Parent/Educator Resources
Parent/Educator Resources
Learning, Creativity, and the Brain Books
Book Reviewed: Anders, George. (2011). The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else. New York: Penguin Group.

Why should parents read this book? Transcripts and test scores aren’t always the full measure of the potential of individuals. Anders suggests we view the resumes of people “upside down” and look at the rest of their story, including the struggles and obstacles they have overcome. Anders believes executives in organizations shy away from mavericks, the late bloomers, the overachievers with the underdog past, or the inexperienced newcomers with loads of potential.

Parents need to be aware there are many paths to success in life. This means parents may need to stop insisting their child do this and that, believing that performing “this and that” are the only ways to reach the top of the career mountain peak. This book is a good reminder that what really counts in life are some of the non-academic skills—like the ability to persevere in the face of problems and difficulties and the “mettle” required to keep plowing forward when others quit because the road is too hard and exhausting.  

Teach your child the importance of having “mettle,”—which is the ability to continue sustainable effort in the attainment of the impossible. Discuss the importance of dedication and loyalty and character with your child, and how they can handle the bad things which occur in life. (Yes—you must prepare your child for disappointment and heartache and what they should do when it occurs. Notice I said “when” not “if.”) Don’t panic if your child spends hundreds of hours investing time in something which interests them—even if you think it’s a waste of time. You never know where anything is going to lead them. The annals of history are filled with children who disappointed their parents and yet went on to perform great things.

Why should teachers read this book? Stop believing that only the kids who get A,’s in your class are going to be successful. Some kids who get C’s are going to be very successful and some kids who get A’s are going to be very unsuccessful. Don’t give upon any kids and pigeonhole them into a bracket, such as “this one is unteachable” or “I dislike this kid because he doesn’t seem interested in my subject.” Maybe the problem is how you are teaching the class or how you are responding to the student. On a final note, this book reaffirms what many teachers believe—that hard work, persistence, and a degree of social skills, will overcome almost anything.

Overall evaluation of the book: An enjoyable and eminently readable book about the intangibles most parents wish their child had. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Barker, Joel. (1992). Future Edge: Discovering the New Paradigms to Success. New York: William Morrow and Co.

Why should parents read this book? This is one of the most famous and important books, of which you have never read or heard. In this early 1990’s, as Total Quality Management was raging throughout the management and corporate world, this book was often used as a springboard for endless conversations about changing tactics and vision and operational strategies for companies and schools. Paradigm shift because a buzzword and numerous companies focused their management on trying not to miss a paradigm shift which might eventually render their company obsolete and irrelevant. As a demonstration point, Barker gives the case of the Swiss watch makers who were quickly supplanted by the arrival of digital watches. The Swiss watch makers never saw the digital revolution coming, nor did they adapt fast enough to prevent their eventual downfall. And is Future Edge relevant today? Absolutely. In the broader view, nothing has changed during the intervening years to diminish the importance of the message.

We live in a world of paradigms, or ways we think the world works. Paradigms establish the boundaries and rules. Paradigms also tell us how to behave inside the paradigm. Additionally, paradigms tell us what is needed in order to be successful. Consequently, paradigms can either be a curse or a blessing. They are a curse because they can prevent us from seeing what appears to be so obvious to someone new to the paradigm. On the other hand, they are a blessing because they provide order and structure for our interpretation of how the world works.

What are your paradigms? Do you believe middle school children should be disciplined a certain way? Do you think schools should teach certain courses and only those courses? Do you ardently focus your attention on certain future jobs and universities for your middle school child, thinking they are the important and thus, the only options your child should consider in the future?

Why should teachers read this book? Paradigms are everywhere. Some are unique to individuals and institutions (like schools) and others are relevant only to the individual. If you have a strong feeling about the way kids should behave in your class, how grading should be handled, the type of courses in which middle schools kids should be enrolling, what the job of a principal and superintendent should be, and what type of parents produce the kind of kids you want in your classroom, then you have paradigms.

Think about the skills your middle school students will really need in 10-15 years when they hit the job market. Then identify the viewpoints and perspectives you think middle school kids will need in the future as they work in a free society with democratic expectations and responsibilities. Is your paradigm accurate? How do you know? Are you really sure you’re not missing something?

Overall evaluation of the book: One of the better “big picture” books available to those who have the intellectual curiosity to challenge the status quo. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Berns, Gregory. (2010). Iconoclast: A neuroscientist reveals how to think differently. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.

Why should parents read this book? If your child is different and has very unusual patterns of thinking from their peers, it may not be reason for despair. Berns views the iconoclast—who he partly defines as someone who does something that others say can’t be done—as being fundamentally different in how they perceive people and things, their ability to manage their fear response, and how they use social intelligence to get larger numbers of people to adopt their ideas. The iconoclast is not a bad individual for society to have and, in fact, we need them.

This book is an anthem for parents who have bright children whose thinking doesn’t always mesh with that of their friends. Thinking differently doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them—even though our society likes to categorize unusual thinkers into categories which are usually negatively associated—such as learning disabled, nerds, autism, eccentric, and weird.

Don’t despair, there may be an important place for your child in society. The positive aspect of this book is that, if your child is displaying early signs of iconoclastic thinking, social skills are going to be very important for them to develop so they can stand strong and tall and view their uniqueness as a strength and have the social intelligence to work with other kids.

