Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Professional Books


top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because The Broke and Bookish are particularly fond of lists (as are we!). Each week a new Top Ten list topic is given and bloggers can participate.

 Today’s Topic: Top Ten Professional Books

 These are the professional books that have molded us as teachers. We tried to limit our list to just ten books each, but we couldn’t stop. So here are the top TWENTY professional books. We did our best not to repeat any texts.


1. Making the Match: The Right Book for the Right Reader at the Right Time, Grades 4-12 by Teri Lesesne

If you want to help match students with books, this text is a must-have. It focus on three areas—knowing the readers, knowing the books, and knowing the strategies. Making the Match represents everything I believe about teaching. Even though I felt that I was experienced at matching books with readers, it gave me so many new ideas to try!

2. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

As I read this book, I kept saying, “YES!” out loud. A fairly quick read, Readicide uses research to prove why we are systematically killing the love of reading in schools. The evidence is overwhelming.

3. In the Middle: New Understandings about Writing, Reading, and Learning by Nancie Atwell

I read this book in college and constantly used the ideas in my classroom. I can’t say enough positive things about the value of reading and writing workshops (both of which are promoted in this text). Atwell made me want to open my own school! This book is chockfull of mini-lessons and ideas for teachers. It is a very practical, useful guide.

4. The English Teacher’s Companion: A Complete Guide to Classroom, Curriculum, and the Profession by Jim Burke

When I read this in college, I had to go out and buy a new highlighter. It was like a bible to me because it had so many ideas. Whenever I felt down or discouraged while teaching, I would flip through this book and feel like I just came back from NCTE. There are so many great strategies and teaching ideas that you will feel reinvigorated every time you open it.

5. Black Ants and Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades by Mary Cowhey

This book is written for elementary school teachers, but as a high school teacher, I learned  a lot. Cowhey   gives real classroom examples of how she promotes social justice, action, and independence in the classroom. I use this text to teach my students who are pre-service elementary school teachers, and they love it.

6. When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do About It by Kylene Beers

This is my go-to book for struggling readers. It is a phenomenal resource and is incredibly helpful for those moments when a student reads a passage, turns to you and says, “I don’t get it.”

7. Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice by Geneva Gay

Geneva Gay’s writing is very well-researched and thoughtful. She gives very useful tools for responding to all of the cultures in our classrooms. I highly recommend this text to teachers. I couldn’t stop highlighting!

8. Commando Classics: A Field Manual for Helping Teens Understand (And Maybe Even Enjoy) Classic Literature

Daria Plumb’s approach to classic literature is accessible and exciting. I love the text sets she provides. They are invaluable for teachers.

9. Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne

I can’t help but repeat this one from Kellee’s list. It is a fantastic resource for teachers who want to challenge their students while still granting them freedom as they read.

10. Experience and Education by John Dewey

This is where it all began, isn’t it? Written in 1938, this book is lightyears before its time. Dewey is a foundational thinker who changed education today. It is not a surprise that he is continually cited for his good work.


1. The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

I thank this book, and its author, for helping me reform my teaching and focus on what is important.

2. Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne

Reading ladders have been something I think about constantly when working with my struggling readers (I am a reading coach and taught intensive reading). I find out where the students are and using the idea of Lesesne’s ladders, I work on moving them up.

3. Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage by Paulo Freire

Although Freire’s theories seem like fantasy, they are the utopia that I wish we had here in America’s school system.

4. Teaching With the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen

This text is important for all teachers to read, so they learn specifically how to reach their students.

5. A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne

This one is specifically important for teachers who grew up out of poverty. It gives a better sense of addressing students living in poverty.

6. Book Love by Penny Kittle

The Book Whisperer for high school. I love that it shows that the same ideas Donalyn laid out can be applied to secondary education.

7. Thrive by Meenoo Rami

I read this right when I was returning from maternity leave, and it was just what I needed.

