A Year of Educational Reading

14 Dec 2017


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi

When I started this blog in August of last year, I penned this rather cringe worthy, clearly too much sun inspired, rationale:

“The blog is merely offered as an attempt to crystalise and share thinking about teaching and learning. It will also be a place to prioritise reflection on what helps children to learn. In short: to find a weekly space to express gratitude for something that has ignited a teaching and learning flame!”

Let’s more on rather swiftly. What has proved to have one of the most positive aspects of writing has been reflecting on reading. It has been a very helpful way to streamline thinking about what I will be directly changing as a result of educational wisdom. It is also very easy to join the narrative of the negative in teaching, this process helps to focus on what matters and is joyful: teaching and learning.

This is a collection of the posts on the twelve books that have had a real impact on my thinking this year and inspired those grateful “flames!” If you need some inspiration to energise you for next year (or even a teaching orientated stocking filler!) then look no further than these:

  1. Mary Myatt’s ‘Hopeful Schools: The Book to read in 2017’. This was a hugely inspiring book that I read in December last year. If you need something to remind you of the value of education and all there is to be hopeful for, this is a perfect read.
  2. Carl Honore ‘In Praise of Slow.’ Although not an educational book as such, this is the book that really changed my thinking about how best to function and teach this year. It is an examination of the merits of slowing down in our frantic world.  If you would value some slow reflection over the festive period, this is a brilliant read. This post on slow teaching and slow marking in February set me off on a slow odyssey and a writing journey for the rest of the year. Ten months later and 70,000 words (cue shameless book plug!) ‘Slow Teaching: A guide to being calm, organised and teaching for impact’ will be published by John Catt Education in February of next year. Many thanks to Mr Honore for the inspiration!
  3. Doug Lemov’s ‘Reading Reconsidered’ was a real game changer in developing my understanding of how to effectively teach reading. I combined lots of his excellent strategies with teaching Year 7 ‘Alice in Wonderland.’
  4. A fortnight of obsessing on the brilliant ‘Making Every Lesson Count’ by Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison led to two posts: this one looked at improving teaching of writing skills through modelling and this one looked at building in some of the strategies for giving more useful feedback. 
  5. Returning to revise ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Year 11 in March required some emergency help from the fascinating read: ‘Make it Stick’ by Peter C Brown, Henry L. Roediger and Mark A McDaniel. This post looked at developing strategies for retaining information based on reading the book.
  6. The book that I found most informative in terms of opening up new understandings was Peps Mccrea’s ‘Memorable Teaching’. It takes the complex and rather baffling topic of memory and makes it seem remarkably simple, with a wealth of strategies that I have built into my teaching. In this post I summarise a range of these excellent strategies.
  7. Spring well and truly arrived with some inspiration from Alex Quigley’s ‘The Confident Teacher’.  For those of us who might struggle with aspects of confidence inside and outside the classroom, his book is a wise and informed examination of not only this area but a range of brilliant teaching ideas. This post was on the optimism that reading his book inspired.
  8. Continuing the slow interest, I spent a few weeks reading books on the Minimalism movement: the idea that we should live with less. This post looked  living and teaching embracing some of the principles.
  9. Public speaking and teaching go hand in hand. Often we forget how vital it is that we communicate with assertiveness and clarity. This post on reading the fascinating ‘Ted Talks: the official TED guide to public speaking’ by Chris Anderson ‘Head of TED’ looked at ten public speaking tips for teachers. 
  10. The best book I have read on English teaching by far is Andy Tharby’s ‘Making Every English Lesson Count’. Reading it in August before returning to school in September provided a range of inspiration and ideas.
  11. The Micheala school mysteries and debates have always intrigued me. Reading ‘Battle Hymn of Tiger Teachers’ was another interesting summer experience, with lots of practical ideas on how to raise aspiration and cut through some of the gimmicks.
  12. A more recent read that is fascinating in providing a road map through the complicated world of educational research is ‘What Does This Look Like in the Classroom’ by Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson. As I explore in this post, for anyone interested in the pressing questions of education this is a perfect and important read.

Having been working through a Masters on Educational Leadership and spending a chunk of the summer holidays taking a group of Year 12 students to India for World Challenge, 2017 will definitely go down as the year of education.  Regular reading and experimenting in the classroom has certainly energised my teaching. It has also reiterated how vital it is that we are given space as teachers to reflect. The more we can make teaching an intellectually stimulating profession, the more we will retain, inspire and motivate teachers. More importantly, the more we will continue to hone and improve, driving better experiences and outcomes for young people.

After the glorious failure (made it to a pathetic G!) in the A-Z of Literature Challenge, I will be aiming to read more of a balance next year and write less.  As my pregnant wife has been frequently reminding me, there will be far less time for reading and writing when our first wee one arrives in April! Little does she know of my secret marathon running plans, having surreptitiously signed up for the Edinburgh marathon in May. I will be combining the ambition to run sub 2 hours 45 minutes before I am too ancient, with raising money for my inspiring paralysed friend Drew Graham who has set up a spinal injury rehabilitation charity in Newcastle. 

On that note, I’m off to finish the manuscript of the book, which is due next week, and then go for a run (or in reality limp to the end of term then collapse!) Thank you for reading, best wishes for a fantastic Christmas and New Year.



Jamie Thom

English teacher, host of @TES English teaching podcast. Author of 'Slow Teaching.' MEd in Practitioner Enquiry, doctorate student #StrathEdD. Runner.

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