Reading List: Books that Teach in a New Way


Head of the Olympiad department of the educational website and NES graduate Gayane Simonyan shares a selection of books that help people develop, learn and teach others. Gayane herself is currently studying at the MIT Sloan School of Management.


“Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.”

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius  


Why do you study? Or why do you teach others? How are your goals and training methods related? Without answers to these questions, the value of education – even the most elite, expensive and essential one – decreases. 

There is no ultimate goal after reaching which you can stop learning. Today we learn constantly: getting just one diploma is not sufficient any more. The effect of learning depends on the tools we choose, how we motivate ourselves and others, how we evaluate our success and failures. Below is a list of books about education which tell about ways to go beyond a conventional educational system and motivation to continue developing. These are the books about advanced scientific teaching methods and how one can learn while enjoying the process.


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck (2006) 

I have no doubt about naming this book number one in the list of books about education. While working at, I often started communicating with teachers with a presentation of its ideas. This book was mentioned at the beginning of my first lecture when I came to study at MIT. 

What are all our actions related to? It is our self-concept, our self-perception. The famous psychologist Carol Dweck shows how incorrect attitudes (towards the given) can become a trap for our development, how they can turn talent into an obstacle and how correct attitudes (towards growth) open the way to success. Our ability to learn, take on challenges and overcome difficulties depends on what we consider success and how we perceive mistakes. 

People with a fixed mindset believe that everything good in their life, work, and studies should happen automatically. And if it doesn't happen, they blame circumstances, other people, and external forces. People with a growth mindset believe in their own strength and turn every achievement or failure into a step on the ladder that takes them up. 

The popular concept of two mindsets was born from an experiment conducted by Carol Dweck at Stanford. Two groups of children were treated with different attitudes to success: 

- praised for talent (fixed mindset);

- praised for doing a good job, motivation (growth mindset). 

In other words, children were praised either for their innate abilities or for their efforts. In the long run, it turned out that if success was associated with talent, children often refused to take on new challenging tasks. They didn't want to do something that could reveal their shortcomings and question their talent. For them, success meant that they were smart, and failure meant that they were imperfect. Meanwhile, children who were praised for their efforts rarely stopped developing, because they perceived difficulties as an indication that more effort was needed.

Carol Dweck illustrates her concept with numerous experiments, studies, examples and stories – from her own life, and examples of her friends, athletes, coaches, corporate leaders. At the end of each chapter she gives recommendations on how to apply what has been discussed above, helping to determine which mindset (growth or fixed) guides the reader's life, and to understand how it can be changed.


“John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, says you aren’t a failure until you start to blame. What he means is that you can still be in the process of learning from your mistakes until you deny them.”

"From McEnroe (John McEnroe, famous tennis player – editor), we hear little talk of taking control. When he was on top, we hear little mention of working on his game to stay on top. When he was doing poorly, we hear little self-reflection or analysis (except to pin the blame). For example, when he didn’t do as well as expected for part of '82, we hear that 'little things happened that kept me off my game for weeks at a time and prevented me from dominating the tour.’ Always a victim of outside forces."

"The fixed mindset feels so stifling <...> When you enter the world of the growth-mindset leaders, everything changes. It brightens, it expands, it fills with energy, with possibility."


If I had to leave just one book about education on my bookshelf, then Flexible Consciousness would have every chance of being this book. And here are some of the questions that Carol Dweck suggests answering in order to determine your mindset and possibly change it. 

- Your mental abilities are your fundamental quality and you are not given to change anything significantly?

- No matter what your level of intelligence is, do you agree that you can always significantly increase it?

- Do you think there was something in your life that has put a stigma on you? For example, a failed exam, someone's betrayal, dismissal from work or your feelings being rejected.

- Do you sometimes feel that you behave stupidly, as if you have lost touch with your intellect? 

- What type of mindset is characteristic of your company? Do you think that people around are just evaluating you or helping you develop?

