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If you’re like me, one of the joys of summer is the time it makes available to catch up and jump ahead on the reading list.  I know I spend each spring nearly as much time deciding what to read as I spend reading itself.

Drawing upon my own reading in the past twelve months,  I’m pleased to share here some summer reading recommendations for Summer 2014.

(For the past years’ recommendations, you can click the following for

My annual lists are usually populated primarily by books published in the past year or so, but this year’s list is a bit broader, with about a third of its titles dating back over the past three or four years.   This is because as I worked this past year on preparing the OECD Test for Schools toolkit (see previous post), I did a deeper dive on two related topics, using data in schools and international benchmarking, and doing so brought me to some terrific, previously overlooked,  titles I am delighted to share on this list.

(Note: I write a monthly book recommendation column, “Sparks” for the L+D newsletter, and in some of the bits below, I’ve “self-plagiarized” a bit,  drawing upon and re-purposing from some of those pieces.)

The Top Ten 2014 Summer Reading Recommendation for 21st century educators (this year with indication on titles suitable for Beach Reading!)

(For those on a budget, Scroll to the bottom for five additional recommended freebies!).

berger   1. 2014 is only half over, but the front-runner for 2014’s  educational book of the year has to be Ron Berger’s Leaders of their Own Learning. This book elevates assessment to the its rightful place in the center, not the after-thought back-end, of learning, and to its rightful home in the heart and mind of each individual student.   For Berger, assessment is collaboration: “As students are given the tools to understand and assess their own strengths and challenges, their ability to take ownership increases.  In very concrete ways, students become leaders of their own learning- understanding learning targets, tracking their progress, using feedback to revise their work, and presenting their learning publicly-and partners with their teachers.”

The book is chock-full of action items and organizing lists for implementing this program, but especially wonderful are the charming, lovely, and sometimes even tear-inducing short essays with Berger which open each chapter: nobody writes as beautifully about children learning.

berger ethicPAIR THIS BOOK> Berger’s 2003 title, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship belongs in the Hall of Fame.  In this extended, almost-lyrical essay, Berger writes as both a master cabinet maker and as an elementary school teacher to testify that it is the work that matters, and that when this is our guide and foundation, we can see student work soar and sparkle spectacularly.


Make-Space-Cover-e1325835564910-730x7302.  Wonderfully eclectic and beautifully graphic, both how-to manual and philosophical essay, Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration  published in 2012 was my singularly favorite read of 2013 and is my most frequently recommended book of the past year.   Co-authors Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, who are also co-directors of the “Environmental Collaborative” of the Stanford d. School (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design), bring the intellectual animation and ingenuity of the d. School to life on these 250 pages.

third teacherHow_Buildings_Learn_(Stewart_Brand_book)_coverPAIR THIS BOOK> Make Space stands tall among a set of wonderful titles in this extremely fascinating genre, such as the comprehensive and highly visual survey of learning space enhancements, The Third Teacher (2010) and Stewart Brand’s brilliant 1995 treatise on the importance of adaptability and continuous evolution of space, How Buildings Learn.


I get asked this question often every spring, so I’d thought I’d offer a few thoughts here on the blog.

This list sticks to the (relatively) current, the books I’ve read or encountered since last May– obviously there are scores of fine books from years past every educator should consider for summer reading, but this is not that kind of list.

(If you are interested, here is my 2012 Summer Reading List. )

Asterisk by names are for “full disclosure;” they are friends and colleagues, so please recognize the potential of bias.