Why should teachers read this book? Sometimes the weird kid who works in the back of the classroom, who offers the unusual opinions and insight, isn’t someone who needs fixing and remediation. They may be an iconoclast in the making and if Berns is right—and I think he is—we desperately need iconoclasts in our classrooms and schools. We’re not trying to manufacture cookie-cutter kids who all think the same. We’re trying to create kids who can think on their feet, view problems and situations as opportunities for fresh perspectives, and work with other people on the Earth to make things better for the next generation. So don’t be afraid to encourage divergent and unorthodox thinking—you may be teaching the next Steven Jobs, Warren Buffet, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Harriet Beecher Stowe or Susan B. Anthony.

Overall evaluation of the book: For the unconventional thinkers who push society farther than the group at large usually wants to go, this is a delightful book and will help all of us realize the tremendous contributions iconoclasts can make to society. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Brown, Stuart, M.D. (2010). Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Avery.

Why should parents read this book? Does your middle school child get enough unstructured play in their daily life? The answer is probably, “no.” By the time many middle schoolers reach the age of 11 or 12, many of the community and school related activities they attend will be adult directed and controlled. While this isn’t a completely bad idea—especially if the adult running the program is a positive role model for your child—the case is made by the author of this book, Dr. Brown, that independent, unsupervised play is critical for your child to experience.

There are literally no downsides to your child getting out of the house or apartment and playing with the neighborhood children. Play will help with their creative and cognitive development, assist them in learning how to cooperate and socialize with other human beings, and give them practice in finding out what rules they can bend and which ones they cannot. Even chaotic, rough and tumble play, has a place for your child to experience.

Why should teachers read this book? Stop being so serious in the classroom and faculty lounge. School and kids are not life and death situations in which you must bear the heavy mantle of responsibility. Learn to play with other teachers and even the students in the building. (Note: I’m not talking about playing-in-the-sandbox-activities. I’m talking about being funny and putting a comical twist on some of the serious topics that you study,)

Play is strongly associated with creativity and conversely, creativity is strongly associated play. They both go hand-in-hand. Do your students a huge favor and loosen up a bit. Continue to provide structure and guidance but sprinkle in a dose of the zany every once in awhile. As a bonus, both you and your students will learn more and have more fun along the way. As Isaac Asimov is quoted in the book, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’”

Overall evaluation of the book: Help your child and students become academic superstars through play. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Colvin, Geoff. (2008). Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. New York: Pearson Group.

Why should parents read this book? If your desire is to transform your child into a world class athlete, academic, musician, designer, physician, or any other occupation, you must read this book. Why? Because you are likely to grossly underestimate how much work your middle school child will need to put into their study to become truly exceptional. This book will tell you the reality of what is required.

Much of what Colvin writes about is focused around the topics of the importance of hard work, long hours, deliberate practice, finding a demanding coach, and receiving lots of continuous feedback. If your child (and you), are up for all of these things happening, then you may have the makings of a champion on your hands. Be forewarned, though, the amount of money and time necessary to create middle school prodigies can be enormous. Child prodigies must sacrifice everything in order to position themselves as elite performers in their specialty. And this often means their parents will experience both the pain and joy which goes along with exceptionalism.-

Why should teachers read this book? Malcolm Gladwell made famous the 10,000 hour rule, which means that in order to become an expert at anything, an enormous amount of work must be spent in study before anyone can adopt the title of “expert.” Colvin is probably an author you have not heard of, but his explanation of how to transform kids into experts will be more useful to you as a teacher than Gladwell’s.

Continually stress to your students the value of hard work and critical feedback. Many students won’t know what hard work is and also won’t have much practice in receiving genuine feedback, so you will need to teach them what all this looks like and what it means. The good news about the topic Colvin writes about—producing world class performers—is that the role of the teacher remains one of the most important necessities in order to create exceptional performers.

Overall evaluation of the book: A “must-have” resource for parents and teachers who want to produce truly exceptional students. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: DiSalvo, David. (2011). What Makes your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite. New York: Prometheus Books.

Why should parents read this book? We often do things which are not in our best interests, even though our brain keeps telling us we are doing the right thing. In fact, our brain, which wants to be happy and do as little thinking as possible, often makes dumb decisions. For better or for worse (often worse), our thinking is guided by irrational biases and stereotypes and scripts which lead us into potential traps when used inappropriately or applied in the wrong situation.

This is an excellent book for the parent who wants to know, “Why do people make irrational and dumb decisions and how can I help my child not make those same irrational and dumb decisions when they grow up?” If you are also fascinated by human psychology, this book will be right in your sweet spot. It explains why our brain doesn’t always think logically, makes small bad decisions, and sometimes makes horrible decisions. It explains why we tend to make our decisions first and then look for detail which supports our hasty decisions. There’s lots more useful stuff for your ruminations—such as why we look for cause when random events occur, why the path of least resistance is so irresistible, why buyer’s remorse occurs so often, why some memories of our past are fiction, and why people who deliberately practice the same routine again and again will outperform people who believe in a wide repertoire of skills.  

Why should teachers read this book? You will use this book to help your students prevent themselves from falling into many of the common psychological pitfalls life will have in store for them. You will use these concepts best in those “teachable moments,” that occur so often. For example, when your class wants to make impulsive and fast decisions that are not in their best interests, this is when you can slow them down and process their options with them. This is also when the students in your class overstate things and pronounce that “all people are _____ (fill in the blank with almost any characteristic or personality or physical trait),” and you raise your eyebrows and say, “every single person?” The book is stock full of many other tips, hints, and suggestions. Read the book for yourself to mine the gold within.

Overall evaluation of the book: This is one of the better books, which is readable and understandable for the general public, about psychology and behavior and how the brain works. After reading this book, you’ll now understand why so many of your work colleagues (including your boss) make so many poor decisions. You will also be able to help your child make better decisions. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Feuerstein, Rafael, Reuven Feuerstein, and Louis H. Falik. (2010). Beyond Smarter: Medidated Learning and the Brain’s Capacity for Change. New York: Teachers College Press.

