Time spent reading current publications about literacy related practices is an important way to grow and develop as a professional. However, nothing is worse than choosing the wrong book. As an organization committed to improving reading and writing instruction, we do a lot of professional reading. But don’t forget, we are practitioners. We work in classrooms with real children and real teachers so we understand PRACTICAL. If you are not sure which books to choose to guide your inquiries, let us help. Our reviews are written with teachers and administrators in mind. We aim to be honest and up-front about what’s out there in the way of good reading for educators.
What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making
Written by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Have you ever opened a book, read the opening lines and just known you were in for a treat? That is how I felt when I began Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton’s What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making. By page six, I was engrossed and by page 196, I was disappointed it was over. What I loved most about this book is that it is the best book that I have read about teaching reading in the age of the Common Core without billing itself as such. This book is all about reading closely and carefully. Barnhouse and Vinton place a lot of emphasis on teaching children how to focus on details as a way of honing and revising their thinking about text. In addition, What Readers Really Do illuminates the importance of talk in the reading classroom and presents wonderful ideas for marrying reading, writing, and conversation as a way of getting students to read deeply to enhance understanding. Filled with innovative lessons that can be implemented immediately, Barnhouse and Vinton’s What Readers Really Do should grace a shelf of every teacher’s classroom because its presentation is practical and the topic is pressing. All children need to learn to read deeply and Barnhouse and Vinton show us how to make that happen.
Opening Minds -- Using Language to Change Lives
Igniting A Passion for Reading
Written by Steven L. Layne
Reviewed by Kim Yaris
In reflecting on what I am most often asked by teachers about helping students to become better readers, the topic that is broached repeatedly is motivation. What do we do with students who can read but simply don’t? In Igniting A Passion for Reading, Steven Layne takes on the problem of aliteracy and fills the pages of this engaging volume with idea after idea for blessing books and raising enthusiasm for reading in your classroom. While none of the ideas are groundbreaking or overly original, Layne writes with a humorous, no-nonsense tone that many readers will find refreshing. Igniting A Passion For Reading is a fast read that packs everything you need to know about motivating readers into one convenient place. If your classroom is peppered (or filled) with reluctant readers, this book promises to give you the information and inspiration you’ll need to change this undesirable situation!
Background Knowledge: The Missing Piece of the Comprehension Puzzle
Written by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey
Reviewed by Kim Yaris
In the professional reading realm, there are books that need to be devoured and those that are better when digested slowly. Background Knowledge: The Missing Piece of the Comprehension Puzzle by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey is the kind of reading that needs to be ingested slowly in order to fully appreciate and enjoy. This scholarly work assumes laser focus on one of the most important pillars of reading comprehension—background knowledge. Fisher and Frey work to provide a balance of theory with practical classroom applications but tend to lean more toward the theoretical underpinnings of background knowledge. If you are someone looking for a “little light reading” to stretch your professional muscles, this book might feel a bit too dense to fit the bill. However, if you’re looking to elevate your core knowledge about this critical piece of the reading puzzle, then Fisher and Frey’s Background Knowledge will be exactly what you are looking for.
Written by Barabara M. Taylor
Reviewed by Kim Yaris
In this era of high-stakes testing and data driven instruction, all schools are grappling with the question, “What do we need to do better?” Barabara M. Taylor’s book Catching Schools addresses that very question by synthesizing a decade of research conducted in more than 100 schools and 5000 different classrooms. Designed to be a how-to guide for educators looking to implement a schoolwide model for reform, Catching Schools is filled with action plan worksheets, rubrics, and questions to fuel reflective conversations that will have a long lasting impact on teaching practices.
The chapters in this book thoughtfully unpack big issues such as “content essential to good teaching,” “effective teaching practices,” and “the importance of professional learning and collaboration.” Each chapter provides a succinct overview of the research, provides helpful suggestions for implementation, as well as a bibliography to simplify the search for additional information to strengthen understandings of each topic presented. While any educator will benefit from reading Catching Schools, the contents of this book speak directly to those in charge of spearheading large-scale reform efforts. Administrators, literacy coaches, and professional development providers: this book isn’t just recommended reading, it’s required reading—it’s message and information are that important.
Comprehension Going Forward
Edited by Harvey Daniels; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Imagine sitting around a table with some of the best and brightest minds in the literacy arena and having the opportunity to ask, “So, what are you on about these days?” For most, an opportunity like this would be welcomed as extraordinary but highly unlikely. It’s only at conferences or the occasional webinar that we get this sort of glimpse into the thinking of our superstars and then, it is usually only from afar…until now.