47a4034799f5351cb17ed9d767db9afc*Ken Kay, founder of Partnership for 21st century skills and edleader21, joined by his close associate *Val Greenhill, published this book last summer and it is, I think, a highly valuable guide for educational leaders.  Kay and Greenhill recognize the extent to which leading learning in fast-changing times is a traveling on a journey which will never arrive finally at the destination, a journey that requires not only a vision and a strategy but a process of inclusion and an obligation for communication and collaboration.  See my full review here.

richardsonHighly accessible, succinct, and compelling, this book identifies great questions we should all be asking about education in the future (and the present), and offers a set of valuable steps we could all begin taking now to realign.    Why would you not take the 80 minutes and $3 to read this book this summer?

november who owns Using farming as metaphor for 21st century learning is funny to me, but November makes it work, and helps us to see what is new is old: that we’ve always learned best by doing things, taking care, working together, tackling real problems, generating meaningful solutions, producing and sharing.    And now, with the information, resources and tools available online, this practice is more available and more meaningful than ever before.   Great practical suggestions along with good inspiration.   I quibble with some details: November twice offers the idea we shouldn’t try to measure creativity because it will only dampen it, and cites only Dan Pink as support: I think there is more to say about the matter than dismissing it out of hand, but this minor matter doesn’t detract from the value of November’s book as a whole.

net smartRheingold: I’ve been raving about this book for a year, since I read in on vacation last July: I think it was certainly THE book of 2012, the one book every educator– including, by the way, everyone who is educating themselves, which ought to be, in the fast-changing 21st century, everyone– needs to read to understand the opportunities and the obligations to be a responsible, effective, digital citizen, collaborator, and contributor.  It’s a bit of a heavier lift than many of the other books on this list, but it is entirely worth the effort.   See full post/review here. (more…)

brookhart book“We still really don’t know how to assess problem-solving,” I heard a university professor of engineering say last week, and it resonated because it is so clear to me that while we all want to do more to educate our students in the work of solving complex problems and creative thinking, and we know the importance of assessment in driving this instruction, we nevertheless stumble in our clarity about what and how we ought to assess these things.

Most often the books I write about here are what might be viewed as the superstructure books– the writing about the future of learning and the most innovative practices for reinventing what and how we should be teaching.

Examples of this would be my reviews of Net Smart by Rheingold, Networked by Wellman and Rainey, Future Perfect by Johnson, and Zhao’s World Class Leaners. 

But sometimes it is useful to return to the foundations, and firm up our terms and concepts at more basic, but critical, levels— indeed, if we don’t do so, the superstructures will be that much more unwieldy.

This 2010 title, from ASCD, is exactly that, and I hope readers will forgive the “primer” nature of this post.   It would seem to me that schools which simply do the work to try to unify and make more consistent our language and practice around higher order thinking skills assessment will be well poised to then experiment, iterate, and innovate in this essential realm.

Brookhart begins by defining the core elements of what we mean by higher order thinking:

  • Transfer: relating learning to other elements beyond those they were taught to associate with it.
  • Critical thinking (judgment): reasonable, reflective thinking focused on what to believe or do, applying wise judgment and producing an informed critique.
  • Problem solving, including creative thinking: the non-automatic strategizing required for solving an open-ended problem, involving identifying problems, creating something new as a solution.

establishing three core components of what exactly effective assessment entails:

  1. Specify clearly and exactly what it is you want to assess.
  2. Design tasks or test items that require students to demonstrate this knowledge or skill.
  3. Decide what you will take as evidence of the degree to which students have shown this knowledge or skill.

and elaborating with three more principles of higher order thinking assessment:

  • Presenting something for students to think about, usually in the form of text, visuals, scenarios, resource material, problems.
  • Using novel material–material new to students, not covered in class and not subject to recall.
  • Distinguishing between level of difficult, easy versus hard, and level of thinking, lower order thinking/recall versus higher order thinking) and control for each separately. (more…)

livingstonAlthough I tend to write primarily here about current books and publications, I’m also spending a lot of time this year doing “deeper dives” in two fields: Best practices in 1-1 laptop programs and in Assessment.     Expect to see a few posts and commentaries here in coming weeks and months about books and articles from the past on these topics.

