Evidence-informed Teaching: John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning

Teachers are professionals. I believe that but I suspect a lot of people don’t because I often hear people talk about teachers in a way they would never talk about dentists, doctors, lawyers, or chefs. But you know what, I think it is largely the fault of teachers themselves. Do you need proof? OK, look at the list below and put the teaching factors into one of two categories: very effective,  and not really effective. Then take a look at the bottom of this post to see how you did.

  • whole language
  • ability grouping
  • homework
  • using television
  • feedback
  • teaching  strategies
  • peer tutoring
  • repeated reading programs

As it turns out, the top four have been found to be not very effective at all and are actually among the least effective of 150 interventions/approaches that have been examined in the now-up-to-900 -plus-study meta-analysis that John Hattie has been engaged in for the last few years. The bottom four are among the most effective. I think teachers and non-teachers alike have difficulty with this task and even teachers who managed to complete the task successfully probably didn’t do so with confidence.  That is a problem. Data on successful and unsuccessful approaches and techniques are not widely known and/or accepted it seems. John Hattie is trying to change that. In his wonderful new book, Visible Learning for Teachers, he not only ranks 150 interventions/approaches in terms of effect size, but he interprets the key results, showing how they affect the business of learning.

In this book, he talks about the implications of these research results on teaching. He is not suggesting some new technique for teaching. Instead it is a new mindset that he is recommending, actually a series of mindsets that have the power to make teachers and teaching much more effective and much more professional. It is in places  buckets of icy water aimed at the faces of teachers themselves. Yet he carefully stresses the importance of the role of teachers in improving education and in doing so empowers teachers–or rather encourages teachers to empower themselves–in a way no book or program I’ve ever experienced has. The main part of the book looks at all aspects of teaching, from preparing and starting the lesson, to giving feedback and ending the lesson. The emphasis is on learning, not teaching, however. And that is one of the mindset changes he advocates. Everything a teacher does must come with questions: Did this help my students learn? Did it help everyone? How much? Teachers need to shift their thinking away from the day-to-day tasks of getting the job done, toward a belief that their fundamental overriding task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement. Teachers also need to believe that they are the change agents above all others. Success or failure in student learning is the result of what teachers do (or do not do). Other environmental/situational factors are what they are. It is up to each teacher to work with what they have and maximize the effect they have. This is an important shift.

In my job as a teacher trainer I often get sucked into a trap Mr. Hattie warns about. Teachers always want to talk about teaching rather than learning. It is important to keep the eyes focused on learning and see everything through that lens. Everything at the school–the classroom, the staff room, the administration–must all be focused on maximizing learning. Assessment is not just for the students; assessment is how teachers know what their impact is, how administrators know what is happening, how parents and the public can see what is happening. Knowing the effects of education/interventions/policies/approaches, discussing the effects, and displaying the effects are how to improve the current situation. This will require mindset changes for learners, their parents, teachers and administrators. But the beauty of this system is that there is a clear purpose and it is informed by data. That is something to rally around.

The research in the book provides merely a rough guide, however. The studies are from a wide range of subjects and schools and countries and you will likely find yourself wishing that it was more specifically aimed at your particular discipline. There is plenty of room to tweak things for your own specific situation. But the data are a good challenge to anyone wedded to a certain approach for no other reason than habit. Some approaches have been clearly shown to be better and need to be given more prominence in any program. Everything is up for discussion, however,  and through carefully monitoring learning and having an open dialogue better classes, better courses, better schools and better, more professional teachers can be realized.

I highly recommend this book. It is an important book. It will make you think and re-assess your position on the way you approach your craft. It is a book to be read by teachers, discussed by teachers, and referred to when making decisions on teaching and policy. This book has the power to make us teachers stop whining and making excuses. We are the agents of change, data-informed, positive change.


