How To Teach A Science Lab: Like A Circus

Labs are the most difficult component to teaching science and it can feel like you are trying to conduct a circus performance on the fly. They are difficult primarily because they are not something you or your students do everyday. You do not have as much practice teaching labs, because most of your lessons are not a lab. Most of your lessons involve you teaching background knowledge and having students apply it in a theoretical sense. Whereas a lab involves applying knowledge in a practical sense.

Think of the circus. Before the performers can perform, they must practice each step many times so they can understand and know what to do and when/how to do it. Science labs are similar. Before most of your students can perform a lab, they must have enough subject background knowledge to effectively create and test a hypothesis (an outstanding few will come in with enough background knowledge) while also already possessing background knowledge of how to use the scientific method.

Then, you MUST require students to write some type of lab report. The entire purpose of the lab is to one, apply what students have been learning and two, further their knowledge in their testing of the hypothesis. Writing a lab report forces the student to reflect on what happened and why. The why has students looking back on what they have already learned in an effort to explain or justify what went right/wrong/as expected.

I have found that doing labs well requires spending an entire week on them (My students have 3 science classes per week). The amount of time you spend on a lab will vary depending on the level of students you teach (My students are 5th-6th grade).

Stage 1: Prep For The Lab

The first class involves preparing students for the lab. In this we review the background information, present the question, create a hypothesis (whole class, group, or individual depending on the lab), write the needed materials, and write the procedure. After you have done several labs in the same format, this stage can be done outside of class. You will need to have some sort of quality control for the procedure, otherwise chaos will reign when you teach the lab.

Stage 2: Perform The Lab

In the second class we perform the lab. This is the most difficult part of teaching a lab for obvious reasons. In order to reduce both difficulty and frustration, I have found the following to be extremely helpful. HAVE CLEAR RULES AND ENFORCE THEM!

  1. Hopefully you have fun. You must get work done.
  2. You must perform one step at a time (by following the teacher’s lead)
  3. You must communicate quietly, in whispers
  4. Record all you data and observations
  5. Cleanup quickly and quietly

That is it. Some may cringe when they read rule number one and two. But that is only because they are reading them draconian measures. Simply, they are not. Rule one works well because it rhymes and students remember it. I tell them that science is fun and I hope they enjoy labs and classes (I do!) but that they are here to learn first and foremost so I require them to work (I demand it!).

The second rule is also eminently necessary for a successful lab, especially for younger students who have less knowledge of both science content and the scientific method. By following step-by-step, standardized instructions you minimize off task behavior and guarantee that students are actually testing their hypothesis, making the lab successful.

That being said, there is a benefit and reason for allowing students to go at their own pace with their own procedure (often nearer the end of a term). When doing this, you are assessing how well the students can follow the scientific method in addition to their understanding of the current content and you will find that many students/groups will need more time to complete the lab.

Stage 3: The Report

The entire third class consists of writing a lab report. The report begins with students analyzing their data. Generally this will involve students creating and interpreting a graph. After this, students will accept or reject their hypothesis. This will then be followed by at least a paragraph explaining why they accept/reject their hypothesis with explicit references to their data.

Again, if you do not require your students to write a lab report, what is the point of doing the lab? It will hopefully be fun, but the purpose is to have students apply/learn the scientific method and to learn more about science. This is best done by requiring reflection in the form of lab reports. Do the lab reports!

After you have done several labs with students, the report can generally be done successfully outside of class (use your discernment).

Labs are a crazy circus. Embrace it. Teach them like the circus they are by training your students and they will wow you with their creative performances, just like the circus!


Teachers Should Read Research

Teachers should read research, on top of their teaching.
I know that teachers are always busy and the addition of reading academic research on top of the teaching/planning/grading load is unappealing. But hear me out. You will find that reading research saves your time, improves your teaching, and helps your students learn more. What’s not to like?

Through reading research on feedback, I found evidence that merely grading an assignment is not effective feedback. Now, I still must grade assignments, I am a teacher after all but I have been working on actually grading only summative type assignments. For formative assessments I have switched to completion based grading system with whole class feedback. When I apply this strategy, grading an entire class set of assignments takes 5-15 minutes depending on the type of assignment. And, better yet, my students are able to apply that feedback. I have more free-time and my students are learning more. It is great.

