Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang

A picture of a desk with books, an apple, pencils and alphabet blocks on it.
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What it is:

Small Teaching is a 246 page book written to address small moves that faculty in Higher Education settings can make to address teaching challenges and improve student learning in the process. This book is for you if you are looking for small practical adjustments you can make to your teaching to address learning challenges.

Topics Covered:

Small Teaching is broken up into three major parts to address: knowledge, understanding, and inspiration. The chapter by chapter breakdown is:

  • Part I: Knowledge
    • Retrieving
    • Predicting
    • Interleaving
  • Part II: Understanding
    • Connecting
    • Practicing
    • Self-Explaining
  • Part III: Inspiration
    • Motivating
    • Growing
    • Expanding

My Takeaways:

Practice, practice, practice – make sure your assignments and formative assessments are practice sessions that mimic the way in which you will summatively assess your students. In other words – don’t assign papers all semester and then assess a student’s knowledge based on a multiple choice exam. Give students the opportunity to practice the cognitive activity that you have chosen to summatively assess their knowledge so that the assessment method does not impact your students’ ability to show you what they understand.

Focus on growth – use reflective metacognitive exercises to help students recognize and analyze the ways in which their knowledge and understanding has grown over the course of time. This practice not only positively impacts learning gains – it also reinforces a growth mindset.

Connection matters – the way in which you connect and interact with your students will impact their motivation. Sometimes you will not recognize the impact that a few moments of personalized attention will have on a student, but you can bet on the fact that this time is never wasted. In my experience this motivation is dual purpose; it positively impacts both teachers and students.

“Whatever we do, we have to remember that the brains in our classrooms do more than think; they feel, and those feelings can play a valuable role in our efforts to motivate and inspire student learning” (p. 193).