10 Must-Read Books for Better Teaching

This selection is my current top ten book recommendations for teachers.  I’ve chosen books that have influenced or challenged my thinking significantly, contain really useful, practical ideas for excellent teaching rooted in sound principles and/or cover important theoretical fundamentals about learning, curriculum and assessment.  There are others I could have included… but here’s the ten that made it. (Each image has a link to Amazon to facilitate making a purchase. I’m not on commission!)

You may also find this popular video compilation useful: https://teacherhead.com/2014/08/18/contemporary-educational-ideas-all-my-staff-should-know-about/

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I’ve written a full blog about this book.  It remains my favourite book about education.  The trivium – grammar, dialectic, rhetoric – provides a superb framework for thinking about the curriculum – the knowledge and experiences that constitute a great education – and how to deliver it. It’s also an education in itself, linking our current debates to those of the past.

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Of all the books by teachers for teachers, this is the best – by some distance, in my view.  The clarity of the six principles  (challenge, explanation, modelling, practice, feedback and questioning) and the way they build on each other is superb.  It just makes perfect sense, guiding teachers to strong evidence-informed practice in the context of real classrooms.

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I’ve only read this recently but it’s a lovely and fascinating book, capturing evidence from detailed studies of children as they engage in learning activities.  It’s superb on the complexities of memory and the learning-teaching interface – and the fact that we can’t judge effective teaching simply by watching. Every learner in room brings a unique set of prior knowledge and engages in the activities in a unique manner, learning a unique set of new knowledge. This is influenced by peer dynamics and a host of other variables.  The key message is to explore prior learning and to teach in the full knowledge that each student may or may not be learning what you want them to – unless you go to some lengths to shape the classroom culture.

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This is one for anyone really interested in assessment practice – which should be all teachers but should certainly include at least one leader in every school.  The logical analysis of formative vs summative assessment is compelling. We should all understand this. We simply have to stop giving students repeated summative tests in the hope that this form of complex practice is helping them prepare for the higher stakes summative tests. Instead we need a lot more short, simple, frequent, precise formative tests to build up knowledge and specific skills. There is also guidance about the issue of sampling the curriculum  and different types of assessments appropriate for different domains within the curriculum – the difficulty model where tests are relevant vs the quality model, where comparative judgements are more appropriate.  It ends with a call to arms to shake-up deeply embedded bad practice in this area.

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Of all the myth-busting books, this is my favourite.  Each chapter explores different aspects of cognitive psychology and the implications for teachers. This includes the need to build up prior knowledge explicitly and the powerful ideas that proficiency requires practice and memory is the residue of thought and, thankfully, that intelligence can be changed through hard work.

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I’m still reading this because it is not a cover-to-cover read and is deliberately designed not to be.  There are some overlaps with Willingham’s book but this also references Nuthall, Wiliam, Bjork and many more including lots of research studies.  It’s got a great opening chapter on how our brains evolved which actually explains a lot about why we learn the way we do. My main take-away so far is the concept of domain-specific schemata and the way these are constructed in long-term memory; this informs our understanding of persistent misconceptions and how to overcome them as teachers.  The book has superb chapter summaries that put the ideas into context for teachers in the classroom and challenge some fairly common bits of poor practice that lead to overloading working memory and inhibiting learning.

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I haven’t actually read the 2.0 version of TLAC but the original is solidly in this top ten list.  I like the way each of the strategies is devised around some sound principles about learning and not allowing our expectations of students to drop.  It’s pretty challenging to implement some of the behaviour strategies outside the context of a school-wide system – it makes you think about where we might be setting our sights too low.  However, most of the in-class pedagogical approaches resonate with me in any context. For example, the strategies for structuring discussions and the chapters on reading are superb.

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I have now had the privilege of visiting Michaela so this book takes on new meaning.  However, even without visiting, the book does a good job of exploring their practice.  The Michaela team have deconstructed all the assumptions about routine teaching in regular schools – curriculum planning, marking, homework, reading in class, behaviour management, lunchtimes, detentions – the whole lot.  The book captures a lot of this.  It’s provocative, challenging and, here and there, evangelical and controversial. Mainly, it feels liberating.  We get weighed down by too much baggage but, really, it’s about time we had a much more fundamental debate about schooling and how it works.  This is a brilliant book for ripping into that debate.  I’ve just visited a lovely, friendly school where the standards I saw were exceptional and lessons were full of enthusiastic uber-keen students.  There is another way…

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Increasingly the Hattie methodology of measuring effect sizes is subject to critique and the crude listing of effective strategies in their effect-size order can be horribly simplistic.  But, for me, this original book (not so much the ‘for Teachers’ version) is a superb book for exploring the whole concept of impact and how to measure it.  Throughout the book Hattie links the research findings to the common sense experience of teaching in various contexts – he’s fond of analogies with outdoor pursuits tasks like learning to abseil. If you look at the detail – for example the homework chapter as I did here – you also learn about the complexities of education research itself and the importance of avoiding using crude averages from different contexts.  It’s a real education to read this book at many levels.

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I nearly went for the original ‘Inside the Black Box’ pamphlet because it was so influential back in the 90s when it came out. However, this most recent book is an excellent read with a strong opening section reaffirming the case for formative assessment.  Wiliam then expands on each of his five strategies with a chapter on each one – a framework he has maintained developed for several years now.  He includes 53 strategies, all listed at the end, that support formative assessment in one way or another.  It’s a very practical book, not purely an intellectually rewarding read.


  1. I’ve almost finished this book “Making good progress”. After reading the first couple of chapters I realised how important the content of this book is for all teachers and senior leaders in education when implementing effective strategies for formative and summative assessment in life after levels. Will definitely use some suggestions from this book when reviewing assessment and feedback policy. I recomment everybody!


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