At the beginning of my journey as a teacher, I always wondered where to go to get better. I had a mentor in my department to whom I went for questions and difficult problems, but I had nowhere for advice about improving my craft in a systematic way. I read many of the recommendations from my teaching courses like What Great Teachers Do Differently, and I nibbled on the small bits of articles and bona fide research that was available online. I grew as a teacher; my classroom management improved; and my brain developed to think about curriculum as a year long process of learning.
But I was still left wanting something specific to my subject. How could I best teach reading, writing, speaking, and listening? I had a few great lessons and a few great failures, but most of my teaching was a mediocre bag of tricks that I developed on a whim. I aligned with Texas state standards rigorously, but it never resonated with students.
During a discussion about books on pedagogy, a colleague recommended Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This and lent me her copy. The book forced me to realize ideas that I had known all along but which traditional pedagogy education had made me forget. It opened up a world of literacy education that I didn’t know existed before and improved my life as a teacher. From there I discovered Kelly’s other books along with a cohort of other insightful educators eager to share their expertise.
My goal here is to share with you the best books that can amplify your teaching abilities. I will maintain this list with all the best books English teachers need in their pedagogical library. I will not recommend a book here unless I have both read it and implemented its practices to positive effect. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me.
Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle
It is hard to overstate how large an impact this book has had on my own teaching. It chronicles a year of teaching as Kelly and Penny cocreate a curriculum of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I have always loved teaching, but before reading and implementing this book my mindset was that teaching was my “labor of love.” This masterpiece changed that mindset to simply “I love teaching.”
My mindset changed when Kelly and Penny reframed my view of the classroom. I always knew I was a learner, but I didn’t know how to be a learner in front of my students. KG and PK explain the importance of reading and writing with your students. Reading and –most of all — writing in front of my students made me a learner in their eyes. Showing students my own writing engaged them. I got to tell them stories and show them parts of myself that they wouldn’t have known otherwise. Students get to see you make decisions in your writing, providing a model for them in their own work.
If you buy one book from this list, let it be this one.
This is the book that started my transformation as a teacher that taught a focussed, framed lesson with cookie-cutter writing into one that teaches the messy business that is real-world writing. Kelly makes the argument that students don’t need cookie-cutter. They need the real-world if they are going to hope to succeed in college or post-secondary careers.
After convincing you that real-world writing needs to be put on the frontburner, he shows you how to teach according to different, dual purposes such as “Express and Reflect” and “Inform and Explain.” He scaffolds the material from small, word or sentence sized writing into larger quickwrites and then full essays and papers. It’s the best guide at making the writing we do in classrooms relevant and real.
In the Middle is a book designed for middle school literacy teachers, but the lessons and principles hold true for secondary teachers as well. Many of the lessons will work as-is in high school classrooms, and others can be easily modified for high school use.
The value of this book is in seeing Nancie’s process as a workshop teacher. She takes you through many scenarios of students having difficulties. She presents a solution and explains how it has impacted her teaching since. It provides lists of essential mini-lessons for reading and writing students and how to organize them. It has everything. This is an essential read for any English teacher using a workshop style classroom.
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