8. How to Differentiate in a Mixed-Ability Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson

If you teach in a mixed-ability classroom, differentiation is key to make sure each student gets the best education. Tomlinson’s ideas can be used within any curriculum.

9. Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12 by Janet Allen

I read this in my young adult literature class. It is very practical for class and assessments.

10. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell

The beginning of it all. I am always striving to do as Nancie would do.


What are your favorite professional development texts? Which did we miss?

RickiSigand Signature

A Response (Ahem…Rant) Regarding E. D. Hirsch Jr.’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know


cultural literacy

GoodReads Summary:

In this forceful manifesto, Hirsch argues that children in the U.S. are being deprived of the basic knowledge that would enable them to function in contemporary society. Includes 5,000 essential facts to know.

My Review: 

This text left me nodding vigorously at some sections and wanting to rip out the pages of other portions. Hirsch gives an impressively extensive background of the establishment of the English language. When my students ask, “Who made these grammar rules and spelling decisions?” I can now give them quite a long answer. I love a book that makes me think, and as an educator, this text truly made me ponder my beliefs about education. Hirsch contends that literate adults know things that illiterate adults do not. They have cultural literacy, and there are common ideas, phrases, and words that literate share that allow them to hold intelligent discussions and read newspapers. I agree with this notion, and Hirsch proves it well.

He then continues by arguing that teaching skills is not enough, and we need our children to learn these extensive facts in order for them to become functioning, literate adults. My biggest problem with this idea is his list. The appendix contains 5,000 words and phrases (about half of the book). If we spent time teaching from this list, our students would suffer. School wouldn’t be about inquiry—but about facts and cold information. I am more aligned with Dewey’s approach. Our students must be given exploratory opportunities to enact inquisition. If we teach our students to be curious, they will want to read and learn, and then they will slowly learn these words and phrases. I imagine educators agreeing with this text and wanting to create multiple choice tests.

My other issue with this text is the fact that Hirsch is narcissistic enough to think that he can create the list of the words and phrases cultured, literate Americans should know. He tries to validate this by arguing that he worked with a few others and they received feedback from over a hundred people. I was not impressed and found this to be quite pompous.

Hirsch ends with practical ways we might approach the integration of these words and phrases into curricula. I was extremely unhappy with his suggestion to provide a test for students at different levels to ensure that they are learning the facts. More tests? We would kill the love of learning with his approach to education.

While there are elements of Hirsch’s argument that are sound, I was disappointed by many of the ideas he put forth. I agree that students need to become culturally literate, and I found this concept to be quite interesting and important, but I don’t think that all educators will agree about which facts are most important. Hirsch does seem to understand this and explains how the process of picking these words and phrases is messy, and for me, the creation of this list is where many of the details of his argument are flawed.

He begins his book by explaining how saddened he is that a literary reference (“The tide falls”) is lost on many people. I understand this allusion, and I disagree with Hirsch. If I used this phrase in a conversation and another person didn’t understand it, I would explain it. That is the power of education and teaching each other. We are always learning, and we can always grow as cultured, literate adults. Knowing these specific 5,000 terms (or the many more his more extensive version) do not make us culturally literate.

Are you culturally literate? I included a few random words/phrases you should know from the “5,000 Essential Names, Phrases, Dates, and Concepts” section:




The Little Red Hen (title)

Interstate Commerce Commission


L’état c’est moi

Dolley Madison

Planck’s constant


wildcat strike

Benedict Arnold

MX missile


intransitive verb

 How did you do? Did you get a few?

Celebrating Writers: From Possibilities Through Publication by Ruth Ayres



Celebrating Writers: From Possibilities Through Publication
Authors: Ruth Ayres with Christi Overman
Published: November 28th, 2013 by Stenhouse Publishers

GoodReads Summary: Writing begins before students even pick up a pencil, but there are many reasons to stop and rejoice between the idea and the finished project. By helping students celebrate each stage of the writing process and applauding success, we help our students persevere through what can be an extended and challenging process.