Through researching about cognitive science, I stumbled upon the Learning Scientists. From them I found out about spaced repetition and retrieval practice, among other strategies. I combined these findings with what I have learned about knowledge organizers, flashcards, and no-stakes quizzes.

Creating the knowledge organizers and flashcards was more work initially (Here is a how to blog I wrote on knowledge organizers and flashcards). But the payout for the effort has been tremendous. My students are using academic vocabulary to describe concepts instead of continuing to describe scientific concepts in everyday language.

For example:

Before After
When the convection current goes up it is because it weighs less when it is hot. It sinks when it is cold and heavier. A convection current rises because the heat lowers the mantle’s density. It sinks when the temperature is reduced and it becomes denser than the surrounding mantle.

Knowledge organizers, flashcards, and no-stakes quizzes are all great ways incorporate both spaced repetition and retrieval practice into your classroom. They are also a fantastically powerful tool to for vocabulary acquisition. Students with a better vocabulary will likely grasp the concepts you are teaching better and be able to more effectively think critically. This has opened new doors for my students as they can understand the concepts at a high level and now they have the vocabulary to not only answer questions properly (improving grades) but to ask much much better questions!

The Matthew effect is powerful. I try to teach my students as much as possible to leverage these effects for their benefit. It just so happens that I benefit too. 🙂

Book Review: Inside American Education by Thomas Sowell

Inside American Education provides an in depth look at the American education system from kindergarten through university. Thomas Sowell is at his best when it uses personal anecdotes to provide color and context for the data gathered by researchers.

Inside American Education

A strength of the book is when he shows that America draws her teachers from the “dregs” of the university. Education majors, on average have low SAT scores when compared to, well, every other major. Below is an extensive quote that illustrates the “quality” of educators at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I have bolded the particularly pertinent parts.

“…hard data on education student qualifications have consistently shown their mental test scores to be at or near the bottom among all categories of students….students majoring in education have consistently scored below the national average.11 When the U.S. Army had college students tested in 1951 for draft deferments during the Korean War, more than half the students passed in the humanities, social sciences, biological sciences, physical sciences and mathematics, but only 27 percent of those majoring in education passed.12 In 1980-81, students majoring in education scored lower on both verbal and quantitative SATs than students majoring in art, music, theatre, the behavioral sciences, physical sciences, or biological sciences, business or commerce, engineering, mathematics, the humanities, or health occupationseducators are drawing disproportionately from the dregs of the college-educated population. As William H. Whyte said back in the 1950s, “the facts are too critical for euphemism.”

Sowell, Thomas. Inside American Education (pp. 24-25). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Another strength in this book is found in describing the discrepancy of educational outcomes between America’s various ethnicities. He goes in depth to explain affirmative action’s impacts on both minority and majority populations using large amounts of data from research while using anecdotal evidence to provide color and context to the data generated by researchers.

He shows that affirmative action created new inequalities without effectively giving African Americans and other minorities the leg up that was intended. He argues (I think convincingly) that universities used affirmative action to brag about their commitment to diversity while neglecting to care/educate their students.

“The mismatching problem was dramatically demonstrated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the average black student scored in the top 10 percent, nationwide, on the mathematical portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test—and in the bottom 10 percent at M.I.T. Nearly one-fourth of these students failed to graduate at M.I.T., and those who did had significantly lower grades than their classmates.” 46

Sowell, Thomas. Inside American Education (p. 144). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

“M.I.T. is not unique. At Berkeley, where black students’ average composite SAT scores of 952 were above the national composite average of 900, though well below the Berkeley average of 1181, more than 70 percent of the black students failed to graduate.48 Again, these were artificial failures, on an even larger scale than at M.I.T., in the sense that these black students’ academic qualifications would have been more than adequate for the average American college or university, though not adequate for competing with Berkeley’s white students who scored 1232 or Berkeley’s Asian students who scored 1254.49 Despite a rising number of blacks admitted to Berkeley over the years—the great majority under “affirmative action” standards—fewer blacks graduated in 1987 than graduated eleven years earlier.50 What was accomplished by admitting more black students and graduating fewer? The benefits are far more obvious for Berkeley than for the students. The racial body count enabled the university to proclaim that its student body is “wonderfully diverse” and that “we are excited that the class closely reflects the actual ethnic distribution of California high school graduates.”51

Sowell, Thomas. Inside American Education (pp. 144-145). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Mr. Sowell then goes on to explain that this mismatching of students at top tier schools cascades down, causing larger problems.

