Book Club

I started as a programmer, but somehow became a teacher. If I wanted to make that transition today faster and with fewer false starts, I would read these books in this order:

  1. Either Lang’s Small Teaching or Huston’s Teaching What You Don’t Know. These are both short, approachable, and connect things you can do right now back to the research that backs them.

  2. Both Major et al’s Teaching for Learning and Brookfield and Preskill’s The Discussion Book. The first catalogs a hundred different kinds of exercises you can do with students; the second describes fifty different ways that groups can discuss things productively. (These books can be used on their own, but I think they’ll make more sense once Huston or Lang have given you a framework for understanding them.)

  3. Both De Bruyckere et al’s Urban Myths About Learning and Education, which conveys a lot of what is true about its subjects by telling us what isn’t, and Didau’s What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology, which grounds learning theory in cognitive psychology.

  4. Both Green’s Building a Better Teacher and McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed. Learning never happens in a vacuum; as a start on understanding the broader context, these two short books explain why so many attempts at educational reform have failed over the past forty years and how for-profit colleges are exploiting and exacerbating the growing inequality in our society.

  5. Possibly Guzdial’s Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education or Hazzan et al’s Guide to Teaching Computer Science. These are the most useful academic books I’ve found about teaching computing; your mileage may vary.

  6. Both Papert’s Mindstorms and Watters’ The Monsters of Education Technology. The first presents an inspiring vision of how computers could change education; the second is a collection of talks describing and critiquing what we’ve done instead.

  7. Brown’s Building Powerful Community Organizations, because you’ll eventually realize that you can’t teach computing without changing the system, and you can’t change the system without mobilizing people.

While working through these, I would also subscribe to:

  • Mark Guzdial’s blog, which is the single most useful source of information about computing education I’ve ever found.

  • The Learning Scientists, which is just as useful, and covers evidence-based teaching in general.

If you’re working in a formal classroom seting, I would also take an occasional look at SIGCSE, ITiCSE, and ICER, which are three academic conferences about computing education. (Unfortunately, many of their papers are behind paywalls that make them inaccessible to the general public, and I don’t know of equivalent gatherings for people working in free-range settings like coding bootcamps or weekend coding clubs.)

There are thousands of books about all aspects of education; what would you add to this list, and what would you take out to make room? And what’s your favorite book about teaching online? Comments or feedback would be very welcome.

Other suggestions:

  • Ambrose et al’s How Learning Works is a comprehensive survey of learning research from 2010.
  • Lang’s Cheating Lessons treats cheating the way a growing number of progressives treat drugs–as a health issue rather than a moral failing–and explores how better teaching methods can reduce its frequency.
  • Margolis and Fisher’s Unlocking the Clubhouse is still the best introduction to the gender imbalance in STEM I know.
  • Margolis et al’s Stuck in the Shallow End is an equally good (and equally damning) look at computing’s racial inequities.
  • Miller’s Minds Online is about how general learning theory applies to online teaching rather than about online teaching per se, but is an enjoyable and informative read.
  • Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons explains why Finland’s educational system produces outstanding results and why most other countries won’t be able to copy it unless they’re first willing to tackle systemic inequality.
  • Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? approaches the problem from the perspective of cognitive psychology; the answers aren’t all directly actionable, but the insights are intriguing.
  • Wlodkowski and Ginsberg’s Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn covers one important topic in detail.

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