Considering that we’re smack dab in the middle of Memorial Day weekend—the traditional start of summer—I figured it was high time that I put together a reading list for y’all.

I know, I know:  Nobody likes the curmudgeon who assigns a massive list of scholarly tomes that won’t fit easily into beach bags.  In fact, writing this post today kind of makes me feel like the militant librarian that nobody likes because she drains the joy out of reading—and life, come to think of it!

The good news is that my reading list is completely optional!

There will be no “fall freshman” seminar that you have to attend and no extensive reporting required.  I won’t compose a collection of multiple choice questions designed to determine whether you can identify author’s purpose.  And this ain’t no Accelerated Reader list either, so I won’t be handing out trinkets to those of you who read the most books.

I just figured that you might be interested in the kinds of books that I’ve found interesting over the past few years:

What I’m Reading Right Now:

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky:  Here Comes Everybody is turning out to be one of the more interesting titles that I’ve picked up in a long while.  Essentially a book about human interactions, Shirky works to explain how digital tools and the Read/Write web are changing the ways that people work together.  I find myself nodding all the time while reading Shirky’s work because it explains a lot of what I see as I work to introduce my professional learning team to tools for electronic collaboration.

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink:  I downloaded Pink’s book onto my Kindle yesterday primarily because it seems like you’re completely illiterate in today’s educational environment if you HAVEN’T read it!  Almost every conversation that I get into with progressive educators sees someone send a nod towards Pink’s thinking.  In this title, he explains why our world will eventually favor right brained thinkers who are capable of synthesis over left brained thinkers who are good at analysis and outlines six specific behaviors that will be the keys to tomorrow’s kingdom.

What I Haven’t (Regretfully) Been Able to Finish Yet:

Classroom Assessment for Student Learning by Rick Stiggins and Friends:  I gotta tell ya, no single task drives me crazier than trying to assess my students.  Embarrassing, huh?  How can an award winning teacher openly admit to not having a clue whether or not the work that he is doing is making a difference.  That’s why I picked up this title—and it’s amazing.  Almost every page includes ideas about what high quality assessment looks like in the classroom, and my practices are slowly changing for the better.

The only problem:  This sucker’s almost 500 pages long!  I think I’ve made it to chapter 4 so far.  I figure by the time I retire, I’ll hit the back cover.

What I’d Read Again if I Had the Time:

Deeper Reading by Kelly Gallagher:  I often tell people that you can tell how much I liked a book by the number of dog-eared pages and annotations that you find when you pick it up from my bookshelf.  If that’s true, then Deeper Reading would be on my list of “Books to Bury Me With.”  It’s an amazingly approachable look into pre, during and post reading strategies that are appropriate for the middle and high school classroom.  No joke:  Like 90% of the strategies that I use in my classroom are Gallagher rip-offs.

Summarization in Any Subject by Rick Wormeli:  So Rick Wormeli is a digital pal of mine—A long time TLNer who made it to the big leagues!  I can remember Rick and I arguing once over whether he was still a real teacher anymore, considering he makes bank doing consulting work all over God’s creation.  Rick’s answer:  “Those of us working beyond the classroom are helping to change instructional practices in deep in meaningful ways.”

At the time, my answer was, “Yeah, right!”  And then I read Summarization in Any Subject and it changed my instructional practices by introducing me to a collection of 50 different ways to incorporate summarization into my daily lessons.  I guess Rick was right!

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni:  Here’s a book I almost didn’t get through!  You see, I’m a bit of a skeptic and Five Dysfunctions seemed like just another one of those business books that cross over into the educational field because some superintendent read it and wanted to make his district more like a corporation and less like a learning organization.  You know what I mean, right?  After all, if you’ve been in schools long enough, someone has probably tried to convince you that Who Moved My Cheese was an earth-shaker too.

But Five Dysfunctions was different.  It was one of the first books that helped me to understand what was happening on my professional learning team.  Having language to describe the struggles behind collaborative work—and recognizing that our dysfunctions were actually pretty normal—was one of the key factors in convincing me that PLCs were worth my time and effort.

