2017 – 2018: A Year of Professional Reading

“We lose ourselves in books. We find ourselves there, too.”

After reading a blog post about the benefits of reading a book a week, I decided to give it a try this school year.  The list of books below is a quick summary of the titles I’ve read and some of the key insights I’ve taken from them regarding teaching.  (My most recent reading is listed first.)

Currently Reading: Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina.

50 Essential Lessons: Tools and Techniques for Teaching English Language Arts by Jim Burke. I love the authenticity in Jim Burke’s publications.  He says these are real lessons taught to real students, but more importantly they are lessons he has taught to his own students over and over again. I don’t know how he does it, but I think we can all grow as teachers by sharing what works in our classrooms–showing what best practices look like in real life.

This is Disciplinary Literacy by Releah Crossett Lent.  I particularly liked how Lent makes a distinction between writing across the content areas and writing within the content areas. I read this for the first time last year as part of a district initiative, and have found myself returning to it again and again, as I work with teachers at my school. Our SIP goal focuses on improving reading and writing, but it was Chapter 4, “Inquiry within the Disciplines,” that I was drawn to in this rereading. I feel like if we can inspire curiosity within our students by letting them explore their own questions within our classrooms, their reading and writing will improve. If we don’t make it relevant, the rigor won’t matter because they won’t do it.

The Common Core: Teaching Students in Grades 6-12 to Meet the Reading Standards by Maureen McLaughlin and Brenda J. Overturf. I found myself looking for this book to prepare for an ELA department meeting. I had noticed that a large number of our 10th grade students who had not made learning gains on the state assessment were struggling with particular sections of the test and I wanted to give teachers some clear examples of the kinds of activities they could use to teach particular standards.  Although this book written as an introduction to the CCSS, the examples they use are still very relevant when we need to focus our efforts on areas of weakness. I also was happy to rediscover a reference to Ciardiello’s Levels of Questioning. I had highlighted a reference to these question types and then promptly forgotten they existed. Now I’ve added a note to my ever-growing file of questioning techniques to share with teachers when they ask for examples of higher-order questions.

Getting Things Done by David Allen. Not really a professional book in the sense of “I’m going to learn something that I can use in the classroom,” but certainly true in the sense that this can make me a better teacher. I actually read this one cover-to-cover and am going to need to check it out of the library again to continue to make sense of it.  It’s not hard, but applying his principles to teaching takes a little work. The big takeaway–write it all down. He says our brains are not meant for long-term storage. He quotes Kerry Gleeson: “The consistent, unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy.” I think most teachers can identify with that problem. By writing down the things we have to do, we know we won’t forget them, and our brains can focus on the task at hand. There’s a lot more to this; stay tuned!

Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines by Doug Buehl

Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary by Timothy Rasinski

I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam. As someone who is constantly trying to find a way to do things better and make my life simpler, I thought I would find something in this book. With the Rosie the Riveter cover and the focus on successful women who balance families, careers, and still manage to have time for themselves, I was ready to be inspired and changed! Unfortunately, the profiles of women who were mostly their own bosses with six-figure incomes are a little out of reach for teachers. We can’t postpone our second-period class to get coffee with our PLC or skip out on seventh period because we know we’ll be spending an hour grading papers after we’ve put the kids to bed.  Still, I was able to make some connections and became more aware of how I do choose to spend my time.

Instructional Coaching by Jim Knight

Smuggling Writing by Karen D. Wood, D. Bruce Taylor, and Katie Stover. I won this book in a raffle at the International Literacy Association Conference last summer during a session presented by the authors. This isn’t a book you read, as much as you flip through and are reminded of ideas you had seen or heard before, but forgotten about them amidst our repertoire of teaching strategies.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

Content Matters edited by Stephanie M. McConachie and Anthony R. Petrosky

The English Language Arts Handbook: Classroom Strategies for Teachers by Stephen N. Tchudi and Susan M. Tchudi. “Know in your heart that full, rich language arts program is, in the long run, a better course in literacy than a curriculum based on the demands of tests and testmakers. Have confidence that if you get your students reading and writing, if you encourage them to play with language and feel comfortable with it, if you help them assess their work and understand their own strengths and weaknesses, they will do as well as possible on the tests.”

Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.  In the introduction of this book, the authors reaffirmed my purpose in this year of professional reading. Because teachers care to pick up professional books, contemplate new ideas, hope for tomorrow, and recognize that it is the voices of our students who matter most, we will be able to help the readers of tomorrow emerge from today’s classrooms. By sharing my thoughts on these books–old and new–that I read this year, I hope to help you contemplate new ideas and think about how they can help the kids in your classrooms. To read my post on this book, click here.