Classroom Practice

My rating scale:
***** A well-deserved classic in the field, or just so good that it is a must read!
**** One of my favorites. An important book in the field.
*** A worthwhile read.
** Maybe some worthwhile ideas, but overall not so hot.
* Just plain bad.
(actually, if it’s below 3 stars, I probably haven’t bothered to include it)


Atwell, Nancy (1998). In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading and Learning.  Heinemann.
This is a great book to get your writer’s workshop started. It gives a very prescriptive model for setting up a writer’s workshop that I have found to be excellent. It is short and succinct. Although it is written for middle school, it can easily be adapted to any grade level. (the second half of the book is on reader’s workshop) (****)

Berger, Ron. (2003). An Ethic of Excellence : Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Heinemann.
What an inspiration! Written by a teacher, Berger outlines how his school has created a culture of excellence. Through the use of project based learning as the core of the curriculum, they inspire the students to create products of high standards. He explains how and why they do this. His stories of his students show us how all students can produce amazing work. This book reminds us of what real education can and should look like. (*****)

Brady, Suzanne & Suzie Jacobs (1994). Mindful of Others. Heinemann. 222pp.
This is an excellent book on scaffolding children to independent learning, with special focus on how Suzanne gets them to independent writing response groups. Very conversational tone, and very practical, as it is based on what an actual teacher does. (****)

Calkins, Lucy McCormick (1994). The Art of Teaching Writing. 2nd ed. Heinemann.
Calkins’ step by step instructions for how to create a writer’s workshop in your classroom and how to deal with the problems and come up, with lots of descriptions and examples of student work and dialogues. It includes chapters based on grade level as well as topic. This is a great resource to keep coming back to as you develop your writer’s workshop. (*****)

Calkins, Lucy M. (1983). Lessons from a Child: On the Teaching and Learning of Writing. Heinemann. 184pp.
Calkins follows a child for two years to document her development as a writer using the writer’s workshop method. Calkins writing evokes what these children are like, the experience of real classrooms, and is a close exploration of the process of learning to write using this class and this particular child as a case example. (****)

Cary, Stephen (2000). Working with Second Language Learners: Answers to Teachers’ Top Ten Questions. Heinemann.
In each chapter Cary uses an actual classroom vignette to illustrate the each question, and how that teacher dealt with it. He then provides a more general and theoretical answer based on that example. A very practical and useful book. (****)

Charney, R. S. (2002). Teaching Children to Care (revised ed.). Greenfield, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
This is the best book on classroom management for those interested in a student directed classroom. This is a how-to book on teaching that independence by a teacher who does it. Get beyond reward and punishment techniques and into self-directedness. (****)

Chittenden, Edward and Terry Salinger with Anne M. Bussis. (2001). Inquiry Into Meaning: an Investigation of Learning to Read (Revised Edition).Teachers College Press, 2001. 267pp.
This is one of the best books on learning to read. A team of researchers from the Educational Testing Service used a qualitative research approach to follow a few dozen students over about 2 years in their progress in learning to read, using the descriptive review process. They then develop theories about how different children learn to read, and how that is connected to their overall approach to life. They end with 3 chapters that each look at an individual child in detail. (****)

Coles, Gerald (2000). Misreading Reading: The Bad Science That Hurts Children. Heinemann. 137pp.
Another short book debunking the so called science of phonics instruction and skills-based approaches to teaching reading. He challenges this research and offers alternative theories on the learning to read. (***)

Duckworth, Eleanor (1987). The Having of Wonderful Ideas and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning. Teachers College Press. 151pp.
Recently reissued, this is a magnificent inspiring book about how children (people) learn. The writing is engaging and insightful. This is a series of essays on discovery learning in science. One of those books that once you pick up, you won’t want to put down! (*****)

Duckworth, Eleanor (Ed.). (2001). “Tell me more”: Listening to Learners Explain. Teachers College Press. 200 pp.
This is a book of Duckworth’s inquiry/discovery model of learning in action. In each of the first seven chapters a different teacher-researcher tells a story of their “teaching” using this model. The students studied vary from elementary through medical school, from poor minority students to the most privileged. The subject matter vary from math to literature to neonates. In each, the reader is captivated, following the reasoning and learning that is going on. It is a fascinating journey that explores how all of us develop and explore ideas if given the time and encouragement.  This is a book that keeps you reading from cover to cover. (****) (click here for my extended review)

Fried, Robert L (1995). The Passionate Teacher. Beacon Press. 178pp.
Fried develops the thesis that it is crucial to be passionate about what we teach. In this book he uses real examples to show us what this means while developing the theory behind his thesis. He then goes on to show us how it can be done in practice, again using real classrooms as examples to illustrate his ideas. While admitting the difficulties in enacting such teaching, he also pushes teachers to look for where and how they can begin to make changes. (***+)

