I met with my new student teacher a few weeks ago, and he asked me to borrow any books that might help him get going on the readers-writers workshop–the “theory” version of Jackie’s starter kit. He’s been in my classroom before, so he knows the general routine and character of our work, but he wanted to know the ins and outs of how I thought and planned and conceptualized the whole thing.
I sat at my desk and looked at all of the titles I had on hand, remembering how influential reading them for the first time had been. As a result, it was hard not to just dump my entire professional bookshelf onto a cart for him, but I managed to pick out a few titles that have guided me most adeptly in one aspect or another of my current classroom practice.
- Book Love by Penny Kittle – This was the book that helped to solidify my vision of an ideal classroom. Before I read it, I had already been doing many of the best practices Penny mentions–writer’s notebooks, choice reading, personalized writing. But I didn’t know how to bring it all together until Book Love. As such, this is my #1 recommendation for any teacher looking to jump-start their individualized workshop curriculum.
- Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle – This book introduced me to the concepts of mentor texts, reading like a writer, and best draft/publication of writing. I learned about quickwrites, constant revision, writing conferences, and a great deal more of what are now standard routines in my classroom. This is the book for anyone curious about the big picture of writing instruction.
- Finding the Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard – I was raised in the tradition of literature as containing mostly fiction and poetry, but Penny’s books helped me see the great value of nonfiction. I wanted to know how to integrate it well into my thematic units, and this book helped me do that. Georgia’s book is full of wisdom about finding the soul of good nonfiction writing and matching it to your students’ needs.
- Choice Words by Peter Johnston – This book taught me how to talk to students. It is my #1 recommendation for anyone looking to address those pesky Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core–this book teaches you about the delicate, volatile power of a few choice words between you and your students. I re-read it every year, and it might be the most important book in this stack.
- Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones by Tom Newkirk – This book is subtitled “Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For,” and Tom Newkirk certainly made me want to engage some of my former teachers in fisticuffs when I finished it. This text is full of common-sense brilliance that will transform the way you think about why we teach reading and what kinds of texts we teach.
- Boy Writers by Ralph Fletcher – Why do my students keep writing about violent gun battles? Why do they always ask if they can swear in their writing? What’s up with the complete unwillingness of my boys to be vulnerable? If you’ve asked yourself these questions…this book is for you. Ralph writes about everything you ever wondered about boy writers and how to move them forward in their writing.
- Readicide by Kelly Gallagher – Schools have been killing reading for many years, Kelly argues, and then presents ways you can stop the slaughter. He fires away at pop quizzes, assigned chapters, multiple-choice tests, and all the practices that steer our students toward SparkNotes. Then he reveals ways to get students authentically engaging in literature in a way that doesn’t kill their love of reading.
- Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts – After finishing Readicide and wanting to abandon the eight or so whole-class novels I once felt chained to, I wasn’t sure how to teach close reading skills. This book answered that question for me, and more. Chris and Kate reveal how to use poems, articles, short stories, and selections from novels to get kids interacting with the beauty and power of language in all kinds of texts.
- Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne – When all of your students have finally found a book they will actually read–then what? Teri Lesesne taught me how to help students climb a reading ladder of text complexity with this book. It’s a tough battle to get all kids reading, but it’s even tougher to get them to all challenge themselves once they are. Reading ladders are the solution to the increasing complexity question–now they’re a consistent part of my instruction.
- Revision Decisions by Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean – After reading the first nine books on this list, I still wasn’t sure where grammar instruction fit in. I knew to have students read like writers and learn from language and sentence structures that way, but I wasn’t sure how to structure my mini-lessons, until I read this book. Jeff and Deborah helped me find strong craft study lessons and bring them into the classroom in a way that appealed to students and also benefited them immediately in their writing.
This is by no means an exhaustive list–That Workshop Book by Stephanie Harvey, Read Write Teach by Linda Rief, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, and many other integral titles were simply not on my shelf when I gave this stack to Mike. But these top ten are ones I wouldn’t be the same teacher without.
What other titles are essential to your practice? Please share in the comments!
Update: Here are must-read folks that readers have suggested via Twitter and Facebook, as well as in the comments:
- Lucy Calkins
- Nancie Atwell
- Linda Rief
- Katie Wood Ray
- Donalyn Miller
- Don Graves
- Donald Murray
- Peter Elbow
- Ariel Sacks
- James Moffett
- Louise Rosenblatt