By Cathy Whitehead, 2016 Tennessee Teacher of the Year and a third-grade teacher at West Chester Elementary
Nearly six years ago, I walked into my classroom for the first time, eager to teach third-graders and especially excited to share my love of reading. I began teaching that year with a set of basals and workbooks in hand, and not much else. I was confused and uncertain about literacy instruction and didn’t know exactly where to start. Over the past few years, though, I’ve questioned, researched, and grown, in large part due to my own professional reading. Very little about my classroom resembles that first year, and it’s thankfully continuing to evolve.
As I begin my summer break, I look forward to more time to think, plan, and read. If you’re like me and looking for a good professional read – or reread – this summer, here are some books that helped me jump start and foster a culture of literacy in my own classroom:
Mosaic of Thought – This classic by Susan Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman was the very first book I turned to. I found it as a recommended read for ELA teachers, and I was surprised to find that it’s as much about thinking as it is reading, which, as it turns out, makes perfect sense. Their premise is that reading IS thinking, and they go on to outline the habits of proficient readers with comprehension lessons to help make them thoughtful readers as well. Big idea: Universal reading truths for teachers
Strategies That Work – Stephanie Harvey and Anna Goudvis outline strategies for teaching students to become intentional readers. Their work helped me center my reading instruction around seven main strategies of proficient readers: metacognition, making connections, visualizing, questioning, inferring, determining importance, synthesizing, and summarizing. This was the perfect follow up to the broader strokes of Mosaic. Big idea: Seven key reading strategies and how to teach them
The Reading Zone – Nancie Atwell is one of my favorite “reading people.” She’s also a world-renowned educator; in 2015, she was the recipient of the first $1 million Global Teacher Prize. Hers was the first book I ever read on reading workshop, and it made me see our classroom through a lens of authenticity. I envisioned something a little less regimented and a lot more student-driven as I reflected on what it means to help kids become readers. Her influence has helped me keep independent reading time sacred in our classroom. Big idea: Readers need books, time, and guidance
The Book Whisperer – At her school, Donalyn Miller is known for turning kids into readers, and she shares her philosophy and thoughts on authentic reading in this best seller. The subtitle sums it up perfectly: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. She believes that there are no reluctant readers; there are simply students who haven’t found the right book yet. Her passion for reading shines through as she shares how she helps her students navigate the world of young adult literature and end up each reading an average of 40 to 50 books a year. At the end, you’ll find a list of recommended reads. Big idea: How to get every kid to love reading
What Really Matters for Struggling Readers – Richard Allington (a University of Tennessee professor) and Patricia Cunningham share their thoughts on helping students who struggle with reading. Their argument that kids who struggle the most need to spend the most time authentically reading really resonated with me. If you’re looking for a book on helping these students, this is an incredibly user-friendly, easy-to-read option. Big idea: Let struggling readers read!
The Reading Strategies Book – Jennifer Saravallo’s no-frills book is the ultimate compilation of reading strategies, and I’ll be turning to it again this summer as my colleagues and I plan new units for the upcoming year. Each chapter is dedicated to a reading goal for students, and Jennifer includes 20 to 25 lessons for each goal. This is one of those “don’t read it cover to cover” books; you can pick it up, read what you need, and then put it into action. Big idea: It’s a recipe book for teaching reading strategies
In addition to these great books, I also believe we are each other’s best resource. Please check out my post from last week, “Top Ten Ways to Foster a Culture in Your School,” where I share wisdom I gathered from meeting with classroom teachers, librarians, and administrators throughout our state.
Summer reading has always been some of my favorite reading, and I relish this time to read a little more leisurely and thoughtfully than I do at other times of the year. One of the things I love the most about summer reading is sharing my favorites and getting new titles from friends. So, as we begin to plan for the months ahead, let’s share some great reads! Tweet your recommendations with the hashtag #TNteachSummerReads, and get ready for the ultimate summer book list.