Comprehension Going Forward, compiled and edited by Harvey Daniels, is a book of essays featuring the insights and most recent thinking about where comprehension instruction has been, is, and will be in the future. Written by some of reading’s greatest thinkers including Ellin Oliver Keene, Cris Tovani, Debbie Miller, Anne Goudvis, Stepanie Harvey, and Harvey Daniels, to name a few, this compilation serves as a historical timeline and sounding board for readers interested in thinking about what they can do to improve their own classroom reading instruction.
Comprehension Going Forward presents a wide range of topics organized into broad categories of interest including Comprehension Monitoring, Teaching Thinking, Building Knowledge, Seeking Equity, and Synthesizing. It can be read in its entirety or in small chunks making it an ideal book for study groups or collegial circles interested in satiating their own thirst for deeper thinking about comprehension.
Written by Kelly Gallagher; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Have you ever wished you could go back to middle school or high school? Bad memories of the social angst, peer pressure, and drama of being an adolescent is enough to make most people cringe at the thought, myself included. But, if there was one thing that could make me want to return to middle school or high school, it would be Kelly Gallagher’s Deeper Reading.
In this seminal work, Gallagher debunks the long held notion that students are able to access the meaning of great works of literature by virtue of being “able” to read. Deeper Reading begins by helping teachers understand the reading process employed by scholars and teachers of literature. It then quickly moves into providing teachers with a series of well thought mini lessons that help students understand how to think deeply and interpret difficult text on a whole new level.
This book made me absolutely giddy with excitement about the possibilities for teaching reading comprehension. Reading it over the summer was clearly a bad choice because as I read, I could not shake my impatience to return to the classroom to experiment and experience the pleasure of guiding students to new understandings the way it was described in Deeper Reading. From a teaching standpoint, Kelly Gallagher is a mini lesson God. His ideas are so invigorating, it was the one time in my life I found myself wishing I could return to high school—this time in Anaheim, California with Kelly Gallagher as my English teacher because I KNOW that literature would never be the same again…
Your Child’s Writing Life
Written by Pam Allyn; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Pam Allyn’s newest release Your Child’s Writing Life provides a comprehensive overview of a child’s writing development from early childhood through high school. This engaging read provides practical, hands on ideas about every aspect of writing: from knowing how to come up with an idea to how to spell a word to knowing what a say to keep the writing going--Pam addresses it all. Her passion and knowledge about children and their writing processes seep through every word of the book. As a teacher who has encountered bewildered parents wanting to better understand how to help their struggling writer, I feel like I’ve never known where to point them…until now. Your Child’s Writing Life is a one-stop resource that fills in the gaps and inspires readers to not only become writing support systems but writing partners, too. It is impossible to read this book and not feel a pressing urge to pick up a pen and get started!
Comprehension Through Conversation
Written by Maria Nichols; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Two years ago, I purchased Maria Nichols’ Comprehension Through Conversation. I had just seen Peter Johnston speak and he raved about it. If he loved it so well, then, I had to have it. Two years ago, I began to read this book and two years ago, I didn’t finish. I remember feeling like I was reading someone’s dissertation and I just couldn’t get past the first few pages.
Two years later, I picked up Maria’s book again and ploughed through and I will be forever grateful that I did because I savored every word. Comprehension Through Conversation is an important book about what we can do in our classrooms to support the kind of talk that emphasizes meaning making when reading. At a time when literacy instruction is under the gun and educators are scrambling to figure out how to get kids to be better readers, this book has the answers. The arms of literacy—reading, writing, speaking, and listening, are deeply intertwined and when we focus on fostering critical conversation, we get critical thinking and deeper understandings. Maria Nichols is clearly an educator with a scholarly understanding of literacy and after the first few pages (which, in spite of my initial reaction, aren’t obtuse at all) this book is filled with practical ideas for getting kids to think deeply about what they read. Comprehension Through Conversation is one of those meaty reads worth every minute of time spent reading its short 104 pages.
Comprehension from the Ground Up
Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways that Will Change Their Lives
By: Pam Allyn; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Anyone who has ever sat across from a child trying desperately to think of a book that might spark a passion for reading recognizes the value of a resource that sorts children’s literature in a way that makes it accessible to reluctant readers. Pam Allyn, author of Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways that Will Change Their Lives, recognizes that boys’ interests need to be fed with the right books and provides readers with indispensible information about titles that have proven to please boy readers time and again. Carefully organized into broad categories of interest like fantasy, adventure, and space, Allyn gives a brief summary of each recommended title, some insight about appropriate reading level, and occasionally some discussion points. Best Books for Boys is the kind of reference guide that simplifies the task of matching great books with readers and will be a welcome addition on your shelf of professional resources.
