Too much contemporary leadership literature consists of poorly informed speculation, personal war stories unfiltered by critical inquiry, and pabulum unworthy of the tree killed to create the printed page.
The following recommendations are, however, wonderful exceptions. Please consider purchasing their books and, when possible, patronize your local independent bookseller.
For book study guides, articles, podcasts, and other resources, please go to www.LeadandLearn.com. All the downloads are free.
Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (2012) by John
Hattie published by Routledge.
Cynics about education research repeat the
same refrains: you can always find a researcher to say anything, the
students in the study are not like our kids, and the research is biased.
But John Hattie’s latest work will stop the cynics in their tracks because he
has accumulated the work of more than 900 meta-analyses representing more than
250 million students. This is one of those rare pieces of research that meets
the “jury standard” – the preponderance of the evidence – that should mute even
the most cynical critics.
The good news is that we really do not need to
speculate about what works in education and what doesn’t. For example,
goal setting that is specific and challenging works; retention – repeating
failed practices – doesn’t work. These are just two among the 150
practices that Hattie and his colleagues have examined after synthesizing
thousands of studies. Using the consistent measurement of impact – effect
size – the reader is able to evaluate the relative impact of alternative causes
of student achievement. Hattie thus helps us to reconcile the major
debate of our time in educational policy – the impact of socioeconomic status
on student achievement. His research demonstrates conclusively what
everyone who has worked in high-poverty schools knows – socioeconomic status
matters. At this conclusion, the critics of high standards and high
expectations for all students cheer, as research has now demonstrated the
irrefutable (and obvious) contention that the economic environment of students
influences their achievement. Not so fast, Hattie’s research
suggests. While it’s true that socioeconomic status influences
achievement, it is equally true that teaching and leadership strategies also
influence achievement – and in many cases, the influence of teaching and
leadership practices are greater than those of socioeconomic status. For
the proponents of economic determinism, this is very bad news indeed. It
squarely places responsibility for student results not on society, social
injustice, and other intractable and conveniently remote causes, but on
policymakers, leaders, and teachers. While we cannot remove the impact of
socioeconomic status of our students, we can certainly mitigate it by focusing
our energy on strategies that have a relatively greater impact on student
achievement than the factors that they brought with them into the
For most teachers and school administrators,
this should be good news. It proves our efficacy – the impact that we
have, with our energy and professionalism and commitment – on student
results. But curiously, my endeavors to convey Hattie’s work to
practitioners has sometimes met with the resistance one might expect in telling
a 7-year-old that, sad to say, the Tooth Fairy is not real.
Seven-year-olds are quite clever. They know that the Tooth Fairy is not
real, as they have caught their parents prematurely sleeping while the
unredeemed and recently pulled tooth lay beneath the pillow. In the
morning, there was not a shiny dime (or, with inflation, a silver dollar) but
only a tooth. These are childhood fantasies destroyed by indolent parents
who wish that, by sheer energy, we could prevent the critical faculties of the
But while fantasies of the Tooth Fairy fade
away, the faith of adults remains undeterred. Hattie provides two
provocative cases in point. Everyone knows, of course, that there are
three learning styles – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Teacher
preparation programs inculcate this into their students and the doctrine is
reinforced for leaders who pursue degrees at the master’s and doctoral
level. There is just one tiny problem. Learning styles is a theory
unsupported by evidence. If there were such a thing as visual, auditory,
and kinesthetic learning styles, then we should be able to identify them
consistently. As Hattie demonstrates, we can’t. If these learning
styles mattered, then teachers who provided a visual learning environment for
visual learners and auditory learning environment for auditory learners should
prosper, but they don’t. This is completely consistent with the research
or University of Virginia neuropsychologist Daniel Willingham, whose YouTube
videos on this subject have gone viral. But true believers in learning
styles are undeterred by evidence. As very bright and well educated
people in an audience today asked me, after my presentation of evidence
involving dozens of studies and thousands of students, “What is your research
that learning styles are not true?” Galileo attempted to demonstrate that
the Earth was not the center of the universe, but popular views of science
overwhelmed the evidence. Educational mystics are the Inquisition. Hattie
is Galileo. We all know that that had a bad ending.
Wait – it’s about to get much, much worse.