According to Dr. Hattie’s calculations, anything intervention with an effect size of 0.40 or higher is very positive and has thus demonstrated a benefit to learning. Here are the effect sizes for the approaches/interventions listed in the beginning of this post.

  1. feedback (0.75)
  2. repeated reading programs (0.67)
  3. teaching  strategies (0.62)
  4. peer tutoring (0.55)
  5. homework (0.29)
  6. ability grouping (0.12)
  7. whole language (0.06)
  8. using television (-0.18)





Thinking or Not: Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow book cover

What you see is all there is, WYSIATI, is one of the problems you have. It’s one of the problems we all have. It has to do with the  way the brain shows too strong a preference for information available in the immediate environment over information not in the immediate environment. Ever been stuck in a meeting where you are trying to to generate ideas and the same things keep popping up? That’s just our brains spinning their wheels in the immediate environment. It’s one of the heuristic techniques our brains are prone to rely on. It’s one–one of many–of our foibles as a species. And the fact that we keep running meetings in the same way suggests that we have a desperate need to become more aware of it.

But we probably won’t.

Daniel Kahneman has been researching the way way people think and make decisions for years. As a young officer in the Israeli Defense Forces armed with a fresh B.Sc. in psychology, he screened recruits for officer training using the leaderless group challenge. As they struggled under the hot sun to complete some sort of task involving getting over a barrier, he watched them and took notes on the performance of the individuals. He checked boxes and gave high ratings to kids who took charge and organized their fellow soldiers. But the artificial nature of the test, and the fact that all ratings were based on one observation made him suspicious of the limitations–or more correctly, the tendencies, the bad habits–of our minds. As a rater, he began to suspect how powerful WYSIATI is and how it muscles aside any doubts of how things could be with the same recruits on a different day. For a while he was very happy and very confident with his ratings. But that confidence itself made him suspicious. He began to see it an an illusion, an illusion of validity the mind presents us  with. It is seductive because hey, we’re busy and we’ve got an important job to do. We let our brains go with their little shortcuts. We avoid the hard work, the hard thinking. This was the first of many illusions he uncovered or encountered in his career and he goes through his experiences with each one in delightful and insightful detail.

It has been a long and illustrious career  (including a Nobel prize), and the amount of research and discovery here is impressive. This book  is more than just a pop psychology best seller. There really is a lifetime of wisdom here and you would be well to read it. A lot of the content has been covered elsewhere, that’s true (see my reviews of The Invisible Gorilla and Why Everyone Else is a Hypocrite, for example, or take a look at  You are Not So Smart by David McRaney). But I don’t know of any book that is as comprehensive as this one in explaining our limitations. In a series of five units he covers a lot of ground and a lot of years of research. He introduces us to the two thinking systems of the brain, the fast, automatic System 1 and the slow, careful, and reluctant (lazy) System 2. In the second part, he talks about the ease with which some thinking occurs (metaphorical thinking, associative thinking, and causality) and why it is so difficult for us to think in different ways (statistically, for example). In the third part, he really dresses humanity down. Our bad habits,  ignorance, and unwarranted overconfidence get addressed nicely and this section is great fun to read. Later sections take the book in a different direction–economics. I found them to be  less engaging than the earlier parts after a while, with the exception of the part about the experiencing self and the remembering self near the end, which is also the topic of a TED talk he made in 2010.

As a teacher and as a human I found a lot to think about here. Awareness of the tendencies we have is really our only weapon against the habits of our thinking processes. Each chapter ends with little lines of dialog, little bits of wisdom or little rules for being diligent. Print them out and pin them all over your cubicle or kitchen. It might be ultimately a little hopeless, but there are much much worse ways to make use of paper. This book will convince you of that.