By: Katherine Bomer; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
I have come to expect a similar routine when I sit down to read professional texts. I start on page one, I let my eyes run over the text, I highlight, I mark up the margins, and by the very last page, the appetite I had for new information is satisfied. While I know I will be hungry again in the future, usually, by the end of a book, I feel good for the moment. Every once in awhile, however, I encounter a unique reading experience and the unexpected happens. As I read, I am so taken by the delectableness of the ideas, my appetite is only whetted. When I reach the last page, I want more, I crave more, I simply demand that I have to have more. Katherine Bomer’s Hidden Gems was that kind of read for me.
Hidden Gems is an important book about seeing student writing with fresh eyes and fresh perspectives. Bomer brings examples of student writing to the table and challenges readers to see past glaring errors and awkward language constructions. She teaches us to read student writing with the same reverence that we use when reading the work of beloved authors. Her common-sense approach reminds us that nudging students toward greatness is not rocket science. It’s about honoring student writing voices and complimenting their grand efforts to share their ideas through writing.
While Hidden Gems promises to be a great read for any educator, if you are a literacy coach or teacher leader, it is a MUST read. From the first sentence to the last, it feels like chicken soup for the literacy soul. Buy it. It’s great.
Teaching Individual Words: One Size Does Not Fit All
By: Michael F. Graves; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
In his career as an educator, Michael Graves has distinguished himself as the go-to guy for all things vocabulary. Teaching Individual Words One Size Does Not Fit All is one of many of Graves’ publications about the importance of teaching vocabulary. This skinny volume, part of The Practitioner’s Bookshelf published by Teacher’s College Press, is rich with the theoretical knowledge teachers need to guide their decision making processes. Though Graves’ style is dry and academic, the balance between information and practical suggestions for teaching vocabulary is spot-on making it a tolerable read for someone needing new ideas to enhance their repertoire of strategies for expanding children’s reading vocabularies.
Let's PoemBy Mark Dressman; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Let’s Poem, written by a Mark Dressman, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, presents multiple approaches to teaching poetry to adolescents. Rooted in the belief that poetry is the best conduit for teaching comprehension, Dressman urges us to “put aside or ignore demands to ‘teach for the test’” and teach poetry through “the processes that require students to produce and perform interpretive readings. “
In this short, teacher-friendly volume, Dressman presents readers with five practical methods of sharing poetry with students. From choral readings to animated powerpoint presentations, Dressman’s methods help to improve vocabulary development, fluency, and deep comprehension. Dressman recognizes the different schools of thought for teaching poetry but values one piece above all else—student engagement. When you read this book, you will see how even the curiosity of the most recalcitrant readers of poetry will be piqued. As someone less than passionate about poetry myself, Let’s Poem made me eager to dust off the anthologies and get started. If you teach poetry in a real classroom with real students, this book promises to invigorate and infuse your teaching with fresh perspectives and great ideas.
Conferring with Readers
The Reading Turn-Around A Five-Part Framework for Differentiated Instruction
By Stephanie Jones, Lane W. Clarke, and Grace Enriquez; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
How do we get disengaged readers to become powerful readers? In education, that is like the five million dollar question and the answer lies somewhere in the realm of teacher knowledge. The more teachers know, the better equipped they will be at helping to improve student reading proficiency. The Reading Turn-Around, A Five-Part Framework for Differentiated Instruction by Stephanie Jones, Lane W. Clarke, and Grace Enriquez is the kind of book that aims to round out teacher knowledge so that they can refocus the lens through which they look at students and provide the instruction that students need in order to improve.
Each sub-section of this book begins with a vignette of a student experiencing a specific kind of reading struggle. The authors thoughtfully follow these snapshots with theory and research that cut to the heart of the problem and lead readers to the “a-ha” that allowed them to crack the code for each of these reading difficulties.
In a short 133 pages, the authors of The Reading Turn-Around provide readers with a mirror for reflecting on their own teaching practices. The design and layout of this book make it user-friendly and the insights make it worth the quick read.
In Pictures and In Words Written by Katie Wood Ray; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Teaching with Intention
Written by Debbie Miller; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Recently, I participated in several different professional conversations peppered with the same question, “Have you read Debbie Miller’s book Teaching with Intention?” It was asked so often that I got to the point where I was embarrassed to say no. With so many trusted colleagues reading it, I knew I must be missing something great.
And after reading it, I can say that while not long or scholarly, Debbie Miller’s Teaching With Intention is poignant.
Written in true Debbie Miller style--highly relatable and easy-to-read--Debbie explores the notion that the best teaching begins with our fundamental beliefs about how children learn. From there, teachers align these beliefs with what they know about their students to plan instruction that meets their needs.