Hattie demonstrates that curricula based upon “multiple intelligences” which
does not improve student results. While the true believers in multiple
intelligences are shocked and appalled by this conclusion, one person who is
not surprised at all is Howard Gardner. Professor Gardener’s writings and
public statements are invariably modest and self-effacing, inviting
experimental inquiry. Gardner and Hattie both have questioned the use of
the term “intelligences” to describe the differences among verbal,
mathematical, interpersonal, musical, and other proficiencies that students
demonstrate. Therefore, before critics of Hattie feel compelled to spring
to Gardner’s defense, they might want to read what Gardner has to say about the
matter. Not to be churlish about it, but it’s fair to say that Howard
Gardner is fully capable of speaking for himself, and more people seem to be
acquainted with the titles of his books than with their contents.
In sum, Hattie’s contribution to research is
monumental. He challenges prevailing notions, he empowers teachers and
leaders, and he also provides the reasoned middle ground that policymakers
should respect – acknowledging the impact of socioeconomic factors while not
becoming enslaved by them. Visible Learning for Teachers will be a
controversial, engaging, and profoundly difficult book for many educators and
administrators. It may also be the most important book that they read in
their entire career, provide that they apply its lessons carefully.
Pennebaker, Ruth (August 30, 2009). "The Mediocre Multasker," The New York Times, p. WK5.
A new study by Stanford Professor Clifford Nass smashes many illusions about the virtues of multitasking. "Multitaskers were just lousy at everything," Nass concluded. He began with the assumption that multitaskers possessed some special power and insight, but evidence beats presumption every time. Although the high multitasking students in the study were uniformly less effective than their low multitasking counterparts, that did not stop the hubris of the multitaskers. "The core of the problem," Professor Nass said, is that the multitaskers "think they're great at what they do; and they've convinced everybody else that they're good at it too." See additional articles on the same subject at www.nytimes.com.
Bauerlein, Mark (2009). The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. New York: Penguin Group.
I was fully prepared to hate this book and, with my rhetorical guns drawn, ready to give it the public flaying I knew the book and its author deserved. After all, these were my kids, my students, my colleagues, and my loved ones that this petulant professor was attacking, and I was ready to fight the schoolyard bully who had insulted my friends. And then I did what I suspect few of Bauerlein’s critics have done – I read the book.
Disturbing and compelling, this book not only challenges the smugness of adolescents who have conflated certainty with understanding, but also eviscerates the sanguine confidence of boomers, including this reviewer, who paved the road to indolence for our children and grandchildren with a toxic brew of money, technology, and affirmation. Put aside for a moment the irony that I am recommending this book on Twitter and a web site, both media excoriated in the book, and consider the evidence: Student skills in reading and writing have declined, their civic and cultural knowledge has dwindled, and their much vaunted “techno-literacy” is a masquerade, as if a PowerPoint presentation were a substitute for critical analysis.
This book is not just another polemic about low test scores and low levels of interest in science and math. Bauerlein deftly considers the causes of the intellectual decline among high school and college students and lays it squarely at the foot of a culture of self-absorption amplified by technology. It’s not that adolescents of any age since the Lyceum are more or less self-absorbed; it is that pedagogues from Socrates to Laurence Tribe have challenged that self-absorption with rigorous questions. Today, however, the pseudo-pedagogues of Web 2.0 nourish complacency and arrogance. Like Narcissus, we star into the mirror of user-generated content and find its appeal addictive because, of course, it offers unending reinforcement of our interests, choices, and inherent cleverness.
The impact is not only a loss of academic interest, but a cultural wasteland. For 18-24 year-olds, “only one in 10 attended a jazz performance in the 12 months before one survey and one in 12 attended a classical music performance. Only 2.6 percent of them saw a ballet, 11.4 percent a play. Less than one in four stepped inside a museum or gallery during the previous year, one in 40 played a classical music instrument, and one in 20 sang in a choir. Compared with findings from 1982 and 1992, the 2002 results showed performing arts attendance by 18 to 24 year olds dropping in every art form included” (p. 24). In brief, it is not that students have made a choice to disconnect from boring academics to pursue beauty and truth; their persistent choice is the pursuit of themselves. While parents worry that students are over-stressed, over-tested, and over-challenged in a school environment, the truth is that the vast majority of students are under-challenged and over-affirmed. Instead of learning, a steady diet of affirmation actively diminishes their perceived need for the hard work essential to learning.