- What do you feel when you are rejected – humiliation, resentment, desire for revenge?

Visible Learning, John Hattie (2008)

John Hattie is considered to be one of the most influential scholars in the field of education. His book is the result of a large-scale research that went on for 15 years engaging more than 86 million students from all over the world. The essence of his idea may seem banal – a teacher should be able to look at learning through the eyes of his or her students. Meanwhile, the teacher also needs to understand how and with which methods he or she influences students, needs to check these methods and modify them based on the collected evidence. Hattie suggested a tool that would help in this work.

He compiled a ranking of factors affecting the achievements and success of students, and developed a transparent and user-friendly teaching model. After writing the book, he continued his research and changed the weight of some factors. You can learn the results on his website, containing a database with research involving more than 300 million students. Hattie has identified more than 320 factors affecting student performance, and generalized them into groups related to students themselves, their family, school, teachers, learning strategies, etc. 

Below are some of the qualities that, according to Hattie, teachers should have:

- being passionate about helping students learn;

- having a clear idea of what students will learn; 

- building strong relationships with students;

- using science-based learning strategies;

- actively seeking to improve its teaching methods.

Hattie shows that a teacher can have an extremely negative impact on students if, for example, he or she expects poor results from them, uses cliches and divides students into categories depending on their abilities (this is the fixed mindset that Carol Dweck writes about). Rather, teachers must believe that all students can succeed in their learning. One of Hattie’s encouraging findings is that most of the teachers' efforts to improve academic performance are working.

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era, Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith (2016)

The main idea of this book is that children should be prepared not to take tests, but to live in a world of innovations and opportunities. Unfortunately, this is not what a conventional school is preparing them for. It gives superficial knowledge, makes students learn rather than understand, suppresses students’ skills, not giving them the opportunity to concentrate on their interests. 

What do the authors of the book suggest? They suggest learning to develop students' abilities, think critically, ask questions, work with large amounts of information that can be quickly obtained online, as well as work together. Teaching these skills, that are so much in demand in the 21st century, will provide students with the necessary tools to change the world for the better with love for their work. 

Speaking about EdTech, Wagner and Dintersmith criticize the unreasonable use of advanced technologies. Things that were taught a century ago were simply transferred to online, but the format of training has not changed. The authors propose, for example, to allow Internet search to be used in school classes, since what is important is not the set of information a student has learned, but whether he or she knows how to use it and can come up with something new based on the old. 

In mathematics, Wagner and Dintersmith urge us to focus on statistics and probability theory, because this is much more applicable knowledge than the ability to calculate the discriminant. In learning languages, it is important not to get carried away with theory, but to teach to express thoughts and ideas, to select arguments, to defend your position.

The authors offer two simple questions that can help understand whether the teaching is going in the right direction: "What are you doing in this lesson?" and "Why are you doing this?". In order for teaching to be effective, a student – at school or a university – must know the answers to these questions. 

I can also recommend several books that will help develop learning skills. 


Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning, Peter Brown, Mark McDaniel, Henry Roediger (2015)

This is a book about why something learned by rote disappears from memory so quickly and how to avoid it. One of the tips from the authors is that the most successful student is the one who takes on the responsibility. 


Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, Jonathan Knee (2020)

As the name suggests, this is a book about how and why outstanding investors constantly lose money on investments in education. Jonathan Knee talks about the failures of Rupert Murdoch, John Paulson, Michael Milken and Chris Whittle.


Lessons of Hope, Joel Klein (2014)

This is a book about how you can change the school system, written by a man who managed to do that. Joel Klein, a lawyer (in the US Department of Justice, he oversaw the famous Microsoft antitrust case), was the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education for eight years. His reforms caused a flurry of criticism, but the result was stunning.


Rewiring Education, John Couch (2018)

Former Vice President of Education at Apple John Couch talks about the results that a combination of advanced, science-based methods and modern technologies can bring to education.