6 books that I loved in 2018

If you get bored of reading work-related books and articles, and you equally struggle to find the time to explore other subjects, here are 6 reads you’ll enjoy and impact the way you teach:

1. Made to Stick (2007) is written by two brothers, Chip & Dan Heath. For me, it raised the question of whether universities teach Arabic divorced from a more academic-like knowledge. Often times, we focus on teaching the language and we hardly find (the right) time to introduce concepts that are intrinsic to Arabic: diglossia, language ideology, or cultural beliefs. The authors state that “curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge”; this seems like an opportunity to identify all those gaps that we aren’t taking advantage of to enrich the Arabic curriculum and our daily practice.  The book is not exclusively aimed at teachers, so if you only want a summary-like version, download Teaching That Sticks. You would be missing a great book, though.

2. Psychology in the Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide to What Works (2018). This is a state-of-the-art reference that dives into the intricacies of the human mind and behavior as they relate to learning and what makes teaching effective, or less effective. There’s a chapter on how to promote independent learning, which is central to language education. According to the authors, we should allow students to generate their own ideas as an efficient and memorable form of learning new concepts. In the teaching of Arabic, this has major implications in the way grammar is learned, for example, because often times we rely on the textbook and the teacher’s explanations as the primary source of input. But is this the most effective way? In my next post, I’ll share how I ‘explained’ grammatical concepts this semester, with pictures included. (Subscribe to my Newsletter if you haven’t yet!)

3. The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months (2013). If you procrastinate like I do, and you get distracted easily, this is THE organizational tool to put some scheduling order in your life and start accomplishing your goals. The book is designed on the premise that “if you are not in control of your time, you are not in control of your results”. The 12 Week Year won’t help you eliminate preparation, teaching and grading hours, but it will force you to intentionally block chunks of time, to periodically work on projects that matter to your personal life and your professional advancement. The method works, because I’m a recurrent sinner.

4. Ego is the Enemy (2016). I’m in love with this book. It helps neutralizing the ego, so we can keep listening and learning; two essential skills if we want to master our craft. For teachers, this implies moving away of our comfort zone to reflect on the way in which we teach. It means doubting ourselves to reconsider the alternatives, realistically. Neutralizing the ego also means staying true to yourself and what matters most to you; by not getting distracted with other people’s achievements (so pervasive in our field) and by knowing when to say no (does it ring a bell?). I also like this book because it pushes you to be in the learners’ shoes; especially if you continue developing yourself as a teacher. By becoming a student again, you empathize with your students more deeply and you become an equal to them in the learning process.

5. The Power of Moments (2017), also by the Heath brothers. A beautiful book that will enrich your life at the personal and professional levels, if you only apply a few tips. When it comes to teaching, the authors believe that classes are “mostly forgettable and occasionally remarkable”. Is this how Arabic classes look like? Creating memorable moments, or ‘peak moments’ as the authors say, isn’t easy; it requires deliberate planning and, definitely, time and creativity on the part of teachers. But the impact is long-lasting. In the Arabic classroom, we can engage students in scavenger hunts (inside a library or a museum), take them for breakfast on a Friday morning, or put together a fashion show to explore clothing in different Arab regions. These are definitely fun and pertinent learning experiences, but the real challenge is building mini-peak moments for every single class.

6. The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning (2010). It looks like a coffee table book with attractive visuals. But it’s a book full of powerful ideas that can either energize you or break your heart; depending on the state of your current workplace. The authors are experts in furniture design and architecture, and so they layout how classrooms and buildings should look like in an optimal educational system that is in harmony with the environment. The book is also full of interviews with experts in various disciplines that relate in one way or another to education. What’s most inspiring: The authors invited students to share their perspective through questions like “If you could design your ideal learning environment, what would it look like? How would it feel? What does the school of the future look like?”. Which automatically makes me think: How often we consult with our students before designing our Arabic textbooks?

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I’d really love to know what was your favorite book in 2018. 

Happy Holidays!

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