Why should parents read this book? If you don’t have a background in teaching or some knowledge about educational psychology, this could be a challenging book for you to read. However, if you can skip over a few of the more obtuse paragraphs and get the gist of what the authors write about, this may be one of the more important books you read, especially if you have a child with Down’s Syndrome or some other intellectual difficulty which makes learning in general difficult for them.

The reason why this may be an important book to read is that the authors provide logic, details, and hope, that children born with intellectual difficulties can improve their intellectual and academic skills. The authors call this process mediated learning, which is very similar to direct instruction or explicit teaching. Mediated learning is essentially a teaching strategy which relies on explicitly teaching the child specific items in a concrete-sequential, non-abstract manner. Mediated learning does not rely on inference or innuendo. Instead, it relies on repeated and direct sequential instruction from the teacher to the child.

Why should teachers read this book? This is an important book for all educators because it advocates for more direct instruction in the classroom. Direct instruction, or as the authors call it—mediated learning—is a high value teaching tactic which results in academic improvement for all students. How does mediated learning work? The authors use the example of the moon as how mediated instruction works. We can look at the moon on a regular basis without thinking about, or knowing much about, the moon. Or, we can have a teacher intervene and instruct us explicitly about the moon so our learning becomes mediated, and thus ultimately increasing our knowledge, about the moon and how it operates in the solar system. Every researcher who has taken a look at direct instruction (or mediated learning) has come to the conclusion that it is one of the most effective teaching strategies which can be performed in high-achieving classroom.

Overall evaluation of the book: An important book, especially for those who work with children who have some form of intellectual difficulty. However, the authors approach works well with all kids, especially in the early stages when they are learning something new. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Garner, Betty. (2007). Getting to Got it! Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Why should parents read this book? If you have a child who struggles in school and doesn’t catch on right away when new materials are introduced, this is an excellent resource book to help you understand how to assist your child. With a struggling child, the reality is that you will have to change your teaching tactics because if you have multiple children and one child does really well in school while the other one does not, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. (Sometimes it’s amazing how different the learning styles and patterns of kids can be who have grown up in the same household.)

This book wasn’t written for parents and it will occasionally lapse into “education speak,” but if you are halfway intelligent, much of this book will make sense to you. After reading this book, when your middle school child comes up to you and says, “I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do?” you will now be able to help guide them to the answer. You aren’t going to give them the answer, but you will assist their thinking and direct their line of questioning so they have a better chance of figuring things out for themselves. The lists of suggestions found in this book for developing cognitive structures, developing recognition, improving memory, working on classifications, spatial practice, and temporal orientation, are well worth the price of this beauty.

Why should teachers read this book? Confused about how to help your struggling students? Don’t know what else to tell them other than to “work harder” and “go slower” and “read it again?” Well, spend a few dollars and get this book from the local bookstore or online retailer. Unlike many other educational books you have purchased with your money, you won’t regret making this investment.

Teaching students who don’t understand or “get it” right away is not the same as instructing students who understand and “get it” right away. If a student is constantly struggling and acting lost and dazed in your classroom, telling them to make sure they study are meaningless words and won’t make one bit of difference in their ability to understand what you are trying to teach them. You will have to help them generalize principles, transfer learnings, integrate and make connections with prior knowledge, visualize and reflect, and formulate rules they can apply in new situations, among other things.

Overall evaluation of the book: This one is a gem. Buy it and use it often to help your struggling child and students. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Grant, Adam. (2016). Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World. New York: Viking.

Why should parents read this book? This book is primarily suited for parents who are seeking wisdom and insight into how they can help their child be creative and original. Though the author doesn’t spend much time specifically talking to parents about how to help their child be creative and original, there are clear messages parents can take and begin implementing.

The most obvious recommendation for parents is to treat their child, no matter what their birth order, as they might their last born child—that is, by being more lax with the rules, explaining the reason why certain rules are in place, and allowing the child to develop their own path in the world, rather than following in the family and community expectations, usually reserved for the first born child.

Parents will also be reassured by the suggestions given by the author, to go slow and explore options before making decisions. This is incredibly important because so much emphasis in American culture is on being “he first.” Grant Adam, however, has clear data that those who are first often fail and that those who are 25th (or so) stand a better chance of succeeding.

Why should teachers read this book? Have you ever been irritated by the child who doesn’t like following directions or who insists on doing things their own way? Do bright and creative kids sometimes drive you crazy because they crave originality and standing out from the crowd? If so, you may be dealing with a kid exactly like the author of Originals says we need more of. Adams believes we need more people who don’t automatically accept all the rules, who sometimes defy the conventions of society and culture, and who have the audacity to know when to procrastinate while creating something that is really special.

From an educator point-of-view, one of the most reassuring aspects of this book is how the skills of persistence and hard work eventually will benefit individuals. One of the main points the author drills home is that originals take their time and study the situation thoroughly before wading in with their solution to the problem. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci spent fifteen years working on his famous The Last Supper painting.

Overall evaluation of the book: This is a really good book about how to create a truly creative and intellectually engaging child. It goes beyond the visual glib advice to “follow your dreams” and “strike hard and fast.” Instead, the message is “study your dreams carefully” and “strike slowly” but only after thoroughly understanding the situation. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Jensen, Eric. (2008). Brain-Based Learning: The New Paradigm of Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Why should parents read this book? This was written by a well-known educational consultant whose audience is primarily classroom teachers. However, if you are home-schooling your kids or want to know more about how your middle school child’s brain learns, this book will help you do that. As long as you understand and accept that there will be vocabulary words which you don’t recognize—however the definitions can be quickly looked up—you should be just fine grasping the gist of what Jensen writes about.

