Time for this year’s Summer Reading for Educators Top Ten List!  These are my ten favorite educational titles I’ve read in the past school-year, 2016-17, and that I recommend for summer reading.   Though I try to make this list pretty current, composed primarily of titles published in the past 18 months, sometimes I am slow to encounter older books, and so I’m not strict about that rule.

As you scroll down, you’ll also find honorary mentions, books that just missed the top ten, and additional suggestions for free educational reports and e-books of the past year or so, and a smaller set of reading for  pleasure suggestions.

For the past years’ recommendations/top ten lists, you can click the following for

Note: Asterisks attached to book titles below indicates the book would be a worthy selection for suggested (or required) faculty summer reading; asterisks by author names indicate (for full disclosure) that the author is someone I count as a friend—(though whether or not he or she views me the same way I cannot say.)

Also,this year, for the first time, I’m making available a complete list of the books I read all (or most) of in the past year.  If you are interested, it is available here. 

NeuroTeach+COVER1/ NeuroTeach: Brain Science and the Future of Education* by Glenn Whitman* and Ian Kelleher (and the 21k12 2016-2017 Book of the Year).    This is a great book, explaining with perfectly clear writing many key insights that mind and brain research is revealing for the improvement of teaching and learning.   It is careful, at least to my non-expert eyes, not to overclaim, but it is also not afraid to be very insistent about what we do know and what that knowledge means for good practice.    The chapter entitled “Top Twelve Research-Informed Every Teacher Should Be Doing with Every Student” ought most certainly to be required reading by every educator everywhere, but if there isn’t time for that, at minimum encourage folks widely to study the “The Unconscionable List (AKA The Despicable Baker’s Dozen): Things a Teacher Should Never Do Again.”  Please. Pretty Please: get this list into the hands of teachers everywhere.

There’s a lot more to say about this book, but I will just put particular attention to what to me is especially novel about it, the chapter on Teachers as Researchers, which brilliantly offers up a different way of thinking about an educator’s professional journey and an alternate career ladder that genuinely professionalizes a profession that has been humiliatingly de-professionalized in recent decades.  Through the embrace of this kind of learning science widely promulgated and deeply embraced, though,it can and I believe will rise again.   Over the past several months in conversation, this title has been my go-to recommendation to clients and colleagues everywhere.  Bravo.

41SqXaZtZ1L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_2/ The Space: A Guide for Educators* by Dr. Robert Dillon* and Rebecca Louise Hare (Book of the Year co-runner up).   This is a beautifully designed and illustrated book that is probably no more than 5,000 words: it is intended, I’d infer, less for reading straight through (and returning to a shelf) and more for scanning and skimming and visually appreciating and returning to again and again for inspiration and guidance on how to rethink and redesign your learning spaces.     It recalls in various ways the astoundingly comprehensive 2012 title, Make Space: Setting the Stage for Creative Collaboration book from Stanford Design School that was a 21k12 book of the year runner up on my 2014 list.  But as great as that book is, it is also a bit overwhelming, quite hard to fully appreciate and then internalize.  Part of the power of Dillon and Hare’s succinct book is that it is to the point using diagrams, white space and pictures, asking all of us to rethink how we can provide spaces to collaborate, create, showcase, and be quiet.  They suggest to readers as they peruse this to “take your time. Share with others.  Be the Change.”  And they ask, in something of an epigraph, “What is this book actually nurtured the soul of education and gave us reason to believe that a beautiful world is filled with thoughtful spaces.”

9781119253457.pdf3/Learning that Lasts: Challenging, Engaging, and Empowering Students with Deeper Learning* by Ron Berger, Libby Wooding and Ann Vilin. (21k12 Book of the Year Co-Runner up).    Regular readers here know that I’ve long been a Berger fan-boy; his 2003 Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship is one of my all-time favorites, and his 2014 Leaders of their Own Learning was my 2014 Book of the Year.   Berger is that rare bird in any field, someone who is both a master of his domain and a wordsmith of gorgeous craftsmanship.   This book surveys four major academic disciplines to unpack and consider how disciplinary knowledge and skills can better be cultivated through deeper learning practices, and there are takeaways on almost every page.   Which word comes first in the subtitle?  “Challenging.”  That’s not an accident.   Deeper Learning isn’t something designed to make students more engaged, first and foremost; it isn’t, in Berger’s vision, something we do to make it more “student-centered.”  If it is to last, it has to be serious.   As he writes, “Grappling with new ideas and problems will productive challenge students when they have enough background knowledge to feel anchored, enough scaffolding to feel supported, and enough time and intellectual freedom to wrestle with complex ideas… First, students must be challenged with rigorous, sophisticated material that engages them in higher-order reading, writing, thinking and discussion.  Second,  students must be challenged to gain conceptual understanding they can apply to new situations.”   This is the through-line for Berger’s long career: shifting instructional strategies to student inquiry and production without every compromising on rigor or excellence– quite the opposite.   

