- David Gooblar, The Missing Course
- James Lang, Small Teaching
- Sarah Rose Cavanagh, Spark of Learning
- Susan Blum, Ungrading
- Joshua Eyler, How Humans Learn
- bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress
- Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach
- Jessamyn Neuhaus, Geeky Pedagogy
- Michelle Miller, Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology
- Peter Brown, Herny Roediger, and Mark McDaniel, Make it Stick
- Susan Blum, "I Love Learning; I Hate School"
- Christine Harrington and Todd Zakrajsek, Dynamic Lecturing
- James Lang, Distracted
Review by Dylan Wilbur
David Gooblar’s book is an insightful guide to teaching in higher education that provides useful techniques to help educators teach students. The approach to topics within the book is very practical and addresses common difficulties faced by many teachers in the collegiate setting. At the outset, Gooblar emphasizes the importance of teaching as a professor at a university: many faculty members think of teaching as ancillary to research but most of their time is spent teaching students. This attitude creates a self-imposed lack of accountability for students’ learning and results in educational neglect. This stems not just from the institutions where instructors teach but from the training they receive as graduate students. Despite this critique, Gooblar maintains that there is not a correct way to teach, and most of the best teachers are the ones who are simply committed to helping their students.
With “active learning” as his major theme, the approach Gooblar proposes centers on student engagement and helping students to revise their understandings with new thought processes and information. This engagement can take many forms: group discussions, reflective writing about ideas, quick quizzes, drawing new connections between ideas, with decreased amounts of lecturing at the students. Students may have a difficult time becoming active in these ways, and a negative student environment will shut the communication down. Gooblar thus helpfully elaborates on techniques that can increase students’ comfort and their willingness to participate. Getting students to “buy in” can take many forms, such as inviting students to be involved with selecting readings, topics, setting personal goals, self-reflection and becoming aware of their own thought processes (metacognition). Determining these factors is not only important for the students to get more situated to a more active environment, but it will also allow the teacher to further understand how to adjust teaching styles to the current students who are sitting in the classroom.
Assessing student’s learning and the quality of their interactions with material is just as important as student-teacher-classroom dynamic. Assignments and grading do not exist solely to provide a numerical value of a student’s aptitude. Gooblar posits that assignments and grading are a part of the necessary feedback loop in the learning process. Often when we assign worksheets or tests, we grade these materials without providing additional tasks so that students can practice with the awareness of the mistakes, which partially diminishes the applicability of feedback for students. Glooblar proposes that teachers make feedback tangible and useable for students. The feedback loop also benefits the instructor, and Gooblar urges instructors to look for ways to improve their courses. Dedicating time to actively critique and revise course content to be more in line with the goals and skills you want the students to learn will improve the overall experience for both students and teachers.
Beyond the direct interaction with the material, students also encounter you the teacher. How you compose yourself as a teacher in the classroom will influence students’ learning and how they interact with the class. Gooblar maintains that initially we should appear confident in our course objectives and planned material; and once confidence is established, we should then model uncertainty (or the response to uncertainty). It is important to not appear as having all the answers or infallible because ignorance is not something to be ashamed of. Teachers should look for opportunities to show the students our inexperience and how to think through occasions when we don’t have the answers. These opportunities provide chances to demonstrate how to think in a scholarly problem-solving manner that allows for students to feel comfortable about their lack of knowledge and how to approach difficult unknowns.
Overall, The Missing Course is an easy read, based on broad familiarity with the scholarship of teaching and learning and using real-life scenarios that many instructors should be able to relate to. My only critique pertains to the applicability of certain tools on a larger scale. Much of the advice provided in the text would really seem to apply to an undergraduate classroom of no more than 30 students or graduate courses. I would recommend this book to a first-year graduate student to become aware of the situations that they can find themselves in as well as a more experienced professor looking for alternative approaches to reach students in the classroom.
Review by Emma Cortisano
A common complaint across higher education is that college costs are rising without outcomes to justify the increase. Retention and graduation rates are still low, and employers feel that graduates are not equipped for the workforce. Simply put: what we’ve been doing all along to educate students is not enough to ingrain learning and prepare them for life after college. James M. Lang wrote Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning to address the issue of learning on a micro-level by offering nine techniques professors might try incorporating into their lesson plans to improve student learning. Lang frames the book with the concept of small-ball, or the practice in softball and baseball of making small changes and taking small risks to win the game (e.g., stealing bases). Small teaching, thus, is “an approach that seeks to spark positive change in higher education through small but powerful modiﬁcations to our course design and teaching practices” (p. 5). Small teaching interventions can take one of three forms: brief activities in class, one-time interventions, or small modifications in course design or communication.