The Social State of the Union: David Brooks Recounts the Life Story of The Social Animal

Like  New York Times columnist David Brooks, I have read a lot of books and articles on evolutionary psychology, social psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience in the last couple of years. Their influence seems to be everywhere, even if not recognized as such. There is a sense of a paradigm shift, particularly in education, but in other areas as well. People are talking now about learning as a social process influenced by–if not driven by–emotion, for example. So I’ve been listening to podcasts (The Brain Science Podcast, Radiolab, All in the Mind, etc.), following websites (Mind/Shift), following certain people on Twitter (BJ Fogg, for example), and reading books (Brain Rules, The Invisible Gorilla, Incognito, Why Everyone Else is a Hypocrite, etc.).

But David Brooks has read more.

And in The Social Animal, he attempts to summarize all of what he has read in a narrative following two people of different backgrounds and temperaments–from before birth right up until death. Along the way, he weaves in research findings from quite a dizzying amount of disciplines. The life stages and experiences of the two characters allow him the opportunity to expound the new insights researchers and philosophers (let’s be generous here; though we could call the authors of some of the books he cites armchair social and political critics). He talks about physical attraction, attachment, learning, self-control, culture, intelligence, choice, morality, and more. While he is an excellent writer and insightful critic, some sections are better than others. His passion and expertise just come through better. But along the way, we encounter little nuggets of research wisdom, clever descriptions of characters and character types, and a forceful argument that often challenges conventional wisdom. If you’ve read a lot in the field, you’ll see a lot that is familiar. But Mr Brooks’s historical background will help you situate these concepts in the landscape of ideas. That alone makes the book worth reading.

In the end, the book was for me the equivalent  of  a State of the Union address. It told me where we are, how it is different from what was thought before, and–in a way–how widely these ideas are being accepted. I say “in a way” because the book’s very existence is a kind of testament to the last question. The book is a welcome overview at a time when a lot of new ideas and new perspectives are coming onto peoples’ radar screens.  Its acceptance (bestseller) and the status of its author (TED talk here, for example), make this book a high-profile publication. That in itself says a lot.

I feel like a should warn non-Americans who are considering this book to be aware that this book is firmly rooted in American culture. Immigrants, the American school system, and business, and American politics are all covered in significant detail. People looking for something universal or global, may find that that they get a lot of American culture along with human universals.

I bought this book almost a year ago. I let it sit on my shelf too long before I finally got around to reading it. But once I started I found it pleasant enough to get caught up in. The reviews on Amazon are not all together positive, but I thought this book was well worth reading. It is a comprehensive overview demonstrating the extent to which neuroscience and related disciplines have permeated thought in the last few years. The story structure works, and Mr Brooks is a good enough writer with enough to say as he bounces from topic to topic. Oh, and he also manages to mention the chick sexers again!



Mariele Hardiman’s The Brain-targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools

As a teacher, it is impossible to not be aware of the recent wave of influence that neuroscience is having on our profession. Everyday you see articles on the web, often in respectable magazines, about the role of emotions, for example, or the importance of social connections for learning.  A whole new world seems to be opening up, one that has a direct impact on our professional lives.

Brain-friendly teaching–it sounds vaguely alchemistic and scientific at the same time. If you search for it at Amazon or some other bookstore, you  find more books than you could possibly read, with titles that sound more like they belong on the covers of magazines near supermarket cash registers. It’s hard to decide which ones are solidly based on research, written by real experts, are understandable, and have practical applications for the classroom.

Rather than the bookstore, a better place to look is online for programs or initiatives set up by groups of researchers or institutions. In a post back in spring, I mentioned several that I’d stumbled across and found useful. There’s the Neuro Education Initiative at John Hopkins University, The NeuroLeadership Institute (associated with author  David Rock), USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute,  Harvard’s Mind / Brain / Behavior initiative, and an Annenberg Learner Resource called Neuroscience and the Classroom.   Mariele Hardiman is the director of the Neuro Education Initiative at John Hopkins University. They do research, provide resources, and run programs for teaching development. And out of that has come this book:

It comes with a slightly steep price tag, that’s true. And one might be tempted to give it a miss and just browse around on the many websites mentioned above and assemble the bits and pieces of rationale and practices. But that would be a mistake. This book is written by someone who knows her stuff–and knows her audience and their needs. It is comprehensive, it is well-explained, it makes a very clear case for introducing the model into your classes, and it gives you lots of examples for how this can be done and how it is being done by other teachers. The book is organized as a model for addressing 6 brain targets: emotional climate, physical environment, learning design, teaching for mastery, teaching for application, and evaluating learning. In each unit Ms Hardiman explains the target, gives ideas, and then turns over the last part to two teachers who are applying the model in their classes. One teacher is a literature teacher making her way through a novel, and the other is a biology teacher going through a series of lessons on genetics.


Along the way, other teachers of other subjects and age groups are given sidebars to talk about what they are doing and what the results are. It’s an appealing structure and the clear connection between theory and practice is certainly one of the strengths of this book. It also feels more like a course than a book at times with so many perspectives included. Unfortunately, this is also a weakness for some teachers of some disciplines–EFL for one–that are not as well represented. One of my own lingering concerns is that some of the theory here may not be so applicable to EFL in different cultural contexts. It will take time to sort that out, but in the meantime, Ms. Hardiman gives us a lot to think about and a lot of ideas for how we can make our classes more brain friendly.

Making Teaching and Learning More Effective: Julie Dirksen’s Design For How People Learn

This wonderful book by Julie Dirksen (New Riders, 2012) manages to do something that is very difficult: it is compact yet comprehensive, and it takes some fairly difficult topics and makes them clear and memorable. It is aimed at online instructional designers, but only in the most general way. It is a book about human learning–goals, gaps, memory, attention, skills, motivation, and environmental considerations–and it organizes and explains those topics in a way that will entertain you, refresh your memory, and help you to put knowledge to effective use, whether you are going to apply that knowledge or explain it to others. It covers the basics, but I’m pretty confident in saying that it has just the right level of detail to appeal to almost any educator. Even seasoned instructional designers will find something for them in it. Different people will enjoy it for different but overlapping reasons: for it’s readability, for its “stickiness“, for its concise explanations.

I teach EFL teachers, or at least I try to, and I often find myself trying to distill research findings in such manner that our session participants can “see” it. That is, I want the teachers who come to our sessions to understand the concepts and recognize how they work in a class. Ms. Dirksen’s book does that brilliantly well. She has a genius–yes, genius–for explaining things and I am going to borrow some of her metaphors for upcoming training sessions this year. At the end of each chapter there is a Summary section, as there is with other books. But here, instead of working my way through the list trying to recall the various points, I found myself jumping from point to point–check, got it, check, check, check, got’em. I could mentally have written the points myself, that’s how well they had stuck with me. There is a lot of Kathy Sierra (Creating Passionate Users blog) in this book and in Ms. Dirksen’s approach, something that she clearly acknowledges, and that is not a criticism. (If you like her blog posts, you’re pretty likely to enjoy this book. And if you have never visited her blog, go take a look).

If I ran the circus, I would make this book mandatory for all teachers. At this point in time, I do believe there is not a better summary of current understanding of the psychology of learning as it applies to teaching situations. Do yourself a favor and get this book. I promise you won’t be sorry. Ms. Dirksen’s blog is also very good, and she is a very dependable Twitterer. In the world of educational design, she’s a good person to have in your corner.

Playful and Powerful: Stephen Anderson Makes You Think About Seductive Interaction Design

I found Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences (New Riders, 2011) through a post on Julie Dirkson’s blog, where she introduced a set of cards that Mr. Anderson had developed to help designers in a pinch. Each card contains a design feature (he calls them Mental Notes) you can use to influence users. You flip a card over and think about whether you can incorporate that feature into your design. Perhaps piquing curiosity will help, one card suggests. Or maybe the bystander effect could help you. I went to Mr Anderson’s website to find out more and saw this book. Assuming that the cards would be contained in the book–they aren’t, though you do get an introduction and a few examples, and if you shake the content of the book up and reorganize it, you can probably replicate the content of the cards–I ordered the book. And even though I didn’t get the cards, I’m really glad I ordered the book.