The beginning of the book will have the usual stuff on brain biology and what different parts of the brain do—as they relate to learning. After that, the topics begin to stream over a wide variety of subjects, some of which can be found in any intro to educational psychology textbooks—such as learned helplessness, Gestalt-type thinking, and cognitive skills. If you can survive some of this terminology, you will also uncover information you can use on topics such as the importance of novelty in learning, why the amount of light and sound in a room can impact how much your child learns, the importance of having choice, why learning must constantly cycle back to earlier learnings and topics, why feedback is critical, the necessity of explicit instruction, why it does matter whether your child finds something personally meaningful, and why project-based learning and simulations are so important.

Why should teachers read this book? Educators regularly violate some of the learning concepts presented by Jensen. It’s hard to understand why, for example, we continue to give volumes of facts and figures to students when their brain has very little chance of successfully remembering most of them. Do we not know the importance of adequately spacing learnings out and not overloading the brain or do we just not care?

Teachers will be interested to note that Jensen is not a big fan of standards-based teaching or the concept that all students must learn the same material at the same time with the same standards for assessment. More so than most other consultants, Jensen advocates for choice on the part of students and the customization of challenging learning activities.

Overall evaluation of the book: A solid book whose message and content has barely changed over the years. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Kawaski, Guy. (2011). Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. New York: Penguin Group.

Why should parents read this book? Enchantment is the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization or idea. Enchantment is not about manipulating people, but rather, it is about bringing voluntary, enduring, and change of hearts and mind. The essential goal of enchantment is to fill the people who meet with great delight, to immerse them in the experience, to do something quirky, novel, and stylish to differentiate things from the usual.

If you want your child to dazzle people with their commanding presence and attention to small important details and to discover some of the finer techniques of doing so, you will find this a useful book. Much of life is not about academic smarts, but about people smarts and knowing what to do to create a sense of “awe” from those around you.

It’s a fun book to read and makes you better understand why great presenters and leaders are the way they are. It also reveals some of the specific things they do to enchant both small and large groups of people. After reading this book, you will better understand why your child’s projects and presentations either rise or fall in quality, as perceived by the teacher and others.

This book tells you how to accomplish people smarts on a grand scale. If you read this book, thinking about it in the context of how you can help your child be a compelling leader, storyteller and presenter, then you will be applying the themes to a practical use. For example, when they are presenting their science project, how can they make it even better? When they are trying to sway a group of people towards a certain outcome or process, what can they do to increase the odds they will be successful? Great adult leaders and presenters didn’t miraculously spring up overnight, they learned many of their techniques and strategies over a long period of time—including the middle school years.

Why should teachers read this book? It’s a great survey book on why you should be an exciting and thrilling teacher to watch in the classroom, as compared with a boring and routine teacher. Most teachers don’t have lots of excess time on their hands to plan for enchantment. However, that shouldn’t absolve us of thinking of enchanting the kids. We know the brain pays attention to things which are different and exciting and enchantment in the classroom is just the ticket to help those middle school brains focus and pay attention.

Enchantment involves simple things like being likeable and trustworthy as a teachers. It involves obsessive planning and preparation for events in order to capture the students’ interests and imagination through a compelling story. (And all great teaching is about stories.) Enchantment is about making the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Overall evaluation of the book: A solid book about putting in that extra bit of effort to transform a project from good to outstanding. Four Stars ★★★★

Book Reviewed: McLeod, Hugh. (2009). Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. London, England: Penguin Books.

Why should parents read this book? Some of the language in this ode to human ingenuity and libertine independence may be off-putting to some, but the ideas presented are absolutely priceless. MacLeod is gruff and to the point and will never win any awards for flowery prose but some of the messages he delivers are important in raising healthy, work-oriented, dynamic, and creative thinkers.

MacLeod focuses on the importance of the individual who sees an angle, and then drives a wedge into that angle, bringing an entire spectrum of creative dissonance into the world. MacLeod is not in favor of bureaucratic organizations and a world filled with “yes ma’am,” and “yes sir,” relationships. What MacLeod is interested in are independent thinkers, unique viewpoints, the discipline to achieve the remarkable, and the stamina to outperform all other competitors. This is really an anthem of praise for entrepreneurship.

Why should teachers read this book? After reading this book, you will have more understanding and sympathy for the odd child in your classroom who thinks differently and oftentimes will divergently follow her target to her hearts content. Understand, however, that MacLeod is not a softie when it comes to hard work. In fact, he stresses the importance of working so hard that you leave your competition in the dust. He advocates for a persistence and focus which allows the individual to become so knowledgeable and aware of what is going on that they literally become the resident expert. Does any of this sound familiar? It should, because it is part of what teachers exhort their students to do every day in the classroom.

Overall evaluation of the book: MacLeod will certainly rub some parents and educators the wrong way with his brash and sometimes cynical tone, but if you can get past this aspect of his writings, there are some excellent ideas you can put to use when encouraging middle school kids to do their best. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Medina, John. (2008). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Why should parents read this book? If you want to know how your child really learns and what you can do to help them learn faster and more efficiently, then you need to read this book. It is well-written and relatively free of jargon—consequently, it is a fairly fast read.

According to Medina, there are twelve basic rules we need to use in understanding the brain and how we learn. The twelve rules are; exercises boosts brain power, the human brain has evolved over time, every brain is wired differently, the brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things, repeat things to remember them, keep repeating things to get them into long-term memory, sleep well, stressed out brains don’t think very well, stimulate more of the senses, vision trumps all over senses, the male and female brain are wired differently, and the brain is curious by nature and likes to explore.