Part I of Small Teaching addresses knowledge. In order to learn, analyze, synthesize, and apply material, students need a foundation of knowledge. Lang makes a point throughout the book to encourage instructors to use these principles in a way that will help students perform better on assignments. For example, if the final exam is open-ended responses, then small teaching techniques should be designed in such a way to encourage students to practice developing a thesis, recalling material, and writing freely. The first practice Lang presents is retrieving, which asks students to recall information from previous classes at the start of class or to pull out important points from the day at the end of the class. The next practice is predicting, in which students make a prediction about something related to course content. This activates the brain differently from listening to a lecture, and students are more likely to retain the information taught regardless of the accuracy of the prediction. The third practice in this section is interleaving, which is the practice of switching between content when studying. This might seem annoying to students but demands better recall and more concentration when interacting with the different materials.
Part II presents pedagogy related to understanding. First, connecting is a task in which students make associations between prior knowledge and the material presented or concepts taught at different points throughout the course to deepen understanding. The next technique is practicing, in which instructors provide ample opportunities for students to gain experience in what will be required of them on course assignments and exams (e.g., writing each part of a paper). Third, the act of self-explaining is helpful because students catch instances in which they might make errors or not fully understand a concept and thus are compelled to remedy this issue. Feedback from the instructor is especially important for these three small teaching practices to guide students along the path of deep understanding of course material.
Lang shares ideas around inspiration. First, motivation is a touchy subject because of the tension between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Since students are influenced by the instructor’s disposition, small practices like connecting with students in the minutes before class, sharing enthusiasm, and acknowledging students’ emotions can all increase intrinsic motivation to engage in the course. Second, growing stems from Carol Dweck’s work with mindset; Lang uses this principle to encourage instructors to praise effort rather than intelligence and to consistently use growth language. Finally, Lang presents expanding, which could be considered a big teaching technique depending on how much an instructor wants to redesign their course. Lang encourages readers to thoughtfully integrate service learning, simulations, and activity-based learning to inspire students.
All nine practices presented in the book are well researched and supported by theory and practice. However, Lang’s background as an English professor comes through in his examples for how readers might apply some of the practices. Lang occasionally makes suggestions for how instructors in other fields might incorporate small teaching techniques, but the book is most accessible to those in the humanities and social sciences; other readers need to make the leap from theory to practice for themselves. Additionally, Lang suggests using clickers for several of the teaching techniques. However, there is some debate on whether clickers are useful since students might not participate without consequence. It would be helpful if Lang suggested other ways to engage students while still providing immediate feedback. Finally, Lang offers minimal suggestions for online applications of the small teaching principles he presents. Readers interested in effective online pedagogy might consider the companion book, Small Teaching Online by Flower Darby.
Small Teaching is a great read for anyone looking to improve their teaching techniques. Lang assumes most readers have been teaching for a while, but graduate students and new teachers will also benefit from this book as they design courses. Practice 8—growing—is relevant to readers as well. Embracing a growth mindset and using feedback will be key to implementing the small teaching techniques Lang presents. Helping students learn better does not necessarily require a massive overhaul of a course; readers can try something new tomorrow.
Review by Kayla Garrett
This book seeks to explain the science behind the common notion that what makes a “good teacher” is “enthusiasm.” This is a general and unhelpful assessment when it comes to cultivating our own courses and educational personae. Cavanagh’s intended audience—new professors or those who have a desire to change the way they are interacting with their students and the atmosphere of their course—will find here both scientific and actionable support mechanisms.
In seeking to unravel this desired persona, The Spark of Learning begins with the science of emotions — affective science. For those more familiar with neuroscience and psychology, this section may serve as a refresher in the various theories of emotion, as well as a few rudimentary experiments in this field. For those less familiar with the field, the verbiage of Part 1 comes swift and challenging to the less scientific way we have commonly engaged with emotion. There are several significant take-a-ways from Part 1 that help to break down the complexity of the science and redirect it towards the content that follows. Part 2 addresses turning theory into practice and mobilizing affective science for action. There are four chapters of different regions of emotional science in action in the classroom. The first deals with how you as the instructor can carry yourself to positively impact the emotional state of the classroom. The second addresses how to mobilize student efforts and utilize emotional connections to material as a tool of motivation. The third chapter in Part 2 describes ways to give and receive control in a classroom in such a way that encourages persistence by your students to accomplish and own their tasks. The final chapter recognizes that “emotions” can be both good and bad. It addresses the ways in which using emotion can sometimes introduce challenges and potentially backfire if the correct environment is not present.
There is a large amount of scientific evidence throughout both parts of the text. Various studies, experiments, and other literature are synthesized in such a way to provide widespread perspectives on the science of emotion and the effectiveness of its application. In addition to providing ample evidence for the approaches, Cavanagh also makes sure to note when and how certain suggestions may lack evidence that is based in science and is more likely based on empirical observations. This text also does a decent job of incorporating examples and recommendations for multiple discipline perspectives—including mathematics and chemistry. Criticisms of this book include the way in which Part 1 at times seems to forget that its audience is not necessarily well rooted in the theories of emotional science. Although it provides anecdotal examples, it can still be burdensome to piece together the relevance to educational application. Additionally, Part 2 occasionally gets lost in the evidence in such a way that distracts from the action focus the chapters intend to have. This evidence is ultimately in support of the action but can convolute the message. A different approach would be to split the chapters into smaller segments to explore the evidence separate from the action as a clearer way to communicate the message.