41KVxmRsv3L._SX364_BO1,204,203,200_4/ Designing Your Life: How to Live a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.    This is probably the least education-specific book on the list, and it is a breezy read, easily enjoyed on an airplane or even a beach blanket.  Two Stanford affiliated design and engineering professionals capture in book format here what was apparently a very popular course for Stanford undergrads of the same title.   Educators reading this will find it valuable both as another window into the increasingly popular  and widely discussed “design thinking” worldview and as an opportunity to reflect on their own personal journey through this profession, and how they might wish to explore reinventing themselves.   By no means does this reinvention require departing the field– though perhaps in some cases that could be an outcome.   More often, though, I think this guide will help educators uncover and identify methods– including curiosity, reframing, empathy, “radical collaboration,” brainstorming, and prototyping– through which one can find greater meaning, greater value, and greater fulfillment in the work they do.  And that will certainly, I’d argue, rebound to the advantage of students.   

115013b5/ Bold Moves For Schools: How We Create Remarkable Learning Environment (Jacobs and Alcock).  From the popular keynoted and author of Curriculum 21 comes this new title, which asks the reader to bring “courage coupled with a realistic sensibility to create new possibilities versus “edu-fantasies.'”   Three chapters are very much devoted to teachers and teaching, and each contain much helpful guidance.   Jacobs calls for “a new job description” for teachers, one that includes becoming a “self-navigating professional learner,” a “social contractor,” a “media critica, media maker, and publisher,” and an “innovative designer,” and offers strategies for each.  It’s a tall order, to be sure, but this is her vision of boldness, and it stakes out the territory for those who aspire to greatness in themselves and their schools.  There is a helpful chapter on redesigning the parameters of learning environments, including time and space, which open good questions.  Also useful is the “compass for a contemporary curriculum quest,” which is a sort of broadening of project-based learning frameworks to be used by any teacher, any subject, any level to reshape the unit into a quest, by asking about the material its “genre,” its “scale,” its “deliverable,” its “network,” and the “dispositions” it will emphasize.     Later chapters shift to focus upon school leadership, policy and accountability, and hence will not be of as much interest to teachers, but at the heart of this book are the three chapters on teachers, teaching, and environment that are very valuable. 

41EkqtykAtL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_6/ The New Pillars of Modern Teaching by Gayle Allen.   This is one of six titles in a Will Richardson curated series published in 2015: I think I was slow to catch on to them.  I’ve read about half, and also liked Bruce Dixon’s End of School as We Know it, but this title by Allen seemed strongest.   Allen proposes these new pillars to replace the old, Design to replace “instruction,” (“instead of serving as the learning funnel or filter, the teacher models, directs, and guides learners through a focussed set of considerations that empower them and that, over time, lessen as students grow and develop;” Curation to replace Curriculum; and Feedback to replace Assessment.   Allen’s short book isn’t as concrete and immediately applicable as some other titles, but it is a useful “big think” for educational leaders working to (and who isn’t) scope out the vision of the future of our schools. 

41hQOYo-pTL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_7/ Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring out the Maker in Every Student*.  (Juliani and Spencer)  This book, and the following one on this list, are here both because I liked the book and because faculty members at a school I’m working with very strongly responded to it after my recommendation.   This is a very user friendly book, written by teachers to teachers without any jargon or superiority; at moments, perhaps, it errs in the direction of being overly accessible.   With many graphics, lots of white space on the page, and a “yes, you can do this in whatever class you teach” attitude and tone,  the book opens doors for people who weren’t sure what their access point might be to this kind of transformative instruction.  Throughout, it keeps a teacher-center viewpoint: “Design Thinking isn’t the Answer.  You are the answer.”  This is also a valuable book, I think, for the many schools rushing to implement various maker spaces and innovation labs, or mini-makers in classrooms, and teachers are unsure how to take advantage of those spaces and resources.  Here, the link is made explicit in a friendly, down to earth way: you can connect your curriculum through these steps. 