In Reading with Meaning, Debbie Miller positioned herself as an important voice for literacy. In Teaching with Intention, she speaks to the masses. No matter whether you teach reading, writing, math, science, or social studies, her ideas matter. This book needs to be one of those titles that teachers are reminded to pull out each September to help them think hard about the year ahead and remind them that in effective classrooms, everything should be taught “on purpose, with good reason.”
Written by Kelly Gallagher; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Suicide, homicide, genocide: the moment you add –cide to the end of a word, you know that something serious has occurred. A death. A killing. Add “–cide” to the word “read” and you have Kelly Gallagher’s no holds-barred description of what he believes is happening to reading in American public schools and as you can guess, it’s not a pretty picture.
Readicide, How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It is one of those timely call to action books. With American education under the gun, Gallagher makes a strong case against widely used and tired classroom practices by digging up alarming statistics and data that prove that children, especially in middle schools and high schools, are not reading and therefore, not getting better at reading. As a teacher reading this book, you can’t help but to reflect on your own practices and wonder:
Readicide demands that we think hard about what we are doing and throw out the “mind-numbing” practices that are “systematically killing the love of reading.”
Not only does Gallagher rally the troops and make readers want to go out and change their practices, he provides the tools that show teachers HOW. If you are an administrator, middle school or high school English teacher, or anybody who craves a good understanding of the principles that guide good teaching, DO NOT MISS this book. It’s that convincing.
Teaching Reading in Small Groups: Differentiated Instruction for Building Strategic, Independent Readers
Written by Jennifer Serravallo; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
In the opening pages of Teaching Reading in Small Groups, Jennifer Serravallo talks about her teaching colleagues in New York City. She notes that in spite of the “diverse student makeups” of the schools from which these teachers come, her colleagues share this commonality: “They are strong communities of practice where teachers work, plan, and think together; constantly trying to outgrow their best ideas…” For teachers who have been workshopping for many years, continued success demands that teaching be infused with fresh thinking and new ideas. Teaching Reading in Small Groups is the perfect tool for breathing new life into guided reading and strategy group instruction.
Making the shift away from predominantly teacher-led whole group instruction can be difficult. In chapter 5, Jennifer writes about “whispering in” as a strategy for prompting better conversation in partnerships and literature circles. Ironically, as you read Teaching Reading in Small Groups, Serravallo feels as if she is there beside you, “whispering in,” sharing new insights and ideas that promise to inspire your own small group instruction.
In Teaching Reading in Small Groups, Jennifer Serravallo provides a multitude of explicit examples of language to use to deepen students’ engagement and understanding. Her experience as a skilled and reflective practitioner comes through in each of the carefully described teaching scenarios that coach the reader to become better classroom researchers. Her thinking nudges readers to recognize teaching opportunities where before they might only have seen obstacles. Her advice empowers teachers, ultimately making small group instruction feel doable and necessary. For teachers eager and ready to “outgrow their best ideas,” Teaching Reading in Small Groups deserves a place at the top of the professional reading stack.
Written by Daniel Pink; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Inasmuch as I need books written by Lucy Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell, Franki Sibberson, Ellin Oliver Keene, Kelly Gallagher and the whole rest of the lot of really great minds in literacy, I also need books by people who are not reading and writing gurus to help frame my thinking about education and what we can do to become more effective teachers. Daniel Pink has become my go-to guy when it comes to filling this need.
Drive is a book about motivation. In this book, Daniel Pink explores decades of research on what motivates human beings and exposes the gap between what science knows and business does. He fully refutes the widespread practice of enticing people with rewards and deterring them with punishments. He contends that our approach to motivation needs an upgrade and as we change, we need to make sure that our new approach feeds three essential human needs: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
As literacy educators, we are constantly facing questions that are rooted in motivation: How can I get kids to read more? How can I help kids who struggle? How can I get kids to want to write? How can I get kids to do better on standardized tests? How can I get kids to want to come to school? How can I get kids to do their homework?
In the Company of ChildrenWritten by Joanne Hindley; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
When I was a classroom teacher, I had a ritual in the month of August. I would spend a week in my classroom readying my space and I would read In the Company of Children by Joanne Hindley. Over the years, I have recommended this book to countless teachers as THE book to read for a clear and practical understanding of what the reading and writing workshop looks like in the elementary classroom.
Because I haven’t had my own classroom in many years, In the Company of Children had collected a bit of dust. Feeling nostalgic, I pulled this old favorite off the shelf and began to reread. As my eyes skimmed the words on the page, I was reminded of what it was about this book that readied me to be a good teacher of reading and writing. This book is beautifully crafted to reach the practical yearnings of classroom teachers. It has the perfect mix of pictures and student examples and explanations that transport teachers into the classroom and help them envision what a workshop looks and feels like. Every word invigorates—no matter whether you are a novice or a seasoned veteran, this book is rich with layers of thinking that inspire new ideas about teaching reading and writing. Reading this book gives me the same feeling I get after attending a great workshop--I can’t wait to get back to the classroom.