The metaphor used to organize the content is a relationship–a couple at the beginning of a relationship flirting and playing as they try to get to know each other better. There is a dollop of uncertainty and a dash of excitement. It is a social process and a psychological process. It is a process of discovery played out with heightened attention to detail. It is a two-way process and each side has goals and needs and is trying to influence and motivate the other to do something. If we remove the sexual part of the metaphor–and Mr Anderson carefully does in the first unit–it is a good metaphor for advertisers attempting to influence buyers, web designers trying to influence clickers, and teachers trying to influence learners. It also highlights the focus in the book on those first few critical stages in engagement with content. The first interaction with a website is Mr. Anderson’s particular area of expertise, but much of what he says can be applied to any interaction with something new, particularly in educational settings. Indeed, he begins his book with a design feature that got people to use the stairs more at a train station in Sweden.

The book is primarily aimed at web interaction designers, but there is enough educational psychology here to keep any language teacher busy in the 25 chapters arranged in 4 sections. Teachers are not used to thinking of our (mostly) captive learners as needing to be “seduced” into doing what they need to do to learn a language, but the reality is that learners in classrooms vote with their attentional resources and behaviors as much as fickle web surfers do with their mouse clicks. This book will help you to make lessons more fun and effective, with an emphasis on fun because lessons will not be so effective if they are not fun first.

This book is not going to give you an overview of how to construct a complete user/learner experience (for that see my review of Julie Dirksen’s book). It is more about tweaking the details–though they are often fundamental details–to make things more attractive and effective. But it is a very thorough look at the details, with thought-provoking ideas. His section on gamification is particularly good, for example, and you will come away with a more complete understanding of the concept, I’m sure. In many other parts of the book, he deals pretty much with particulars that he has found important, using lots of examples and drawing on his rich experience.

It’s a fun ride, brilliant in many places, and my mind lit up with ideas as I read it. I just wish it had a deck of those cards attached to the back cover…

Investigative Journalism on Memory: Joshua Foer Goes Moonwalking With Einstein

As just another aging baby boomer with a dementia-distorted parent and a career in language education and a propensity to misplace items on mental shopping lists, interest, awe, and fear of memory are never far from the tip of my tongue. I have thought about it, read about it, and studied it. But Joshua Foer’s book–squarely aimed at that large group of memorywarts like me–includes a dollop of how-to to in a book that is part narrative and part meander through a palace of memory.

As a recent graduate and an aspiring science writer, young Mr. Foer covered the World Memory Championships and the American Memory Championships and, being convinced by the participants themselves that there is more learnable technique than anything else, decided to give it a go. His account of his introduction to competitive memory and his training for the US Memory Championship that he eventually wins provides the  narrative structure for the book. Along the way, however, he slides in asides related to memory–the importance of knowing facts in learning, expertise training, an introduction to memory misfits, etc. Most of these will not be new to most readers I suspect. But they are interesting enough and there are enough nuggets  to be found along the way that as a refresher course in introductory memory and a collection of memory-related magazine articles they are pleasant enough. His journalistic style makes the content easier to read and remember than Baddeley. He also goes into detail on how to use the method of loci and some of the techniques used by memory champs to do amazing things. Readers can decide how far they want to go in trying some of the techniques–a few can be done with the book closed on your lap for a bit, but some will require serious effort and practice–but this is a book that encourages you to try these things out for yourself.

Reading the book won’t improve your memory; it will put memory in perspective for you, though. And it will start you off with some powerful techniques that you can use to practice your way to improvement–not for everything, but for some things–and for me that was worth the price of admission.

