The one thing you need to read

For teachers or educators who want to get more evidence-informed, one of the most daunting things can simply be knowing where to start. No one ever said teachers were meant to be researchers, and it’s a big field to grapple with. So we asked some people who know something about the landscape what one thing they would recommend other educators should read – and why.

Dr Efrat Furst, postdoctoral fellow and the learning incubator in the school of engineering and applied sciences at Harvard University.

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L. and McDaniel, M. A.

‘Chapter 1: Learning is Misunderstood’

Why? Choosing one resource is especially hard since a good resource is often appreciated in the context of many others combined with practical experience. This is a reason to read this chapter: it elegantly combines key insights from both research and practice into a coherent and enlightening read. It highlights the decades-long solid evidence for effective learning strategies (the benefits of wide knowledge and effortful practice), as well as an essential review of illusions and psychological barriers (e.g. rereading is not effective but self-deceptive). Last, the chapter includes a collection of concrete recommendations for better learning (e.g. spaced and varied retrieval practice). All in all, the chapter is a valuable ‘stand alone’ resource, but hopefully also a trigger to read this excellent book from cover to cover. The entire book makes a very strong case for the contribution of the science of learning to teaching and learning, and its takeaways highlight the crucial role that informed teachers may have on students’ learning.

Harry Fletcher-Wood, Associate Dean, Institute for Teaching

The Science of Learning by Deans for Impact

Why? This offers a clear, succinct summary of what we do and don’t know about learning, alongside guidance which would allow teachers in any subject and age group to use it tomorrow. The paper combines deceptively simple observations – like ‘Practice is essential to learning new facts, but not all practice is equivalent’ – with ideas about how we can use them – like ‘Teachers can interleave (i.e., alternate) practice of different types of content.’ It’s six pages and can be read in 15 minutes, yet perfecting an approach to applying these ideas in the classroom is a lifetime’s work.

Joe Nutt, Education Consultant, researcher and author

Teachers make a difference: what is the research evidence?, paper by Hattie, J.

Why? Because it’s one of the only credible pieces of research about excellent teaching I’ve ever read, and too many teachers – and, more significantly, their leaders – spent their entire careers in schools where they never see excellent teaching.

Mark Enser, Head of Geography at Heathfield Community College

Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge, report by Meyer, E. and Land, R.

Why? An understanding of these concepts is very important when planning a curriculum – it ensures that content is taught in a way that supports a deeper conceptual understanding.

Naureen Khalid, Governor

Urban Myths about Learning and Education by De Bruyckere, P., Kirschner, P. A. and Hulshof, C. D.

Why? This book looks at various common beliefs and then what research has to say about them. It can be a valuable reference text for teachers (and governors).

Rajvi Glasbrook-Griffiths, Assistant Headteacher

Why Knowledge Matters by Hirsch, E. D.

Why? For holding equity at the heart of educational purpose and putting forward clearly the case for knowledge and cultural capital as a powerful leveller

Greg Ashman. Teacher, blogger, and PhD candidate, Australia

‘Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work’, article in Educational Psychologist 41 (2) by Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J. and Clark, R. E.

Why? Before I read this paper, I felt that I was ‘doing teaching wrong’. I believed that it was better for students to figure concepts out for themselves than to have these concepts explained to them. However, I had never had much success at enabling students to figure physics or maths ideas out for themselves so I had developed more of an expository teaching style and I felt guilty about this. Reading this paper was a liberation because I realised that cognitive science was actually on my side and that I had been doing the right thing. It freed me to work on improving what I was doing in a way I had not been able to do before.

Eric Kalenze, author and blogger 

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers, edited by Birbalsingh, K.

Why? Though it’s not filled with study after study, I think every teacher should read Tiger Teachers because it (1) shows a unified group of teachers making educational research work for every part of their school – instruction, climate, professional learning, etc. – and (2) shares how such evidence-informed practices work for kids and all-around school culture. In full, the narratives of teamwork, success, and growth in Tiger Teachers don’t just tell teacher-readers what they should do, it shows them what they can do.

Dr Pedro De Bruyckere, educational scientist at Arteveldehogeschool, Ghent

I couldn’t mention my own books, so I’m left with When Can You Trust The Experts? by Willingham, D.

Why? While most people would pick Why Don’t Students Like School? [his previous book], which is great too, this book helps you to become more evidence-informed as a teacher, principal or parent. It will help you for sure when you read every other book that will be mentioned.

Daisy Christodoulou, Director of Education, No More Marking 

Why Don’t Students Like School? by Willingham, D.

Why? The clear, relevant and practical application of research to classroom practice.

Dr Eva Hartell,  STEM teacher

Assessment for learning: why, what and how? by Wiliam, D.

Why? It is a short and easy-to-read booklet on formative assessment, which is supported by loads of research, and found to be beneficial for student learning. However, there is also evidence that shows formative assessment is superficially implemented, so only reading is not enough. I suggest people look at the embedding formative assessment professional development packs by Siobhan Leahy and Dylan Wiliam.

Jude Hunton @judehunton, Headteacher

What if everything you knew about education was wrong? by Didau, D.

Why? It will educate you as a practitioner and a leader. But if you care about edu-literature it becomes a personal pleasure to read. I found it to be the most intellectually enriching and emotionally satisfying edu-book I’d read. You feel that Didau has suddenly leapt miles forwards as a writer and thinker, and he humbly wants you to become better by tooling you up with the scepticism of cognitive science. However he doesn’t stop at problematising common sense and winnowing out biases; this wonderful book explains the profoundly important work of Professor Bjork and equips you with how to mobilise your new understanding in your school.

Dr Caroline Creaby, Deputy Headteacher and Research School Director

Student-Centred Leadership by Robinson, V

Why? This meta study calculated the effect size of different leadership dimensions on student outcomes. In this study, leading teacher learning and development had the greatest impact on student outcomes.  This is an important piece of research for school leaders as it highlighted the critical importance of leadership that not only promotes but directly participates with teachers in professional learning. This resonates with me as without it’s only when we’re directly involved in improving our own practice in the classroom that we can hope to understand the complexities and challenges involved in student learning.

Laura McInerney, Education Journalist and co-founder of Teacher Tapp

Live and Learn by Claxton, G

Why? In 1984 this was a pioneering book bringing together psychological research and philosophy about the way humans learn. The research has moved on and many educationists would argue this work is now outdated and lacks rigorous, scientific insights. But if one is to understand where evidence-based research is at now, then it’s worth looking back at other forms of evidence that have been influential, even if only to understand how times change and to understand how theories maligned today were explained in the past.

Carl Hendrick, English teacher and Director of Research, Wellington College

‘Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques’, article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14 (1) by Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J. and Willingham, D.

Why? There is a huge amount of focus on what teachers should be doing and precious little on what students should be doing. In addition, this evidence suggests that most students simply don’t know how to study effectively and it also informs what teachers should be doing in the classroom in terms of curriculum and instructional design.

Daniel Muijs, Head of research, Ofsted

‘Principles of instruction’, article in American Educator, 36 (1) by Rosenshine, B.

Why? This paper gives an accessible overview of convergent findings from cognitive science and effective teaching research. The paper clearly shows how findings from the two fields overlap and is a good introduction to the historic work of Rosenshine in effective teaching.

Book giveaway

The Ingredients for Great Teaching

Win one of five copies of Pedro De Bruyckere’s new book The Ingredients for Great Teaching. To be entered in to the draw to win a copy of this exciting book, simply tweet the hashtag #Ingredients4Teaching to @SAGEeducation by 31st July 2018. For competition Ts & Cs visit

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