When you are helping your child with their homework, school projects, or other activities, think about the brain rules presented in this book and how you can use them to benefit your child. For example, don’t make them do homework for two hours straight. Make sure they take small breaks to stimulate the brain. As an added bonus, you can evaluate the learning materials your child is bringing home from school and get a general idea as to whether or not your child’s teacher is aware of current research on how the middle school brain learns.

Why should teachers read this book? Every teacher should know the material in this book. The brain rules presented by Medina are consistent with research and packaged together in a meaningful way which is easy to understand—so there should not be any excuse to not be aware of these rules. Every teaching lesson and activity should be prepared with the brain rules in mind. The roadmap of educational curriculum is strewn with boring curriculum materials and units which, while technically correct on the knowledge and data being presented, are so boring and difficult for the brain to easily comprehend that you might have the same success rate as teaching a hamster how to square dance. Do yourself and your students a favor and actually learn about how the brain really learns, rather than how you think it learns or how the curricular materials think it learns.

Overall evaluation of the book: If you are looking for an easy-to-read book on learning and the brain, then you need to stop searching. Don’t be worried by the publication date, because nothing much has changed as far as how we understand the brain to work. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Pink, Daniel. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right brainers will rule the future. New York: Riverhead Books.

Why should parents read this book? Although this is not a recently published book, everything Pink wrote about continues to be relevant today. In fact, the case could be argued that his ideas are more desperately needed than ever before. Many days, it appears little has changed in the landscape, and much to Pink’s distress, the left-brained people continue to run the world.

This book is important to parents because it focuses on something which many schools do not emphasize—the visual-spatial, creative, and right-brain side of learning. School is dominated by analysis, logical thinking, concrete examples, multiple-choice, and true-false questions. Life, however, is not a multiple-choice or true-false adventure. It is symphony—to use Pink’s word—and design, empathy, story, play and meaning are all intimately connected. When was the last time you ever saw these measures on your child’s report card? Probably never.

When your local school tries to change how report cards are communicated to parents and they want to get rid of the traditional “A-B-C-D-F” system and add some other important measures, such as work ethic and creativity—support them in every way that you can. If your local school is thinking about revamping the courses which are offered to the students, volunteer for the committee which is going on offer suggestions. Should your school begin thinking about offering different after school activities—besides basketball and volleyball—for their students, get involved to add things like rocket club, gaming club, speech, debate, and design club. Help make these priorities get past the drawing board and into reality.

Why should teachers read this book? Many teachers will resonate with Pink’s general message—that we have spent too much time on left-brained activities at the expense of right-brained activities. But Pink wants more than just a subtle emphasis on story, design, and creativity. He wants entire school systems reinvented so the production of entrepreneurs and heroes and emotionally intelligent students is at the forefront of where teachers target their instruction. Pink would be very happy if activities involving lots of memorizing and worksheets went the way of the saber toothed tiger.

Stop making school boring for students. Make your classroom a fun and lively place to be. Stress projects and scenarios and inquiry. Deemphasize worksheets, memorization, and compliance.

Overall evaluation of the book: A book whose message seems often to get lost on the linear logic being applied to school improvement. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Ratey, John J, M.D. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Why should parents read this book? This is your call to exercise and put your child in situations where they move their body and get all the physical and mental benefits of exercise. This book was extremely popular when it was first published and became a wake-up call to reverse the long and steady increase in body weight, primarily in school children under the age of 16. Since then, the situation has improved as our children are no longer getting fatter and fatter.

Pay attention to the benefits of exercise—for you and your middle school child. From an academic perspective, exercise is one of the best things your child can do. I’m not kidding. Exercise helps their brain process information, remember important details, and connect disparate pieces together into a coherent whole. The next time your local school board is thinking about cutting physical education classes at the middle school, you need to protest loudly and boisterously. Every piece of data you need to bolster your case is found in this book.

Why should teachers read this book? From a brain and learning perspective, exercise and physical education classes are the first course which should be put into a student’s schedule. Middle School kids should have physical education classes every day, and at a minimum, once every other day. And I’m talking about active physical education classes—not the kind which involves one kid kicking or throwing or hitting a ball while everyone else stands around waiting for something to happen. Your school’s physical education classes should involve plenty of moving around and the intentional elevation of heart rates.

Stop complaining about how easy the job is that physical education teachers have. Thank the principal, superintendent, and school board for having the wisdom to retain physical education classes in the middle school. In some places around the country, schools have eliminated physical education courses so students can spend more time on the “important” classes—such as math, science, and reading. This is not a good decision, however, because the brain is much sharper and learns better if the body moves around a lot.

Overall evaluation of the book: Nothing in this book will be news to health care workers and health and physical education teachers, but for others it’s a real eye-opener. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Restak, Richard, M.D. (2009). Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving your Brain’s Performance. New York: Riverhead Books.

Why should parents read this book? This is an intellectual approach to how the middle school and adult brain thinks and operates. If you enjoy books which make you ponder and think and aren’t “dumbed-down” to make the reading experience almost insultingly silly, than Restak may be the author for you.

Restak covers old ground—how the brain works and processes information—but adds a few touches not normally found in books like this one. For example, Restak spends time early in the book on calories and food—and the type of food we eat—as it relates to optimal brain development. He also spends time on the value and importance of sleep and napping, and the importance of these on helping consolidate memories and helping them stick in long-term memory.

Think Smart is all about maximizing your child’s brain. To that end, parents will learn about things which get in the way of helping kids remember important information and what is necessary in helping the brain consolidate and connect old information and learnings with newer information and learning. Working hard is important but what is even more important is smartly working.