In general, this book does a good job of providing accessible and real-world options for applying affective science in the collegiate classroom, as well as the background in foundations of affective science. I have several segments from Part 2 of the text I am intending to use in my own teaching, and I appreciate the confidence the text gave me in creating a genuine and realistic academic persona.Susan Blum, ed. Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead). Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2020.
Review by David A. Winkler
…but there are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret.
-Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. President
Susan Blum opens her compendium of teaching reflections concerning ungrading or gradeless classrooms with the principal task of educators: educating all students, not ranking them (5). Since grades are ambiguous, inconsistent, and poor or unfair measures of student learning, teachers should work to ameliorate the challenges grades pose students and teachers alike in the classroom. There are many unintended consequences and perverse incentives that surface as side effects of the grading system at large in primary, secondary, and postsecondary education. Incentives place the prize and goal on the grade, rather than on learning.
With a critique of grading and the research to support the claims made throughout the book, Blum and the contributors present the case for ungrading in multiple educational settings. Although K-12 and higher education have not traditionally communicated well or often with one another, ungrading offers a sort of bridge for more meaningful assessment and evaluation of students. This book would be well received by university faculty and K-12 educators alike—at least those looking to transform their grading practices for student enrichment and learning improvement.
Blum notes early that ungrading does not have a single approach to fit all environments. Rather, ungrading includes many different forms of assessment and evaluation, all useful to both teachers and students. Grades often do not communicate what actually happened on an assignment or exam or during the entirety of a course. Grades do not motivate or promote learning, rather, they incentivize a focus merely upon themselves. Blum argues we cannot twist the means and ends of education by treating learning as a mere path to a grade.
The authors unanimously call for a decentralizing of grading. There are many solutions, practices, and applications offered in this book. Not all can be mentioned here, but a few that rise to the top are as follows. Rather than use point breakdowns and percentages that can be earned or lost, instructors should communicate what learning has or has not taken place to the student. Teachers should use language that bolsters the constructive relationship they have with their students.
Another practice involves having students develop a plan for the semester or course, including that of self-evaluation. In chapter 3, Blum contends that involving students in the evaluation processes informs them of what they do and do not know (58-59). By including them in the assessment of their own work, students can both appreciate the learning that is taking place and improve upon it. Grades can take the focus off feedback. Blum and the authors of this resource encourage teachers not to treat grades as currency. Learners need freedom and autonomy to grow and learn, and constructive feedback is necessary for that growth.
Contract grading is offered as yet another approach to ungrading the classroom. In chapter 7, Christina Katopodis and Cathy N. Davidson describe contract grading as an expansive alternative to conventional grading efforts. Contract grading allows students to “contract” for a particular grade in a course, completing specific projects and assignments at a reasonable level of proficiency to that end. To get an A in a course, a student must complete more assignments than a student contracting for a B or C. Contract grading places the teacher in the role of facilitator and mentor, a role that asks the question, “How can I help?” rather than “What are you doing?” Contract grading makes room for more creative work by reducing stress and reliance upon grades. These strategies and more in this book are valuable resources for cultivating new course design possibilities regarding ungrading.
Blum has structured the book in such a way that the foundational underpinnings of ungrading are covered in early chapters. However, these chapters do tend to reiterate many of the same concepts and notions of ungrading unnecessarily. A chapter or two focusing on the justification for ungrading and the practice and history of ungrading itself may be sufficient. Conversely, the great number of case studies and reflections offered by teachers regarding ungrading is a credit to the book’s authors. From STEM courses to philosophy, English, and other humanities courses, the latter chapters of this handbook allow readers to follow the development and evolution of ungraded courses and assignments over time. The benefit of such reflection is found in both the failures and successes of teachers. Varied fields and subjects, differing methods for the process of ungrading, and improvements and changes are all included in appendices in most chapters.
All in all, Ungrading evangelizes the importance of student-led evaluation, the decentralizing of grading in the classroom, and the refocusing of learning objectives toward learning and not grades. Blum and her authors are successful in what they set out to do—offer a compelling reason for considering ungrading as a valid way for evaluating students in more holistic and effective ways. This book, a baker’s dozen of essays and reflections regarding ungrading’s foundations and models, practices and application, and reflection, provides prescient insight into the grading concerns of students and teachers alike, leaving all who read it asking the question, “Are we grading or degrading our students?—and what can we do about it?”
Review by Kevin O’Donoghue
What are the key determinants of learning that are central to humans acquiring new skills, behaviors and knowledge? This is the big question that Joshua Eyler attempts to answer in his aptly named book How Humans Learn. Adopting a multidisciplinary approach, the author focuses on five major determinants in this short but weighty book.