Bauerlein perhaps misses an opportunity to consider that other nations have enjoyed similar access to technology without forsaking their culture, history, and civic participation. Australians are as wired as Americans, yet maintain a world-class commitment to civic participation. Students in Shanghai and Beijing are as frenetic in their texting as those in Los Angeles and New York, yet a reverence for Chinese culture, ancient and modern, remains strong. One plausible explanation for the difference might be that when my Chinese students gave speeches on “my most admired person,” 43 of 44 chose a teacher. When I have heard American students opine on the same topic, music and athletic stars are more likely to emerge as role models and heroes.
Perhaps the most compelling paragraphs of the book are not about technology, but about teaching. Bauerlein does not blame students as much as their sycophantic parents and teachers who have too readily regarded children as customers, fearful of poor reviews and lustful for the adulation of the young. This challenging book will, I hope, make my 36th year of teaching better, if not more popular, than the previous 35, and I have already redrawn next week’s lesson plans. I still love my students; the question is whether I will love them enough to risk challenging, criticizing, offending, and perhaps alienating them. Customers in the Internet era demand instant gratification. Students of every age, however, tend to thank their teachers years, even decades, after the most challenging encounters of schools. If the dire picture painted in this book is to change, it will not be because adolescents stopped being adolescents, but because adults started becoming adults.
Final note: I have many friends who are technology teachers and who are in the instructional technology professions. I too have used (and, I fear, misused) technology in the classroom. If you would like to offer a contrary view, I'll be happy to post it. My only request is that your argument is a review of Bauerlein's book and his central thesis and evidence, not simply individual examples of hard-working kids who use technology well. You can send your review to DReeves@LeadandLearn.com. Thanks.
Kafele, Baruti K. (2009). Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School & in Life. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
In this clarion call for personal responsibility for students, teachers, and families, Kafele offers practical advice and a demanding set of standards. He balances an emphasis on self-esteem with self-discipline, knowing that the former will not be meaningful without the latter. The appendices provide practical lists for students, aspiring leaders, and teachers. His work is consistent with the outstanding work of Carol Dweck of Stanford (a review of her excellent book is forthcoming) and Jeff Howard of the Efficacy Institute. Kafele's personal story and his extensive experience demonstrate that urban students in general and African-American males in particular benefit not from well-intentioned sympathy, but from rigor, high expectations, intensive literacy support, and pride in who they are and who they will become.
Influencer: The Power to Change Anything (2008). Patterson, Kerry and others. McGraw-Hill, 299 pages. ***** - Five Stars - highest rating
Compelling research and examples, from global health care to community crime to persistent organizational challenges. The authors identify six sources of influence: personal motivation, personal ability, social motivation, social ability, structural motivation, and structural ability. The suggestions are simple, but not simplistic. Change is hard work, but a study of positive deviance is the most direct path to effective change. The authors offer a helpful website and useful free downloads
Hattie, John (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analysis Relating to Achievement. Routledge.
***** Five Stars, Highest Rating
First, the criticisms. Hattie has engendered "hate sites" that pride themselves on having not read his work. Despite this irrationality, there are certainly reasonable criticisms of meta-analysis. It underestimates the limitations of low sample size and poor quality. It over-estimates the impact of independent variables. It depends upon a normal distribution even when the studies themselves may not have made such an assumption.
But even accepting these and other limitations, Hattie's work represents a landmark in educational research, including more than 83 million students and a dazzling variety of cultures, governance structures, and political contexts.
Best of all, Hattie sets a new standard for the "what works?" research. The most compelling finding of his work is that the "null hypothesis" is a fraud -- a pulse and normal body temperature will beat the null hypothesis. We should rather make a comparison to an effect size of d = .40 (read the book!) and not to d = zero.
Finally, Hattie lays down a challenge to leaders at every level, from policy makers to the board room to the classroom. The challenge is this: Before jumping on the next "initiative" bandwagon, what evidence do we have that the prevailing evidence supports our investment of time, emotional energy, and resources? Hattie's synthesis suggests that some of the most politically popular "solutions" are less likely to influence student results than alternatives which have a lower appeal but a higher potential impact.