Why should teachers read this book? It’s important to read books written about learning which are not typically found in university level classes. This is one of those books. It is critical that teachers understand exactly how the brain learns because knowing how to help students process and learn information and connect it with what it has already learned, is a vital part of being a teacher. Stop dumping worksheets, packets, and textbooks on the students’ desks and then telling them to “do their homework.” Try this for a change; actually teach your students how to move information from working memory into long-term memory. Explain and then demonstrate to them that few people can remember more than seven (plus or minus two) items in short-term memory. Then, give your students precise activities and tell them why you are recommending these particular activities—to help them move the information learned into long term memory. As a bonus, help them understand that sustained, regular practice is really the only way to get significantly better at anything.

Overall evaluation of the book: A very good resource on a topic that can quickly become incomprehensible to the average adult. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Robinson, Ken and Lou Aronica. (2015). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. New York: Viking.

Why should parents read this book? Robinson’s message to parents is nothing new to anyone who has been paying attention to modern educational trends. Much of what he talks about has been bantered about for the past 30 years. But since Robinson—a relatively famous individual in the educational world—began talking about the lack of creativity being nurtured and fostered in schools, lots of people have begun to pay attention. Apparently it does matter who delivers the message.

This book is a testament to the big-picture view on trends which are slowly creeping through American education. An aspect of this book which is framed for the reader is Robinson’s view of the constant battle between representatives of traditional education and those advocating a more progressive view of education. (Robinson is a progressive.) Maybe there is room for both to exist? Robinson thinks so though he clearly thinks the traditionalists will be on the losing end of the equation.

Parents should read this book because it will give you a sneak preview into one possible direction the world of education will head—more so to the progressive and creative side of the equation. To his credit Robinson says we will need to maintain an equal focus on traditional education—think reading, writing, and arithmetic here—as we incorporate a much greater emphasis on progressive education—which focuses more on developing the unique talents of the individual student. As parents, you get to decide which type of education you predominantly want your child to receive.

Why should teachers read this book? Robinson delivers the final nail into the coffin of traditional educational systems in this easy-to-read book. Advocates of progressive change will love this book. Traditional teachers will disdain the pages of this book, because it indicates that at least half of what they have been teaching is probably wrong for what our current students will need in order to thrive in the future world of work, home, and community.

However, because education is so vast of a system and so difficult to change, many teachers will be buoyed by Robinson’s insistence that all significant change begins at the classroom level. Thus, any individual teacher can choose to take a stand and immediately begin changing how their classroom operates.

Overall evaluation of the book: Individuals who think schools should focus primarily on math and reading will not like the contents of these pages. To others, the message of this book will be a godsend. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Robinson, Ken. (2009). The Element. New York: Viking.

Why should parents read this book? Robinson is all about finding your passion in life and then living it to the fullest of your abilities. He is a well-known speaker who hones a familiar message—that we grossly underestimate what individuals are capable of achieving because we have locked them into a dull education system which does not recognize and assist people who do not fit the prevailing paradigm of finding and enriching left-brained, analytical, and concrete-sequential leaders.

Robinson will give hope to the artists, the designers, and other adults and students who think in metaphors and analogies and who make connections which many people could not even begin to fathom. He also gives hope to parents who don’t want their child living exclusively in a world run by logic, analysis, and concrete-sequential thinking. That said, parents have two audiences for the contents of this book, themselves and their middle school child. Parents are an audience because they have their own life to lead and change into a transformative event. Their kids are also an audience because they will be the recipient of whatever messages are modeled and delivered by their mom or dad.

Why should teachers read this book? Even teachers in traditional courses will find something to like in this book. There is a place for creativity and design in the science classroom, the language arts classroom, the math class, and even the social studies room.

There is another message in this book and it is that age is no boundary for making significant contributions to society. If you are an older and experienced teacher, you will be assured by Robinson’s point that many people achieved great things of significance while they were in their 60’s and 70’s. Consequently, if you are a teacher in your 50’s, you have amazing things awaiting your down the road—if only you are brave enough to seize the day. This also applies to middle school kids. It is ridiculous to imply and expect that middle schoolers have it all figured out. Some very quiet and barely noticeable kids in your classrooms, will go on to do great things in their lives. You may not know who they are right now but they are waiting to be discovered. What will you do to help propel them along their path to greatness?

Overall evaluation of the book: An effective counter to the concrete-sequential madness of core subjects, standardized testing and a narrow conception of public education and the curriculum. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Schank, Roger. (2011). Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Why should parents read this book? If you keep an open mind, this book will blow your mind. After reading this book you will never think about school in the same way. For example, when was the last time you heard an educator say that Algebra was a worthless area of study for most students? Or that focusing on facts and dates was irrelevant in learning? And that the current structure of how subjects are taught by departments, (such as math, science, social studies, language arts, etc…) is an outdated structure which needs to be thrown into the trash? The author of this book, Roger Schank is a rebel in the field of education—a contrarian who makes you think.

This book will especially be useful for parents who are interested in project-based learning or interest-based learning, or a Montessori type approach to education. If you are a passionate believer in the current system of educating students—regardless of whether it’s a public or private or charter school—you may become so angry by page fifty that you hurl the book into the trash can. But keep your cool. Take a long walk. Retrieve the book. And keep reading.

According to Schank, most everything you know about the traditional subjects being taught in schools and how they are being taught is wrong. He goes on to claim that the commonly accepted way of teaching students—that of the teacher telling students what to do and what to learn and how to learn it—is outdated and simply wrong. Roger propose that we completely rethink the way we teach our students and use his packaged twelve cognitive processes—rather than subjects—to educate our students. Or, as he would say, to let students figure things out for themselves.

