ICE Book Review – Small Teaching

By Rob Cooney (@EMEducation)

Small Teaching
By James M. Lang

With the growing recognition of the importance of educational theory and cognitive psychology to our teaching, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of options that we need to consider when designing learning experiences. Fortunately, the focus of this book allows us to step back, consider simple changes to our teaching, and potentially improve our students’ learning outcomes.

Small teaching is an approach that allows educators to change their current practices without the need to extensively overhaul their curriculum, content delivery, or preferred teaching style. As such, to be included as “small teaching,” these interventions had to be grounded within the current cognitive psychology or education literature, the principles had to demonstrate a positive learning effect in the real world, and the author had to be able to observe the principles either through his own use or direct observation of other educators in the learning environments. Once these three criteria were met, the interventions fell into one or more of the following criteria:

  • Brief (5-10 minute) classroom or online learning activities
  • One-time interventions in a course
  • Small modifications in curriculum design or communication with learners

Each subsequent chapter covers teaching activities related to knowledge acquisition, making deeper connections, and motivation for learning. The chapters are further structured into an introduction, theoretical support, detailed models that explain how the concept is used, principles that educators can identify within the models, and simple examples that any educator can consider for putting these small teaching strategies into practice within their own learning environments.

The author covers sound educational theory including the use of retrieval, interleaving, elaborative interrogation, and motivational theory. Within each chapter, you can easily jump to the end and review the principles and small teaching quick tips to get up to speed on each of the concepts and take away some useful teaching pearls. I highly recommend reviewing all of these, but also, consider going back and reviewing the in-depth review of the theory in order to understand it better. Overall, I found this book to be a useful reference for any level of educators. Junior educators can upskill their teaching abilities by reviewing the end of each chapter while senior educators may enjoy the theoretical reviews to improve their own teaching knowledge.

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