories and learning styles in the classroom – by Alan Pritchard
  4. Pedagogy of the oppressed – by Paolo Freire
  5. Visible learning for teachers – by John Hattie

2014

  1. Good work – by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon
  2. Intelligence reframed – by Howard Gardner
  3. Contemporary theories of learning – by Knud Illeris
  4. Teaching as if life matters – by Christopher Uhl

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

The library will be broken into bookshelves, each one published in the next few days:

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.

Fiction 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!

This much I know about EAL teaching

In my view, biology is a subject that is largely about language instruction. Of course, this doesn’t mean, to the exclusion of all other considerations. Yes, of course, there are facts and concepts that need to be learned and understood but, at its heart, it is a subject concerned with language acquisition.

And just like French, it is full of irregular verbs.

Personally, I remember the challenge of all the new vocabulary of the subject at A level, as being something that attracted me to it; I had the impression that by learning all these new words I would be entering another higher plane of existence.

So just imagine what this vocabulary is like for a new student, stepping into this level of biology and operating in their second or third language and perhaps with a very limited exposure to schooling in English. I am always surprised by the number of other adults, parents and administrators, who don’t seem to see this.

Parents, particularly, seem surprised when I bring up the issues of academic language acquisition

I have had some amount of experience teaching students who have started the subject with no English or very little English and this post will outline what I understand about teaching them today I fully recognise that  I am no expert.

James Cummins: BICS & CALP

My first foray into the realm of EAL teaching brought the work of James Cummins to my attention. To summarise, Cummins’ work postulates differences between basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP).

Essentially, the former can be developed over a relatively short period of time (1-3 years) and is the language of peer culture. Children who have developed BICS may well sound fluent and indeed can communicate on a level using common everyday terms and phrases with their family and peers. The latter can take much longer, 5-7 years, and once developed allows the individual to think, manipulate and utilise complex academic concepts mentally. They can think with the language and they can think in very abstract terms.

It seems to me that the work of Cummins suggests that schools should resist simply placing older EAL students into secondary subject-specific classes and hoping that they will catch up. This may work with students going into grade 6 and 7 classrooms but could actually retard students progress in grades 9 and up.

Obviously, in the international context, students may well keep joining older classes (I once had a student who joined grade 10 directly from school in Israel. She has never been taught in English and yet was expected to just catch up in grade 10 biology) and so we can’t reasonably say don’t come to school. But the approach of some managers seems to be that students will just pick up the language.

These students need intensive English instruction first (if that is the language of instruction of their academic subjects) using methods that have been shown to have the largest effect size. Strategies in this category have the best hope of bringing the students learning forward faster and thus the best hope of bringing the time for students to acquire CALP down.

Isabel Beck: Tiered Model of Vocabulary Aquisition

More recently I have come across the work of Isabel Beck whose model of vocabulary acquisition places words into three categories:

 

  • Tier 1: These are the common, everyday words that most children enter school knowing already. Since we don’t need to teach these, this is a tier without tears!

  • Tier 2: This tier consists of words that are used across the content areas and are important for students to know and understand. Included here are process words like analyze and evaluate that students will run into on many standardized tests and that are also used at the university level, in many careers, and in everyday life. We really want to get these words into students’ long-term memory.

  • Tier 3: This tier consists of content-specific vocabulary—the words that are often defined in textbooks or glossaries. These words are important for imparting ideas during lessons and helping to build students’ background knowledge.

 

In biology instruction, it is the tier 3 words that all students are going to struggle with initially, but EAL students may also be lacking a good number of tier 2 words, which will make their comprehension the tier 3 words that much limited as these words often provide the context for the tier 3 words.

For example this year I can think of the words “coolant” and “yield” that came up as not being known by my grade 11 students. Many of these are students raised in English speaking families but have been attending Swiss public schools up until the start of grade 10 or 11. These aren’t words that come up in everyday conversation but are used across academic domains.

I am relatively new to the idea of Tiered vocabulary but it does seem, on first impressions, a useful way to think about words that EAL students may or may not have and to plan to help students bridge that gap.

Perhaps, one wider school aim could be to map out the tier 2 words that are common across subjects. Once a working list is compiled then students can be assessed for their knowledge of these words and interventions put in place.

Strategies

  • Identify and pre-teach complex vocab (tier 3 words) before starting the unit (I use Quizlet “learn” for this)
  • Get to know your suffixes and prefixes so that you can explicitly model your understanding of the terminology to students.
  • Keep new words on the board, clearly visible to students to use in their thinking, speaking and writing.
  • Encourage more reading and writing in your classroom. Encourage students to constantly use the new terms that they are being exposed to.
  • Use a reading age analysis to examine the tests and exams that students in your class are likely to sit – what is the level? What is the English reading level of your EAL students?
  • At the start of the course give students lots of opportunity for guided reading, ask students to identify words that they don’t know and keep a running list. Provide explanations for these words.
  • In line with the above, continue to identify Tier 2 word gaps in your student’s knowledge through reading exercises.
  • Perhaps try to list out common tier 2 words in your subject (this would take time) and compare with other departments. Check students understanding for these.