In my first year of Teach First, top contenders have been Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion and Steven Farr’s Teaching as Leadership. Both are worth reading, and both reward continual re-reading. They take bronze and silver medals.
But gold goes to Dan Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School?, for three reasons.
First, it’s packed full of practical ideas. If you want to know how to improve the way you use stories, knowledge or problems, examples, practice or mnemonics, there’s no better author.
Second, it distills three decades of scientific research into how the brain works. Thirty years of evidence is crystalised at your fingertips: all of it tailored to the classroom.
Third, it opens your eyes as to why certain things aren’t working. For instance, why don’t they remember anything I tell them? Because I’m starving them of stories and mnemonics that make content memorable. Why can’t they understand the concepts? Because I’ve starved them of concrete examples. Why can’t they interpret critically? Because they don’t have a sufficiently secure foundation of background knowledge of the text. Willingham’s brilliant diagnosis sheds light onto why students struggle at school.
Above any other book I’ve read on teaching, it holds the keys that unlock learning.