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Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  709 ratings  ·  109 reviews
Employ cognitive theory in the classroom every day Research into how we learn has opened the door for utilizing cognitive theory to facilitate better student learning. But that's easier said than done. Many books about cognitive theory introduce radical but impractical theories, failing to make the connection to the classroom. In "Small Teaching, " James Lang presents a st ...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by Jossey-Bass
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Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Updated in August 2018

James Lang is a frequent contributor to Chronicle of Higher Educationwhere I've always enjoyed his essays. I've read several books on teaching in the past year; Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning was one of the meatiest and thought-provoking, a nice palate cleanser as I prepare for the new semester.

Small Teaching was similarly enjoyable: well-written, easily read and digested, filled with concrete advice on a range of topics. He tells personal st
Jun 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Can’t get students’ attention at the beginning of class? Did they already forget what they learned two days ago? Two weeks ago? Feel like it’s too late to change anything at this point?

James Lang would beg to disagree. In Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, he introduces strategies that we can implement tomorrow without too much planning and preparation. Here’s one: start class with a story. Whether it’s about a scientific discovery, a personal experience in a dysfunct
Christina “6 word reviewer” Lake
Treasure trove of great teaching ideas.
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
To the book's credit it's very readable. With such clearly-labled and bite-sized sections within equally bite-sized chapters it's definitely something one could easily pick up during a 15 minute break and skim and scan for ideas. If only it had ideas...

While you should never judge a book by it's cover, it's worth mentioning that this book misrepresents itself from the very beginning. Being called "Small Teaching" one might reasonably assume it is related to teaching at the K-12 level (where mos
Dan Graser
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read much by James Lang in the Chronicle of Higher Education and was interested to see that he had a volume out on teaching strategies for classroom professors based on current science of learning. Overall, this small volume on "Small Teaching" succeeds on many levels and would make an excellent jumpstart summer-read for teachers who feel that perhaps some of their courses and teaching have stagnated in recent years.

Based on the strategy of "small ball" from baseball where rather than re
May 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: teaching, nonfiction
There's nothing new here in terms of approaches to teaching—James Lang is clear that he is providing a synthesis of many recent works on the science of learning as opposed to presenting any dramatically new insights. However, Lang's work is useful inasmuch as he takes various theoretical approaches and provides practical tips for their implementation in the college classroom. Small Teaching is broken up into many small units, making it easy to dip back into for inspiration over the course of the ...more
Elliot Morris
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Although geared towards a more academic and educational audience, I was constantly evaluating the way I learn and how I pursue things. It's a concise guide to teaching and learning with a lot of good insight.
Brian Conor
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great tips for small adjustments anyone can make to improve learning. Love the organization of the chapters by making clear lists of actionable tasks and diving deeper into the theory and learning science. Recommend to any educator!
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book as it is in line with other texts I have been reading, as well as changes I have made to my classes over the past few years. I got a lot of ideas about teaching and how to change my classroom.
I'll be writing a longer review and posting it to my professional portfolio.
Adam Floridia
Jul 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely a book I would recommend to any educator, not just college profs.

4.5 stars and deserving of a fuller review.
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good info, but every chapter seemed to extensively quote from the same couple of sources. I found myself wondering why I just didn't read those books instead.
Small Teaching is a great resource for educators. It’s very readable, but, more importantly, it gave me great new ideas that I can immediately use in the classroom and provided scientific research that allowed me to reflect on past successful activities I’ve used. Now I know why those activities worked, which is invaluable. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking to de-center their classes and focus their class time through a variety of learning strategies.

Update: My blog post inspired b
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am a high school teacher, but I still found the information in this book (which is geared more toward university professors) to be highly relevant and helpful. It was great to get such a thorough overview of the research on so many strategies that we employ as teachers. This book gave me several concrete ideas for things I can do to improve my classes. I was aware of many of the strategies and ideas presented in this book, but seeing the research behind them made me feel more committed to impl ...more
A good text for a book group discussion with college professors - which is why I read it - but not particularly revelatory to someone who focuses on pedagogy. More often than not, my addition to the conversation consisted of something along the lines of "Well, no, this isn't new; we've been addressing engagement/making connections/motivation/activity-based learning in secondary education for years..." with a forced smile on my face.
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. Full of practical advice, tips, and techniques that you can use right now to improve learning in your classroom.

A year after my first reading I listened to the audio book as a refresher. It was good to come back and re-think the ideas. I got some new ideas to try. Excellent book.
Small teaching
James M. Lang

Some books about teaching and learning are so generally broad as to be almost useless (or worst, harmful.) How many times did I find myself plodding through examples after examples of teaching strategies fit for elementary students, so far removed from my professional context that I can’t connect them to anything I do? From a publisher standpoint, I fully understand the attraction of a K-12 book, after all the wider the audience, the better the prospective sales. Even,
Any book that references the Kansas City Royals as a model for the entire book gets an automatic one-star upgrade from me 😊

The premise of this book is that the art of teaching is not a linear, set-in-stone activity. Rather, good teaching is about finding a few good ideas and incrementally adding them to one’s teaching plans and activities over time. Over the course of several years, all of these good ideas add up to a solid course. One is never done with incremental change, however. There are co
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
With the book content, Lang focuses on small tweaks, activities, or things to keep in mind that will improve students' involvement and learning in your class. They are all good strategies, with the underlying themes of spaced practice, inter-content connections, and engaging students more heavily. Lang also emphasizes the transparency of explaining to students why these things are helpful to students, since they frequently resist or dismiss their first encounters with such activities.