In their innovative new book, Celebrating Writers, Ruth Ayres and Christi Overman discuss dozens of ways to respond, reflect, and rejoice along the journey to a finished project. This type of celebration nurtures students, makes them better writers, and helps them recognize that writing is a process filled with notable moments, not simply a result where publication is the only marker of success. From traveling notebooks to lunch-table writing, from author interviews with a writing partner to silent reflection, from swapping stories around a “campfire” to tweeting favorite lines, Ruth and Christi share dozens of fun and effective ways for you and your students to commemorate their progress as writers. As the authors write, “It’s time to expand the idea of celebration to include the process of writers and the products they create. Let’s build an approach that weaves celebration into the heart of all writers. Be ready to learn to refuel the writers in your classroom, even on the tough days.”

Review and Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I know a professional development text is a good one when I feel compelled to get out of my bed to nab my highlighter. There are many flag-worthy passages in this book. My focus is Secondary English Education, and even though this book seems to be primarily focused on Elementary Education, I plan to share some of the ideas from this text with my students tomorrow. The true audience of this book is all teachers of writing. Ayres and Overman provide a plethora of ideas to help students celebrate their writing. They state, “When we celebrate throughout the process, we help students become people who know their words can influence, encourage, and incite change” (p. 7).

While I always thought I celebrated my students’ writing, this book taught me so many MORE ways to help them rejoice in order to truly nourish them as writers. Some of the ideas the authors include are methods for students to respond to their peers’ writing, ways for students to formally assess and reflect upon their own writing, ideas for students to examine their own strengths and weaknesses as writers, and numerous modes for students to share their writing with online communities. There are a variety of handouts that are all downloadable from the companion website (a HUGE plus for busy teachers). The fifth chapter of this book is my favorite—it details forty formal celebration ideas. These are ideas that are much more clever than asking students to bring in cupcakes.

Discussion Questions: How do I teach my students to rejoice in their writing? Why is this important?; How do I help my students share their writing with online communities?; How do I help my students learn to rejoice in the writing of their peers?

We Flagged: “Response, reflection, and rejoicing position us to celebrate the writer in addition to the writing. These frames also allow us to celebrate throughout the writing process instead of solely at the end. They move us to a focus on learning as writers. Our celebrations nourish writers, nudging them to continue writing with expertise and energy” (p. 15).

Read This If You Loved: Black Ants and Buddhists by Mary Cowhey, In the Middle by Nancie Atwell, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Workshop by Ralph Fletcher


What is your favorite book for teaching writing? Have you read this one? What did you think? Please share your thoughts!

**Thank you, Stenhouse Publishers, for sending me this book for review!**

Helping our Students Achieve the Reading and Writing Flow


Achieving Flow-page0001

Kelly Gallagher stresses balance in his book, Readicide. We, as teachers, try our best not to tear apart texts for students. We want to study author’s craft, but if we overanalyze and nitpick at every detail, it becomes terribly boring for students (and us!). So where is the balance? How do we help students come to appreciate the minute details of an author’s writing without committing this act of readicide? Gallagher also discusses the “reading flow.” It is important for teachers to understand when to stop students and when to allow them to find the flow—to get into the groove of reading. It makes sense, thinking of my own reading habits. If I was forced to stop at every page (or even every ten pages) to analyze an author’s writing, I would throw the book at the wall.

 How do you help your students achieve reading flow?

As a teacher, what works best for me (and this may not work best for you), is to analyze the first few pages of a text. I have my students do a close reading, and we try to examine elements like voice, writing style, form, and manipulation of language, among others. Then, I let them explore. I try to assign them enough reading so they can hit the flow but not too much reading that they don’t do the assignment. For me, this is the most effective way to help students find this “reading flow” that Gallagher discusses. Once I have helped my students grapple with and (hopefully) appreciate the language of an author, I set them free from the nest. This approach doesn’t work well with every text. For example, much more complex texts may require more analysis and comprehension techniques before I can set my students free.