Livingston’s book was published by ISTE in 2006, and, to this reader’s eyes, continues to be a valuable resource and guide for schools undertaking 1-1 laptop initiatives– as, regular readers here know, I think should be occurring at every school.

The importance of this cause was reiterated for me recently in an inspiring post by my friend George Couros:

If you look around at most conferences, every teacher has some device that they use, whether it is a computer, tablet, or smartphone.  Go into the classroom though, and you will be lucky if you see that as the norm.

1:1 schools get so much attention because they are so unique, but should they be?  Shouldn’t that be the norm for our kids as it is outside of our world?  If you really think of it, doesn’t it seem strange that we are nowhere near the point where every kid having a device in school is just the norm?


Livingston reports that when legendary MIT researcher and programmer Seymour Papert was asked by the Maine Governor about the potential impact of lowering student to computer ratios to 3-1 or 2-1,  he responded, “in effect, nothing much.  ‘It only turns magic when it’s 1-1.‘”

Eleven takeaways and tips from Livingston:

1.  One of the valuable ways we can view and understand laptops and mobile devices in the classroom is as “digital assistants.”   This metaphor conveys that these are more than tools; the metaphor begins with the user as the operator, the mover and shaker, and the tool as strengthening the capacity of that operator.

the importance and usefulness of laptop computers for learning goes far beyond the single purpose implied by those who would call them “just a tool.”

It’s a device which facilitates a student’s thinking, analyzing, presenting, writing, reading, researching, revising, communicating, questioning, proposing, creating, surmising and publishing. (more…)

This free publication, dated to February 2012, is a valuable and economically efficient vehicle for enhancing the understanding of any faculty which is making the move toward PBL.   If it were me, I’d think about distributing it widely, making it available in a printed version for those who prefer reading that way, and use it as a faculty summer reading option or for part of a year-long faculty study of PBL.

Coming as it does as an addition to the existing literature on project-based learning, and most particularly the many resources available from BIE, both free and priced, the new book offers both reiteration, valuable as that is and well supported with examples, and a few new notes.  I thought it’d be most helpful to identify what it adds to the conversation, and most particularly where its emphases are different/additional to what BIE calls the 8 Essential Elements (and, of course, which I think are especially important).

These differences/additions can be best summarized with four C’s:

Currency, Critique, Collaborative Colleagueship, and (Traditional) Components. 

1. Currency: The booklet opens with a helpful commentary on why PBL now.

There have been two key shifts that have reignited teachers’ interest in project-based learning and helped it to shake off its stigma.

Firstly, and most obviously, digital technology makes it easier than ever before for students to conduct serious research, produce high-quality work, keep a record of the entire process, and share their creations with the world.

Secondly, we now know much more about how to do good, rigorous projectbased learning, and we can evaluate its effectiveness.

Surely all of us exmaining PBL would find many more reasons to add to the mix, most importantly that an embrace of PBL methodology follows naturally upon the previous embrace of teaching 21st century skills as our first and foremost “outcomes” priority.

2.  Critique.  BIE’s essential elements includes, importantly, one entitled “Revision and Reflection”  (though I’ve always been curious why in that order: wouldn’t one normally reflect before revising?). (more…)

[Cross -posted from original posting at Connected Principals.]

Sometimes we feel we are living on a pre-apocalyptic brink, and post-apocalyptic themes and memes are abundant in the media, such as the new TV show Revolution,  the Hunger Games, and the fear-mongering that happens around individual incidents in the Middle East presaging a coming Clash of Civilizations.    Clearly the continuing economic woes aren’t helping.   I fear our students sometimes absorb this: they are saturated in much of this media, and they have their own angst to reckon with regarding college/university admissions and, even more stress-fully, financing post-secondary education.

But there is reason for optimism, and Steven Johnson’s latest book, Future Perfect,  is a very fine tonic for our fears and road map toward a far more promising future.  The future may not be perfect, but there is, as his subtitle explains, a “Strong Case for Progress in a Networked Age,”  and we owe it to our own mentality and attitude, and for that of our students, to share this vision and to work toward it.