I would hyp
Bailey L.
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was a refresher on retrieval practice, interleaving, predicting, starting with stories, growth mindset responses to "I'm a bad writer" and giving positive feedback about their performance on this writing (not on their abilities as a writer in general). It was a reminder that showing up early and talking to every student possible is valuable, giving a lot of writing feedback motivates students, sharing my passion about the topic with them helps, and to give all students a hypothesis of ...more
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book on many small techniques we can implement to tweak our teaching practice and align better with our students. The thoughtful organization of his book was evident even in Part 1, which starts with a discussion that immediately grabbed my attention. I think all teachers, fresh and experienced, can find value in these pages.

Favourite quotes:

"You can't think creatively about information unless you have information in your head to think about." ~ Daniel Willingham

"When we learn new
Talbot Hook
Nov 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Let's go about this objectively, shall we? The book's objects: to get instructors to recognize the importance and efficacy of "small teaching", to promote the best research currently available in the educational literature to that end, and to provide activities (and their rationales) which will enable teachers to effectively change the culture, processes, and instruction in their classrooms. To me, these are all good goals, and I think Lang met them all. I particularly liked the logical expansio ...more
Nov 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
The clever thing about this book is that you don't need to wait until next semester to use the teaching suggestions in it. Lang organizes the chapters along principles (like the value of reviewing what you've learned) and then gives some suggestions you can do right now to implement them (like giving your students a review quiz that covers work from a couple units ago).

I give that parenthetical example because I tried that particular one out and was really pleased with how it worked. I can't s
Mark Valentine
May 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I found this affirming and encouraging: Affirming because it touches on classroom practices that I have already been practicing to some degree and encouraging because of the many practical, useful theories and strategies that Lang presents that I can still use. His writing style is straightforward, never condescending, accessible, and direct.

I wish he had begun his book with his section on Understanding instead of ending with it. I thought it inspirational and motivating. Inside that section, h
Dec 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good book. Solid tactics from research, but like others have said, the author seemed to cite the same sources over and over, and they were books. Not enough actual studies in my opinion. another aspect to consider is the instructional strategy embedded in these methods. This is a cognitivist perspective focused on beating information into the learners via repetition and practice, and doesn't consider enough constructivist techniques or project based methods. Still, it is a good read and worth in ...more
Dennis Williams
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Small teaching, big results

James Lang provides in this small book a number of mostly small (and some not so small) practices that if adopted will transform the experience and heighten the competency of students and faculty members. This is a must read, and do something with, book for college professors of every career phase.

I'm currently using it as a required reading in a new faculty orientation seminar. Despite having taught for over twenty years and either used or attempted a number of the a
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mark Goodson
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was chosen for our faculty reading over the summer. It is concise, to the point, and filled with empirically-backed techniques to become a more effective teacher.
I’ll just share one quick thing. I have heard myself say, “Why are we worried about their memorization skills when they will have access to all the information they need whenever they want it?” Lang made me eat my words. Evidence shows that skills like memorization, even of facts readily available via Google, is a key passage
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Clear and accessible writing here that offers lots of practical lessons, examples, and theory. Especially useful are the interpretations of recent work in the science of learning, especially cognitive science and psychology. Sections are introduced by short vignettes or stories that illustrate the principle to be discussed. Will serve well as a reference tome to be consulted while drafting course outlines or writing course reports, or referred to when discussing pedagogy with a colleague or frie ...more
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
If there's a more accessible but also smart writer on teaching, I'd like to know. Lang is a pleasure to read, offering readers the exact right balance of background theory and pragmatic practice. And the premise of the book, that there are small ways that we can make big differences in our teaching, is one that might seem obvious, but really does deserve the book-length attention Lang provides here.
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an incredible book that I would highly recommend to any teacher, not just higher ed teachers. Dr. Lang summarizes cognitive science and a lot of other research on learning and memory in accessible ways, with concrete tips about how to apply them in the classroom. I wish I read this book 15 years ago when I first started teaching. It should be required reading for every higher ed teacher, and I think anyone who teaches anyone anything would find this book very useful.
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James M. Lang is a nonfiction author whose work focuses on education, literature, and religion. His most recent books are Distracted: Why Students Can't Focus and What You Can Do About It (Basic Books, 2020), Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (Wiley, 2016), and Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (Harvard UP, 2013). He writes a monthly column for the Chr ...more

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“An excellent illustration of this notion comes from another intriguing experiment conducted on psychology students. In this case students were given, in advance of class, either a complete set of notes on the lecture for the day or a partial set of notes—one that consisted of “headings and titles of definitions and concepts, which required students to add information to complete the notes” (Cornelius & Owen-DeSchryver 2008, p. 8). So the students who received the full notes had the knowledge network for the day handed to them prior to class (through the course learning management system); the students who received the partial notes received only the frame of that knowledge network, and had to fill in the rest on their own. The students in both conditions performed comparably on the first two examinations for the course. On the third and final examinations, however, as the amount of course material increased and required deeper understanding, the students in the partial-notes condition outperformed their full-note peers. Especially relevant for the argument that connections improve comprehension, the students in the partial-notes condition outperformed their peers on conceptual questions on the final exam. As the authors explained, “On a [final] test that required knowledge of a large number of concepts, rote memorization was not feasible, so students who encoded the information by actively taking notes throughout the semester may have performed better because they had experienced better conceptual understanding” (p. 10). This experiment has obvious implications for classroom teaching, or even the creation of reading guides or lecture notes for an online courses. However, the important point for now is that the partial notes gave students an organized framework that enabled and encouraged them to see and make new connections on their own.” 0 likes
“In other words, taking a few seconds to predict the answer before learning it, even when the prediction is incorrect, seemed to increase subsequent retention of learned material. This was true even when that prediction time substitutes for—rather than supplements—more conventional forms of studying.” 0 likes
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