Being the Change


Being the Change (paperback)

by Sara K. Ahmed


I was really excited to read Being the Change, because social comprehension is something that seems hard to teach.  I always combined it with common sense, as far as how people treat others.  I know we’re living in a world where it is important to be politically correct, but what exactly does that mean?  It isn’t just about saying and doing things so you don’t offend someone or come off as being a jerk, but actually trying to understand where someone else is coming from and what you really believe.  When I taught about the Civil Rights Movement, I noticed a lot of my students were using the term “blacks” and “negroes” but I wasn’t exactly sure how to talk about that terminology.  I think I will start off early next year and teach each lesson in this book, and make sure to apply it to junior high when they’ll need to be socially competent.  There are too many adults who can’t navigate life well socially.

Here are my big take aways from the book:

  1.  I love that she talks to her students like people and doesn’t talk down to them.  She doesn’t shy away from personal information (unless it’s too personal), and respects their privacy if they choose not to share.  This builds rapport with the students and they’ll be more likely to be honest.
  2. The first lesson on Identity Webs is something I will definitely do.  I have done things similarly, but this ask students to dig deeper and look at what influences them and not just what they like.  It digs deeper and helps me to have a better picture of the child, and make personal connections.
  3. I definitely plan to use the Our News activities, and I will have a spot for students to post news items they’d like to talk about with the class, or maybe get more information on.  I have used a news activity for writing during ELD, but that wasn’t so deep and didn’t give students to speak what was on their hearts.
  4. There are several lessons in the beginning that require students to write about themselves, like the history of their name and where they’re from.  These will be great ways to introduce the autobiography I have my students write each year.  It has motivated me to change up the writing assignments for each chapter.
  5. Finally, the bridges to addressing bigger topics, like bias, racism, the scary topics in the news, and personal fears will be great to use with students in sixth grade.  Most adults don’t know how to properly conduct themselves in a situation where they realize they have bias and the lessons will help students so they’ll grow up to be decent human beings.

Book 12 of 20 (summer goal)

(Book 58 of 2018)


Passionate Learners


Passionate Learners (paperback)

by Pernille Ripp


I was so excited to get Passionate Learners in the mail.  I literally watched the Amazon truck on my phone, waiting for it to deliver this book.  I’m not saying I’m disappointed, but I will say that this book would have been more awesome had I read it 5 years ago.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m not a model teacher and I definitely have room to grow.  I’d say I’m an evolving teacher, and I try to keep up with what is going on in classrooms across the nation.  No homework?  I’ve considered it.  Flexible seating?  We have options.  Building relationships with students?  Duh- shouldn’t everyone do that already?  This book didn’t give me, a teacher of 16 years who keeps up with the latest trends and philosophies, a whole lot of new ideas.  It did, however, reinforce what I’m already doing.

This would be a great book for a new teacher, or one who has been teaching for a few years but is ready to make some positive changes.  I’ve been following Ripp on Twitter and we’ve done the Global Read Aloud, and she is a practical teacher with a lot to offer from her own experiences, so in no way am I putting this book down!  I know several teachers who would benefit from this book when they’re ready to move forward.

The book is set up in an easy-to-read format, and each chapter is short enough that you could read a chapter, implement it in your classroom, and then read the next chapter.  There’s also an appendix in the back with different forms and ideas for getting feedback from your students and sharing information with families.  I used the 50-day form with my students and their thoughts helped me look at what I’ve been doing all year, and what I need to tweak.

Book 38 of 40

(Book 4 of 2018)

The Book Whisperer


The Book Whisperer (paperback)

by Donalyn Miller

No AR Level – Professional Development Book!


I picked up The Book Whisperer after finishing The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell.  I first heard about this book after doing research on how to get kids to become readers.  I regret that this took me so long to finish, but I got caught up with some fiction books, and wasn’t in my professional development mode!


Here are my Top 5 “Ahas” from The Book Whisperer:

1. The 40 Book Challenge.  I have read tons about this, I’ve downloaded free things from Teachers Pay Teachers, and then I’ve read the blogs where people complain about how the 40 Book Challenge is done all wrong, is distorted, and isn’t the author’s intentions.  So, I decided I needed to read this book to find out what her intentions really were when she created it.  So she created the 40 book requirement so students would see they would not be getting away with 2 books for the whole year, and so they would get the chance to read around the genres.  You can’t develop a love of reading in just a few books!

2. The Types of Readers.  There are 3:  Developing (aka struggling), Dormant (the ones who can but don’t), and Underground (the gifted, avid readers).  The dormant readers make up the biggest group in the class, and this is usually my focus, because I believe they just need to be shown that reading isn’t a chore.  They haven’t found the right book, genre, author, etc. to engage them.  I believe I converted a few dormant readers into underground readers in the past, and it is my goal to continue to do that as a teacher!  I think if I can identify the type of reader, I can better meet the needs of the reader.

3. The Need for Role Models.  ANYONE who has spent time in a classroom knows that there are kids who feel they are good at math, but bad at reading, or they just don’t like to read.  I could name at least 10 of those kids from each class for my past 14 years of teaching.  I would be the teacher who handed out reading logs and read class novels and required students to take AR tests, and then wondered why they didn’t like reading.  I made it too academic.  What made a HUGE change in my classroom was making a drastic change in my own reading habits.  I started the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge (for myself) and started falling in love with reading all over again.  If I could talk about the books with my students, they would see that I was living the reading life, as well.  Students need to see that reading isn’t something just done in school, but something that is done throughout their lives.  “You cannot inspire others to do what you are not inspired to do yourself.” (p. 118).