The first chapter, “Curiosity,” lays an argument that curiosity is central to all human learning. Eyler begins with a brief introduction of the various conceptualizations of curiosity before expanding on how the asking of questions is central to human development and should also be central to the design of the college course curriculum. The second chapter “Sociality” discusses social pedagogies and the need for students to feel a sense of belonging. For instance, the author argues that instructors should incorporate more play-based activities into the curriculum to help foster an environment in which students feel comfortable.
The third chapter, “Emotion,” tackles the complex topic of human emotions and how they work in tandem with cognitive functions to enhance or hinder learning. Eyler advocates for instructors to demonstrate care for students to help foster these positive emotions. The penultimate chapter focuses on authentic learning experiences. That is, instructors should utilize practices that prioritize real-world situations, and in a suggestion that he acknowledges may be controversial, Eyler advocates for fewer lectures in which the instructor lectures for extended periods of time. The final chapter covers the need to create spaces in which students can fail safely. Failure is central to learning and thus it needs to be incorporated into course design.
The book has a few strengths worth noting. The first is the multi-disciplinary approach taken by Eyler; he draws on cognitive, evolutionary, and developmental psychology as well as neuroscience to provide a succinct overview of how humans learn. Second, the book avoids academic jargon, and it is suitable for both lay readers and academics who are interested in higher education pedagogy. Third, Eyler is unafraid to make suggestions that are likely to receive significant pushback by many in the academy. The eradication of grades and long-form lectures are two such as suggestions, and the author should receive credit for challenging the status quo given his view that many current practices do not aid learning.
There are, unfortunately, two significant weaknesses that make it hard to recommend How Humans Learn. First, Eyler attempts to do too much with this book and the result is somehow less than the sum of its parts. For instructors who wish to improve their teaching practices, far better and more focused resources are available. For those who wish to learn about the five major themes, each chapter comes across as an underwhelming introduction. For example, in his chapter on emotions he tackles the thorny topic of trigger warnings and yet he barely even scratches the surface of the complexity of the issue. The second weakness is the relative lack of the student voice. Although Eyler advocates for student agency in the creation of learning, the student perspective is largely lacking. It is an odd omission given the learner-centric nature of the book.
How Humans Learn is an attempt to synthesize vast amounts of research to both explain how learning works and provide ways in which instructors can improve their instruction. It is ultimately an unsatisfying attempt, and readers are advised to consult other works from the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Review by Maddie Whitmore
This seminal work by writer and teacher bell hooks provides an in-depth look at the “liberatory classroom.” hooks asks the questions of what it might be like if pedagogy were an exercise of freedom rather than a method of upholding domination. Education is liberatory when students are challenged to “transgress” boundaries commonly erected by race, social class, and gender, and imagine something better and more whole. For bell hooks, education has the opportunity to be a place of excitement and passion, students have an opportunity to truly see one another, and professors can care deeply for the individuals in their classroom. The cohesive theme of this work is liberation, and each chapter acts as an individual essay on various topics that speak to the theme. Because “the classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy” (12), it is worth delving into these significant aspects of the liberatory classroom. hooks opens by explaining engaged pedagogy, which is a kind of “progressive, holistic education” (15) that emphasizes the wholeness, well-being, and empowerment of both the learner and the professor. hooks acknowledges throughout the work that this is difficult, and therefore it is essential that teacher work toward self-actualization for themselves. Another theme of hooks’ teaching on education as the practice of freedom is the idea that what happens in the classroom should impact the student and professor outside of it as well. Deconstructing the narrative of domination that is intertwined with typical classroom pedagogy will change the way the learner operates in the world. Theory, “the processes of thought and critique” (61) that give words to phenomena, has the power to liberate if professor and student are willing to let go of the fear of losing control and experience a truly emancipatory classroom.
Not only does hooks speak broadly about these themes, but she often provides a peak into her classroom or conversations with others to allow the reader to see it in practice. Many of the practical takeaways from Teaching to Transgress begin by simply acknowledging the value of the voice of all students, and modeling for students what it means to respect one another despite vast divides. Examples from her professorial experience teaching courses on inclusive feminism to White and Black women, having students from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds, and experiences of learning from Black men about their masculinity provide readers with a look into how hooks handles difficult topics with grace. hooks also emphasizes the significance of attempting to connect individually with her students, create an environment where excitement for learning is valued, and challenging dominant narratives that are present in the academy, such as the way values associated with wealth largely determine the norms of a postsecondary classroom.
Much of the power of bell hooks’ life and work is the way she speaks to issues that are often not addressed in the academy, such as social class and the way that certain norms and experiences remain unquestioned. She is well-known for her critique that much feminist theory is framed through the experiences of White women, and for adding her voice as a Black women from a working poor background to the conversation. It is these unquestioned assumptions that the liberatory classroom addresses and attempts to remedy. Part of the beauty of Teaching to Transgress is the accessible voice with which hooks speaks to the reader. She speaks from her experiences with honesty and passion, and by doing so challenges the dominant assumptions that passion and connection to the body has no place in the classroom. For those who hope to implement the values of liberation in the classroom, hooks provides some encouragement:
All of us in the academy and in the culture as a whole are called to renew our minds if we are to transform educational institutions—and society—so that the way we live, teach, and work can reflect our joy in cultural diversity, our passion for justice, and our love of freedom (34).
