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This post has been sitting in my drafts for longer than I care to admit. I was inspired to get back to it when Towanda Harris’ IG post came across my feed. (If you aren’t following her already, what are you waiting for? Also buy her book here.)
A text that becomes a part of the student long after he reads it and leads him to think and act differently as a result of the text becomes part of his lineage.
What are the texts that have become a part of me, as an educator, that have lead me to think and act differently?
I was lucky enough to have met an incredible teacher, who later became my principal and friend, my first year of teaching…1994 😳. She opened up her closet and thrust the book Transitions by Regie Routman in front of me. “Have you read this yet?” she asked. I hadn’t, but that night I went to my local bookstore (shout out to Vroman’s) and bought it along with Invitations, the Routman book that had just been released earlier that year. I pored over the pages for the next few nights. As a new teacher with very little teacher training and zero student teaching experience, I had been flailing. I knew I didn’t like the packaged language arts curriculum, but I couldn’t articulate why. (One-size-fits-none, boring, inauthentic, teacher- not student-centered, etc.) I knew that I needed some strategies for reaching all the different learners in my first grade classroom, but I didn’t know where to find them. Regie Routman’s books helped me understand how to develop structures and lessons that would respond to students’ needs. While my teaching has evolved quite a bit since that first year, some beliefs I still hold from reading Routman’s work haven’t: literacy experiences should be authentic and joyful, kids need choice, and there’s great power in rich texts.
These books were just the beginning of my textual lineage as an educator. Unlike the administrator that thought asking about professional reading was a “stupid question”, I believe that like the dicho, “Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres,” you can tell a lot about a person by the books they value. So here are a few of mine:
Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmerman taught me the importance of teaching kids strategies that real readers use. Instead of asking kids to read and then answer questions, this book showed the importance of teaching them how to comprehend texts. I think about how helpful this would’ve been when I was a student. Instead, everything had to be inferred by the red marks you did or didn’t receive. (Thanks, Dr. G, for reminding about this one!)
Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn turned my understanding of rewards and consequences upside down! In this seminal text, Kohn shows how extrinsic rewards and punishments don’t do anything in the long term for our students, and can actually make behavior and learning worse. I started teaching using marble jars, clip charts, color cards, etc. Of course, none of those systems ever worked in the long run. I mean, sometimes they didn’t work in the short run. Kohn’s book helped me understand why and started me on my journey to learn better ways of dealing with classroom “management”. Another book that influenced my views on extrinsic motivation: Drive by Daniel Pink. Not a “teacher” book, but really fascinating and applicable to our work.
Choice Words by Peter Johnston highlighted the importance of language in developing agency in our students. I think about and apply the ideas in this book just about every day in my interactions with students and other educators, he**, even in my personal life! After reading this book, I made myself a little note for my clipboard–a reminder to stop centering myself when giving feedback, to name specifically what a learner is doing, and why it’s important. This shift in language makes feedback so much more impactful.
Troublemakers by Carla Shalaby should be required reading by every educator. This book is so beautifully written, but more importantly illuminates the way we look at “problem” students. Throughout this book, Shalaby details the stories of four young students, shifting our perspective on behavior that is interpreted as problematic and making us rethink the systems and structures that don’t serve our students. Seriously, life-changing.
We Got This by Cornelius Minor not only validated my rebellious nature, but helped me think about how to make classroom learning relevant to our adolescents’ lives. Needing this or that skill for college or some other future endeavor didn’t work very often with my middle schoolers. But what about skills that help you make better arguments for getting more independence from your parent? Beyond this, Cornelius also reinforced and reminded me of the importance of really listening to kids.
Okay, none of my descriptions do any of these books justice and I haven’t even gotten to the books about culturally responsive/relevant pedagogy by the G.O.A.T, Gloria Ladson-Billings or Zaretta Hammond. I may need a part two. What do you think?
What’s in your textual lineage as an educator? Add your recs in the comments below!
Check out the books linked in this post, along with many of my other favorite professional books right here. Or find them at your local bookstore–whatever, just find them.