I am feeling the school year creep nearer. All school teachers feel it right now: our thoughts are turning toward lesson plans, while our spirits still want to be hitting the beach. I deal with this dichotomy by reading books, of course!

(I know this is a few hours early, but I’m going the beach tomorrow and have already declared that I will not be reading any education-related books at the beach, which may in fact be a lie.)

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education – Sir Ken Robinson

We’ve all seen the wonderful TEDtalk by Sir Ken Robinson, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (Wait, you haven’t seen that? Watch it right now!)

Good, now that you’re caught up, I just started reading Creative Schools yesterday. I think, so far, that it’s exactly the kind of book teachers *should* read when getting ready to start a new school year. Robinson questions the standards-based education system, claiming that the climate of high stakes testing and standards based learning damages more students than it helps, and that it actually does little for real learning. He posits that the current educational model that we follow is archaic, a holdover from the Industrial Revolution and the principles of mass production.

In the last forty years, the population of the world has doubled from less than three billion to more than seven billion. We are the largest population of human beings ever to be on Earth at the same time, and the numbers are rising precipitously. At the same time, digital technologies are transforming how we all work, play, thin, feel, and relate to each other. That revolution has barely begun. The old systems of education were not designed with this world in mind. Improving them by raising conventional standards will not meet the challenges we now face.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. In the spirit of my mantra, “Don’t Panic,” I firmly believe that the best way to deal with challenges like digital technologies and outdated modes of education is to work from within that system and do what I can.

I look forward to reading more of this book and having a battle plan in mind when I attend the first School Management Team meeting of the year.

Write Like This – Kelly Gallagher

Do you teach writing? No, you teach students. Still, you teach your students how to write, and that should be true regardless of the particular content/discipline you teach in. I first started implementing mentor texts in my class after an amazing session with Penny Kittle at a National Writing Project conference last year. I was inspired that I lobbied hard for my Teachers as Readers group to read Gallagher’s book. Unfortunately, the month we were supposed to read it was rife with snow days, and so we never did get around to discussing it and, I’ll be honest, I was probably playing a lot more Skyrim than I was reading anything.

But now, there’s more urgency. Most of my students are reluctant readers and writers, but since I started using mentor texts in my class, I’ve seen a blossoming of curiosity, risk-taking, and confidence. I think that as we teach writing, many educators can forget how hard writing can be, especially if we had the good fortune to be “naturals.” By the way, I don’t actually believe anyone is a natural: I just think that some of us more implicitly dissect mentor texts before we find our voices.

Anyway, if you want an excellent model for how to model good writing techniques  to your students, I recommend Gallagher’s book and also Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, which is still on my “to-read” list. These books can make explicit an authentic writing pedagogy that actually works. Trust me: I’ve got the anecdotal evidence and the numbers to prove it!

We All Looked Up – Tommy Wallach

I just finished this yesterday, and I adored it. This book…wow. Tommy Wallach’s debut novel about a group of teenagers facing rhe end of the world as an asteroid hurtles toward earth is heartwrenching and honest. The teens don’t suddenly stop caring about their own lives or become wise existentialists. They grapple with life, death, and the meaning of it all, but their day to day concerns (friendship, love, sex, family, even school) don’t disappear in the face of likely annihilation. Adults aren’t cast as all-knowing saviors, and society is damaged in many ways you might predict. The story has great heart and bravery. I look forward to book – talking this to my students this year.

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