What we’re reading: Jackie Stewart

Each edition, we ask one CTLT staffer to share their reading list and inspiring stories. This edition, we are pleased to present a look at the bookshelf of Jackie Stewart, deputy academic director.

Is there a specific book that inspired you to transform your teaching practice?

This summer I spent a lot of time thinking about how I should teach my new (to me) foundational chemistry course. The question that kept coming up for me was, “How am I going to get students to remember the core knowledge and concepts necessary for their success in Chemistry 121 next summer or fall?” Most students in my class intend to take later chemistry courses to further their academic goals. The earliest my students would be able to take another chemistry course is 4-6 months from the end of my course, and so much can be forgotten in that time!

Forgetting, of course, is normal and to be expected. However, a group of 11 cognitive scientists worked with classroom teachers for ten years to test strategies that increase long-term retention of learning. A lot of this work in summarized in the Dunlosky et al. (2013) article cited below. Two of the researchers, Roediger and McDaniel, collaborated with storyteller Peter Brown to write a book about their work. The result is a book useful for both learners and educators, called Making it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The book discusses retrieval practice, interleaving, spacing, desirable difficulties, and metacognition.

Some people question the value of memorization in the Information Age, where facts are readily accessible, and application, creativity, and learning-how-to-learn are highly valued. I don’t disagree with this, but I was comforted by Roediger, McDaniel, and Brown’s confirmation that higher-order thinking is facilitated by the foundational knowledge and skills retained through repeated practice.

Is there a book that has helped guide your work more recently?

Powerful Teaching by Pooja K. Agarwal and Patrice M. Bain is a highly actionable teacher complement to Making it Stick. While the examples are from K-12 education, I find it useful to think about how I might get my class to do a quick retrieval exercise at the start of class, such as having students do a quick “brain dump” or a quick concept question instead of providing a review of last day’s material. Many strategies are also covered on
their website.

What are you looking forward to reading this fall?

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson. I believe this book will discuss ways I can work with my toddler’s cognitive and emotional development in our daily communication, well into the future!

Who is your favourite author? If you could recommend one book by them, what would it be?

I strongly prefer non-fiction and don’t read much by the same author, but I have used many of my Audible credits on Brené Brown books. Daring Greatly is one of my favourites.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. http://doi.org/10.1177/1529100612453266