Joanne Hindley is clearly a master teacher with much to teach others about becoming better practitioners. Her ability to engage readers in a way that forces them to question and think hard about what they do in the classroom is uncanny. In the Company of Children is rich with timeless information about implementing and managing a reading and writing workshop. Revisiting it reminded me that its status of “all-time favorite” is a well-deserved honor.
On Solid GroundWritten by Sharon Taberski; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
When we embark on new, and often difficult, teaching endeavors, we long for someone to mentor us. How many times have we wished we had someone to explain how-to do it in easy-to-understand language, someone to answer our questions as they arise? For teachers eager to learn about sound reading instruction, Sharon Taberski’s On Solid Ground answers the call for an honest and open mentor to guide us as we navigate implementing balanced literacy in the primary grades.
On Solid Ground offers a comprehensive description of a reading workshop. Sharon walks us through all of the important details from assessing students’ needs to forming guided reading groups to having conferences to planning effective whole group instruction. Written from the perspective of a veteran classroom teacher, Sharon helps teachers anticipate problems and prepares us to troubleshoot and rectify the obstacles we encounter. Her candid reflections on her own foibles in the classroom (for example, incorrectly leveling books, keeping children in the same guided reading groups the entire year) validates the work we do as teachers. Planning, organizing, and managing a reading workshop is tough and we sometimes make mistakes. Sharon realizes this and helps teachers reconcile that “big changes don’t happen overnight.”
On Solid Ground will stimulate your thinking about how to teach young children to read. Sharon’s approachable style and wealth of knowledge forces you to ask questions and reflect on your own practices. No matter whether this is your first year in the classroom, you are switching grade levels, or you are an old pro, this book will cause you to rethink your instruction and become a better teacher.
A Whole New MindWritten by Daniel Pink; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
I frequently visit teacher’s classrooms and bear witness to the many great things happening in schools. However, there are occasions when I see things that make me question whether we’ve got it right or not. A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink explores the need to nurture “right-brain” thinking in an effort to increase innovation and creativity that will lead us gracefully from the Age of Information into the Age of Conceptualization, the next era of industry in today’s global economy. Pink postulates that traditional “left-brain” thinking, characterized by analysis, sequencing, and orientation to detail, represents a kind of thinking that is no longer in demand because it can be done cheaper by computers and workers in poor Asian countries willing to work for a lot less than Americans.
I believe that when writing this book, Daniel Pink meant to speak to business leaders about the need to think outside of the box in order to remain financially viable. That said, as teachers, I think we have a responsibility to lay the groundwork for the kind of critical thinking that will march today’s children into the next age of industry.
As I read A Whole New Mind, I found myself evaluating the ways in which I help children to synthesize information in order to be able to see the bigger picture. I started to think about how I ask questions and use story to illuminate children’s thinking. I found myself wanting to make sure that the kind of instruction I was doling out was the brand that leads to innovation and creative thinking. At the end of the day, I am not sure if my teaching has reached the level I aspire to, but Daniel Pink has me thinking harder than ever about why I need to get there.
Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop -- Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6Written by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
The word “assessment” in the title of this book will surely grab the attention of many intermediate teachers. The question of how to “grade” and keep track of student progress is a common classroom conundrum. Those looking for a cut and dry answer to their prayers will be disappointed by Day-to-Day Assessment because while Sibberson and Szymusiak offer wonderful ideas for organizing anecdotal information about students, they do not offer the holy grail of grading students in a reading workshop. These authors recognize that assessment is both ongoing and organic and offer suggestions for developing the keen eye required for observing and understanding student progress. For Sibberson and Szymusiak, assessment is not about report card grades, it is about thinking critically about what students need in order to become better at reading.
That said, Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop offers an amazing appendix of interviews, inventories, reflection pages, and alas, even a grading template that reading workshop teachers will covet. Their take on Guided Reading is particularly insightful and will leave teachers feeling less stressed about “getting it all done.”
As always, Sibberson and Szymusiak enlighten readers with new thinking and lessons that will support strong reading workshops. I continue to appreciate and learn from their expertise.
Four Powerful Strategies for Struggling Readers Grades 3-8 -- Small Group Instruction that Improves ComprehensionWritten by Lois Lanning; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
In Four Powerful Strategies for Struggling Readers, Lois Lanning sifts through mounds of research to tease out which strategies struggling readers need to know most. Committed to her belief that less is more, Lanning postulates that children who find reading hard benefit most from strategy instruction that focuses on summarizing, self-regulation, connecting, and inferring.
