Tag Archives: Teaching English

25 Titles for English Language Arts Teachers

One of my graduate students recently asked me what are the most influential books I have read that shaped my teaching philosophies. This student is in the process of studying for her New York State Teaching Certification Exam and English Language Arts CST and is looking for additional material to help her prepare for this test.

I had to think about all the books that I have read, which are the ones that have left a lasting impression that I still refer to today when planning and preparing my lessons. Below is a list of twenty five books that have shaped my teaching and practice over the past twenty years. Additionally, these are the books that I refer to often and use as teaching tools in my graduate courses. The books below are in no particular order.

In the Middle by Nancie Atwell – This is the first book I read in my English Methods class and has left a lasting impact on reading and writing workshop in my own middle school classroom. As Atwell states, “this edition represents my current best set of blueprints for how I build and maintain a writing-reading workshop-the expectations, demonstrations, models, choices, resources, rules and rituals, pieces of advice, words of caution, and ways of thinking, planning, looking, and talking that make it possible for every student to read with understanding and pleasure and aspire to and produce effective writing.”

Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit – An analysis of contemporary classrooms, Lisa Delpit develops ideas about ways teachers can be better “cultural transmitters” in the classroom, where prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions breed ineffective education. Delpit suggests that many academic problems attributed to children of color are actually the result of miscommunication, as primarily white teachers and “other people’s children” struggle with the imbalance of power and the dynamics plaguing our system.

Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks – “To educate is the practice of freedom,” writes bell hooks, “is a way of teaching anyone can learn.”  Another book I read as part of my educational classes working towards my certification, this book shaped my pedagogy.

The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers and Erin Grunwell – Don’t see the movie! Read the book and see how one young teacher was able to teach empathy and global awareness among her students through literature and writing.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller – If you don’t know Donalyn Miller and you are an English teacher or aspiring ELA teacher you must read this book. Miller helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves. Her love of books and teaching is both infectious and inspiring.

Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst – In Notice and Note Kylene Beers and Bob Probst introduce 6 “signposts” that alert readers to significant moments in a work of literature and encourage students to read closely. Learning first to spot these signposts and then to question them, enables readers to explore the text, any text, finding evidence to support their interpretations.

Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess – This is a mandatory reading requirement in my Literacy in the Content Areas class I teach each semester. Dave reminds all teachers to plan and teach with passion, engagement, and a love of teaching. Never have your students sit through a boring lesson when you can use one of the many hooks described in the book.

Literacy Essentials by Regie Routman – If you are looking for practical, easy-to-implement tools to help students develop as self-determining readers, writers, and learners, Routman focuses on excellence, equity, encouragement, and engagement throughout her book.

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher – Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools. This is a book for all educators no matter the subject area you teach to understand the depth of struggling readers and reluctant readers today.

Book Love by Penny Kittle – Following Gallagher’s Readicide, Penny Kittle sheds light on her classroom practices showing teachers ways to promote reading in the classroom as a positive and engaging activity. Students need to be able to read for pleasure and enjoy words, not just reading for textual analysis.

Shades of Meaning: Comprehension and Interpretation in Middle School by Donna Santman – This book shows you how to teach readers the skills and strategies of comprehension and interpretation within the framework of a reading workshop. Shades of Meaning takes you through Santman’s own rigorous workshop, describing the teaching that allows students to stretch and empower their imaginations.

From Texting to Teaching by Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks – Grammar is a part of teaching English but the traditional ways of teaching grammar have left a negative impact on people and teachers alike. Hyler and Hicks offer technology tools and teaching strategies that will help students and teachers understand the depths of grammar and become better writers.

Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning by Erik Palmer – The Common Core Learning Standards are big on claim evidence reasoning and Good Thinking provides effective exercises and templates to lead students into improvements in articulating their thinking and backing up their claims.

Teaching Interpretation: Using Text Based Evidence to Construct Meaning by Sonja Cherry Paul and Dana Johansen – Sonja and Dana also provide specific ways for teachers to introduce or review the various concepts that are essential in teaching interpretation to help our students become better critical thinkers. The design of the book allows for teachers to easily incorporate any of the ideas, lessons, assessments, graphic organizers, and list of text resources into an already existing curriculum.

Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen – The basic message of Jensen’s book is that we have a much greater ability to affect the learning of students than we realize. Some of the many topics covered in his book include how to prepare children for school, how to motivate students to participate, how to influence emotional states, how to design smarter schools, and how to enhance memory and critical thinking skills.

The Journey is Everything by Katherine Bomer – Katherine Bomer reclaims the essay as a tool for writing and communicating our ideas. Throughout her book she offers countless mentor texts and ways to teach writing that gets away from the bossy thesis statement and closer to poetic writing.