Fried, Robert L (2001). The Passionate Learner. Beacon Press. 297pp.
Fried continues on the themes he developed in his first book. Here he focuses on the learner, specifically why it is important that students be passionate learners, what that means, and ways for teachers to bring that out in students. (***+)

Graves, Donald (1983). Writing: Teachers & Children at Work. Heinemann. 326pp.
Donald Graves explores the different aspects of writers workshop chapter by chapter in this book. What I love about it is that instead of giving the reader a recipe, he illustrates each idea through the example of different teachers’ classrooms. What this shows you is that writer’s workshop is not one thing. It is a concept that is played out differently in each classroom where it is enacted. This book celebrates that diversity while helping us to think through how we might enact each aspect of writer’s workshop in our classrooms. Graves has written many other excellent books on the teaching of writing as well. (****)

Herndon, James (1968). The Way It Spozed to Be. Simon and Schuster. 188pp.
Herndon chronicles one year as a high school teacher in an all Black “inner-city” high school. He talks about the different ways that students respond to their role as students — based in part on their track classification. He explore the issues of power and purpose of school, and how each member makes sense and survives. Mostly he explores his own role in negotiating roles and trying to make his classroom meaningful, or at least not painful — how he came with few preconceived ideas of how it spozed to be, or what he wanted to achieve, yet was constantly confronted with others who had strong preconceived notions (both students and teachers and administrators), even though the facts and history made a mockery of those notions. (****)

Kohl, Herbert (1967). 36 Children. Signet. 224pp.
This is a classic — Kohl’s story of transformation in a Harlem classroom. At first it is an inspiring story, but he ends up more cynical and despairing as he sees that how one good year with them was not enough, and he continues the story with follow-ups of many of the children and the struggles they go through over the next few years. (****)

Krashen, Stephen D. (1999). Three Arguments against Whole Language & Why They Are Wrong. Heinemann. 103pp.
In this short little book Krashen reviews the research on reading to examine the claims against whole language instruction and demonstrates why these arguments fall apart in light of the evidence. (***)

Larner, Marjorie (2004). Pathways: Charting a Course for Professional Learning. Heinemann. 165pp.
“Marjorie Larner shares her vast experience with ways of bringing professional adults to the table to create a different kind of conversation and more powerful practice. But this is not just about techniques, it’s about conviction and passion, which is something teachers need to be looking for in kids, once they reconnect with it in themselves” —Deborah Meier (***)

McQuillan, Jeff (1998). Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions. Heinemann. 115pp.
A short, well written book debunking the phonics and systematic instruction myths of reading. A bit heavy on research methods and details. (***)

Meier, Deborah, Theodore Sizer, and Nancy Sizer. (2004). Keeping School: Letters to Families from Principals of Two Small Schools. Beacon Press. 187pp.
As school principals, all three of these renowned educational reformers and writers have  done another kind of writing, as well. Every week as principles they wrote short essays in their schools” newsletters to families. Sharp and accessible but intellectually ambitious, these little essays talk about everything from homework to discipline, from academic expectations to reading for pleasure. Keeping School collects the best of these gems from the two schools the authors have most recently run. Both Meier and Ted Sizer have written several classic books on educational reform (see school reform section. (***)

Nathan, Linda (2009). The hardest questions aren’t on the test: Lessons from an innovative urban school. Boston: Beacon.
Wonderful Book about  the Boston Arts Academy by the principal. In the genre of Power of their ideas, discussing the history of the school to illustrate what it takes to make a powerful school. (****)

Peters, Dorothy (2000). Taking Cues from Kids: How They Think, What to Do About It. Heinemann.
Through an exchange with her student teachers at Central Park East elementary School, Dottie explains the how’s and why’s of teaching in a constructivist “open” classroom. You feel like you are eavesdropping on her intelligent insightful conversations! (***)

Sapon-Shevin, M. (2007). Widening the circle: The power of inclusive classrooms. Beacon.
The subtitle is “The Power of Inclusive Classrooms,” which is the theme of this book. It makes the argument that there is no place for separating students based on any quality, but specifically this book is aimed at separating student labeled for Special Education. She makes the argument mostly on what type of society we want to build–only by modeling and doing inclusion can we have an inclusive society where we do not grow up to divide people into “other.” She also argues that it is better educationally for all. She explains what types of changes would need to occur to make it work on the school and classroom level, and gives lots of examples from real schools and classrooms. Written with passio and clarity. (****)

Smith, Frank. The Book of Learning and Forgetting; Understanding Reading; Reading Without Nonsense; and many more! Most of his books are available from Heinemann Press or Teachers College Press.
Smith is a brilliant writer on language learning and learning in general. His writing is engaging and full of humor, metaphor and examples to acquaint the reader with the his take on learning theory. (****)

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