If I had a few clone Daves, I'd task one of them with reading all the time. Each morning I'd give him his daily ration of coffee, chocolate, and reading material, and then he'd go off to the library or the coffee shop or an empty classroom at my school or in a hammock in my garage. Each day at lunch and dinner, he'd have to write up a brief report on what he read, and if anything seemed pertinent to projects I was working on or classroom problems I was trying to solve at the time, he'd highlight those for me. Every two weeks, he'd go back and review material he'd read a few weeks back, culling the stuff of lasting importance and putting it into some kind of system for me to access later on.
Now granted, he'd probably not be happy for long — after all, I wouldn't let him hang out with my family much (so awkward having multiple copies of Dad at the dinner table each night) — so I'm sure one day I'd go to chat with him on his daily reading reports, and I'd find a runaway note. (Something like, “Dear Dave, I'm tired of doing this. I need to experience human interaction. Take care. Love, Dave.”) It'd be a failed experiment, wrought with ethical failures. But still, a guy with too little time to read can dream, right?
How to read like a pro
I often get questions from reader-colleagues about what I'm reading, and the answer is usually “as much as I can.” But there's more that I often want to say in response to questions like these, so I'm going to use this post to say those things.
First, before we worry about what to read, we need to be smart about how and why we're doing it. This is a prerequisite to reading as much as possible during the limited time we have as multi-vocational teachers, and it's also required if we're to profit as much as we can from our reading. Now, my thoughts on professional reading surely aren't the best ones, but they'll at least get you caught up to where my thinking is.
- How to Read Like a Professional: In this early-years-of-the-blog post, I lay out some of the key ideas from Adler and Van Doren's How to Read a Book. To my knowledge, there's not a better treatment on intelligent reading in the world. This post (and, at much greater depth, that book) will give you critical first principles for building a better professional reading life.
- How to Read Professional Development Books: 7 Tactics You Might Not be Using: This post has a few gems in it — more treatment of Adler and Van Doren's key ideas, an early reference to satisficing, and an annotated list of professional development books I've gained a lot from.
- Setting a Summer Reading Project: In this post, I describe how I use a few areas of professional focus to guide my professional reading. The green graphic here is outdated (stay tuned for my book out this summer for an updated version), but the idea of focusing our professional reading is a worthy one for deep consideration.
- No More (New) Reading: In this post, I describe a critical time in my career when I decided not to read anything new for a year. Perhaps you, too, are at this point.
- How to Read (and Actually Enjoy) More Books this Year: Here, I critique the commonplace practice (especially amongst my English teaching colleagues) of counting how many books we read in a year. Whether you agree with my critique or not, I hope you'll consider the cautions I bring.
And finally, if you've not read Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book, it's worth it.
What I Plan to Read This Summer
Now with all of that said, here are some items on my summer 2018 reading list. (Please note: the following contains links to books on Amazon. I use Amazon links because Amazon is convenient for many of my readers, and because Amazon gives me a small portion of any sales through my links — at no expense to you — that I can then use to purchase more books. Please purchase responsibly.)
Books I'll read slowly and analytically
- These 6 Things: How to Focus Your Teaching on What Matters Most, by me. No, this isn't a shameless plug. First on my list this summer is to finish reading through the proofs of my forthcoming book so that it's ready for your eyes on July 24. This is slow, thorough reading. (If you'd like to be on a special email list for that book, sign up here. Hardcore fans only 🙂
- The new, second edition of Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, by Mike Schmoker. I had a chance to sit down and listen to Mike at a conference in Michigan this winter, and it got me very excited for the second edition of his book. In the canon of professional development literature, Mike is a wisdom writer. I'm looking forward to returning my mind, yet again, to the fundamentals, and I'm curious to see what he's tweaked for the second edition.
- 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents, by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. Written by two greats, I hear that this one gives unprecedented access into the way they think. A key goal of slow, analytical reading is to internalize how an author thinks — to invite them into a room in your mind so that you might consult with them later.