Not only are we called as scholars, but as people of faith, to work towards wholeness and redemption in our chosen vocations, and Teaching to Transgress offers a look into the life of a woman who gave herself to this noble goal.
Review by Hina Abel
Parker Palmer’s main purpose in writing this book is to highlight that good teaching does not come solely from technique but arises out of the identity and integrity of the teacher. In the first part, Palmer urges teachers to develop a knowledge of the self. In the second part, Palmer embraces the value of a community of education in which knowing, teaching, and learning happen.
Good teachers do not connect the self, subject, and students through their methods but through their hearts, where intellect, emotion, and spirit converge. Palmer refers to this as “wholeness” and explains that for him this arises from an identity that comes from “the intersection of the diverse forces that make up my life, and integrity lies in relating to those forces in ways that bring me wholeness and life rather than fragmentation and death” (14). Once a teacher has determined what fits with who she is, she connects more authentically to students, and “learn[s] techniques that reveal rather than conceal the personhood from which good teaching comes” (25).
In academic culture, teachers are pushed to disconnect from others. Through objectivism, they are pushed to ensure that the subject “no longer has life; when it is lifeless, it cannot touch or transform us,” and the mind is used to “keep the world at bay.” (52). Though these practices deter such recognition, teachers must decipher their fears because, Palmer reminds us, “when we deny our own condition, we resist seeing anything in others that might remind us of who, and how, we really are” (48).
Good teaching requires connectedness, and this cannot come without embracing opposites. Palmer says that teachers must adopt a paradoxical model of teaching and learning because it honors both head and heart. Some paradoxes about space that he shares are that it should be: “bounded and open”; “hospitable and charged”; “invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group”; “honor the little stories of the individual and the big stories of the disciplines and tradition”; “support solitude and surround it with the resources of the community”; “and welcome both silence and speech” (77-80). Embracing these paradoxes can create an ethos for the classroom, imbuing teaching and learning with passion and creativity.
Though three models of community occupy education—therapeutic, civic, and marketing—Palmer says that what is most needed is the “community of truth” which takes something from each model. The community of truth perceives reality as “a web of communal relationships” (97) where “knower and known are joined” (100) and “truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline” (106). Here, the subject becomes transcendent, speaks for itself, and holds the professor and student accountable to it. Such a subject-centered classroom allows for teaching from the inner logic of the discipline and does not have to be a place filled with the teacher’s knowledge.
Teachers need “guidance that a community of collegial discourse provides” (146). This requires engagement in topics of conversation such as critical moments in teaching and learning. Metaphors that describe teachers at their best and illuminate strengths and shadows can also be helpful to remember. “To live divided no more is to find a new center for one’s life, a center external to the institution and its demands” (174). And even though some punishment from the institution could follow, it cannot “be worse than the punishment you lay on yourself by conspiring in your own diminishment” (178).
Palmer’s book is filled with wisdom and is indeed beautiful. However, since the language changes rapidly from practical to transcendental, this deters focus, since multiple sub-truths emerge while reading each chapter. Though beneficial, multiple sub-concepts are difficult to condense, and a beautiful book can become difficult to digest. Faculty who are committed to improving themselves will benefit from reading this text, but if they are using this as medicine for the soul, small doses are necessary. Graduate students who want to be great teachers should read this book at a slower, reflective pace.
Review by Yasamin Hadavi
Geeky Pedagogy is a collection of insightful and practical tips for instructors. As guidance for college teachers on how to be effective in their teaching, the book synthesizes a large amount of research into five pedagogical activities: awareness, preparation, reflection, support, and practice. Neuhaus declares that these are not consecutive steps; they should be considered as a conceptual model encompassing a practical framework. Neuhaus knows that passion is important, but not enough for teaching effectively, since many instructors make a variety of mistakes when they step into a classroom, like forgetting what it is like to be an outsider in the field or assuming that everyone must have the same passion for the subject as them.
Neuhaus organizes the book in a way that guides readers through the teaching process. She first investigates what it means to teach before moving on to preparing to teach, whether an entire course or a single class session. Preparation happens through clearly communicating and conveying that we as instructors are ready, willing, and able to teach students how to successfully do things. For instance, in preparing their syllabus, the instructors should communicate what they expect from their students. She further discusses the reflective process of effective teaching and how it is one of the most critical ways to improve it throughout the class sessions. To meet the reflection aspect of teaching, the instructors should collect feedback on their teaching from as many as sources as possible in addition to student feedback. She also discusses the importance of support (e.g., seeking available resources on campus, at conferences, and in the scholarship of teaching and learning) to improve one’s teaching practice (e.g., practicing the preparation, reflection, and support over and over again), and finally considers what it means to move forward with all of these in mind.
