Colonel’s Book Club: ‘The Science of Learning: 77 Studies That Every Teacher Needs to Know’

Thomas Palmatier • InServiceJanuary 2021 • January 8, 2021

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I can’t remember when I have been more enthusiastic about a book for educators than I am about “The Science of Learning: 77 Studies That Every Teacher Needs to Know,” by Bradley Busch and Edward Watson.

The authors recognized that there were a multitude of studies and dissertations pertaining to how students learn and what teaching techniques work best. Each of these studies are hundreds of pages long and even the most ardent student of the subject couldn’t possibly read and digest all of them.

They selected 77 of the most relevant peer-reviewed studies and present each one of them in a brief two-page format. The first page relies on summary points with cartoon-like enhancements. The second page is a more in-depth explanation in text. Why? Because one of the studies found that technique was the most effective way to present a topic to the widest number of learners!

This book is 77 small bites of knowledge, making it perfect for reading during breaks between classes or brief lunch breaks. At the end of the book, there are several pages of tips summarizing the takeaways of the studies. Following are the topics of the tips:

Tips for Improving Memory: retrieval practice, space out learning, interleaving, pre-questions, elaborative interrogation, dual coding, avoiding distractions, thinking about it in order to remember it, reading out loud, teach the materials to someone else

Tips for Improving Mindset, Motivation, and Resilience: help students believe that they can improve and get better, developing a sense of purpose, explaining failures, explaining successes, seek out support, control the controllable, challenge and support

Tips for Improving Self-Regulation and Metacognition: getting plenty of sleep, controlling the inner narrative, managing mobile phones, improving self-reflection, delayed gratification, distractions, don’t say don’t, not all stress is bad

Tips for Students: eat breakfast, take notes during class, have high aspirations and expectations, choose study mates carefully, turn down the backlight on screens, don’t spend too long daydreaming about the perfect future

Tips for Teachers’ Attitudes, Expectations and Behaviors: have high expectations for all students, focus on strategy, don’t aim to be liked, use feedback wisely, assign homework regularly

Tips for Parents: have high academic expectations for your children, read with your children, respond well to failures and mistakes, don’t overpraise, when you praise focus on their processes and behaviors, eat dinner together with your child regularly, have a clear structure and rules

Tips for Overcoming Thinking Biases: you have less time to complete a task than you think, don’t be seduced by natural talent, better self-awareness, use objective data, don’t fall for the spotlight effect, don’t fall in love with your own ideas, don’t always follow the crowd, be a bit skeptical

Please don’t assume that because you have read through these topics that you can skip reading this book, because you’ll be cheating yourself and your students. It is 180 pages of “must have” information for anyone who cares about teaching students, being a better parent, or being a better student. You can’t afford not to read this book!

As we begin 2021, we can look forward to distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine that may allow us to resume making music with our students in person in the future. Until that time, we can continue to strive to be the best music educators we can be. Next month, we will dive into one of my favorite techniques for improving the sound of an ensemble, by fixing the focus (not the balance). Have an idea for a future article or a book to review in Colonel’s Book Club? Contact me through


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