A few random ideas about and from books.
In Praise of (Thrift) Books: I like reading books, or, if the stack of 6+ books at my bedside is any indicator, I like starting to read books. My favorite sources for books are the local thrift stores because they are cheap and you never know what you might find. The result of this combination is that I walk out with some interesting books I would never buy for full (or even Amazon discounted) price. A hardback with an interesting title and/or back blurb for $0.50 is an easy buy, and if it doesn’t turn out to be worth the time to read, I don’t feel bad donating it, giving it away, or trading it at a used bookstore.
Random Thoughts from the Current Set of Books: I believe that you can learn something from every book, even if it’s something like “Don’t ever write anything like this ever!”, and if you are looking for ideas related to teaching, you can find lots of great nuggets in just about every book. So here’s some teaching ideas I’ve garnered from 3 of my bedside crop of thrift books:
Good To Great by Jim Collins: As the title blurb says, it’s a study of why some companies do well and others don’t.
– If you want to have high quality results that you can share with others, you have to invest heavily in research and document it all carefully. The research in the book is supported by a team of researchers and every idea is carefully researched and footnoted. If the book had just been one person’s ‘good ideas’, it wouldn’t have much impact. Our efforts at improving our teaching should be treated similarly.
– Success or failure should be measured against the changes that are distinctive. It is easy to look at some good (or bad) teaching and associate it with all the apparent behaviors, but it is more helpful to look at what practices are different with the teacher and students and connect it to the good (or bad). In the book, they compared successful companies and practices to those that were similarly successful up to point.
– Ideas matter more than people. In the book, they noted that ‘celebrity’ CEOs might have initial impact in a company, but for sustained improvement, CEOs that had and followed a set of success-focused ideas worked out much better. We shouldn’t just judge teaching by the star-power of the teacher but by the thoughtfulness of their ideas.
TekWar by William Shatner – His (first?) science fiction novel (more of detective novel) about a detective solving some mystery in a (barely) futuristic Earth
– If someone does you a favor (like getting you out of frozen animation jail), then they probably want something from you, and thus either beware of gifts (including kind words) from students and colleagues especially when you are struggling, or you should develop those dependent relationships so that if you get in trouble, you’ll have some people to help you out.
– Success comes more from who you know, even if you know them from not so great experiences (and maybe those are more valuable that those from positive experiences). So those difficult moments in teaching probably contribute more to student learning than all the highly developed super-smooth moments combined.
– If you are famous and write a not-so-good book make it a quick read. If you are teaching something that maybe you aren’t so good at teaching, tell the story quickly. If you drag it out, you are just going to remind people that it isn’t so good; in looking back at the book (which I did actually complete), I might actually recommend it to someone (not a close friend, but someone).
The Creative Experience, ed. by Stanley Rosner and Lawrence Abt – A collection of conversations with 23 distinguished (in 1970) scientists and artists about creativity in their fields.
– Creativity can come from deliberate actions but more likely comes out of spontaneous events and semi-negative situations (e.g. boredom or frustration). If we think of learning as ‘making sense’ then it has strong ties to creativity and thus well-organized/smooth events might not be the best for learning. It may be more productive to allow or even create some spur of the moment and/or frustrating experiences.
– Those who are viewed as being creative are often less aware of what creativity looks like. In the book, the interviews with the scientists were more thoughtful and informative about creativity than those from the artists. The artists, being in a creative field, can separate what they do in general, from what they do in particular that involves creativity. So it may also be that a natural teacher, or one who has received good evaluations without much effort might not have really much to say about being a good teacher as they might not be able to tell what they do is really about being effective and not just something that they do. A teacher that has struggled to become better (and has done so) probably has much more to say about effective teaching.
So if you don’t check out your local thrift stores for books, you should. Also, read a variety of books as they can contribute some good ideas about teaching.