We have Wikipedia because the Internet and the Web have made it easy and cheap to share information, and because they allowed people to experiment with new models of collaboration while minimizing the risks of failure.

To be a peer progressive, then, is to live with the conviction that Wikipedia is just the beginning, that we can learn from its success to build new systems that solve problems in education, governance, health, local communities, and countless other regions of human experience.

That is why we are optimistic: because we know it can be done.  We know a whole world of pressing social problems can be improved by peer networks, digital or analog, local or global, animated by those core values of participation, equality and diversity. That is a future worth looking forward to.  Now is the time to invent it. 

I should make clear I am a Steven Johnson fan, and have been for a long time.   Reading his 2005 book Everything Bad is Good For You greatly influenced me, sharply revising my view about the potential positive effects of video and computer games (a revision for which my sons are very grateful, and I tell them they owe a great debt of gratitude to Johnson.)   I enjoyed his Ghost Map, and those who know me know that his Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation has been hugely influential and inspirational to me.   Click here to read my suggested “take-aways” from that book for educators. 

This new book sets out to establish the principles of a what Johnson believes is a political and world-view, “peer progressivism,” which is built upon the power and opportunity of “peer networks.”   One important clarification he regularly reiterates here is that peer progressivism can occur without technology, and did do so brilliantly, but it is greatly amplified by the effects of networking technology.

To be a peer progressive is to believe that the key to continued progress lies in building peer networks in as many regions of modern life as possible: in education, health care, city neighborhoods, private corporations, and government agencies.  When a need arises in society that goes unmet, our first impulse should be to build a peer network to solve the problem. (more…)

From the book:
“None of these technologies are isolated, or isolating, systems.   People are not hooked on gadgets– they are hooked on each other

The new media is the new neighborhood. 

This is the era of free agents and the spirit of personal agency. But it is not the World According to Me– it not a world autonomous and increasingly isolated individualists.  Rather, it is the World According to the Connected Me. 

The more people use the internet, the more friends they have, the more they see their friends, and the more socially diverse their networks.  

People’s lives offline and online are now integrated– it no longer makes sense to make a distinction.”

This new book, Networked: The New Social Operating System by Lee Rainie (of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project) and Barry Wellman (of the University of Toronto’s NetLab),  to which I was directed by Howard Rheingold’s terrific Net Smart, is a refreshingly no-holds-barred,  full-throated advocacy for the power of the network to improve lives, learning, and society.

The book, sadly, is not a complete success;  at times its narrative flattens into research-report data drudgery, and sometimes its voice  speaks about contemporary digital lives to its readers as if we lived on Mars or in the 19th century:  much of what is explained requires little explanation.   And the two “interludes”- intended as richly described “days in the life” of a networked, wired young person– simply fail, I believe, to illuminate, inform or influence minds (more about this at bottom).

But, if you are caught up in the current intellectual debate about the value of online networking– if you are looking for helpful argumentation versus the Turkles and Carrs— this is a valuable book, collecting and sharing research based evidence and an idealistic vision for where we are headed as a society of increasingly networked individuals.  And if you are looking for guidance on how to be a more effective online citizen, or netizen, this book offers good guidance.

The title is Networked, but the argument is something a bit different: many of us are living now not in a networked society but lives of “networked individualism.”  Because it is as individuals we are networked– at the very same time that we are more connected, we are less group-defined, less tied to tight networks such as churches and small town communities.

This new world of networked individualism is oriented around looser, more fragmented networks that provide succor.

Small densely knit groups like families, villages, and small organizations have receded in recent generations.  A different social order has emerged around social networks that are more diverse and less overlapping than those previous groups.

The networked operating system offers new ways to solve problems and meet needs. It offers more freedom to individuals than people experienced in the past because now they have more room to manuevre and more capacity to act on their own. (more…)