In this well-written comprehension instruction book, Lanning includes an extensive glossary that defines the lingo surrounding literacy. For educators just beginning their explorations and study of literacy, this feature of Four Powerful Strategies provides a wonderful resource for helping teachers and administrators “speak the same language.” In addition, Lanning includes scripted mini lessons that would be helpful to teachers working in study groups to rethink reading comprehension instruction.
Even though this title targets ‘struggling’ readers, the ideas and lessons in Four Powerful Strategies reflect practices that support all children in their quest to make meaning when they read. Lanning takes care to welcome content area teachers into the comprehension instruction fold by including several lessons that demonstrate how upper grade teachers can integrate reading support into their content specific curriculums.
Educators in search of a solid theoretical base for addressing comprehension instruction in their classrooms will find Four Powerful Strategies for Struggling Readers a manageable, easy-to-understand springboard for thinking and learning about this important aspect of reading instruction.
I Read It, But I Don't Get ItWritten by Chris Tovani; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
When I sit down with a professional resource, I hope to feed two needs in my teaching life:
1. The need for sound theory and research that supports the teaching I do
2. Practical advice and lessons to take back to the classroom and use
The best professional reading is the kind that provides a balance of both and leaves me reflecting on my own practices and eager to try out something new on Monday. Chris Tovani’s I Read It, But I Don’t Get It Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers not only met my reading expectations, but exceeded them. It has become my new recommended reading for every middle school and high school teacher that I meet.
Middle school and high school teachers often share the misconception that their students already know how to read. While it is true that the majority of them have mastered decoding text, most of them still have much to learn about how to understand the texts they read. Tovani’s I Read It, But I Don’t Get It helps teachers to unpack where meaning breaks down and provides them with wonderful teaching strategies and ideas that address those needs.
No matter whether a student is reading Of Mice or Men or about the attack on Pearl Harbor, reading can be hard. English teachers as well as Science, Social Studies, and Math teachers need to know how to help students navigate difficult texts. Once we all see ourselves as teachers of reading, learning is sure to improve!
Interactive Think-Aloud LessonsWritten by Lori Oczkus; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Some teaching colleagues referred me to Lori Oczkus’ most recent book Interactive Think-Aloud Lessons. They were very excited about it and shared that they were trying out some of the lessons during their read alouds.
In this book, Oczkus suggests using teaching props to help children remember the important skills of connecting, predicting, questioning, inferring, summarizing, synthesizing, and evaluating their reading. Interactive Think-Aloud Lessons comes complete with a teaching dvd where you can watch Lori model the lessons that she writes about.
Busy teachers are always on the lookout for new lessons to add to their repertoire. If that is what you seek, this book might offer a couple of gems. However, if you pick this book up looking for new ideas and new thinking to shed light on “engaging students and improving comprehension,” I warn you: it is minimally inspired and might leave you feeling very unfulfilled.
Text SavvyWritten by Sarah Daunis; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
In a world where intermediate teachers abandon the practice of multiple shared readings because reinforcing fluency and word attack strategies no longer feel relevant, Sarah Daunis and Maria Cassiani Iams have found a meaningful way to resurrect this practice in grades three through six. This short book (121 pages) emphasizes the importance of continuity in our reading curriculum. Reading workshop teachers will appreciate the way in which these authors tease out skills that come up regardless of the unit of study: previewing, locating self in text (for example: activating prior knowledge, making connections, questioning, etc.), envisioning, inferring, and synthesizing. Peppered with anecdotes from the field, this book offers an engaging microstudy of an important aspect of reading workshop—deep understanding. Its description of how to guide children’s thinking within, about, and beyond the text is no-nonsense. It’s straightforward and will make you feel like you can start immediately.
Though not the perfect read for the Reading Workshop beginner, Text Savvy will give veterans much food for thought as well as practical ideas for enriching their reading program.
The CAFE BookWritten by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
How does change happen?
This is a question that schools wrestle with all the time. When an initiative begins, administrators wonder how they will sell it to their faculty and they worry about the buy in. Reading workshop is not a new idea, yet, scores of teachers are just beginning their journey with this approach to teaching reading. I meet administrators all the time that want to get their staff on board with reading workshop and ask me, “How can I make this happen?”
The answer is simple. Make it doable. And nobody understands that better than “the sisters,” Gail Boushey and Joan Moser in their professional resource The CAFE Book. With a combined fifty years of experience in education, Boushey and Moser are practitioners. They understand the day to day reality of being in a classroom and they explain what teachers need to know in simple language so that even the beginner can walk away saying, “yes, I can do this.”