What Feeds My Inner Geek:

Class and Schools by Richard Rothstein:  Class and Schools was one of the first policy-wonkish books that I ever read and it changed the way that I think about education.  In it, Rothstein goes through a wide range of factors beyond schools that contribute to the achievement gap between white students and students of color.  Reading it helped me to realize that schools are not the only solution to the struggles faced by children living in poverty.  Really—It’s a must read for anyone involved in education.

Who Controls Teachers’ Work by Richard Ingersoll:  About 7 years ago, I went through some difficult professional times, wondering whether or not I was cut out to always play second fiddle in the schoolhouse.  I was frustrated, I think, about the limits that are often placed on classroom teachers simply because they lack broad decision making power in buildings.  After reading Ingersoll cover-to-cover in about two nights, I realized I was right!  While his work is stats heavy and narrative light, Ingersoll outlines the lack of empowerment that can often drive teachers away from our profession.

Education Myths by Jay Greene:  In this absolutely shocking book, Greene spins a collection of half-truths designed to attack public education that have been embraced by conservatives including Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  I literally could only read this one in small doses—and my wife had to constantly remind me that Greene couldn’t hear me cursing at him while I read.  My friends kept asking why I kept reading.  My reply:  “Wise men always say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer—and few can play the enemy role better than my favorite professional myth-maker Jay Greene.”

Schoolteacher by Dan Lortie:  Schoolteacher was recommended to me by my good friend Barnett Berry—who is the heart behind the Teacher Leaders Network.  “Bill,” Barnett told me one summer, “The single most important book on the life of teachers in American schools is Schoolteacher by Dan Lortie.  You’ve got to read it.  Heck, I’ll even buy your copy.”

“What makes it so significant?” I asked.

“It was written in 1977, yet it still rings true today—over 30 years later.  How’s that for scary?”  he answered—-and he was right!

What I Need a Few Gift Cards to Buy:

On Common Ground by Rick DuFour and Friends:  If you’ve read the Radical at all in the past few years, you know that I’m working in a building founded on professional learning community principles—and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about PLCs, it’s that they’re hard to start and hard to sustain!  The work is incredibly worthwhile, but every now and then, I need a bit of a confidence boost, and I believe On Common Ground just might be what I’m looking for.  Heck, it’s got systematic advice about PLCs from educational heavyweights like DuFour, Roland Barth and Michael Fullan.  Who wouldn’t want to read it?

Classroom Assessment and Grading that Works by Robert Marzano:  Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but I’ve never read anything that Marzano has written.  Crazy, huh?  After all, I’ve plowed through about a billion books in the past three or four years—and Marzano has written some of the most significant books of the past decade, pairing research with tangible action steps to drive change in schools.  I figure it’s time for me to figure out what all the buzz is about, and this title is a good starting point.  After all, it’s about assessment—a personal weakness.

What I’m Reading for Fun:

The Taliban by Ahmed Rashid:  Come on….Admit it….You’re curious about the Taliban too, aren’t you?  After all, their actions have embroiled the Middle East in a seemingly never-ending war.  How can you not want to know more about this group of friendly neighborhood extremists?  Amazingly, this book was about ten times more approachable than I expected it to be—and it was interesting times ten too.

Did you know that under the Taliban, women could be arrested for allowing their shoes to make noise while they walked?  Turns out it distracts men and prevents them from keeping their eyes on God!  Who knew?

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali:  After reading The Taliban, I wanted to know more about the life of women in extremist Muslim countries.  That’s when I stumbled across this autobiography/memoir written by one of the most amazing women in the world.  Ayaan Ali broke away from a radical Muslim community in Somalia and went on to a political career in Europe.  Then, she made a short film critical of Islam.  Now, she lives in exile in the United States under the threat of death from those who seek to crush her voice.

Escape by Carolyn Jessop and Laura Palmer: If you haven’t figured it out already, my pleasure reading list seems to spiral from one title to another—and over the past few months, I’m trying to learn more about how extreme religions treat their followers, particularly women.  That interest led me to an extreme religion right here in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A:  The FLDS, led by convicted criminal (and part time prison prophet) Warren Jeffs.  In this title, a former FLDS member describes the life of abuse that she led before breaking free with her eight children.

Whaddya’ think?  Have any of the books on my list caught your attention?  Are there any books that you’ve read recently that should be added to our collective summer list?  What title should I pick up next?

Looking forward to your comments, that’s for sure.  After all, I’m going to need a new book soon!


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