1. Essential Questions – Create a Culture of Inquiry in your Classroom
What makes this book a valuable read is that the authors provide multiple practical resources which help you to formulate high-quality EQs and align them with the skill and knowledge components of your curriculum. They provide a useful eight-phase process for practical implementation in the classroom and they suggest routines to maximise student processing and response to EQs.
2. Visible Learning into Action – Evidence-Based Teaching gets Practical
One possible reason for this could be that Hattie’s work, like that of his peers Dylan Wiliam and Robert Coe, while important and essential reading for all teachers, comes across as overly-scientific and abstract reading, more like a peer-reviewed journal than a practical guide. While teachers are obviously intelligent and academically vetted individuals they simply do not have the appetite to dig into the academic research on this one area when they are faced with endless options and pressures from other areas of professional development. We must bear in mind that when teachers do engage with school-mandated or voluntary professional reading it is still most likely that they will prioritise state-mandated reading and subject-specific materials.
It is then very exciting to see this year’s publication of Visible Learning into Action by John Hattie, Deb Masters and Kate Birch. Here, Hattie puts his Visible Learning model into action and provides teachers and administrators with a practical reference for how to implement an evidence-based approach to teaching and learning. The book briefly recaps Hattie’s research and provides a simple overview of the five steps of employing the Visible Learning impact cycle. The remainder of the book examines practical examples of this cycle in action, grouping them into the five strands of Visible Learning: Know thy Impact, The Visible Learner, Inspired and Passionate Teachers, Effective Feedback and The Visible Learning School.
While Hattie’s Visible Learning (2008) identifies what works in education and Visible Learning for Teachers (2011) provides a guide for how to improve student achievement, Visible Learning into Action (2015) provides tangible and practical examples of his method in action. For instance, in chapter four Monmia Primary School is used as an example of how a school effectively implemented a feedback model to improve literacy and numeracy at the school. The chapter takes the reader through the process employed in a step-by-step manner providing rubrics, primary documentation from data-gathering phases and feedback from students and teachers involved.
The result is that any teacher or administrator reading this book will feel inspired and equipped to attempt to employ an evidence-based approach to teaching and learning in their school.
3. The Nonverbal Advantage – Understand the Power of your Actions
Kinsey’s book focuses on body language and the impact it has on our daily interactions with others. While this is not an education text per se the ideas discussed are particularly beneficial to educators and she does refer to studies that indicate that teachers who used nonverbal cues intentionally, e.g. making eye-contact or employing affirmative and engaging gestures with the head and body, increased students’ motivation and student enjoyment of the lesson and built stronger relationships.
After a brief introduction to the 5 C’s of body language – Context, Clusters, Congruence, Consistency and Culture – the author provides a more detailed analysis of whole body language, facial expressions, eye contact, hand gestures and feet placement. Kinsey provides diagrams and photos throughout, keeping the text engaging. Chapters seven and eight, which deal with the layout of space and the power of touch, have obvious and daily importance for teachers and will provide useful ideas on how to lay out your classroom to engender positive interpersonal and learning experiences.
In chapters nine and ten the author emphasises the importance of learning how to read nonverbal cues, how to identify commonalities and translate differences across cultures. While this is, once again, not an academic text it does provide an engaging introduction to nonverbal communication and it should prompt you to be more conscious of your interactions with your students and your learning space next semester.
4. Setting the Standard for Project-Based Learning – A Definitive Guide to PBL
What distinguishes the latter text from any other currently available is that it moves beyond simply identifying the key steps involved in employing PBL as a teaching method and instead positions PBL as a school-culture defining-model for Inquiry. All of the authors have significant experience of working with PBL in classroom contexts and are connected with the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), which is the world’s leading support organisation for PBL. As it stands this text certainly does set the standard for PBL and is worth reading.
The book identifies the key elements involved in PBL (or Gold Standard Project Based Learning as they call it): student learning goals – key knowledge, understanding and skills – and the essential design elements for any project – Essential Question, sustained Inquiry, authenticity, voice and choice, reflection, critique and revision, and public product.
At the outset of this book the authors present a balanced critique of the benefits of employing a PBL approach to teaching and learning by analysing the existing research on the effectiveness of PBL in schools. The authors also make reference to the work of Hattie and have been careful to use his findings to inform their model of PBL. This makes it the most reliable model for PBL currently available.
Chapters four to seven are a practical walk-through of how to implement a PBL project either in your individual classroom or as part of a whole-school effort. Key information in designing your project are made easily accessible in text boxes throughout chapters and there are numerous practical diagrams such as a completed “Project Design” template to help you to understand how to effectively plan and teach a PBL unit. A nice feature of this book is that the authors are connected to BIE and you can avail of a wealth of complimentary practical resources at bie.org.
5. Teaching Today – A Practical Guide to Good Teaching
While this book is not light holiday reading it is designed so that the reader can dip in and out as needed. This makes it ideal as a starting point for your end of term reflections. If you have identified an area in your teaching that you would like to improve upon you will most likely find a reference and practical approach to it in this comprehensive (594 pages) book. The text is broken into five parts: The Learner’s Practical and Emotional Needs, The Teacher Toolkit, Resources for Teaching and Learning, Putting it all Together and The Professional in Practice. In parts two and three the author provides you with detailed assistance on how to manage your classroom and implement learning activities. In chapter 17, for example, he takes you through all of the steps involved in successfully engaging students in a meaningful discussion. He identifies when to use discussion, how to plan for a discussion, how to choose meaningful questions, how to lead a discussion, appropriate layouts for different discussion types and a checklist for ensuring that you have managed the discussion effectively. Importantly, as in every chapter, the author provides a list of further reading to deepen your knowledge of the topic.
While this book is ideal for novice teachers, the tips, practical advice, resources and further reading suggestions make this book an important reference for any teacher. The chapters are short, practical and the ideas contained can be quickly and easily implemented in any classroom. As such, beyond the novice, this book offers great potential for veteran teachers to freshen up their practice and continue to evolve as learners themselves.
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*CREDIT - Images of all five book covers taken from amazon.de