“As Professor Clyde Summers predicted long ago, this mismatching problem has not been confined to the top echelon schools. As each tier finds its normal pool of minority students pre-empted by a higher tier, it must in turn pre-empt the minority students who would normally qualify for the colleges in a lower tier… The problem starts at the most selective institutions, because that level is where there is the most extreme shortage of minority students matching the prevailing academic standards.

As for the minority students themselves, many—and probably most—of their academic failures throughout the various levels of colleges and universities can be traced to the systematic mismatching resulting from preferential admissions policies. Certainly that seems clear from the statistical data from those colleges and universities which release data by race and ethnicity—and the secretiveness of other institutions suggests that they have a similar story to hide. Certainly the graduation rate of black students is generally below that of their white classmates at numerous institutions where this information is available.65 Nationwide, black students’ graduation rate is about half that of whitest.” 66

Sowell, Thomas. Inside American Education (pp. 146-147). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

“Nowhere has the moral bankruptcy of academia been more blatant than in its racial policies, which have managed simultaneously to damage every racial or ethnic group involved—with the worst damage being done to blacks, the supposedly most favored beneficiaries.”

Sowell, Thomas. Inside American Education (p. 282-283). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Mr. Sowell argues that while it is important to increase minority access to higher education, there are more effective and just mechanisms to increase this access than affirmative action. He shows how there is evidence that the primary limiting factor to minorities enrolling in higher education was not academic, but financial. When the G.I. bill was introduced there was a 64% increase in nonwhite student enrollment.

What was at issue, then and now, is not whether there should be larger or smaller numbers of minority students attending college, but whether preferential admissions policies should be the mechanism for making a college education available to more minority students… Between 1940 and 1947, for example, there was a 64 percent increase in the number of nonwhite students attending post-secondary institutions 6due to financial aid under the G.I. Bill for veterans returning from World War II. This made a college education available to the black masses for the first time.7 During a corresponding period of the 1960s—from 1960 to 1967—there was a 49 percent increase in the number of black students attending college…. Money is the crucial factor, given the lower incomes of blacks and some other minority groups.

Sowell, Thomas. Inside American Education (p. 134). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.


While I cannot speak for the book versions, the Kindle version contains a surprising number of spelling and numerical errors. Sometimes two words are jammed together, other times one letter is mysteriously replaced leaving the reader to deduce the correct word by context. This weakness is small however, because the message and meaning of the book is not harmed, just the ease of access.

A larger weakness is when Mr. Sowell overly relies on anecdotal evidence. I believe that this is done where the data is lacking due to the difficulty in scientifically defining and studying topics such as “classroom brainwashing and dogmas”. That being said, he takes efforts to source a variety of anecdotal evidence from various geographical locations and academic levels in order to make an attempt at showing that the problem is not localized, but systemic. His arguments provide ample reason to believe that American education has systemic problems common at all levels and locations.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this book for anyone wanting to look into part of the ugly underbelly that is American education. If you are interested, you can find the Kindle version in the link below.


Social Justice and Education Standards

There has been a relatively recent shift within American education to using standards based curriculum. I think that this shift is largely positive because standards should provide specificity and specificity provides clarity. Before schools utilized these standards there was too much flexibility. One school may create their own standards, while another requires teachers to cover the book, while still another lets the teachers decide what the standards are.

This creates a huge range not only of student outcomes, but of expectations. If we, as a country can agree on the same education standards, then, on paper at least, we have agreed to expect that all students should achieve at least “this” (whatever this is). From a scientific perspective, this approach improves the quality of the available data. The data quality is improved because every school has the same goal. All our students will achieve “this”.

For teachers, the advantage also lies in the specificity of the standard. If the standard is not specific, then it is a waste of time (Vague standards can be vaguely met). For example, in using standards, a math teacher can know that student A struggles with dividing fractions but is fine with multiplying them. From this data, a teacher is able to adjust their teaching and tailor it to the needs of their students. A teacher does not necessarily need this data in a small class, but many teachers have over 200 students and cannot possibly keep all that information stored in their head. Putting it explicitly on paper helps the teacher help the students. 

When the educational goals between schools are more specifically aligned, we can better assess the reasons for different outcomes. Why is this high poverty school in district A succeeding while this low poverty school in district B is only experiencing middling success? Having access to better data is an integral component of improving our children’s education.

