I recently finished reading an incredible book by Michigan teacher, Dave Stuart Jr. It was one of those reads that felt like a mixture between a vacation and conference. There were refreshing and affirming words of encouragement, but there were also mighty challenges put forth.
The title of the book is These 6 Things: How to Focus Your Teaching on What Matters Most. I have read books that boast they have the most important ideas for teaching, and usually they meant that the reader would have to buy into some sort of system that would be a complete overhaul and redesign of his or her classroom. No thanks, and this is not what These 6 Things is about. At. All.
Come along and I will show you six reasons why every secondary teacher, regardless of what content area he or she teaches, should read this book.
For a few years, I have been reading Dave Stuart Jr’s blog, a little here, a little there. I first found him when his website was titled teachingthecore.com (type that in and it will send you to davestuartjr.com). I was on a hunt for resources for Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week (or AoW for short).
Eventually, I got myself onto Stuart’s email list, and I learned that he was developing an online course on student motivation, set for release in spring of 2018. I went back and forth about whether or not I should sign up because there is a cost, but when I learned about this little perk (that Stuart was giving away signed copies of his book if you enrolled in his course), I decided to go for it.
Even though it was the end of the school year, I got a ton out of it! I was able to apply some of it right away. I would have loved to have taken the course at the outset of the school year (which you could do right now, if you enroll before time runs out). But if you’re still reading, you want to hear about the book.
6 Reasons Teachers in All Content Areas Should Read These 6 Things
The six reasons aren’t just a copy of the six things from the book. Well, some of them are. I mean, they’re just really that good! But there are some more “why you should read this” reasons that are beyond the six things themselves.
Without further ado, here they are:
1. It’s Hard Work, But Teaching Can Be Simpler. In the opening chapter, Stuart compares the job of the teacher to climbing Mount Everest. He says that the goal of climbing the tallest mountain on the planet is, in many ways, easier than teaching: It’s definable, you know whether you have reached your goal or not, and you know when you’re done. Teaching is not like that.
With sections titled “Permission to Simplify” and “The Legacy of Accountability and the Over-Sciencing of Teaching” Stuart describes a nation of teachers who are stressed out because there are so many ideas out there about what successful teaching is. But there is hope. And there are simple ways to manage, reduce, and even eliminate some of the instructional stresses of the job. Throughout the book, you’ll read about “Simple, Robust” (he pairs these words together often) methods for putting these six things at the forefront.
2. The 5 Key Beliefs of Student Motivation. The whole book is centered around the idea that we teachers can all agree that we are in the business of the “long term flourishing” of our students. In order for students to be open to learning in our classes, they need to be properly motivated. Some of that is baked in to our contexts and personalities, but the book has taught me that I have much to learn.
Stuart, through extensive reading, has discovered that this all comes down to five key beliefs, which are as follows:
- Teacher Credibility: I believe in my teacher.
- Belonging: I belong in this classroom.
- Effort: I can improve through my effort.
- Efficacy: I can succeed at this.
- Value: The work has value for me.
This chapter has many great activities, and even includes a calendar-guide that will help give teachers discernment about when to emphasize certain beliefs, and the activities that go with them. I used his Positive Identity Index Cards activity on the first day of school this year, and it was amazing! Read about it HERE!
3. Building Knowledge Is Absolutely Necessary. There is just no way around this. No matter what course you teach, students need knowledge in order to think critically and/or creatively. The Common Core architects want us teachers to get students to sprint to critical thinking and application. But what are students supposed to apply, exactly? What are they supposed to think critically about? Without knowledge, students won’t have the building blocks for thinking, especially the critical kind!
Stuart gives several practical ways teachers can build knowledge with their students: topic immersion, retrieval practice, interleaving practice, spaced practice, and even play. All of his suggestions for knowledge building are simple and doable.
4. Argument Promotes Deeper Learning. When I read this chapter about earnest and amicable arguments, I saw the potential to increase student buy-in when framing learning through argument. If students are given the option to take a stance on an issue–an issue that will require them to build knowledge–they will retain the learning better. It gives their learning a purpose, a goal.
On page 113, Stuart suggest that we teachers, regardless of content area, pose learning targets or essential questions as debatable prompts. He even includes examples for all subject areas (i.e. for Biology, he poses these questions, “Are vaccines safe for children? Is artificial selection ethical?”) When learning is framed as an argument, it gives students a reason for gathering and retaining information. It gives them a reason to take another look.
5. Instructing Literacy Can Be Simplified and Should Be Taught in All Content Areas. Here I am combining several of Stuart’s chapters into one of the reasons you should read the book. Stuart has a separate chapter for these three things: reading, writing, and listening & speaking. He makes the case that schools need to dramatically increase the quantity of each of these three things throughout the day. I agree. Our student’s literacy is hugely important, and should not be left solely in the hands of one teacher, namely the one who is teaching English Language Arts.
Here is a quote about each of these three practices:
- “[R]eading widely is not an ELA issue–it’s a long-term flourishing one. In other words, students who read widely in all content area classes reap benefits far beyond the school day” (Stuart 138).
- “Increasing the quantity of writing that our student do during the school day is job number one. When we approach this strategically, huge gains are possible with next to no added time grading” (Stuart 164).
- “When we invest in making classes where great talk happens, our classes become the kinds of places that kids value and are glad to belong to” (Stuart 206).
Not only does Stuart make the case for a dramatic increase in these three elements of literacy, he provides many simple, robust practices for student learning. He also puts the teacher at ease by revealing simple scoring and marking practices that make grading manageable than one might think (He has four kids under the age of eight, and manages to make time for all of them). Not only are the scoring and marking suggestions simple, they aim to provide timely feedback, which is what students need in order to learn. He shows that this is doable, and I assert right along side him that it is necessary.
6. Each Thing Blends Well with the Others. As Stuart rolls out each successive thing, he constantly blends the six things together. When I was reading the chapter on argument, I wasn’t only reading about that one thing. Instead he was blending in speaking & listening with the five key beliefs of students motivation with practical activities.
Each chapter reads this way. Each of the six things aren’t siloed. They are fluid and layered, constantly pinging back and linking to one another.
As I read each successive chapter, the stock value of the preceding chapter would increase with each page I turned. As a reader, I don’t find many books that do that. There are other teacher books I read where I may only retain a small percentage, and I return to them for pieces that are applicable to my practice. This book has something in each and every chapter that my students need! Not only do I predict that I will return to it each year, I plan to reference it the whole year through.
These 6 Things is an important book. If I could take one book back in time to give to student-teacher me, it would be this one. It would have saved me from mounds of teacher-guilt, saving me from my premature gray hairs. Reading this book showed me how much I have complicated the practice of teaching, and how over-complicating what I do in the classroom has hindered my impact on students.
If you’re not convinced yet, I don’t know what it’s going to take. Buy this book. Read it. Do it. That’s it!
QUESTION: What is a teacher book that you keep going returning to years after reading it?
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