A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts – Kate Roberts uses the reading workshop approach to teach choice novels, book groups, and whole class novels. She gives permission to teachers to utilize whole class novels to teach key elements of literature without spending too much time teaching books, rather teaching readers.

Text-Dependent Questions, Grades 6-12: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading by Douglas B. Fisher , Nancy Frey, et al. – What does the text say? How does the text work? What does the text mean? What does the text inspire you to do? Fisher and Frey break down close reading into four cognitive pathways to help students peel back the layers of text for deeper meaning.

Teaching English by Design by Peter Smagorinsky – Teaching English by Design is practical, providing examples of units and support for how to create them.

Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson – This is my philosophy: If you are doing all the hard work and the heavy lifting then you are doing all the learning. Jackson’s seven principles will help your students be the lead learners in your classroom an effective facilitator for learning and understanding.  

Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird by Audrey Fisch & Susan Chenelle – The new Common Core State Standards mean major changes for language arts teachers, particularly the emphasis on “informational text.” How do we shift attention toward informational texts without taking away from the teaching of literature? Fisch and Chenelle have written four books all focusing on different core texts still taught in high schools today.

Sparks in the Dark:Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney – In Sparks in the Dark, Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney share their experiences as educators who purposefully seek to spark a love for reading and writing in the learners they serve. The reason is simple: Writing and reading have the power to change the trajectory of a life.

Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12 by Kelly Gallagher – I will read anything by Kelly Gallagher and this is another must have book for teaching English. The book is filled with many ideas to teach literature and respond to texts. Kelly also provides guidance on effective lesson planning that incorporates strategies for deeper reading.

Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension Grades 6-12 by Chris Tovani – Building on the experiences gained in her own language arts classroom, Cris shows how teachers can expand on their content expertise to provide instruction students need to understand specific technical and narrative texts. The book includes: examples of how teachers can model their reading process for students.

 

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10 Professional Titles that Inspire & Change the Trajectory of Teaching

I am one of those people who has a stack of books overflowing on my nightstand next to my bed, another pile taking over my desk, and an Amazon wish list twelve books deep what to read next. Professional books are ones that I read closely with a pen to annotate and bring back to my classrooms. This past year I have read ten professional books that I have blogged about in detail and here are a few more worth mentioning.

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180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle (Heinemann, 2018)

After sitting in a round table session with both Kittle and Gallagher at NCTE back in 2017 I was awaiting this book to see an inside look at how both these amazing high school teachers planned the year in their classroom teaching reading and writing. For any English teacher, this book is a must read because it gives an honest perspective to the demands of teaching reading, writing, and critical thinking.

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A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts (Heinemann, 2018)

I have been lucky enough to take a week long class with Kate at Teachers College Reading and Writing Institute more than ten years ago and have followed her because of her ideas and energy. What is great about this book is how she balances book choice and whole class novels in the reading and writing workshop. She seems to teach reading units in small 2-3 week bursts but that helped me to look closely at how long I may be drowning my students in a reading unit. I am more selective about what I choose to spend time teaching with each whole class novels so that my students can enjoy the books we read together.

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Workshopping the Canon by Mary Styslinger (NCTE, 2018)

Another recommended title for my ELA and Literacy colleagues. This book demonstrates how to partner classic texts with a variety of high-interest genres within a reading and writing workshop structure, Mary E. Styslinger aligns the teaching of literature with what we have come to recognize as best practices in the teaching of literacy.

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Shake it Up Learning by Kasey Bell (DBC, 2017)

When I ran into Kasey Bell at #ISTE18 we swapped books and I sat in the airport awaiting my flight home reading her book. Her ideas are straightforward in helping to create learning experiences for students that empower and ignite curiosity and critical thinking. Her book is accessible to all and she has practical ideas to shake up your teaching and student learning.

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Sparks in the Dark by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney (DBC, 2018)

Lead with Literacy by Mandy Ellis (DBC, 2018)

This summer I wrote a longer post about the key ideas that I took away from these two books. If the title states or suggests anything to do with literacy, I am going to read it. Both these books are filled with literacy activities that help support the reading and writers in our classrooms and Mandy’s book is all about building a culture of students who love literacy.

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Be Real by Tara Martin (DBC, 2018)

Tara has this infectious personality that is so authentic. After spending time with her at SPARK and ISTE this past year, I am a follower and fan. From #booksnaps and building relationships, Tara is all about “you be you and know that you are awesome.”