Why should teachers read this book? Think about applying some of what Schank writes about. Stop obsessing about the grades your students are receiving and worry more about what they are actually learning—which should be—how to be a critic, whom to respect and copy, how to know where they fit in life, how to take action, and how to think for themselves.

If you really want to shake things up, follow Schank’s advice and don’t tell your students the answer to problems. Make them figure things out. Use project based learning and treat assignments as mysteries to be solved, or give your students wide latitude and let them decide on a few topics which suit their interests. (Does this sound like Google’s Genius Hour?_ Yes—it does.) If you feel brave, request that your fellow teachers stop using worksheets and hammering the kids with the inane memorization of facts and dates and places.

Overall evaluation of the book: One of the best books available on reframing education in a completely different light. Many will not agree with his assertions but the converse is also true that many will agree with his assertions. The problem is that few will raise their voice against the onrushing stream of what is considered to be a “good education.” Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Sousa, David, ed. (2010). Mind, Brain, and Education. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Why should parents read this book? Recently, there has been an explosion of books purporting to help us understand how the brain functions and learns. Many of these books delve into the biochemistry of the brain and spend a considerable amount of time discussing the importance of neurotransmitters, myelin sheathing, and the role of dendrites and axons. You will learn little of this, however, from the compendium of authors here, edited by an educational consultant, David Sousa, who has made a very nice living writing about the brain and learning.

This book focuses on the end product and process of how the brain learns and skips some of the denser vocabulary having to do with, for example, the role of neurotransmitters in learning. As such, parents will find this collection of articles to be more readable than other books on the market. This book will, however, be more difficult for those outside the field of education to fully comprehend. Thankfully, full comprehension is not needed to understand the gist of what Sousa and his troop of authors are saying. Everything in this volume (it’s part of a larger series), is accurate and if followed by teachers, likely to immediately vault them into the top quartile of all teachers in the United States.

Why should teachers read this book? This collection of authors is a home run as far as focusing educators on the important aspects of classroom teaching. Some of the subjects written in this compendium are clearly beyond the control of the classroom teacher—such as the English mathematical system used in America, which is inherently more difficult to grasp and understand, when compared with that used by Asian teachers—but much will be under control of the classroom teacher—such as the amount of projects, portfolios, and scenario-building exercises which the teacher requires of their students.

Educators who are well-versed in brain education may be disappointed by the contents found here, especially those searching for detailed explanations of the biochemistry of learning or an intense discussion of brain anatomy, as it relates to how the process of thinking originates, takes hold, and then dissipates. Those who are relatively new to the field will find the ideas presented to be logical, reasonable, and absolutely doable.

Overall evaluation of the book: A good reference for anyone searching for data to be used at the next school board or educational committee meeting. Also solid for classroom teachers organizing the foundational backbone for classroom instruction. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Wagner, Tony. (2011). Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People who will Change the World. New York: Scribner.

Why should parents read this book? If your goal is to have an entrepreneurial child with a highly innovative mind, this book is intended for you. Wagner trashes much of how schooling in America is structured and advocates for the unfettered release of initiative and creativity. (Of course, lots of smart people have been trying to figure out how to do this for a long time and it’s as much a political problem as it is a cultural one.) Word of warning: if you are a “helicopter parent” and love to micromanage your child, you will dislike this book because part of the message Wagner delivers is telling you to “back off” and to give your child some space to explore their interests, not yours.

This is an intriguing look into an aspect of parenting rarely mentioned in the slew of books available in the local and online bookstores—that of training your child to think like a designer so they have the skills to create things which are truly innovative. This book won’t tell you how to discipline your child but it will tell you how to position your child so they have the opportunity to thrive in a creative environment.

Take Wagner’s recommendations to heart because he is often correct and on target.

  • Find interesting and passionate teachers for your child.
  • Encourage your child to try lots of things and to fail often.
  • Limit screen time to no more than an hour a day.
  • Don’t over-program your child’s life. Give them lots of time for play and discovery.
  • Your child should be reading an hour a day.
  • Encourage your child to work with other kids who are curious about the world and how it works.
  • Stop worrying about your child’s GPA and their standardized test scores.
  • Let your child follow their dreams and not a job or occupation.

Why should teachers read this book? If you’ve wondered how you can improve the creativity of the students in your classroom, this is a resource which will help you do that. However, a word of warning to teachers: you will be irritated by Wagner’s relentless pounding of the ills of teachers in the public school system. Try to look past that to the value in what he says. This is an ode to the unusual, the outspoken, the questioning kids who sit in the back of your class and continually asking, “Why?”

Overall evaluation of the book: I really liked this book even though Wagner spends considerable time expounding on everything he doesn’t like about American schools and teachers. If you can get past his diatribes, there is much useful material to be found here. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Willingham, Daniel. (2012). When Can you Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science From Bad in Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Why should parents read this book? Willingham is the type of author you are either going to love or hate. You will love him because he relies on science and data and real research to investigate what works in education. You will hate him because he doesn’t rely on emotion, hyperbole, success stories, or the qualifications of the expert in determining whether or not something works. He is the annoying guest at your dinner party who keeps bringing up logic and disciplined thinking when all your guests want to do is tell stories and have a good time, believing that what they want to think is true.

If you want to really know what works in education, and whether the claims of the local superintendent, principal, and school board are true, reading Willingham is a good place to start. Unfortunately, you will also discover that most superintendents, principals, and school board members will have never heard of Willingham. This is because very few people listen to the prophet crying in the wilderness, even though the prophet may have a very good angle on things.