Standards do not just give administrators, policy wonks, and teachers better data, they can (should) also help increase student achievement, particularly mobile students. This is the key point, because helping students (however you define it) should be the purpose of education. I am going to use an extended quote from Dr. Ed Hirsch’s book The Knowledge Deficit because he explains the cost of mobility on student education clearly.

“One study has analyzed those effects (of mobility) on 9,915 children. With this large group, the researchers were able to factor out the influences of poverty, race, single-parent status, and lack of parental education in order to isolate just the effects of changing schools. Even with other adverse influences factored out, children who changed schools often were much more likely than those who did not to exhibit behavioral problems and to fail a grade.”

-Dr. Ed Hirsch, The Knowledge Deficit, p109-110, data from Deborah Cohen, “Frequent Moves Said to Boost Risk of School Problems”

Hirsch claims that while the findings show that mobile students tend to be from low income families, their low scores are not related to poverty. He quotes Herbert Walberg to show how the effects of student mobility can be mitigated,

“common learning goals, curriculum, and assessment within states (or within an entire nation). . . alleviate the grave learning disabilities faced by children, especially poorly achieving children, who move from one district to another with different curricula, assessment, and goals.”

Research has found that each time a student moves to a new school in the school year the student suffers around a 3 month loss in both reading and math (Russell W. Rumberger and Katherine A. Larson). Mobile students are also more likely to be both a minority and poor than their peers from more stable households (Edweek).


This brings us to the “Achievement Gap“. This gap is describing the differences in achievement between minority and or low income students with white non low-income students. The chart below shows the gap between students who are not eligible for free or reduced lunch (not in poverty) and those who are are eligible (in poverty and thus, likely to have higher mobility).

achievement gap money

The chart below shows that scores for white students have been higher than scores for other minorities for as long as the NAEP has been gathering data.

acheivement gap scores

In looking at the 2 charts, it becomes clear that there are social justice issues to resolve in education. Based on Ed Hirsch’s book, The Knowledge Gap, I think that there is some good evidence for using standards to improve America’s education system. Robert J. Marzano has said, “Standards hold the greatest hope for significantly improving student achievement.”

Do to the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of the achievment gap, I think it would be beneficial for educators and social justice proponents to work together to promote the use of standards as a way to improve the quality of education students all students receive while reducing the achievement gap to create a more just society along the way.

It is important to note that I am not saying the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards are a perfect bed of roses. I am saying that standards can bring tangible benefits to administrators, teachers, and most importantly students. And by promoting standards we are working to make the curriculum known to the public. This makes the age-old debate over what schools should be teaching explicit and allows for this important debate to be had in the open, hopefully making it easier for us to move in the right direction.


What are standards? How can you make standards work for you?

Standards are useful for teachers because they give us explicit goals.

They help provide consistency between schools in each state. Or now with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English and math and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for science, there will be more alignment and consistency across the entire nation as many schools are picking them up by choice or for financial incentives. Social Studies appears to be more complicated. National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) has released curriculum standards in order to standardize the approach, but not the content. Whether this type of standardization is good/bad/misunderstood, or even unconstitutional is beyond the scope of this article.

This article’s purpose is to explain how to utilize standards to make your life as a teacher easier while helping your students learn more. To start, we must define what a standard is.

Standards: learning goals specified by class and grade level that students should be able to both know and do 

Now that we have defined standards we can dig into applying them. The application of standards ought to be the same, no matter which ones you are using.

A useful way to think of standards is a grade for a specific aspect of the taught subject. For example, in traditional grading a student may receive an 75% at the end of the semester. As a teacher this shows you that the student understood most of the content, but likely has room to improve both the breadth and depth of their understanding. However, the information quickly becomes fuzzy after this point as the teacher would need to look at individual assignments/quizzes/tests in order to ascertain what content/concepts the student didn’t understand. This cumbersome procedure is impossibly time consuming to do for one student, let alone when there are multiple classes of students.

In standards based grading, the student’s overall grade may be a 1 (Below Standard), 2 (Approaching Standard), 3 (Meets Standard), or 4 (Exceeds Standard). If your school requires traditional grades, you can assign numerical values to the standard points.

Assume the same student received a 3/4 average of all assessed standards in English in a standards based grading system, giving you the same information as above. Yet the component parts come broken up and averaged by standard. Let’s use 5th grade English as an example. If said student received a 3/4 for their semester grade, the teacher can easily pull up their gradebook to see what specific content/concepts the student struggled with.