But if you are just after the techniques for improving memory, there are print and web resources galore. The techniques everyone uses have mostly been around since the Middle Ages and it seems literally hundreds of people are making a living off  re-packaging them. Do a quick web search on the method of loci to find out as much as many “experts” know in a very short time. Foer is set apart by the fact that he has a science background and is a relatively good writer, but there are dozens of similar books on the market, most of which are probably extremely similar. One interesting and comprehensive  website I did find is by Fiona McPhersona, a memory expert (author/researcher) with an strong interest in practical application. It  is called Mempowered. It covers both the mechanisms of memory and techniques for improvement. And there is something here for all memory hopes and worries.

Understanding the Modular You: Robert Kurzban’s Why Everyone Else Is a Hypocrite


This reatively short and very entertaining book packs a message that can change the way we look at people and the minds that make us who we are. Robert Kurzban is an evolutionary psychologist. And in one long breath, here is his message: the mind is modular and it makes no sense to talk about “you” or “me” because there is no conscious, single, controlling “you” or “me” running the show inside our heads, and when”you” and “me” talk, it is basically my “press secretary” talking to your “press secretary,” one of many modules of our mind, modules that act with their own rhyme and reason and don’t necessarily talk to each other and aren’t necessarily aware of each other, but do act in a way that is in accordance to the goals for which the module was genetically selected for. Got that? Basically, it means that there are lots of parts of “you” and they do what they were designed (selected) to do, usually without regard for other parts of “you.” Behavioral inconsistencies can be explained through understanding this modular specialization structure of the brain. Deep down, I think we already know this. This is why people on diets lock their fridge doors at night, why George Reckers and Elliot Spitzer walk(ed) a different walk from their public talk, etc. But Kurzban’s theory–and he repeatedly states that it is an exploratory theory– is a way of conceptualizing how the mind can manage to be so blatantly contradictory, and as such it has great explaining power. People can hold very strong beliefs, impossibly contradictory beliefs, often for no reason. People can say one thing and do another, they can waffle between patience and impulsivity, have overinflated and unrealistic views of themselves (almost everyone, for example, believes themselves to be an above-average driver),  and hold others to high moral principles that they prefer not to apply to themselves. Seen through Kurzban’s evolutionary psychology spectacles, the selfish little modules trying to gain advantage any way they can form a logical–if depressingly dispicable–portait of the organisms we are.


Aside from being an interesting and  entertaining read, this hand-grenade of a book may eventually shake a lot of long-held belief fruit out of the trees that social psychologists and behavioral economists have been feeding from for years. For example, the notion that motivation and  preferences are fairly constant (two that have long bothered me personally), are debunked pretty thoroughly here. Quoting LIchtenstein and Slovic (2006b): preferences “…are labile, inconsistent, subject to factors we are unaware of, and not always in our own best interests. Indeed, so pervasive is that lability that the very notion of a ‘true’ preference must, in many situations, be rejected.” What this means, is that things like motivation and preferences are more complex than we think they are now; different modules of the brain work differently “depending on context, state, and history,” and they–“we”– aren’t aware of it. So instead of constant motivations or preferences held by an individual, we should probably think of people as collections of independently-acting modules, each module  “…designed to bring about certain states or affairs.” Motivation is a design to bring about a goal, but it is better conceptualized as a bunch of design goals located in a bunch of modules. The L2 Self may be not much more than a handful of sand. Actually, I don’t think the implications of Kurzban’s theory go that far, but at the least, we have to acknowledge that we are only looking at a small part of an individual whenever we look at him, no matter how closely.

Man’s got to know his limitations: Chris Chabris and Dan Simon point outThe Invisible Gorilla


“Know thyself,” the ancient Greeks carved into stone at the temple of Apollo at Delphi. “Man’s got to know his limitations,” Dirty Harry spat as he finished off a corrupt official in Magnum Force. Art, religion, hiring, multi-tasking–ancient Greek, political activist, armchair expert, etc., etc.–the human mind has limitations. For thousands of years humans have suspected that the wonderful sense of control our brains provide us with may not exactly match what is beyond our bodies, that there are limitations, that there are things our brain does, ways it prefers to work that seriously handicap us. But this is not an easy concept to wrap your head around. As Chicolini challenges in Duck Soup: “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Exactly.