Why should teachers read this book: The primary thrust of this book is to help the reader understand some of the popular myths in education today and to offer suggestions as to how to separate the good educational research studies from the poorly designed ones. Willingham spends time debunking the myth of the golden ratio theory, the myth of learning styles, the hazards of believing what experts say, and how our internal beliefs can both help and hinder our way of thinking. To this end, Willingham discusses the confirmation bias, or the tendency of humans to search for information which agrees with their beliefs and to discard information which doesn’t agree with their beliefs.

Willingham’s criticism of educational beliefs cuts a wide swath and manages to touch on the folly of whole language, the difficulty of transferring critical thinking skills from one academic discipline to another, the low standards of most educational research, and what you can do when the educational sales rep begins to tell stories of success stories from across the United States.

If you feeling slightly naughty and if you are tired of your superintendent and principal and fellow teachers pushing programs and continuing to use teaching practices which don’t work, give them a holiday present and bundle Willingham’s books together, wrap a bow around them, and leave them on their desk. For added dramatic effect, highlight the passages in Willingham’s books which directly refute their incorrect beliefs.

Overall evaluation of the book: For most readers, Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School is the better starter book. This one is good but has a more intellectual slant. Some readers may be momentarily lost once he starts comparing and contrasting the Enlightenment and Romantic periods. Other readers will be absolutely enthralled by his fresh thinking. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Willingham, Daniel T. (2009). Why Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions about How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Why should parents read this book? Although this book has an intellectual slant, it may be one of the more important learning and psychology of learning resources available to the general public. For myself, I easily place this gem in the top ten of the most influential books about how the brain really learns.

Parents who believe in a no-nonsense curriculum with an emphasis on the basics will really like Willingham because one of the main topics he writes about is the importance of basic knowledge and repetition. Without some level of basic knowledge—creativity and higher levels of critical thinking—are impossible. Without repetition, the brain will forget what it has been taught. Thus, Willingham will support middle level education which is heavy on basic knowledge and comprehension activities, including lots of basic repetition, but in unfamiliar formats. (Willingham says that a key of determining whether kids are learning anything is to put them in new situations where they can apply what they have learned in the novel contexts. If they can’t transfer their learnings, then they really haven’t learned it.)

Why should teachers read this book? This is an important book for you to read and then internalize. For example, do you know that teaching your students all about learning styles is a waste of time? Are you aware that teaching creativity to your students—without first making sure they have basic concepts and understandings—is a fruitless endeavor? Do you fully grasp the positive relationship you have with your students is a prequel to them learning anything in your class? Have you assimilated the reality that what is really good, from a learning point of view, is mostly awful as a motivational tool? Do you believe that the main driving force in your daily lessons should not be what the students want to do?

After reading Willingham you will almost certainly never teach the same way again. And that will be a good thing for your students.

Overall evaluation of the book: This is a top ten book on how kids actually learn. Put into practice the learning activities Willingham says make a difference—it won’t matter if you are a parent at home or a teacher inside the classroom. The learning activities work in both environments. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Wizman, Liz. (2014). Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. New York: Harper Business.

Why should parents read this book? This is an anthem to the inexperienced but hungry individual. You will want your child to be like the rookies described by Wizman. The rookie (or beginner) mentality, in which they assume nothing and work hard to find the answers to even the simplest of problems, is a mindset which should be your child’s constant companion. Although the book was not written with the middle school child in mind, the philosophical construct most certainly does apply to them—and also to you, their parent. We often forget that middle school kids are constant learning machines and that much of their future way of adult thinking—with its patterns and perceptions, are being formed now. There may be no greater gift than to instill in your child the mindset of always thinking like a rookie—sifting for advice and trying to view problems from new, fresh angles.

Why should teachers read this book? I think the way for educators to use this book is primarily to ask themselves this question; whether or not they approach teaching with the angle that everything is new and there is always something new to learn, a fresh way of viewing the curriculum, how you teach, and what students bring to the classroom.

The dominant theme of this book is probably a message mostly for experienced teachers who feel they have mastered the curriculum and don’t see themselves going anywhere for the remainder of their teaching career. And that message is they should think like a beginning teacher, rather than a grizzled veteran.

Overall evaluation of the book: An enjoyable romp through the importance of always having a rookie mentality. Rookies tend to ask the simplest and most basic of questions, some of which are critically important. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Wolfe, Patricia. (2010). Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice. Alexandria, VA.

Why should parents read this book? If you are curious about how your middle school child’s brain works—as it relates to learning—and understanding the chemical process in the brain, and how the different parts of the brain either help or hinder the learning process, then this book is for you. Wolfe has been an educational consultant for a long time and this book can be considered the culmination of her life’s work. The information she provides is accurate and consistent with what other writers and researchers have discovered about how the brain learns.

The downside of this book for parents is that it may get a little more involved, biochemistry-wise and brain anatomy-wise, than what you prefer. However, the upside of this book is that once you understand how the brain works, biochemistry-wise and brain anatomy-wise, you will see connections and patterns and the importance of certain tactics in helping your middle school child efficiently learn. As a plus, Wolfe gives details in this book on specific things teachers should be doing to help their students remember, process, and learn new materials. Once you know what these are, you will know what to look for, in determining how effective the teacher of your child is.

Why should teachers read this book? This is one of the better books available which helps educators understand how the brain actually learns and why it is important for teachers to perform certain activities in the classroom to help their students remember and thrive. Wolfe also goes into some of the usual topics found in “brain” books, such as how drugs hamper the brain’s ability to process information, the negative effects of a lack of sleep, the massive pruning of neurons and connections that takes place around the age of eleven, and the distinction between working memory and long term memory—including how to effectively help students move information from working to long term memory.

Overall evaluation of the book: If I was reaching for a book on my shelf that dealt with the brain and learning, this is one I would consider grabbing. Five Stars ★★★★★

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