An interesting feature is Neuhaus’s use of examples from pop culture—from Sponge Bob to Star Wars—to explain elements embedded in each category. For example, Neuhaus uses various quotes from Star Trek, insisting that it is contemporary geek culture Ground Zero and a clear cultural shorthand for nerdiness. These various examples from these nerdy domains not only represent the author’s nerdiness but ostensibly also attract the main audiences of this book: instructors who geeks, nerds, and introverts.
One aspect that seems confusing is that the author develops an acronym (GIN) to refer to her dominant audience, which stands for Geeks, Introverts, and Nerds. She explains them individually but then appears to group them together as a single profile. Many geeks and nerds are not introverts, which is fine, but the way she constantly invokes GINs leads the readers to believe that being a geek or nerd requires being an introvert. As a result, some readers may continue reading and agreeing on many points before being distracted by Neuhaus’s labeling them as an introvert (or saying that this is really meant for introverts). Other than this minor confusion, Geeky Pedagogy is a great resource for educators seeking to become effective in their teaching.
All in all, Geeky Pedagogy increases every reader’s self-efficacy in the classroom by illustrating effective teaching as an attainable goal for all. The mission of this book is to inspire self-efficacy, and in doing so, the author shows effective teaching as something that every instructor can learn and must re-learn throughout her career.
Review by Ryan Kinser
Michelle Miller’s book, Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology, addresses an increasingly pressing question: is our increasing reliance on technology permanently changing our brains and inhibiting our ability to remember? Miller challenges several generally accepted claims from hallmark studies throughout the book and counters extremist views on both sides of the technological aisle but does so with nuance that allows the reader to rationally view both sides of the argument. Some notable examples include the debunking of the claim that our attention “spans” have shrunk beneath that of a goldfish (142) and a critical review of the oft-cited claim that the pen is mightier than the keyboard for student notetaking (190-96). With several examples, Miller argues that technology has benefitted us cognitively, allowing us to free up mental capacity by outsourcing prospective tasks that our minds are generally ill-equipped for.
A survey of different theories of memory—from the three-box conveyor model to an interconnected array of subsystems—guides the reader to the critical point: we don’t simply store things in an isolated bin when we remember, rather we connect and scaffold them with things we already know, a stance that proponents of constructivism will readily embrace. The first portion of the book is focused on the science of how and why we remember and forget, stressing the critical role of attention before delivering the punchline: although technology is not inducing a permanent neurological change, it has the capacity to affect our attention and undercut our ability to make new memories, hence undercutting our ability to learn. Even so, Miller assures us that the “Google effect,” the idea that we won’t remember anything because we can look it up later, is not a permanent reshaping of the brain so much as a habit-reinforced crutch that instructors need to be vigilant of and take measures to mitigate. Reinforcing this point, Miller encourages us to include the students—those who are clearly aware of how technology has benefited and hindered their lives—in formulating a path forward.
Alongside the myriad ways it can inhibit our ability to make memories, technology also stands to supplement our cognitive abilities with diverse and personalized methods, particularly that of retrieval practice. Miller discusses several methods with concrete applications before concluding that the increasing prevalence of technology is not to be feared or rejected; rather, rational and open conversation between all invested parties can result in technology use that strengthens, rather than hinders, our abilities.
This book is written primarily for higher education faculty members but is applicable for those serving in any teaching role or who simply want to understand themselves and their thinking. The language is not overly technical, nor does it rashly draw conclusions that aren’t supported. Each chapter ends with a helpful summary and concise teaching takeaways. While I would recommend this book to colleagues as a valuable and concise read on the science of memory, the nuance that Miller brings to the conversation will leave readers with their own homework to do to come to their own conclusions. It is also important to mention that this book is not a “get better memory quick” scheme, and while some helpful tips are provided, readers expecting to find a “how-to” manual for remembering better will likely come away disappointed. There is no black-and-white claim as to the absolute future role of technology in our learning, but even those who are well-entrenched in their beliefs would benefit from Miller’s balanced narrative.
Review by Mark Lueders
In Make It Stick, cognitive scientists Roediger and McDaniel enlist the help of author Peter C. Brown in providing an understandable and usable popular book backed by the science in their field. This book is the result of a decade-long grant-funded research collaboration headed by Roediger. The purpose of both that research and this book is to translate research findings in psychology into educational science. The authors’ main argument is that application of findings in the neuroscience/psychology community has great potential for enhancing and even transforming educational practices.
While referencing some findings from the last century, the book mostly draws on studies from the last few decades. Many of these studies are from collaborators on the aforementioned grant, but the authors also pull in sources from other universities and even other countries. As a “popular” book, the audience includes both specialists and non-specialists. The authors do a laudable job of synthesizing their field into an understandable and applicable final product while whetting the appetite of those with the resources and prior knowledge to delve into the scientific literature.
