Why read a book on the science of instruction?
We are all teachers, even if most of us aren’t professional educators.
Even if you don’t manage a classroom every day, teaching is an essential part of life. At work, you need to give presentations, coach new hires or explain the merits of a proposal to your boss. At home, you want to help your kids grow and thrive. All of this involves teaching.
And teaching is hard. Crossing the chasm that exists between what you know and what you want others to learn is difficult. Try as we might, many of us fail to create meaningful long-term changes in the people we want to help.
Learning From the Best
Barbara Oakley is a highly awarded professor and the creator of Learning How to Learn, perhaps the most-viewed online course of all time. Her new book, Uncommon Sense Teaching, provides an in-depth guide to the best ways to teach.
Oakley partners with esteemed neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski and long-time educator Beth Rogowski to provide an approach to teaching grounded in the latest cognitive science research.
I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, and I heartily recommend it. Whether you’re a traditional educator or simply someone who wants to help others learn better, this is the best summary I know of what works (and what doesn’t).
What Does Science Say About Teaching?
Fortunately, there’s a lot of research that can give insight into the best way to teach. While scientific findings can’t replace the art of instructing, they can help you avoid common traps.
Some of my favorite ideas shared in the book included:
- Avoiding “Grecian Urn Teaching.” This is the mistake of assuming that getting students to do anything related to the material will accomplish learning goals. The example given is having students make a paper maché urn for a Greek history class. To teach, we need to engage, but we must encourage engagement in ways that impart the skills we care about.
- Walking both declarative and procedural paths. Our knowledge of facts isn’t the same as our knowledge of skills. The best teachers help us store up ideas we can articulate, and they guide us through activities that will turn them into lasting abilities.
- Managing slower hikers and faster racers. Student ability varies, as does working memory capacity. Good teachers can structure curricula to keep the quicker students engaged while making sure the slower students don’t fall off. Ultimately slow and steady students may stand on more stable ground because their effort ensures the hard-won knowledge really sticks.
Uncommon Sense Teaching is full of practical insights, including walkthroughs and worksheets showing how to take abstract theories and put them into practice. I recommend it for anyone who wants to be a more effective teacher, inside the classroom or outside of it.
What are the best books/resources you’ve learned for teaching? Share your recommendations in the comments.