When embarking on the reading workshop journey, many teachers ask the same question: What do I teach? CAFE is an acronym that stands for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary. For teachers struggling with the question of what to teach, CAFE is a good place to start because it reaches to the heart of what’s important in reading instruction. Without being preachy or highly theoretical, Boushey and Moser emphasize the importance of teaching the reader instead of the reading. They advocate for short, pointed instruction that helps develop the concepts and understandings that help children evolve into thoughtful, skilled readers. In addition, they offer practical advice about record keeping, conferring, and flexible small group instruction.
The CAFE Book is a how-to book. It is the sort of guide that cuts to the chase, spells out how to manage and teach reading workshop in a way that calms nervous novices worried that they aren’t doing it right.
The Daily Five: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary GradesWritten by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser: Reviewed by Kim Yaris
One of the most frustrating aspects of balanced literacy is management. Guided reading groups, one-on-one conferences, word study work, literature circles, writing, whole class mini-lessons. We all ask the same question: How do I fit it all in?
In their book, The Daily Five, the sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, lay out a plan that makes balanced literacy do-able in any elementary classroom. Boushey and Moser advocate for breaking your literacy block down into five components: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Work on Writing, Listen to Reading, and Word Work. They provide a framework for slowly introducing each component so that children optimize their daily literacy learning experiences.
In the words of the authors, The Daily Five is meant to be “a student driven management structure designed to fully engage students in reading and writing.” Their book breaks down The Daily Five in two ways: the beginning provides an overview of the management structure, providing research and theory to support their categories; and the second half goes into specifics—exactly how a teacher might go about implementing this management structure.
I think the best endorsement for this book comes from the number of teachers I know personally who use the Daily Five to give structure to their literacy block. As a teacher educator working with many teachers in many different school districts, countless teachers have told me they were ready to give up reading workshop until they read this book. When we know WHAT is important (balanced literacy), we then ask HOW? Boushey and Moser answer this call and help teachers to bring dreams of a productive literacy block to life.
What Really Matters for Struggling Readers - Designing Research Based ProgramsWritten by Richard Allington; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
When reading is hard for children, understanding the root of the problem is the antecedent to fixing it. What Really Matters for Struggling Readers Designing Research Based Programs by Richard Allington is the perfect resource for professionals longing to understand why some children find reading difficult.
This no-nonsense guide to making sense of the needs of struggling readers presents research and statistics in a highly readable format. Allington reviews the basic tenets of improving proficiency for all readers including increased reading volume, reading books that match children’s ability level, and providing expert guidance.
When children struggle, educators often look for quick fixes. In this wonderfully insightful and informative book, Allington cautions against the practice of buying into “one best method or program” because very simply stated, children differ.
For literacy junkies, What Really Matters for Struggling Readers Designing Research Based Programs will feel like beach reading. For everybody else, it promises to engage and motivate—a perfect resource for stimulating study group conversations!
What Really Matters in Fluency Research-Based Practices across the CurriculumWritten by Richard Allington and Patricia Cunningham; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
In an effort to present research to educators in a readable, user-friendly format, Richard Allington and Patricia Cunningham have teamed up to write the What Really Matters series. What Really Matters in Fluency by Allington provides a thorough picture of fluency—what it is, how it develops, and most importantly, what teachers need to know in order to plan effective fluency lessons for their students.
What Really Matters in Fluency offers a concise synthesis of what years of data has taught us about the role of fluency in reading development. It is short (112 pages of text) and readable. Teachers looking for mini lessons to address fluency in Reading Workshop may find tidbits that inspire great lessons, but this book is mostly for educators looking for research to substantiate the work they are doing in their classrooms. When parents and administrators ask “why?” this book will empower you to answer knowledgably and convincingly.
Who Moved My Cheese?Written by Spencer Johnson; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
Who Moved My Cheese? When you hear this title it doesn’t sound much like a book meant to help teachers improve the quality of their literacy instruction. In fact, this little gem by Dr. Spencer Johnson isn’t about teaching—it’s about learning.
In this book, two mice named Sniff and Scurry and two little people named Hem and Haw head into a maze searching for nourishment and happiness which for them, comes in the form of cheese. The journey is different for each character and when the cheese becomes difficult to find and eventually disappears, each character reacts differently.
In education, we face a constant stream of change in the way of student needs, assessments, administrative changes, and shifts in policy. In the same way that Sniff and Scurry and Hem and Haw deal differently with change, so too, do teachers. Who Moved My Cheese? helps to put change into perspective and forces us to think about the need to adapt and rethink how we deliver instruction.
In my busy life, I relish simplicity. This story is a simple and valuable tale that takes less than forty-five minutes to read but leaves you thinking and questioning for hours and days after.
