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This is usually Josh Kim’s beat in the IHE blogging space, but I’ve been amassing a number of education and writing-related books that I need to recommend.

The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, by Daniel Koretz 

Harvard professor Koretz likely knows more about educational testing than any living person and in this book he is not polite about what he sees as a twenty-five year failure when it comes to using “high stakes” tests to measure students and schools. Chock with coverage of the empirical research as well as Koretz’s on-the-ground experience – he has a past as a grade school teacher – the book very patiently explains the false promise of the accountability regime birthed in the Reagan Administration’s “A Nation at Risk” and expanded under No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and the push for the Common Core.

So persuasive even some dedicated school “reformers” are touting it as an important corrective to getting us off our unproductive path. 

Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality, by Jack Schneider 

One of the favorite refrains of pro-testing reformers is to insist that the standardized metrics are better than nothing and no one has proposed a workable, cost-effective alternative.

Schneider does just this, expanding the discussion of what schools should value as well as offering concrete methods actually implemented in Sommerville, MA. The project was birthed from Schneider’s experience as a parent, interacting with an algorithm mean to predict the “best” neighborhood that determined his daughter’s current school – one he knew to be of high quality – was considered a failure.

Accessible to any audience and particularly recommended for anyone with a school-aged child.

Actually, recommended for everyone, period.

Bad Ideas About Writing, edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Lowe 

This book is free, open access, there for anyone who wants it thanks to the Digital Publishing Institute at West Virginia University Libraries.

A series of essays by dozens of different authors organized around the title and divided into sections such as “Bad Ideas About What Good Writing Is” and “Bad Ideas About Assessing Writing.” The essays are short and accessible, steeped in the scholarship of the field, but written for audiences extending well-beyond writing teachers.

In fact, selections could be easily incorporated into a first-year writing course as a way to challenge some of the orthodoxies with which students arrive. The “bad” frame is especially useful as it often allows for challenges to some of what I call “folklore” surrounding the teaching of writing.

I’ve just become acquainted with it and already I treasure this book. I wish it’d been around years ago.

Also, it’s free. Have I mentioned this?

The Meaningful Writing Project: Learning, Teaching, and Writing in Higher Education, by Michelle Eodice, Anne Ellen Geller, and Neal Lerner 

A study illuminating the experiences of more than 700 undergraduate students that seeks to understand the conditions and circumstances of the writing that students have found most “meaningful.” To my mind, getting students to believe their school work is meaningful is a pretty good first step towards creating lasting educational experiences.

The book provides insights on assignment design, classroom atmosphere, student attitudes, and the importance of agency when it comes to creating meaningful writing experiences.

Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write, by Helen Sword 

A balm for the troubled writing soul. Sword interviews an array of “successful” academics about their writing attitudes, practices, habits, and quirks. The book offers many helpful frameworks for considering your own process without becoming prescriptive or hectoring. Sword understands the idiosyncratic nature of the writing process, particularly for academics juggling multiple demands on their time and attention, and rather than offering “do’s and don’ts” makes us consider “Coulds and mights.”

The book also reminded me of how seldom the way we ask students to write in school resembles the ways we write in our own work, and has me questioning further how to create the conditions for students that we require for ourselves.

Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process, by John McPhee 

McPhee, a longtime staff writer for the New Yorker, Princeton professor, and author of a bajillion books, is one of the great nonfiction writers of my lifetime, a master of “small detonations of knowledge” in the words of Sam Anderson in a recent profile of McPhee in the New York Times Magazine. I teach his book Oranges (an entire book about all things oranges) as a way to show students the power of curiosity and following one’s nose.

Draft No. 4 collects a series of essays on how McPhee goes about his work and like Sword’s book, serves not as a “how to” but a “how I’ve done.” The illustrations and discussions of McPhee’s own process reinforces how difficult writing is, even for the most experienced practitioners, and that each piece of writing presents a unique problem.

McPhee’s approach to problem solving is the takeaway here, an illustration of the writer’s mind at work, and an inspiration to anyone facing the same struggles.

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