Here is the second in my recommendations for books educators might read this summer. This set focuses on books about educational practice.
Kahn – The One Room Schoolhouse – this might now be described as an oldie, but goodie. This is Sal Kahn’s explanation of the origins and emerging rationale for the Kahn Academy. I recommend the book because of the focus on mastery learning and individualization. Popularized terms such as personalization or individualization can describe many different things. I think an important issue that is largely neglected is the reality that learners make progress at very different rates and this fact within the fact of group-based instruction creates a variety of problems. Teacher efforts to deal with such differences as these differences grow with grade level cannot be optimal. I believe the use of technology is a way to address individual needs for some content areas in combination with group-based strategies (flexible teaching) offers important opportunities. I see this in some charter schools, but I would rather more traditional public schools incorporate this type of innovation. You get the flavor for some of these ideas from Kahn’s book.
Kuhn and Hemberger – Argue with Me: Argument as a Path to Developing Students’ Thinking and Writing. The word argument may put some off. This is because we tend to see the process as emotion-laden and negative. The term debate might be more palatable. Kuhn has an impressive record as an applied researcher and demonstrates the value of argumentation in critical thinking as applied in a wide variety of areas. Argumentation is at the heart of scientific research and important in evaluating all kinds of claims. What is your position and what is your evidence in support of this position? How to use reasoned disagreement as a way to move all toward positions more consistent with the evidence available or at least make clear the rationale for competing positions. I think Kuhn offers much as a way forward in addressing 21st-century literacy and thinking skills.
Wittrick – Pure genius: Building a culture of innovation. I think the notion of passion projects, 20% time, etc. have been somewhat over-hyped. I think what I describe as “hobby learning” has always existed. I also think that higher education has made such opportunities available at least since I attended college. Such options are still widely available as honors programs, special topics, etc. I agree that these flexible and individual opportunities have been slow to reach K-12. As might be obvious from other recommendations I make, I believe productive innovation in schools will come from combining tactics with different advantages rather than all or none solutions.
Bonus – I must include my most recent book in this list. Layering for learning was written for educators wanting to incorporate online content (web pages and video) in their instruction. The book takes a “teacher as instructional designer” perspectives and considers what might be done to convert information resources into instructional content by layering (adding) components such as questions, prompts, background information on existing online resources.