Look at student #2, Anna Fitzgerald in the image below. Her English score for the semester is 2.49 out of 4 for what would be about a D average in traditional grading. However, by using a standards based gradebook, her teacher will be able to quickly pinpoint Anna’s struggles. For standard ELA.5.R1, Anna received mostly 1’s, meaning that she was not meeting the standard. However, for standard ELA.5.R2 she received all 2’s or 3’s showing that while she has not mastered this standard, she is understanding it at a passable level.

**note: Standard grades do not allow for fluff/participation points. The grade should only be assessing how the student performed on the standard. While it can be good to assess student attitude/preparedness/participation (particularly in elementary school) these should not be in a standards based assessment. You can put those points elsewhere in your gradebook.

a standard approach_ enhancing your curriculum

This image is from they have an interesting looking gradebook for teachers who use a standards based grading system.

Another benefit of standards is it allows you to more accurately assess both your teaching and your students’ progress. If you look at the class average scores (circled in red) you can see that they are increasing over time. As a teacher, you would want to see this because it means that your teaching is helping students perform better over time. If the scores remain low/not increasing, then that is a good cue for you to reassess how you are teaching the particular standard.

**note: Good teachers will do this regardless of whether they explicitly teach with standards or not. The advantage to using standards is that they make it easier and give more exact information as to what students are struggling with.

Teachers have plenty to do, so using standards shouldn’t add to your workload after you adjust to them (There is an adjustment phase that is more work, but that’s the same as with any new system/approach). In general you can design assignments to assess one or two standards at a time. Then you can enter the grades as normal (If you have two standards on one assignment, just enter 2 grades, one for each standard).

A drawback to this approach is that it seemingly limits opportunities to review old material while also assessing current coursework. However, this difficulty can be avoided by making a general “assignments/assessments” category. You can put anything that doesn’t easily/naturally fit into one/two standards here (breaking one assignment into more than 2 standards generally causes the grading to become too time consuming to be worthwhile).

So far we have gone over how standards can help teachers improve their instruction by giving them exact data that they can use to adapt their teaching to the needs of the class. Students can use this data in similar ways. When teachers pass out progress reports (ideally students and parents will have anytime access to an online version of their report card), students and parents are able to see both how the student is doing overall, but also how the student is performing on each standard.

Let’s look at Anna Fitzgerald again. When she gets her progress report it will tell her that while she did alright in English class with a 2.49/4 she received a 1.91/4 on the ELA.5.R1 standard. This is in essence giving students and their families the same helpful information a standards based approach gives teachers. Students and their parents will know exactly what content the child struggled with.

In order increase the helpfulness of this information (feedback) teachers can require students to reflect/complete a supplementary assessment for practice with their weakest standard. It should just be one at a time, otherwise you will overwhelm students and the additional practice will likely just turn into additional work with no benefits. Essentially, standards increase the specificity of feedback to both teachers and students. Use the specificity to your advantage to give actionable feedback.

ESL Teaching

The following is a summary of Chapter 9 from Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Isabel Beck, Margaret Mckeown, and Linda Kucan. If you teach young or ESL students, I highly recommend this book as it is immensely practical and backed by research.

English as a second language (ESL) students must go on a journey before they can find academic success. They tend to have a smaller vocabulary, weaker semantic connections, and less word part knowledge than native speakers (Verhoeven, 2011). This creates a hindrance and barrier to learning academic content. It generally takes ESL students between 1-2 years to become conversational on everyday topics. But it can take 5-7 years for ESL students to pass the “lexical bar” of cultural and academic language (Cummins, 1994).

It has been proposed that when students are at the early stages of being conversational (a simple, everyday conversation) that they should be exposed to explicit teaching with tier two words. A key qualifier is that students must already understand the underlying concept. For example, all students will understand the word, ‘hungry’. So, you could teach students the meaning of ‘famished’. One key reason we should teach our ELL students tier two vocabulary is that they are unlikely to be exposed to it in oral conversation. Another is that a lack of vocabulary drastically inhibits reading comprehension (access to knowledge).

The good news is that what research has shown to be effective for native English speakers is equally effective for ESL students.