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Make Learning Magical by Tisha Richmond (DBC, 2018)

I consider Tisha a friend ever since we connected through Twitter four years ago. She is an amazing person and always inspired me with the wonderful things she did with her high school culinary students. I am so excited that she has published her first book. Laughter, fun, and gamified experiences can make school a place where students are inspired, empowered, and immersed in learning–and it doesn’t require illusions or smoke and mirrors. The actionable techniques Tisha shares will equip you to put your students center stage in their learning experiences. You want to be in her classroom after reading all the great things she does with her students.

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Hacking the Writing Workshop: Redesign with Making in Mind by Angela Stockman (Hack Series, 2018)

I am on a Makerspace quest and thinking how the writing process and design thinking process of the maker movement parallel each others. I have been doing research and a lot of reading how I can bring making and writing together to boost students writing and creative thinking. Angela Stockman’s book was the start with some key ideas to help me on this quest.

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The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection by Colby Sharp (Little Brown, 2018)

Speaking of creativity, Colby’s book is filled with creative writing prompts that published authors shared with him and answered other people’s creative prompts. These are great prompts to read and complete with your student to inspire creative thinking and growth mindset.

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“Mockingbird” Should Be Part of Larger Lesson

The following essay was written for School Library Journal. To read the post on the SLJ website, click here.

When PBS announced To Kill a Mockingbird was voted America’s “Best-Loved Novel” on The Great American Read, the selection was not met with universal celebration. Many believe Harper Lee’s classic novel to be problematic, if not outright racist. When teaching Mockingbird, we cannot and should not ignore those issues. Instead, we should use those elements as part of the lesson and build on it with connected historical sources and contemporary novels that explore the same themes from different perspectives.

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I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, and the more I read and reread it with my eighth grade students now, the closer I examine the story and craft that makes this book so memorable. In our current time, when race relations are so contentious, To Kill a Mockingbird brings to the forefront issues of race, gender, class, and speaking out when we see injustice. Throughout the novel, the perceptions of the young narrator Scout become keener as she examines these issues. Yet her observations also remain limited. She is a white, upper-middle class girl, and she can provide the audience with only that narrow insight into her small-town world.

In an article for the New York Times, author Roxane Gay recently wrote, “To Kill a Mockingbird is a book for which a great many people harbor reverence and nostalgia. I am not one of those people.…

“The black characters—Robinson and the family’s housekeeper, Calpurnia—are mostly there as figures onto which the white people around them can project various thoughts and feelings. They are narrative devices, not fully realized human beings,” she wrote.

This is true. Calpurnia and Tom are not developed characters, and we only see them from Scout’s perspective. Gay continued, “Perhaps I am ambivalent because I am black. I am not the target audience. I don’t need to read about a young white girl understanding the perniciousness of racism to actually understand the perniciousness of racism. I have ample firsthand experience.”

Gay’s essay is important. Teachers must offer multiple perspectives. Our reading and understanding of any text is shaped by our own knowledge and experiences. I teach in a school that is predominantly white and upper-middle class. Most of my students do not have experience with racism beyond what they read or see on film. Their lives are white-centric, and reading Mockingbird brings to the forefront a conversation about race, class, gender, and injustice.

Literature, as Grace Lin describes in her TED Talk Mirrors and Windows of Your Child’s Bookshelf (2016), “can show you the world and also show you a reflection of yourself.” We strive for our students to connect with books in a way they can see the potential and possibility for making the world a better place. Books not only are reflections of ourselves, as Lin points out, but they should also allow readers to see life from another perspective. Books should help readers build empathy and question injustice. They should create new opportunities that depict strength, adversity, and the responsibility to speak out against wrongdoing.

When reading Mockingbird, students can explore the issues with further reading, both historical and contemporary. From a historical point of view, supplemental readings about gender in the South during the 1930s can be paired with gender inequality today. Historians tell us that Lee based what happened to the novel’s Tom Robinson on The Scottsboro Trial and Emmett Till. To build background around Mockingbird, have students learn about Till as they study Reconstruction. The students can also read and discuss excerpts from Clarence Norris and Sybil D. Washington’s The Last of the Scottsboro Boys: An Autobiography. Susan Chenelle and Audrey Fisch’s Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird offers a collection of informational texts that support the novel, along with writing prompts and discussion questions.

In addition to primary documents and historical texts, there has been an explosion of contemporary young adult novels that address police brutality and the senseless shooting of young men and women of color, all of which parallel current news events and Mockingbird.

One of the first books I used as a parallel text was All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kieley. Since then, there has been an insurmountable collection of well-written texts with diverse voices. Books such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, and The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater are excellent contemporary books that complement Lee’s masterpiece and immerse readers into issues of race, gender, and social justice. These books can be read aloud in class, used for independent reading during reading workshop, or used for comparative reading with selected passages.

