12 Books Every Teacher Should Read
Great books read and recommended by teachers
It’s time to hit the bookstore.
We asked a team of top teachers, editors, and experts for their recommendations for the best books on education of the past decade.
1. Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter Johnston (Stenhouse, 2004)
With just 120 pages, this small book is packed with big ideas about the importance of teacher language. “Choice Words is a groundbreaking work, and perhaps the most powerful and teacher-friendly book ever published,” says our first recommender, Richard Allington, professor of reading education at the University of Tennessee and former president of the International Reading Association. Choice Words suggests that how teachers talk to children is critical to how they develop as learners. Creating a healthy environment in the classroom through appropriate language is just as important as selecting content, Johnston contends, just harder to measure.
Other Favorites from Allington:
Kindergarten Literacy by Anne McGill-Franzen (Scholastic, 2005)
Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?: Content Comprehension Grades 6–12 by Cris Tovani (Stenhouse, 2004)
2. Learning to Trust: Transforming Difficult Elementary Classrooms Through Developmental Discipline by Marilyn Watson and Laura Ecken (Jossey-Bass, 2003)
In this book about classroom management and discipline, the focus is on tuning into childrens’ unmet needs, not on classroom control. Alfie Kohn, noted critic of education’s focus on testing and grades and author of The Homework Myth (Da Capo, 2006), chose this work as a must-read for teachers. “Even with tough kids, the authors show us the teacher’s job is not to demand obedience but to build relationships, to understand the students’ aching need to be cared about,” says Kohn. “It is a radically liberating notion that aggression and other disturbing actions can be attributed to kids’ lack of skills or ability to trust, rather than to their being bad.”
3. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell (Scholastic, 2007)
This book distills an approach to adolescent reading that Atwell has developed over the past three decades, says Thomas Newkirk, professor of English at the University of New Hampshire and co-editor of Teaching the Neglected “R” (Heinemann, 2007). “She argues passionately and convincingly that students need to be treated as readers—that they must have the liberty to choose the books they read and to feel the deep pleasure of being ‘in the reading zone,’” says Newkirk. Atwell describes practical ways to make classrooms of all levels inviting to readers. The book includes information about assessments and goal setting and contains book lists and sample parent letters.
Other Favorites from Newkirk:
What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning by James Gee (Palgrave, 2004)
The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn by Diane Ravitch (Vintage, 2004)
The Disciplined Mind: Beyond Facts and Standardized Tests, the K–12 Education that Every Child Deserves by Howard Gardner (Penguin, 2000)
4. The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol (Three Rivers Press, 2005)
Having brought to light inequalities in our nation’s educational system in his previous books, Amazing Grace and Savage Inequities, Kozol again reveals a compelling case for the need to revamp our schools to serve all students. Over a five-year period, Kozol toured 60 schools in 11 states. His research illuminates the persistent segregation in U.S. schools. “The combined works of Jonathan Kozol is my must-read for teachers today,” says Robert Barr, senior analyst at the Center for School Improvement at Boise State University. “No one has written with such passion and concern for the children of poverty and minorities and the failings of the nation’s schools. Hands down the most important book of this age.”
5. Schooling America: How the Public Schools Meet the Nation’s Changing Needs by Patricia Albjerg Graham (Oxford University Press, 2007)
“Among the many volumes written about American education in the 20th century, Graham’s brief history is a pleasure to read, touchingly personal, and above all, authoritative,” says multiple intelligences expert Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. In this book, Graham uses a variety of sources to retell the story of the many changes that public schools have made since 1900 in response to critics, policy-makers, and the culture of the times. This work will give readers a deeper understanding of how we got to where we are today.
Other Favorites from Gardner:
The Wisdom of Practice by Lee Shulman (Jossey-Bass, 2004)
The Educated Mind by Kieran Egan (University of Chicago Press, 1997)
6. Mosaic of Thought: The Power of Comprehension Strategy Instruction by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmermann (Heinemann, 2007)
This book made several of our experts’ lists. “Mosaic of Thought articulates for teachers in the clearest possible way the strategies good readers use to make meaning, then shows us how we can teach those strategies to poor readers,” says reviewer Penny Kittle, professional development coordinator in New Hampshire. Kittle remembers how she gave the book to a principal who consumed it in one weekend and bought copies for all of the department chairs Monday morning. “It’s beautifully written and an inspiring work,” says Kittle.