You’re probably familiar with the gorilla experiments on selective visual attention that made the authors of this book famous. It got them into many introductory psychology textbooks, onto morning TV talk shows, and even got them an Ig Noble prize. You may have groaned when you learned of this book, thinking it was an attempt to cash in on their 15 minutes of fame. If you did, you need to reassess that gut reaction and give the book a little more of your attention–at least reading the subtitle (And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us), or better yet the table of contents, which you can preview at the book’s site or at Amazon.com. Because the best thing about this book is that it is about much much more than visual attention. As funny as the gorilla experiment is, the novelty of the experiment wears off pretty quickly and there is not much there for the authors to explain away when the gorilla turns to the camera and takes his mask off. The authors were wise to expand the focus of this book–and you really can’t appreciate this until after you’ve read the first hamfisted chapter dealing with selective visual attention. It is a strain. Several stories are manipulated to illustrate their point, some of them of dubious value (in particular the story of the collision of the USS Greeneville and the Ehime Maru in 2001 involved much more than just Commander Scott Waddle not seeing something he wasn’t expecting through his telescope). At the end of the first chapter, I was ready to put the book down. I’m glad I didn’t.

The next chapters deal with similar but more interesting limitations humans have with illusions of memory, confidence,  knowledge, cause, and potential, all of which help to form our intuitions, those feelings that we understand and know or can do something which we often really don’t or can’t. In these later chapters there are some wonderful stories, interesting descriptions of relevant experiments and careful explanations about what the field knows (that is, has shown in experiments and replicated enough times to suggest it is likely true), and suspects (that is, some limited experiments have indicated). The authors are very careful with what they say, debunking popular nonsense, and helping to train readers to be more careful and more skeptical themselves with what they hear and read in the media.

And that is ultimately the benefit you gain from reading this book, something that I recommend. You come away with a deeper knowledge of yourself, the illusions and  limitations of our brains, the weaknesses of memory, and the horrifying tendency our brains have to jump to conclusions of cause, potential, and understanding. You gain a better appreciation for why people act the way they do and ultimately a little doubt tripwire forms, one in line with the authors’ hopes that we consider other possibilities before we “jump to harsher conclusions.”

Effecting Change: Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch


Several years ago I read a book called Made to Stick. It was perhaps the best example of how theory–in this case making ideas carry a stronger impression–can be put into action that I had ever read. Well, the brothers Heath who wrote that book are back with Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Once again, the information is practical, the stories are motivating, and the experience of reading the book is inspiring. The genius (and I am being careful with my words here) of these authors is how they can transfer studies from psychology and economics into actionable knowledge that readers can make immediate use of, whether they are teachers or administrators. That is, they are able to draw a clear line from  theory to practice. And they make their points with illustrative and memorable stories (following their own advice from the earlier book). Made to Stick is a book I have recommended to teachers and friends for years and I will probably recommend this one too, though the potential audience is much smaller because the focus in this book is largely on organizational change.

In Switch, they are concerned with effecting change in people, in organizations, and in systems. They clearly lay out three areas in which to concentrate energy if we are after change: the intellectual/rational side of people that must be convinced, which they call the Rider; the emotional side of people, which they call the Elephant; and the various people and conditions that form the environment in which change must take place, all of which can be targets of action as one tries to shape the Path for the Elephant and Rider. Yes, it is simplistic, but that is also the strength of the book. It can be reduced to a checklist (and if you think checklists are for dumbsters, then you need to read the part of the book beginning on page 220). Indeed, there is a checklist/summary available on the web at the Heath brother’s site for the book. But you really ought to read the book, the ideas will stick better.