But how do we find the flow for writing? Recently, I read a section of Murray’s Write to Learn. He made me think more about how this “reading flow” concept might be applied to writing. From my experience, my students feel like stuttering cars when they begin to write. Often, they can’t even get their cars to start. Some of the techniques that Murray offers are interesting when I look at them through the lens of the writing flow.

We need our students to connect to their writing. One way to start is by having students write down their territories. Murray starts this in a brainstorming list, where students make a list of topics. He suggests connect elements on their lists to try to find ideas for writing. Murray also describes other methods that won’t be new to most teachers like freewriting about topics or brainstorming in the form of a map or tree. With the map, students can show the way their thoughts emerge from and digress to each other. With the tree, students can brainstorm about a more focused topic. Murray also suggests interviewing ourselves.

How do you help your students achieve writing flow?

One technique I have found to be useful to help students start writing short stories is by providing the first sentence for them. I write a series of evocative sentences like “He was a most peculiar boy.” Or, “As his name was called, he knew his life would drastically change.” Or, “She woke up barefoot, lost, and with something unusual beside her.” My students brainstorm the second sentence for a dozen or so of these sentence starters. Then, I set them free to expand one of the starters a bit further. We don’t look at grammar, and instead, we focus on just keeping the flow. I remind them that authors often discuss how their first draft is terrible, and this is okay. We are getting ideas onto paper and finding our flow. We’ll worry about the revision and editing later, right?

Let’s share!

How do we get our students to hit this reading and/or writing flow?

Do any activities work well for you?


Black Ants and Buddhists by Mary Cowhey



Black Ants and Buddhists
Author: Mary Cowhey
Published: January 1st, 2006 by Stenhouse Publishers

Summary: What would a classroom look like if understanding and respecting differences in race, culture, beliefs, and opinions were at its heart? Welcome to Mary Cowhey’s Peace Class in Northampton, MA, where first and second graders view the entire curriculum through the framework of understanding the world, and trying to do their part to make it a better place.

Woven through the book is Mary’s unflinching and humorous account of her own roots in a struggling large Irish Catholic family and her early career as a community activist. Mary’s teaching is infused with lessons of her heroes: Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, and others. Her students learn to make connections between their lives, the books they read, the community leaders they meet, and the larger world.

If you were inspired to become a teacher because you wanted to change the world, and instead find yourself limited by teach-to-the-test pressures, this is the book that will make you think hard about how you spend your time with students. It offers no easy answers, just a wealth of insight into the challenges of helping students think critically about the world, and starting points for conversations about diversity and controversy in your classroom, as well as in the larger community.

Review and Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Mary Cowhey’s book is a phenomenal resource for teachers. It is directed for elementary school educators, but I learned a lot, and I am a high school educator. Her main focus is to promote social justice, action, and independence in the classroom. Cowhey integrates stories from her personal life (she grew up without much money and as an adult, was a single mother on welfare) into her lessons to show how she helps her students feel comfortable and safe when sharing their own experiences. She teaches them that regardless of their social or economic standing, they have the ability to be successful.

Each chapter addresses important issues that teachers face, such as how to: set routines, differentiate, respond to tragedy, teach history so kids care, build trust with families, and go against the grain. When her students were dissatisfied with something, she had them write letters. They became young advocates. Cowhey has an extremely responsive classroom, where she takes the students’ interests and teaches different aspects of history, literature, and life each year. Some may find her ideas to be a bit liberal, but they are certainly adaptable for more conservative classrooms. Her students learn in the field, walking to see the mayor to demand a change in their town or visiting a sanitation company when a student wondered, “Where do the poops go?”

What I loved most about Cowhey’s book is that it showed me how to make my students more in-tune with their surroundings. I would love to have my own child in her classroom, as I know he or she would learn a lot about self-advocacy.

Discussion Questions: How do I teach my students to value social justice?; How do I create a culturally responsive and socially responsive classroom?; How do I make class meaningful for my students?; How do I create a safe and comfortable place for my students?; What do I do when students are distracted while I am trying to teach a concept?