Other Favorites from Kittle:
A Teacher’s Sketch Journal by Karen Ernst (Heinemann, 1997)
Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray (NCTE, 1999)
7. Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture by Thomas Newkirk (Heinemann, 2002)
“In this book, Newkirk challenges elementary educators to rethink their response to pop culture in their classrooms,” says renowned educator Shelley Harwayne, former teacher and administrator with the New York Public Schools. Young boys’ obsession with video games, movies, and sports can be perplexing, but Newkirk tries to understand this compulsion by talking with boys and analyzing their responses. He dismisses conventional wisdom that boys mimic the violence they see and contends that their response to popular culture is much more complex. The author encourages schools to provide literature and teaching methods that connect with boys. “Newkirk makes a strong and eloquent argument in favor of allowing a wider range of genres in literacy instruction, in both our reading and writing workshops. Above all, he offers brilliant insights into offering young boys front-row seats in the literacy arena,” says Harwayne.
Other Favorites from Harwayne:
Testing Is Not Teaching: What Should Count in Education by Donald Graves (Heinemann, 2002)
On the Death of Childhood and the Destruction of Public Education: The Folly of Today’s Education Policies and Practices by Gerald Bracey (Heinemann, 2003)
8. When Kids Can’t Read—What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6–12 by Kylene Beers (Heinemann, 2002)
This book guides teachers through the challenging task of getting older students to become better readers. Blending research and practical ideas, Beers addresses the basics of improving comprehension, fluency, word recognition, and vocabulary, as well as the key element: motivation. Ray Coutu, managing editor of Scholastic Teaching Resources, says Beers’ book filled a major hole in professional literature. “Finally, middle- and high-school English teachers have a book on the nuts and bolts of teaching reading,” he says. “The troubling reality was that these teachers were assigning books that many of their students simply couldn’t read, with no tools to help them. But Beers has made a major step in changing all that.”
Other Favorites from Coutu:
6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide, Grades 3 and Up by Ruth Culham (Scholastic, 2003)
The Fluent Reader by Timothy Rasinski (Scholastic, 2003)
9. Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard (Heinemann, 1998)
This book is recommended by Nancie Atwell, author of The Reading Zone (Scholastic, 2007) and founder of the Center for Teaching and Learning, a K–8 demonstration school in Edgecomb, Maine. “Heard has practical suggestions about how to invite kids to behave as poets, not as children doing cute activities that might rhyme,” says Atwell. “She understands what poetry does in people’s lives and finds ways to invite kids to partake in the deepest and most joyful level. It is such an inspiration. It changed the way I teach poetry.” The book discusses how to foster a creative environment for expressing poetry and is full of practical examples, exercises, and projects to nurture young poets in the classroom.
10. Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner (Harvard Business School Press, 2007)
Here, Harvard professor and cognitive researcher Howard Gardner outlines the five kinds of mental abilities, or minds, that will be essential in the 21st century: disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful, and ethical. With rapid change and the explosion of information, these approaches to thinking will be critical to society in the future, he maintains. This book was chosen by Gail Connelly, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, who says Gardner’s books are all grounded in research, but offer important, practical implications for teaching and learning.
Other Favorites from Connelly:
Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century by Howard Gardner (Basic Books, 2000)
The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century by Thomas Friedman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)
11. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 10th edition, 2007)
Here, Palmer presents a profound argument that speaks to the complexities of teaching and learning, portraying them as a paradox, a “creative tension” that must always be present in classrooms for learning to happen, says Linda Rief, a teacher, literacy consultant, and author of Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise into Practice (Heinemann, 2007). “In an environment of test mania, Palmer passionately and convincingly states that we cannot reduce teaching to prescriptive programs and isolated skills to be followed like a cookbook. Instead, we must be open to the paradoxes of teaching that honor and respect the voices and the stories of the individual as well as those of the community and the group,” says Rief. “Teaching is an emotional, as well as an intellectual, endeavor that embodies all we are as human beings. The book expects us to think far more deeply and widely than ‘tell me what to do tomorrow.’”
Other Favorites from Rief:
The Kind of Schools We Need: Personal Essays by Elliot W. Eisner (Heinemann, 1998)
Teacher Man: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (Scribner, 2006)
12. How Students Learn: Science in the Classroom edited by M. Suzanne Donovan and John D. Bransford (National Research Council of the National Academies, 2005)
This book discusses principles of learning that can help improve science teaching and student understanding at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Here, teachers share their personal experiences and effective strategies for helping students gain deep understanding of science principles. It is recommended reading by Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. “The book ‘grounds’ many of the difficult challenges of instruction, such as what is scientific inquiry and what does it look like in the classroom,” he says.
Caralee Adams writes about education, parenting, and health. she lives in bethesda, md. you can write to her and the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.