To further hook non-specialists, the authors frequently use examples of real-life success—not their own—to illustrate their points either before or after delving into deeper scientific explanations. The examples pull from both academic experiences (primarily of instructors, though sometimes secondhand experiences of students are noted) and more mundane stories with broader application to readers. While these examples do provide helpful illustration of the sometimes complex points delivered, they are used heavily and at varying lengths. Additionally, some examples are referred to repeatedly, with some information excluded in repetitions, potentially confusing readers who may be skipping straight to chapters of interest rather than reading straight through.
Structurally, Make It Stick begins by addressing misconceptions about learning (Chapter 1: Learning Is Misunderstood), such as learning styles and cramming. The authors broadly address “popular opinions” in the field of learning, with an emphasis on findings and applications based in science. This effectively sets the tone of the book as more academic than self-help, also setting it apart from other materials in the popular market. The authors also initially note the nature of the book as a scientific synthesis rather than an instruction manual (except for the final chapter). Throughout the text, the authors note shortcomings and gaps in the scientific literature. A few conjectures are made, but the authors explicitly note any opinions and extrapolations.
The next five chapters (the majority of the book) address different aspects of learning science. As noted at the end of this book, the points and practices noted in these chapters all rely on effective education at the onset. There is additional literature available for effective education, but this book is focused on the learning aspect (for an illustration, just look at the subtitle). Each chapter includes numerous examples of scientific support and real-life successes (and shortcomings) that illustrate the points made by the authors. While Chapters 2-6 focus on effective learning strategies like retrieval practice and spaced study, Chapter 7 is the only portion of the book that references an individual-level increase in abilities (aptly titled). This chapter, with its focus on mnemonics and other memory tricks, feels slightly out of place, but even these “parlor tricks” are discussed in the context of cognitive science.
While the intended audience of the book is learners, the last chapter notes that knowledge of effective learning can (not will) also make effective teachers/educators. The application outside of the educational field is also noted. The effective synthesis and broad application of this content should appeal to a large audience. Make It Stick is a successful bridge between both cognitive and education science and between those sciences and the interested public. It brings the recent literature of the authors’ field into a useful summary and guide. While current advances have surely been made in the decade since its publication, both teachers and learners alike would benefit from reading this book.
Review by Min Ou
In “I Love Learning; I Hate School,” Susan Blum sets out to explore why so many students find their college experience unexciting and unsatisfying. Blum, who is a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, draws on research on human nature and education, as well as her own observations and conversations with students and colleagues, to argue that the current system of higher education is failing to help students master meaningful knowledge and skills and to appeal to the natural processes of human learning. This book is an intriguing read for anyone who is involved in education or is looking to gain insight into the educational experiences and feelings of students.
Blum’s writing is engaging, and she includes numerous relatable stories and topics that will resonate with college faculty. She argues that the “facts” and aspects of education are so familiar that we rarely notice them, so puts them under the microscope to make people wonder about the very nature of college. In “Part I: Trouble in Paradise,” Blum starts with an assortment of complaints about students – they think they should get all As but hardly do reading, come to class, and learn to think critically. This section may make you smile and nod in agreement. However, as the book progresses, Blum pushes readers to think about the question of why students behave in this way. When instructors complain about their students’ attitudes and behavior in school, it is time to consider the deeper reasons behind these complaints, thus leading to “Part II: Schooling and Its Oddities.”
In this section, Blum highlights the educational system’s misplaced emphasis on grades over genuine learning and on things that only matter within the artificial context of school. One particular observation in college is the prevalence of students spending substantial time and effort learning the tricks of looking like they are learning and some arbitrary requirements of schooling, such as attending (“seat time”). Blum suggests that this phenomenon is rarely questioned, despite the strangeness of students mastering such “skills” that will never be useful once their schooling is complete.
After pointing out the oddities in school, Blum expands on her argument that traditional college education is not aligned with human nature in “Part III: How and Why Humans Learn.” She emphasizes that students are naturally curious and driven to learn, but the current education system stifles some forms of human nature that are relevant to learning. To support her claim, she invites readers to explore various cultural and historical examples of how humans have engaged in learning. By looking at how people learn “in the wild,” that is, outside the school, through activities including doing, playing, observing, imitating, trying, and collaborating, Blum suggests that this approach could be more effective in learning. Her insights challenge us to reconsider the way we think and approach college education.
In the final section of the book, “Part IV. A Revolution in Learning,” Blum acknowledges that, under the current education system, it is reasonable for individuals to pursue as much schooling as possible and strive for academic success. However, she also presents her revolutionary vision in learning and offers practical suggestions for making classrooms less school-like and more relevant and beneficial to students. For people who are interested in educational improvement and reform, this thought-provoking book would be an excellent choice.
Review by Ben Phillips
This book argues for the thoughtful use of lectures amid a paradigm shift toward interactive learning. The authors have a learner-centric mindset, where the goal is to create and develop the classroom that cultivates learning. This means the instructor is successful when students are engaging in the class and learning the material. The beginning of the book establishes and proves that mindset, advocating for instructors to change their lectures to more effectively reach that goal of engaged learning.