This means that we should strive to

  1. Provide multiple encounters with target words in multiple contexts involving analysis and target word use in both a written and oral format
    1. Improves word knowledge (Snow, Lawrence, & White, 2009)
  2. Promote active processing
    1. Supports depth of word knowledge (Carlo et. al, 2004)

ESL students and native speakers can improve their vocabulary at similar rates. However, this will not help close the vocabulary and corresponding comprehension gap (even with interventions) since ESL students start with smaller vocabularies. But, interventions are very helpful nonetheless because studies have shown that without them, gaps in vocabulary, reading comprehension, and test scores expand (Kiefer, 2008).

In order to further supplement the vocabulary development of ESL students, consider teaching lexical morphemes. Lexical morphemes are the root of the word. For example, with ‘press’ we have depress, compress, oppress, etc. By looking at the root of the words, it may improve students’ semantic connections. This could be furthered by teaching students about the morphological relationship between English and Latin. This could prove beneficial as many English words have their root in Latin.

In order to further help your ESL students (and every other student) make sure that your classroom procedures are clear and known. This follows not just for transitions, but also for instructional patterns. For example, students should know what to do when asked to identify and explain a word’s prefix. If students have this procedural knowledge, then their working memory will be freed up to focus on learning the content instead of how to perform the task.

Book Review: The Reading Mind by Daniel Willingham

This book is designed to introduce the reader to the reading process. And it succeeds. Professor Willingham’s book is extensively researched and presented in a way that a layperson or average teacher will have no trouble assessing its contents. I would highly recommend it if you are a teacher, or a parent trying to learn about reading or how to encourage children to read.


In Chapter 1 he sets out to tell the story of reading by explaining its purpose. He writes that writing is both an extension of and more objective than memory. It is an extension of memory because we can write something to do down and look at it later to remind ourselves. Writing is more objective than memory because it is a physical representation and cannot be easily changed.

Chapter 2 jumps into the code of reading, phonics. Letters are made up of a set of shapes/stroke patterns, some are more easily confused than others, yet it is imperative that each letter be correctly identified because each letter is a cue for a sound. Put together, the sounds make words that have meaning. One misstep along the way can drastically change the word’s  meaning. For example, a child might be reading a story that says, “The man digs a hole.” but the child may mix it up and read, “The man pigs a hole.” In order to correct him/herself, the child must have knowledge about both what a pig and hole are, highlighting the importance of vocabulary for reading comprehension.

Chapter 3 finally gets into the reading process. Students who are accomplished readers have 3 distinct representations for words: the sound, the spelling, and the meaning. For all learners, the sound and spelling of the words a closely linked. If a student is better at hearing the sounds within a word, they will be better able to spell the word and vice versa.

Chapter 4 digs into words and their contexts. We all know that some words mean different things in different contexts. This, then shows one large limitation of having students look up words in a dictionary because dictionaries strive to be context independent (due to space constraints). An implication for teachers, since word meaning depends on context, is to explicitly teach students the word’s meaning while exposing them to the word in a variety of contexts.

Chapter 5 looks at reading comprehension. Willingham concludes that teaching reading comprehension strategies has limited value. The limiting factor in teaching reading strategies is that they are easily and quickly learned (a good thing). Students should be taught reading strategies as the strategies will improve their comprehension and make them better readers, but the instruction should not stay on strategies. After students understand the reading strategies, they teaching should be focused on increasing student knowledge because reading comprehension depends heavily upon background knowledge (see the famous study on background knowledge and comprehension at Reading Rockets website).

Chapter 6 is really interesting in that it looks at the psychology of readers. It finds that readers read because they enjoy it. Hardly groundbreaking, but it is a more revealing finding than it appears. Those who read do so because of emotional reasons, not logical ones. The implication being that telling students, “You should read this to learn more and become smarter.” will not be helpful. We instead ought to incentivize reading to create situations where students are likely to have positive experiences when reading. Another practical finding in this article was that students are interested in reading, but only if the effort of obtaining the book is minimal to non-existent. Put books in the classroom and draw attention to them.

Chapter 7 looks into how the digital revolution has impacted reading. In large part, it hasn’t. Students do read a bit less with television, internet, and video games but the amount children read was already so low, it couldn’t drop much. Another interesting finding was that when using digital books, our comprehension suffers. Even seeing a hyperlink without clicking on it slightly reduces our comprehension. Professor Willingham posits that the digital revolution has not impacted student attention span so much as it has reduced their capacity for boredom. For example, students can still pay attention to an entire movie because it interests them, but they cannot pay attention for an entire class because it bores them.

Check out the book here.