This (Reading List) Goes to Eleven: Beyond The Usual Suspects


You know those times you really should be doing some work but you really don’t feel like it?  Just the start of the summer seems like a time to leave all ‘work’ behind, to stack up on mindless fiction, or take tangential excursions in genres orthogonal to what you teach or do research on.

Too many folks I know, harbor feelings of guilt if they pick pulp mindless fiction (as good as a break for the mind as that may be).  Picking up a good book that could relate to work is a good compromise.  And to paraphrase author Neil Gaiman, any book you like is a GOOD book.  But of course, if you are reading this you are probably someone who loves intellectual stimulation, what you do for your day job, and someone who enjoys thinking about what they are also lucky to be paid to be doing.

I’ll admit it. While my bedside table has a wide variety of reading material on it, I am one of those people who likes reading something that I could use in a class or a writing project. A personal coping strategy is some fiction before bed, but even in the summers when I do not teach, I like reading something that will pepper my class discussions with non-textbook gems. Further admission: I accumulate reading material and can find myself saying “Oh I own that book” more often than I say “Oh I read it”.  But you cannot read it if you do not have it. I make sure I have enough great books around that I can read what ever I may fancy at the time.

While there are a number of recently published books on teaching and learning (e.g., Make it Stick; How we learn) and psychology (e.g., Blindspot, The Marshmallow test, Thinking Fast and Slow), I notice that ‘must-read’ lists tend to have the same usual suspects.  Here are ELEVEN books from a number of different categories that I bet will engage you. Some directly link to teaching and higher education. Others are just some real thought provoking and/or satisfying reads. Try something new (or as the case maybe, something old you missed, but should not have).

If you love to teach, you may be interested in reading about the teaching lives of others.  I have to say that just sitting back and looking in on some of the changes and reflections of others pushes for some of your own reflections. Two classics are  Frank McCourt’s (2006)- Teacher Man: A memoir and Jane Tompkins’ (1996)- A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned.  Some great looks into high school teaching in particular but issues that pertain to higher ed as well.

Sometimes you need the somewhat rested mind of summer to take in books about our profession or to take a 30,000 foot look at higher (and secondary) education. Try Elizabeth Green’s (2015)- Building a better teacher: How teaching works (and how to teach it to ev5175BqP92iL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_eryone) for a summary of some practices that lead to better connections with students.

If you are assessment phobic (and why should you be?) you may appreciate an overview of how learning has been measured over time. In particular would you like a good discussion of better ways to get at learning beyond multiple choice tests? You will also get a feel for the College Learning Assessment that has received a lot of buzz in higher education. All in Richard Shavelson’s (2009)- Measuring college learning responsibly: Accountability in a new era.

There are a number of books that will give you a lot of ideas for how to hone your skills and your craft. They range from the evidence-based- see Aaron Richmond, Guy Boysen, and Regan A. R. Gurung’s (2016) An Evidence Based Guide to College and University Teaching (2016) to more general books. Yes, I co-wrote this one, but boy let me tell you I love reading it over for the great stuff Aaron and Guy put in that I was not as well versed in. It is a book with a self-report check list where you can assess yourself AND find resources to develop the six main components that lead to being a model teacher.

Other ways to reflect on your practice include Stephen Brookfield (2015)-  The Skillful Teacher,  and a great gem, Therese Huston’s (2009)-  Teaching what you Don’t know.  While Brookfield’s books have been around for some time and to be fair they are not as empirically based as I like, he still manages to make me think about what I do and provide ways for me to do it better.  Teri Huston’s book is a great chaser to the evidence-based guide to teaching, as she nicely takes the perspective of the teacher asked to teach something they feel they are not ready to teach.  She has an approachable voice and provides a supportive read.

The number lover in you will probably appreciate all the effect sizes scattered through John Hattie’s (2013) Visible Learning for Teachers and Students, a follow up to his classic 2009 book (the meta-analysis of what contributes to learning).






Ok, you say, you really do want something beyond what you normally look into.  Well try, Robert Putnam’s (2015)- Our kids: The American dream in crisis.  This really does make one appreciate the bigger picture of what we are trying to do in education and the state of the nation.




Let’s close with some geek outs. I have a few must reads for any psychologists who want to be up on recent developments. Check out Robert Sapolsky’s (2017) BehavImage result for sapolsky behavee: The biology of humans at our best and worst  and Lisa Feldman Barrett’s (2017) How emotions are made.  Both these books really dig into recent research in biology. Sapolsky’s book takes a really interesting take on behavior and starts from the molecular biological precedents of behavior and moves all the way up to development issues. In many ways it is a completely differently way to think about an introduction to psychology and could provide an innovative model for teaching the course. Some parts of the book are overly dense. Some parts are a review for many of us. The total presentation makes for stimulating reading.

Of course there are many more great reads out there. This should provide you with at least something for this summer!!



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