4. Traditional Practices vs. Alternatives.  Miller talks about many traditional practices that teachers do because they are what we have always done and what others do, as well.  Some of these practices include whole-class novels, comprehension tests, book reports, reading logs, round-robin or popcorn reading, and incentive programs.  Now, I agree with most of the negatives that were brought up, but I don’t think they’re all terrible as a whole.  I do use incentive programs, I use comprehension tests (like AR), and I have a very modified reading log.  But she gives great alternatives for the traditional practices that are worth looking into.

5. Reader’s Notebooks.  I have been researching and considering how I will implement a Reader’s Workshop in class.  We have already been doing Writer’s Workshop, so Reading shouldn’t be too big of a stretch.  With my school’s student population, I know that will also need to include direct and explicit instruction to some, if not all, of my students.  We’ve used a notebook, but it often gets ignored mid-year.  However, the use of the Reader’s Notebook is clearer to me than other descriptions have been in the past.  Her notebooks include 4 sections: 1) Tally List (basically the number of books they’ve read from each genre), 2) Reading List (the books by genre), 3) Books-To-Read List (for future reading, based on recommendations), and 4) Response Entries (letters to and from the teacher).  I personally would add a fifth section for mini-lessons based on standards or needs of my students.

Next up on my Professional Development Reading list… Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller, or In the Middle by Nancie Atwell.  We will see.  🙂

Book 6 of 10 (summer goal)

The Reading Zone


The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers (paperback)

by Nancie Atwell

No AR Level – Teacher Professional Development!

I know a lot of my friends think I’m nuts, but I’ve been going through a “thing” where I want to set goals for myself as a professional.  I don’t have any plans to leave the classroom, because I really, really like having a class of students for a year.  I love challenging myself and learning new things and refining my craft, though.  Helping others teachers is fun and challenging, but I don’t see a future in administration or adult education.  I would like to someday work towards National Board Certification, and I have Apple Distinguished Educator stuck in my head, but for right now, I just want to be a better teacher to my incoming sixth graders.

This is one of the few teacher professional development books I have read voluntarily.  I bought it, because I was really looking for $7 to spend to get 24 hour shipping on my Math Workshop book, and since I always have those students who I can’t get to pick up a book and stick with it, I figured it would give me some ideas.  Some ideas!  I now want to revise the way I do reading!  I will no longer have AR time, but a time to get in the zone- the reading zone (not auto zone… hee hee, bad teacher joke).  Nancie Atwell is an experienced teacher of seventh and eighth graders in a non-profit school with a diverse population in Maine.  She has been teaching for 20+ years and has done her research on the best methods and strategies for teaching reading and getting non-readers (or kids non interested in reading) to read.

Since this is a professional development book, I won’t stick to my normal “what I liked/what I didn’t like” format.  Instead, I’ll give the top 5 ideas (mostly summarized) I got from this book, in no particular order:

1.  We want our students to be come smarter, happier, more just, and more compassionate people, and they can achieve that through frequent, voluminous reading.  They get to experience others’ lives and worlds through the books they read, which will influence them as people.  Isn’t this every teacher’s goal?  It justifies silent reading and home reading.

2.  Free choice of books should be a young reader’s right, not a privilege granted by a kind teacher.  She advocates spending funding on our classroom libraries, not class sets or packaged curriculum.  Every student has the right to learn, and good literature is necessary to create readers.

3. Requiring students to do work with their reading has the opposite effect.  We want our students to like reading, but if we make them stop to take notes, fill in reading lots, answer questions, take quizzes, etc., it is like watching a movie and making them stop every 20 minutes to discuss or write about it.  I wouldn’t want to do that!  This idea is painful for me, though, and I probably won’t be able to do this completely.  I will do lit circles and book studies in addition to their independent reading, but I won’t do reading logs or summaries.  I will do my best to involve parents here to ensure students are reading in the ZONE at home.

4.  Booktalks introduce students to good literature.  These can be done by students after finishing a book, or the teacher can give a booktalk.  This can be done in several ways, including talking up books by an author, books in a certain genre, books in a series, oldies by goodies (pre-1995), quick reads, etc.  It doesn’t require media presentations, but I might have students do booktalks using technology and post them somewhere so other students can go back and use them to find a good book.  She also has her students keep a list of “someday books” so that when they finish, they have a list of books to get started on.

5.  One-to-one letters help the students to think critically and at length about one book.  She has her students write a letter every 3 weeks after finishing a book.  If they finished multiple books in that 3 week period, they only choose one that they most want to talk about.  There are no summaries involved, because it is assumed they understood the book.  Instead, she has them follow a list of items to talk about, stems, etc. to get them started, and they must quote a part of the book and explain why that quote is significant.  I started book letters, but couldn’t find a way to read all 35 per week.  This strategy has them write a letter every 3 weeks, and they write to friends and her, so she’s only reading about 12 letters per year.  That’s completely doable.

There are so many more “ahas” from this book, but I don’t want to make you think you’re getting it all in this blog.  It is a book that all teachers should read if they want their students to become well-read and read for pleasure.

Book 11 of 40 (year 2)