Harrington and Zakrajsek organize the book in three parts: conceptions and types of lectures, advice on how to improve various parts of lectures, and the process of creating and developing effective lectures. Throughout, they define, exemplify, and critique each part of lecture before giving practical advice on how to implement or change the lecture with that component in mind.
With plentiful studies and research on effective lecturing techniques, each chapter is filled with citations from recent and landmark studies, making each argument compelling and substantiated. In addition to citing each reference, Harrington and Zakrajsek summarize the studies’ methods, results, and analysis in an easy-to-follow method that even amateur education researchers can appreciate.
The book’s organization lends itself to use as reference material for those seeking to add or improve specific aspects of the lecture. Topics include Activating Prior Knowledge, Capturing Attention, Incorporation of Technology, Inclusion of Examples, Usage of Reflection, the Practice of Retrieval, and using Questions for Critical Thinking. Any instructor can open the book to their desired topic, gain a thorough explanation for the definition of that part of the lecture, and see how to incorporate the ideas easily into the classroom. The book ends with a high-level view of the course, arguing that dynamic lecturing methods should be fully woven into the fabric of a course and continually evaluated for ongoing improvement. An appendix provides lesson plan worksheets, helping instructors implement the book’s recommendations.
This book is appropriate for all levels of instructors, from new teachers to long-time sages. For the new teacher, this book provides evidence-based practices that are practical and immediately useful. For the seasoned instructor, this book is helpful in evaluating and developing classes that truly help students learn. All who read it will benefit from the book’s winsome and effective ideas.
I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in improving their lectures, no matter the level of experience. Each section is a gold-mine of practices that have proven to be effective. By reflecting and incorporating the ideas in this book, the classroom transforms into an exploratory space of discovering what best engages and teaches your students.
Review by Austin Smith
Many lament the distractibility of students, particularly related to their use of technology in the classroom. As such, debate has spread about the use of technology bans in educational spaces. In his book Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It, James Lang refutes the argument that technology should be banned from classrooms for making students distractable, instead arguing that “we will not succeed in teaching today’s students unless we make a fundamental shift in our thinking: away from preventing distraction and toward cultivating attention” (pp. 14–15, emphasis in original). To make his case, Lang breaks his book into two parts, the first providing a theoretical basis around the topics of distraction and attention and the second suggesting strategies for improving attention.
Exploring the history of how people have described distraction, from Aristotle and the religious thinkers of antiquity up to coffee shops of the seventeenth century and modern discussions on technology, Lang proposes that we have not become more distracted, but rather that our distractors are better at keeping us hooked. From here, Lang shifts his focus to the classroom, where he investigates research on learning to emphasize the importance of attention in the learning process. The first part concludes with a critical examination of different technology policy approaches: laissez-faire, complete ban, student-generated, and context-specific.
The second part of the book outlines practices teachers can use to help cultivate students’ attention in the classroom. These include: cultivating communities in the classroom, fostering curiosity, providing structure throughout the class, using “signature activities” to draw students’ interest into the course material, and leveraging low-stakes assessments that require students to focus their attention by prompting recall or making them think differently about the course. In a final chapter of practices, Lang discusses mindfulness; noting, however, that the literature does not indicate it improves student learning, Lang instead presents recommendation for how teachers can use mindfulness practices to improve their practice. Through his argument, Lang presents a vision for classrooms as a retreat from distractions when faculty emphasize cultivating attention and help students use their brains for creative thinking.
In Distracted, Lang leverages his expertise as the director for a center of teaching and learning, structuring each chapter around illustrations of teachers from various disciplines and incorporating relevant research outlining best practices. In addition to the research basis, Lang helpfully distills important points from the chapter and presents them again at the end of the chapters of part two to provide a quick reference. Lang’s nuance of presenting research makes it difficult to accuse him of overstating his claims. However, if something were wanting in the book, one might argue that since Lang disputes the idea that a technology ban is an effective policy to curb distraction, he could have helped readers by delving more into how technology might be leveraged to promote attention.
Though the primary audience of the book is college instructors, Lang also presents his work as of benefit to high school teachers and those who are studying to be teachers (and to a lesser extent, middle and elementary school instructors). It is here that another critique is present, though. Lang writes of teachers as if they were on their own in their craft rather than doing their work within systems. The arguments of this book could be usefully extended into advice for how administrators can encourage and equip faculty to embrace attention-cultivating practices as well as implications for policymakers. For those to whom the book is written, however, Distracted provides helpful resources in the form of examples, language for policy, and research-based recommendations.
As faculty navigate learning spaces following a technology-mediated period of pandemic education, they should consider the role technology will play in their classes moving forward. Overall, Lang’s Distracted is an accessible overview of how teachers can promote attention in their students even in a technology-saturated climate. For those who wish to consider how to promote student learning and provide a respite from the distractions of the day, Distracted is a worthwhile resource.