Teaching and Books

Written by Cheryl Frech, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Chemistry – Photo of Dr. Cheryl Frech

I am a big fan of books. Because I commute to UCO from Norman, I constantly listen to audiobooks in the car. My bedside table is stacked with a book-in-progress and multiple to-read titles. I just completed an eight-year stint as the book and media reviews editor for the Journal of Chemical Education. And I am the organizer of a Fiction Club in Norman. I also find books essential for teaching and learning about teaching. Just as there are trends in the popular press, there are trends in books about education. But many of us will gravitate back to our favorite titles, ones that have spoken to us and guided us through the various stages of our teaching career.

What’s that you say? No time to read? Make some. Better yet, join a CETTL Book Discussion Group and meet with others who are reading the same book. Lively discussion is certain to ensue.

What’s that you say? No time to read? Make some. Better yet, join a CETTL Book Discussion Group and meet with others who are reading the same book. Lively discussion is certain to ensue.

Here are five book recommendations that have guided me over the years and into the present.

  1. Teaching Within the Rhythms of the Semester by Donna Killian Duffy, Josey-Bass, 1995. Once you have mastered the content of your courses, you begin to experience the time dimensions of teaching. There’s that excitement and energy at the start of the semester. There are the inevitable doldrums in the middle when you and your students feel bogged down. And then there is the final push to squeeze everything in before the final exam. This book breaks down the term and forces you to think about how to manage the rhythms of the semester. Technology has moved on since 1995, but the ideas still work to make you think about how your courses play out over time.
  2. Book cover: The Courage to Teach, by Parker PalmerThe Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer, Jossey-Bass, 1998. This book covers another dimension of teaching, one that we don’t often talk about. For lack of a better term, let’s call it the spirituality of teaching. In order to stand in front of a class and work to motivate students to learn, we, as educators, must reveal some of ourselves to the students. Simultaneously, students and faculty together are part of a larger community of learning. How can we navigate both our inner journey and reach out effectively in our classroom? This is an excellent book to talk through with others in a group, and there is a published Guide for Reflection and Renewal available.
  3. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Full Our Potential by Carol S. Dweck, Random House, 2006. The premise of Mindset is simple. Most people have one of two approaches to life (mindsets). People with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence (or any other kind of ability) is static: either you have it or you don’t. People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence (and ability) can be developed through application and experience. Mindsets do not just impact academic performance, they are apparent in many, if not all, aspects of our lives. Quite a bit of this book is about academic achievement in students ranging from grade school to college, but there are chapters that consider mindsets in business and leadership, relationships, and the interactions between parents, teachers, children, and coaches. The final chapter, “Changing Mindsets”, provides valuable tools to use yourself, or to try with those students who come to your office for help in a course. This book was published in 2006 and some of the anecdotes are about people or events that occurred quite some time ago, but the message is clear and helpful. This is another book to read and share with those around you.
  4. Cover of Oakley, A Mind for Numbers bookA Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, 2014. Early in my teaching career, I thought my job was to elucidate chemistry for others. Over the years, as I’ve changed, and perhaps my students have changed, I have decided the most important thing that a student can learn in first-year chemistry is to learn how he or she learns best. Oakley uses clever diagrams, a variety of strategies, short chapters, and simple exercises to present solutions, or at least approaches to nearly every complaint you have ever heard from students including, “I studied for 10 hours and still failed your test”, “I do really well on the homework but I’m not a good test taker, and “I’m an introvert and don’t like to study with others”. If equations are mystifying and confusing, try using your creative side to write an equation poem, or imagine the information in a short play (Chapter 14). There is a chapter on test taking, and multiple short chapters on memory tricks. This book will help you help your students become better learners, and you may benefit as well.
  5. Teach Students How To Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation by Saundra Y. McGuire, Stylus 2015. “Metacognition” is the latest buzzword in education, but it’s a good one and timely. Many of the students we see in our classrooms need to learn how to learn and this book provides an excellent framework. McGuire presents chapters on metacognition, Bloom’s taxonomy, mindset (see above!), and motivation. There are chapters on what faculty can do, what students can do, and how to partner with your campus learning center. The book is filled with suggestions and strategies: you don’t have to attempt them all, but try one or two that fit your classroom and teaching style, step back, and observe the results.


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