Books I plan to read quickly and inspectionally
The point of this kind of reading is to pick up a few new things and make note of where one can go to learn more in the future. An inspectional read can be done in as little as sixty minutes; it's not speed-reading; it's the satisficing approach to reading a book.
- When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Dan Pink. I love Pink's newsletter (one of the few I read), and all I know about this book right now is 1) he wrote it, 2) he advocates for naps in his book, and this gets me one piece of evidence closer to justifying a hammock in my classroom for prep hour, and 3) it's about when to do things.
- Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools, by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. As I demonstrated in a recent series of posts on building better school cultures, this is something I want to start learning about. This book came up a few times in my reading for that series of posts.
- The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox, by John Freeman. I've gotten back to being very bad at it, and it's slowly killing me. The thing that I don't like is neglecting the person behind the messages I fail to respond to. A friend said to me recently, “It's not an email — it's a person.” I need to get better here for the sake of my sanity, my relationships, and my students.
- Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Answers to Classroom Challenges, by Larry Ferlazzo. I really appreciate Larry, and I'm continuing to learn as much as I can from the literature on student motivation. We all need our kids to do the work of learning and do it with care. That's what motivation is for.
- No More Fake Reading: Merging the Classics With Independent Reading to Create Joyful, Lifelong Readers, by Berit Gordon. I keep hearing good things about this book, and it's time to read it!
- A Novel Approach: Whole-Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice, by Kate Roberts. This will serve as a conversation partner with the Gordon book, above.
Books I plan to read at my leisure
Reading can't be all work, of course! Here are some books on my list just for fun.
- Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, by S. C. Gwynne. The Comanches disprove just about every commonly held notion of the conquest of the Americas. I want to know more about their story.
- Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II, by Robert Kurson. Kurson is supposedly the best narrative nonfiction writer in the business.
- The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, by Amy Hollingsworth. I keep hearing Rogers' name lately, and I want to learn more. I didn't watch him growing up, but my kids are into Daniel Tiger. 🙂
All right. Have a good day!
Kelly Dillon says
Hi Dave! I just discovered your blog via an epic Twitter surfing session that can only happen on a summer Monday when everyone else is at work. I find myself nodding in agreement with post after post. I appreciate your emphasis on simplicity and your commitment to “workhorse” instructional practices like AoW and Pop Up Debate. One of the reasons I love teaching is that it affords me the freedom (and professional duty) to evolve and try new things. However, I realize that I have a tendency to get carried away with new ideas and try to take on too many new projects each year. Sometimes it feels like I’m throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, which is exciting but ultimately exhausting and unsustainable. My goal for next year is to be more purposeful and consistent. I, too, have been reading 180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. I love their approach, but I am not ready to drop everything and adopt a full workshop model. I have two questions for you about the book: 1) Which of their practices are you most interested in trying and why? 2) What is your take on their allegiance to daily practices – independent reading and writing notebook? I worry about chopping up the class into so many pieces, that it might be difficult to build momentum in a unit of study. At the same time, I understand that it is all to easy to let these practices slide if we don’t prioritize them.
Thank you for writing so much great stuff. I look forward to reading more!
Kelly, great questions here. This book is one from the list that I haven’t gotten to yet this summer, so I can’t answer #1 yet. But for #2, I agree with you and I think you’ve identified the biggest challenge to teaching secondary English: there are all of these great daily practices out there in the professional books (e.g., independent reading, writing notebook, sentence of the day, poem of the day, daily book talk…), but we have to choose. I’m always tweaking, but I seem to be settling on independent/choice reading 2-3 days / week and a daily warm-up (5 min) in a writer’s notebook. I also use AoW like you’re saying.
What I most appreciate about KG and PK is that I think they are very responsive to what they are seeing in the classroom. That’s a value I share. But I also have curriculum expectations at my school that I need to respect, and I find that I can create good learning environments within those constraints.
Thank you Kelly 🙂