1.  The link below is a short article on a landmark study of education, released in 1983.  Titled "A Nation At Risk," the report famously said that a “rising tide of mediocrity” was threatening our nation. The study noted that "nearly forty percent of 17 year olds tested could not successfully draw inferences from written material, and only one-fifth could write a persuasive essay; and only one-third could solve a mathematics problem requiring several steps."  It also noted that US children compared unfavorably to children in many other countries.  This report sent shock waves through our country and drew considerable attention to our poor educational outcomes. To read an article on this study by Greg Toppo, click on this link:


2. Ultimately and unfortunately, as educators, we cannot guarantee that student will learn, or even care about learning.  But we can do everything possible to create an environment in which they will learn as much as possible.  That is our responsibility to all students, whatever their talents and whatever their background.  
An important piece of research was done in the 1960s, that demonstrated the importance of believing in students' abilities to learn.  Lenore Jacobson and Robert Rosenthal concocted an experiment in which they gave teachers at the beginning of a school year the names of certain students who could learn and progress quickly, regardless of whether they were currently good students.  At the end of the school year, testing showed that those students had indeed made above average improvements during the course of the year. However, in reality the students who were named were chosen at random.  There was no reason to believe those students had any greater learning capacity than others in the class. 

This very important study was reported in Psychological Reports (1966, vol. 19) and it reflects how important it is for teachers to believe in their students' abilities, and do their best to push them.  It is our responsibility as educators to give the students the best chance possible to learn.  It's well worth clicking here to read a summary of the study.

3.  "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education," by Diane Ravitch
Ms. Ravitch takes aim at all of the modern reform movements in education.  With warmth and insight, she outlines the issues that have befuddled all of the efforts to date aimed at improving student learning and performance.  From No Child Left Behind, to charter schools, vouchers, teacher incentives, computer learning, and test-based accountability, she brings her considerable expertise to an analysis of how programs functioned and why they failed to produce consistently good results.  Moreover, it's a comprehensive look at how culture and politics have collided with our efforts in education. Ravitch leaves the reader with little confidence in our country's ability to tackle these problems.  But her final chapters have a hopeful ring, and some parts read almost like poetry when she describes the desired role of education in society.  This is a great book for parents and educators to have a handle on how education has changed in recent decades and what to look for and what to avoid going forward as we continue the effort to provide a strong education our children.

4.  "How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School" by the National Research Council's Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
This is a great book for those in the teaching profession as it touches on all of the important dimensions to providing the best approach to teaching for true conceptual understanding and retention.  The examples are excellent and make the key points clear, though many require sophisticated understanding of the relevant subject content.  The book addresses all the key issues for teaching.  For example, importance of  both understanding at a deep level and also having reasonable command of basic facts (memorizing if need be) is discussed.  The role of spending enough time to know things very automatically which promotes transfer of the key ideas to new situations is also mentioned.  

The importance of teachers motivating students so they find the work interesting and not dry is discussed, as well as many ways to do this.  Efficiency in using class time was addressed--a favorite issue of mine. For example, when students engage in "discovery learning" (where they generate their own findings), teachers need to provide some guidance so students don't waste a lot of time going down a wrong path.  Another theme that was interesting was how the best teaching doesn't just focus on how to explain material, but has the teacher use the material to "meet the students" where they are in their thinking, so it links to their current understanding.  Research of how babies think and perceive stimuli and phenomena is mentioned as well, in this thorough look at how to apply our understanding of the brain to the task of education our children.

5.  A Washington Post Article on Jan. 15, 2012 addressed the dangers of meaningless praise and over attention to self-esteem, which comes at the expense of real learning.  Click here to read the article.

6. Slate"How To Build a Better Teacher," by Ray Fisman July 25, 2012.  
 This article (shown in full at the link below) cites research regarding how to improve teachers' abilities and student output.  It mentions some research out of the Cincinnati public schools which suggests that teaching quality can be liefted by having a master teacher observe other teachers and provide feedback on how to improve their lessons. 

It also mentions a simple study by Valerie Vaughn from Columbia University which 
investigated how to give effective critical feedback to students. Constant criticisms 
can de-motivate students while undeserved pats on the back soon become meaningless. However giving correction that communicates that the teacher believes the student is capable of improving (i.e. "believes in his/her ability") was effective in improving student performance.  For example, Vaughns did an experiment where the researchteam added a note to teachers’ comments on a student essay saying, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” Far more students who got the note made the effort to revise their papers than those who got a note saying, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” The former group wound up getting higher gradesas well.  This is powerful research which shows that the belief that students can learn, coupled with holding them to high standards, can make a big difference in their achievement.  


7.  "Brain Rules: Twelve Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School" by John Medina.  Medina is a molecular biologist who applies findings in his field to how we can best use our brains at work, school, and at home.  His suggestions for how school is best organized and teaching best conducted are very interesting and sometimes novel.  He extends the findings on the importance of repetition of material, introducing and returning to subjects rather than passing through them once only, in an orderly fashion.  He also applies the fact that physical exercise is essential to optimal use of the brain, in suggesting how society can best benefit from this finding at work and at school.  Medina's book is fascinating reading. and the delivery is humorous, in a tone that is almost smug, but it's always entertaining.  And he explains his points very clearly for the lay reader.