We Flagged: “How we respond to tragedy, as teachers, as parents, as humans, not only provides comfort and security, but also can provide hope and power for children in a world that is often unfair, and sometimes unspeakably violent” (181).

Read This If You Loved: Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching about Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word by Linda Christensen, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Teachers as Cultural Workers by Paulo Freire


What is your favorite book for professional development? Have you read this one? What did you think? Please share your thoughts!

When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12 by Kylene Beers



When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12
Author: Kylene Beers
Published: October 22, 2002 by Heinemann Educational Books

Summary: When Kylene Beers entered the classroom in the 1970s, she had dreams of teaching AP classes, filled with students who were passionate, high-level readers. She was shocked when she was confronted by classes of students who not only couldn’t read but didn’t want to read. While she wanted a job teaching seniors in high school, she took the only available position as a seventh grade teacher. George was a boy in her classroom. He couldn’t read. In a conference, his parents asked Beers how she planned to help George, and she didn’t have the answers. After a few years with students like George, Beers set out to find more effective ways to teach students like him.

Review: This practical handbook will prove to be an invaluable guide for both beginning and experienced middle and high school English teachers. I was told by more than one professor that this is the “best book to teach struggling readers.” I expected to learn a few strategies from the book, but I was shocked by just how much I learned. There are so many new ideas, practical tips, and classroom activities that I wish I’d discovered this book much earlier. The book helps teachers diagnose struggling readers’ issues and offers practical solutions.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The book is divided into major sections of: Comprehension, Vocabulary, Fluency, Word Recognition, and Motivation. I don’t believe it is intended to be read cover-to-cover (although I read it that way because I found it to be so fascinating), and teachers can use it as more of a guidebook for diagnosing and addressing concerns with particular students. The inside cover directs teachers to the chapter they might be looking for.

I can’t share all of the awesome details of the book, so I will hone in on one chapter. I’ve always considered myself to be an excellent planner and implementer of pre-reading strategies. I use KWL charts, have students walk around the room to discover concepts, and just adore student debates that stem from anticipation guides. Beers’ book put me to shame. She introduced the idea of a KWGL chart (the G standing for where the students plan to GO for the information). Why didn’t I think of that? Additionally, she presented ideas called the “Probable Passage” and the “Tea Party,” two strategies I had never heard of. In the next chapter about “Constructing Meaning,” she describes ELEVEN (yes, I said eleven) different strategies to engage readers with constructing meaning. I liked the strategies a lot because many of them seemed very fun. I can imagine my students would be extremely engaged in their reading, had I used these strategies. She also provides blank worksheets of the strategies in the appendices (and we love this, don’t we?).

I have read many professional development books. This is certainly one of my favorites because it is practical, easy-to-employ, and extremely useful. I am jealous that I haven’t thought of all of the great strategies, activities, and pointers that Beers has used in her classroom. If I employed more of these ideas, I would feel like the Wonder Woman of the School.

Discussion Questions: What do we do when a student comes tell us they ‘just don’t get it’? What is a struggling reader? Once we’ve discovered that a student can’t read, what can we do about it? How do we create independent readers out of dependent readers? What is the best way to teach vocabulary? How do we help students with fluency and automaticity? Are phonics important? How do we create confidence in our readers?

We Flagged: “I think back to any one of the many days that I encouraged George to ‘just reread it’ and acknowledge that there’s wisdom in that comment, but more important[ly], I recognize the assumption that guided me for a long time: if they read it (the text), it (the meaning) will come. ‘Did you read it?’ I asked. ‘Well, go read it again. You can get it.’ Meaning was obviously something in the text that George could surely grasp if he just read it often enough” (p. 8).

Read This If You Loved: In the Middle by Nancie Atwell, The English Teacher’s Companion by Jim Burke, Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, Deeper Reading by Kelly Gallagher, I Read it but I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani


What is your favorite book for professional development? Have you read this one? What did you think? Share your thoughts!