Wondrous WordsWritten by Katie Wood Ray; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
I recently recommended Wondrous Words to an administrator in search of a title to support teachers embarking on a journey to know and understand writing workshop better. I remembered reading it as a fifth grade classroom teacher and remembered feeling like it had revolutionized my teaching. As I raved about this book, I realized it had been several years since I had glanced at it. I began to question my memory and wondered if I’d still give it the same endorsement today. So, wanting to remain credible, I dusted it off and took a second look.
Katie Wood Ray has always been one of my writing workshop “go-to” people. I find her writing accessible—easy to read, easy to implement, practical. Those qualities are important to busy teachers. As I reread Wondrous Words, I was reminded that this book is not a manual about how to implement writing workshop. This is a book about unpacking the craft of writing. In Katie’s words, it is a book about “helping you teach yourself and your students how to learn to write from writers.” In a world where so many teachers don’t feel confident with how to teach children to be better writers, Wondrous Words is completely enlightening in the way that it helps teachers see possibilities beyond “add detail or description.”
During my second read of Wondrous Words, I found myself celebrating the lessons about author’s craft that became part of my teaching repertoire so many years ago. In thinking about whether Wondrous Words was still worthy of a resounding endorsement, I thought about those lessons and how I have tweaked them and taught them to countless children in countless classrooms. If that’s not staying power, I don’t know what is.
It is with full confidence that I can say, if you are looking for a book that will teach you how to help children lift the quality of their writing, Wondrous Words remains a wondrous resource. It fully deserves all of the accolades I have showered upon it through the many years since reading it for the first time in 1999.
When Kids Can’t Read
A Writer’s Notebook—Unlocking the Writer Within YouWritten by Ralph Fletcher; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
It’s September. You’ve committed yourself to being a writing workshop teacher. You wonder, “How will I begin?”
Good writing relies on the way children collect and reflect on ideas. If you teach third grade or higher, you cannot effectively launch writing workshop without introducing writer’s notebooks. And that’s why Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook—Unlocking the Writer Within You is an excellent beginning of the school year read.
In its short, 128 pages, Ralph Fletcher provides both student examples and samples from his own notebook of wonderings, lists, memories, and mind pictures, to name a few. These examples and his insightful comments prepare teachers to approach notebooks in a do-able, sustainable way.
Ralph’s ideas are inspiring. As I read, I felt like I wanted to take my writer’s notebook to Starbucks to record snippets of conversation. I felt like I needed to write—and that’s what we want children to feel when we launch writing workshop: Writing isn’t a want or desire. Writing is a need.
A Writer’s Notebook—Unlocking the Writer Within You is the kind of book you will refer to often. You will ponder it. You will read aloud from it. You will want to try new ideas from it. It has been part of my collection since it was first published in 1996 and quite frankly, I can’t imagine teaching students the value of writers’ notebooks without it.
Preventing Misguided ReadingWritten by Jan Miller Burkins and Melody M. Croft; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
In my day-to-day practices as teacher of reading, I have encountered much confusion about guided reading. As teachers, we recognize the importance and need for guided reading, but many of us aren’t sure if we’ve got it right. We question what we need to know about making informed decisions that will directly impact the reading growth and development of our students. How do we group them? When do we move them? How do we support them when we’ve got them?
Jan Miller Burkins and Melody M. Croft’s book Preventing Misguided Reading is a timely and much needed book that provides inquisitive teachers the sounding board they need to think carefully about improving their guided reading instruction. Organized into six short, succinct chapters, Burkins and Croft offer teachers twenty-seven strategies to try as they rethink and reconsider their guided reading instruction. Their strategies run the gamut and include suggestions like “Linger at a Level E” to “Prompt Less.” While many of the strategies seem geared to the specific needs of primary teachers, guided reading teachers of all levels will find ideas to strengthen their small group instruction.
As you read this book, you will feel like you are having a stimulating professional conversation. You will agree, disagree, question, but most importantly, you will reflect. And after that, you will want to talk. For teachers with strong theoretical knowledge and a good amount of teaching experience looking to think hard about the quality of their guided reading instruction, Preventing Misguided Reading promises to be the perfect study group companion.
Written by Frank Smith; Reviewed by Kim Yaris
When one’s career has been as long and illustrious as Frank Smith’s, the same questions tend to crop up time and again. Reading FAQ is a compilation of the reading queries that people have looked to Smith to provide answers to over the years. From “what is your opinion on phonics” to “what the connection between reading and writing” to “what is the place of whole language in reading,” Smith weighs in with his thoughts and expertise about many issues that affect how children learn to read. Presented in 68 short pages, this book is concise and readable making it a perfect choice for study groups or someone looking for something provocative to stimulate reflective thinking.