Reading suggestions for educators this summer

Summer provides a nice—and much needed—break. It also provides a chance to catch up on some reading (in between visits to the beach and not thinking about school, of course). Since we’re in the midst of summer, we asked a handful of our thought leaders about their own summer reading lists. Take a look at a few of their reading suggestions below!

“The Brain’s Letterbox” (Psychology Today, 2015)

Written by David Ludden
Recommended by Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President and National Education Officer

Ludden begins this article with an acknowledgement that “reading is a very unnatural act for humans.” As the article unfolds, we learn that, while we are wired prior to birth for speech and connecting with other humans, the neural structures (“wiring”) required to make meaning from symbolic representations of sounds, persons, and objects must be built. In fact, the brain dedicates a brand-new space just for that process—called the “letterbox.” The author takes us step-by-step through the research of Stanislav Dehaene (2009), and we come to the understanding that learning to read is an astonishing human accomplishment. This article is the perfect complement to Daniel Willingham’s The Reading Mind.

Classroom Instruction That Works with English Language Learners

Written by Jane Hill and Kathleen Flynn
Recommended by Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer

Accommodating English Language Learners (ELL) is one of the greatest challenges educators face. Jane Hill and Kathleen Flynn have examined decades of research, interviewed educators with ELL students in their classrooms, and reviewed numerous classroom recommendations from numerous experts. The result? Classroom Instruction That Works with English Language Learners, a comprehensive guide to help educators guide their ELL students toward success.

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Written by Steven Pinker
Recommended by Eric Stickney, Senior Director of Educational Research

Watching the daily news can sometimes make us feel like things are bad and getting worse. To refute that notion and argue for optimism, Pinker brings data. A lot of it. In chart after chart, he summarizes major studies showing clearly that the rates of negative phenomena such as violence, war, poverty, famine, accidents, and even time spent doing housework have broadly come down—way, way down— since those statistics were recorded. Conversely, rates of literacy, educational access, intelligence, economic mobility, life expectancy, health, and happiness have greatly improved over time. Although not restricted just to education, this book has broad implications for the field. Pinker argues that our increased attention to reason, science, and human well-being are the drivers of the improvements, and you could further argue that those are all products of broad investment in universal education. To what extent can we keep the momentum going by preparing students to be literate, critical thinkers?

How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain

Written by Gregory Berns
Recommended by Cheryl Ballou, Associate Education Officer

Gregory Berns is a neuroscientist at Emory University who has studied how the human brain works using magnetic-resonance imaging. He expands his research to find out what his dog is thinking, and surmounts quite a few obstacles (how to get his dog to willingly enter the MRI machine for a scan is one). You will have to read it to find out if your dog is really your best friend!

Man’s Search for Meaning

Written by Viktor Frankl
Recommended by Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President and National Education Officer

Every couple years, I re-read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning just to make sure I’m on the right course to becoming a decent human. It’s a habit I picked up from my mom, who was a most decent human. In between my searches for meaning, I also find it fun to revisit E. D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and browse the expanded list of the 5,000 things I should know. This year, I’m plowing through the list again to identify and hopefully address my cultural literacy gaps. There are more than I would like to admit.

The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to How the Mind Reads

Written by Daniel Willingham
Recommended by Gene Kerns, EdD, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

Well-known cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham explores the mystery of how our minds learn to read from an angle based squarely in cognitive science. He points out that we are born pre-wired to learn spoken language, but written language is something else altogether. If you choose this read, pay special attention to Daniel’s “self-teaching hypothesis” as a new way to explain why reading a variety of different topics is so beneficial for independent reading.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

Written by Michael Lewis
Recommended by Catherine Close, PhD, Psychometrician Supervisor

I usually read an eclectic mix of books on statistics, psychology, and adaptive testing. In spurts, I’ll throw in less technical stuff for fun. With that, I recently finished reading Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. The book is about two Israeli psychologists—Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky—who, in my mind, influenced a lot of the psychology and the related mathematics that I learned in college and graduate school. Understanding why people think the way they do and whether probability plays a role in it is quite interesting. The flaws of human judgment as described in the book are both unsettling and enlightening. Danny and Amos’s work on the development and improvement of assessments that would flag Israeli soldiers/pilots who were likely to be successful in the Israeli army helps illuminate much of the earlier work on military testing in general and the application of mathematics to psychology (psychometrics), economics (econometrics), medicine, etc. This book would probably appeal more to those with a psychology and statistics background, but curious readers might enjoy it, too.

Unlocking Student Talent: The New Science of Developing Expertise

Written by Robin Fogarty, Gene Kerns, and Brian Pete
Recommended by Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President and National Education Officer

In 2009, Fogarty, Kerns, and Pete effectively unpacked the theory around formative assessment and described practical classroom applications. They are back, once again guiding us to understand and apply complex yet fascinating research, so that we make a difference for each learner. Drawing from the substantial research base on deliberate practice, Fogarty, Kerns, and Pete progress from observation of peak performers to practical applications for every learner. Unlocking student talent begins with unlocking teacher expertise. Fogarty, Kerns, and Pete offer explicit knowledge and specific techniques to do just that. (Want to learn more about this book? Click here.)

When Breath Becomes Air

Written by Paul Kalanithi
Recommended by Cheryl Ballou, Associate Education Officer

Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon, was diagnosed at 36 years of age with stage IV lung cancer. This memoir documents his journey from doctor to patient as he faced an experience he had not imagined, although he had treated others as they confronted life-threatening illness. (It is odd that until now, I had not considered that both books I’m recommending were written by brain scientists!)

What are you reading this summer? Did something on the list above pique your interest? Let us know on Facebook, tweet us @RenLearnUS, or let us know in the comments below.

Looking to provide students with some reading inspiration? Check out ReadQuest®, a celebration of the power of reading and the places it takes us. You can download a free toolkit full of bookmarks, curated book lists, a calendar of awesome summer events, and a few other surprises!

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