Whether teaching literature or history, we cannot be limited by a single story. In her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains that only showing one perspective impacts our understanding of others and ourselves. A single story is limiting and confining. Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Regardless of your personal experience with To Kill a Mockingbird, consider the novel a catalyst for conversation about the elements of a great read—books that impact our lives, change our thinking, tug at our emotions, challenge our perceptions, and shape our history and identity. Lee’s Mockingbird shouldn’t be the one and only story that defines America, but it can play a key role as part of the larger narrative and spark much-needed discussion and exploration of issues, history, and complementary fiction.

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A Taste of Summer Reading: Literary Menu Assignment

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I recently visited Beginnings restaurant in Atlantic Beach, New York, a literary and culinary experience. The concept was created by husband and wife team Ben and Heather Freiser. Ben, a long time restaurateur and caterer, and Heather, an editor and television producer. On their website they boast,

“A good meal or a perfectly poured drink, like a good book, can nourish the soul. And it’s arguable that no profession loves a good libation more than the writer. As an ode to some of the greats (who may have polished off a bottle of liquor before a bottle of ink), we introduce Beginnings, a literary, culinary experience.”

Ben and Heather’s love of literature exudes from the space to the menu at this restaurant. The walls are book shelves decorated with the couple’s favorite works of literature (most taken from their home), to a shelf of iconic movie scripts, and there is even a kids’ corner dedicated to children’s literature. This attention to detail is also seen in the menu.The full menu, broken down with distinctions such as “Prologue,” “Melville’s Corner,” and “Editor’s Side Notes.”

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A bibliophile myself, I was drawn to the space and aesthetics of the restaurant. In addition to a good meal,  the venue hosts author signings and events, discussion series, story time for children, and themed tasting menus. Upcoming events include a taste of Game of Thrones that pays homage to the food and delights of HBO’s hit series.

So this all got me thinking . . .

What if students create their own themed tasting menu for their summer reading books? The first week of school should include a dinner party with menus inspired by the fictional books students read over the summer. Students can create an entire menu and they day of the dinner party, bring in one item for their classmates to savor and discuss the delights of the stories.

Some of our books already contain menu options.

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793, food is a source of comfort and symbol of home. When Matilda was working in the Coffee House, the Cook’s lunchtime meal was “cold chicken, crisp pickles, butter biscuits, and peach pie laid out on the table.”

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Who could forget the peanut butter pie in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club or the Korean dishes and specialty yogurt drinks in In All The Boys I loved Before by Jenny Han. Peter Benchley’s Jaws might be seafood inspired and after reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis you want to taste that “great and gorgeous sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot.”

When students create their menu inspired by literature, include the scene and direct quotes from the text that enchant our senses of sight and taste. I am sure it will be a delicious and inspiring book tasting.

Check out the assignment here.

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Celebrating Literacy for Change: NACTE 2017

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This past weekend I attended NEATE’s 2017 Conference –  New England Association of Teachers of English. President of NEATE, Lynn Leschke, states that “this year’s conference reminds us of the power of words to effect change  . . . [and] as educators help our students live better in their world and prepare them to make it a better place.”

There were an abundance of workshops over the course of the two days that addressed all aspects of literacy and teaching English.

The first workshop I attended was “Graphic Novels: the Unicorn of Literary Instruction” presented by Assistant Professor of English Studies at Fitchburg State University, Katharine Covino. The workshop highlighted a handful of new and noteworthy graphic novels and using them in conjunction with classical texts such as Frankenstein, The Highway Man, and Alice in Wonderland.

Daniella King, a high school teacher and Ph.D. candidate at UConn along with high school teacher Arianna Drossopoulos presented “Creating an Understanding of an Unfamiliar Culture (Islam) Through Adolescent Literature.” This workshop featured Islamic and Muslim protagonists in YA Literature and activities to go along with the texts to promote a better understanding of this rich culture and society as a whole.

Author Elly Swartz presented alongside Humanities teacher, Jimmy Sapia to address teaching empathy, courage, forgiveness, and gratitude with Young Adult Literature and picture books. Mr. Sapia participates in the #180BookADay Challenge, reading a picture book to his sixth grade students every day to teach lessons that build character and offer a lens in which to view history.

Tapping into the debate about teaching grammar, Nilda Irizarry, presented “Making a Difference with Grammar.” Grammar is an essential tool for creating powerful writers and oral expression, enabling writers to create mood, add impact, and engage readers. Powerful instruction of grammar teaches not only the knowledge and identification of language and sentence structure, but also how to use language and structure with intention and purpose.

There were many more workshops than these that I have highlighted. As a teacher, I am always looking for new ideas, insight, and to extend the conversations about teaching and supporting students so they are successful. Both national, regional, and local conferences are opportunities for all teachers to hone their craft.

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