51rz5YJ6P7L._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_8/ Myth of the Muse: Supporting Virtues that Inspire Creativity* (Douglas Reeves & Brooks Reeves) Similarly, this book has received positive responses in the field after my suggestion it be considered; one school is choosing it for its all-faculty summer reading.   This book cuts straight to the point: creativity is not something innate or ethereal; it is the result of steps and techniques that anyone can learn, practice, and develop.     If we want our students to become more creative– and we must, it is going to be of the greatest importance to their future– we need to cultivate in them their habits and skills of curiosity, versatility, synthesis, discipline, collaboration, experimentation, and tenacity.   This book shows how.     

308062239/A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is Reimagining Education.  Who knew the fascinating things happening in Kiwi-land?   We hear so much about Finland and Shanghai, and some about Australia, but I was unaware that NZ schools were pushing so hard to create competency standards, moderated by other educators, that radically de-emphasize content in favor of creating students “who are confident and creative, connected and actively involved.”   The book, which is a fast and easy read written in something of a “gee-whiz, isn’t this cool” tone by an appreciative local observer and practitioner, is at its best explaining the journey of teachers and students in gradually recognizing and then implementing the implications of competency based crediting: “an increasing number of schools now offer students an open choice in how they want to be assessed, what teacher-designed projects they want to attempt, and most importantly, only 20% of final graduation assessment is done through standardized exam.”

51UPn5ioGpL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_10/ The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How they Work, and When to Use Them*  by Daniel Schwartz, Jessica Tsang, and Kristen Blair.     The title and subtitle capture it pretty thoroughly: this book from the Dean of Stanford Graduate School of Education is exactly what it says it is, and it is very useful.  It is a companion to, and overlaps with, Nueroteach (above); perhaps it would be overkill to read both, though I think often that approaching the same topic from multiple directions (two different books) goes a long way toward deepening the learning of the subject at hand.  With 26 short and easy to read chapters, it is tempting to suggest that a school might use this over the course of a school-year, assigning a chapter a week (or two) and then discussing and debriefing one at a time in faculty meetings.    That might work, but probably better is to distribute the 26 approaches among 13 faculty study groups that meet twice-monthly to tackle one at at a time, one the first semester, the other the second: unpacking the approach, implementing it into lesson plans multiple times and iterating upon it, reflecting on its effectiveness in the study group, and then preparing presentations on it for colleagues.  

Honorable Mention: the following seven titles didn’t quite make the top ten, but are still valuable and worthy of your consideration.

  1. R&D Your School: How to Start, Grow, and Sustain Your School’s Innovation Engine by Shabbi Luthra and Scott Hoffman.  Great study of the very specific steps being taken to transform learning at the American School of Bombay. 
  2. The Twentytime Project: How schools can launch Google’s formula for future-ready innovation* by Kevin Brookhouser*.    Enthusiastic in tone and specific in content, this title shows every teacher how twenty percent time can be implemented for success. 
  3. Essential Assessment: Six tenets for Bringing Hope, Efficacy, and Achievement to the Classroom* by Erkens, Schimmer, and Vagle.   Assessment is hard: complex, demanding, sensitive, high stakes.   This is really good book, (I’m reconsidering whether it belongs above), that informs teachers on the research and practices of establishing high quality assessment purpose, communication of assessment results, accurate interpretation, assessment architecture, instructional agility, and student investment.  This is a slightly heavier lift than some of the more user friendly volumes here, but worthwhile of the attention it demands.
  4. Mindful Assessment: the six essential fluencies of innovative learning by Crockett and Churches.    What does it really mean to effectively assess contemporary “fluencies” such as information literacy, collaboration, and global digital citizenship?  This book takes that on, with some useful guidance.
  5. Making Learning Flow by John Spencer.   Using the idea of flow as an ideal for classroom engagement and student learning, Spencer explains how to organize classroom learning that can be appropriately challenging and stimulating to motivate and engage students.
  6. Design Thinking for Educators*. This free toolkit, somewhere between a book and a report (below), is produced by educators at Riverdale Country School in collaboration with IDEO, and is a well illustrated, step by step guide to retooling curricular units using Design Thinking.

Free Reports and E-books.  I’m a fan of the many special reports, white papers, and e-books that are generated every year by various organizations and foundation.  They are free, usually short and succinct, sometimes well illustrated, and often quite current.  Here’s a smattering from what I’ve appreciated in the past year.

Fiction Suggestions.   Looking for some R&R reads to escape your professional burdens?  See my Top Ten Non-Education Books of 2016 list here. 

Enjoy Your Summer!