ICE BOOK REVIEW – Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning

By Rob Cooney (@EMEducation)

Some years back, we reviewed Make It Stick, a wonderful book that made the science of learning accessible to the masses. One of my favorite parts of that book was the last chapter that broke the science into usable pearls for learners, coaches, and teachers. Now, we have an entire book dedicated to translating that same science into usable tools to apply to our teaching.

Powerful Teaching is written by a team that includes a cognitive scientist (Pooja Agarwal) and a K-12 educator (Patrice Bain). The book opens with a quick review of what they consider Power Tools-retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback-driven metacognition. They have even incorporated these tools into their chapters and every few pages you will be challenged to answer the Power Up questions that review materials covered earlier.

The next few chapters cover each of these Power Tools in depth with plenty of examples of how you can incorporate these into your day-to-day teaching. The authors switch back and forth between the scientific literature and the practical applications with ease, making the book both interesting and fun to read.

While they offer a multitude of application examples, I found their use of naming the tools helpful. For example, instead of telling the students that they are about to engage in retrieval practice, the authors recommend Brain Dumps, a simple exercise that involves writing down everything that they can remember. You can do this at the beginning of a teaching session, after you have taught for several minutes, or even at the end of a session. In case you don’t like the terminology, they even include a list of alternative names (pg 59). I can see this working as easily with medical rounding teams as in the classroom during a lecture. (The authors even have you doing it for the book!)

Chapter 5 is a particularly useful to medical educators. In this chapter, the authors cover feedback-driven metacognition. This chapter also covers the illusions learning. These illusions often explain why learners fail to retain knowledge despite feeling that they are fluent with the materials. They then continue with an exploration of feedback types-collaborative versus correct answer, feedback timing-immediately or delayed, and the need to make mistakes.

The final chapters of the book cover additional real-world applications as well as challenges, including combining the tools optimally, where to start with using the tools, fostering a supportive learning environment, and engaging students in the recognition and utility of these tools.

Overall, this book is a great addition to any educator’s library, especially those who enjoyed Make It Stick. If I had one criticism, it is that, as a medical educator, I felt that the examples were at times too simplistic. That being said, if you are not using any of these techniques already, this book will change the way that you teach with many simple to implement and evidence-based teaching strategies. Even if you are using the techniques, you will still likely come away with some creative new ideas to incorporate into your day-to-day teaching.

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