Ed Tech: The Evolving Learner-Centered Classroom

Part 2 of 2. Click here for part 1.

Crystal ball photo by Tttrung, Chmouel GNU free license creative commonsThere is no time machine or magic crystal ball to show us the future, but hundreds of educators, tech developers, and tech trainers are working to make that future happen. An informal survey of tech trainers shows many exciting innovations on the way. One primary thought came through in the trainers’ responses: new tools are coming to make learner-centered education take off.

Learner-based education is not new. It has been an effective teaching strategy for some time, though adapting the classroom and resources to help students take charge of their own learning can be challenging. Changing a school district to competency-based direct assessment has a cost in both dollars and time.

Tech support for highly interactive learning spaces, off-site support for learners, and administrative support for curriculum and assessment has been expanding in the last few years. As iPods and iPads—with their countless apps—swarmed into classrooms, students pushed the apps’ limits and teachers jumped into learning how to best use these tools. Shifting from using apps as occasional support to fully tech-supported curriculum and resources means shifting the use of these and other tech tools.

This shift has begun, and in a few short years it may well revolutionize how students become learners, and how teachers guide and mentor them along the way. Today we see vendors like Google Apps for Education and ED@ developing curriculum software to change how collaboration happens. Along with other developers, they are building new systems to support the learners, educators, and administrators of the future.

How This Might Change the Classroom

Valles Caldera NM photo by Thomas Shahan upload by Jacobo Werther Creative Commons

Valles Caldera, NM

It’s 2024, and you are with your students on a field trip through the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the high desert of New Mexico. You are using GPS-guided technology to view highlights of the area. Hiking though the forest and meadow in this ancient volcanic crater, you experience the varied wildlife and study how plants have evolved to use available water in each season. A bird runs across the path, and you notice on your monitor that several of the students are accessing bird identification data, while others are commenting to each other about how fast that bird ran. One student has sent a question to the park naturalist.

The field trip described above is actually a classroom experience, using several technologies available now or under development. Students in the class are watching on a giant monitor, increasing the detail and reality of the “field trip.” In this setting from 2024, you are able to access not only your own district’s cloud servers for resources and curriculum, but other sites as well. Using today’s new clip-on cameras, the National Park Service and many groups are starting to record trail hikes and field experiences. Bringing these to classrooms will likely be done using their own cloud servers.

Google_Glass_with_frame Along with several fellow learners off-site, your students are also using smartphones, tablets, wrist devices, or perhaps a variation on the recently marketed Google Glasses to share questions. You are monitoring your groups’ use of their personal devices—seeing them raise questions and start discussions in real time. After the experience, some students may decide to look at the history of this old volcano, others to look for more on birds. Your off-site students are just as involved in the discussion as the ones sharing the room with you. While not quite a true virtual hiking trip, it offers an experience well beyond the capabilities of a tablet alone. You can revisit it and find new focus areas for future learning experiences.

Presently, in a School Improvement Network demonstration of teaching two-digit subtraction to second-graders using a learner-centered approach, the teacher has the students develop sample equations and define the evidence that shows mastery of the problem. This small group working together in a classroom is engaged in the task and has a great discussion of ways to improve their subtraction skills. But they are using the same technology that their grandparents used—writing it out.

sonystrapsonwristNow imagine teaching this lesson in a learner-centered environment of the future. The math learning station has gone virtual. Students may well be spread out across a classroom or off-site. Using the same personal devices as in the New Mexico class experience, as well as their district’s cloud service, the teacher can help them explore the same math lesson and find ways to practice and improve their math skills. They can repeat the lesson or move on to the next, at home as well as in the classroom. A monitoring service allows teachers to review all students’ work and contributions to the group discussion, then direct them for future lessons. New data packets will continually assess each student’s progress and record it for administrative use.

How Technology Can Make This Happen
At first glance you might be saying, “But all that technology is already here!” Much of it is, but the software—and the cloud-based computing and storage required—need continued refinement. Hardware advances will bring even more changes, and breakthroughs in interactive software are happening regularly. Today’s designers and developers are partnering with educators to envision an expanded integration of technology with learning. In most cases, districts will probably find it cost effective to purchase customizable cloud resources from vendors, both for class and administrative uses.

Interactive computer tableAs anyone born before 1990 knows, the advent of personal computing and its increasing portability has changed the way students want to get information, how they communicate, and sometimes even how they learn. Today’s students have always had personal computing in their lives, and they expect connectivity. How we bring learning experiences to them will change, and helping to manage the change is an important role for educators and tech developers working together. Check the Suggested Resources below for more details on learner-centered classrooms, the technology to support it, and access to professional development resources for educators and administrators.

Then imagine the children of 2050, raised by the students who are barely entering schools today. Their expectations, and the amazing technology the generations in between will bring forth, may seem astounding. As Arthur C. Clarke first wrote in 1962, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The real magic comes in helping students grow and get excited about learning.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

Suggested Resources
The Apsen Institute’s Task Force on Learning and the Internet’s 2014 findings: Learner at the Center of a Networked World full report or selected highlights
Integrating Technology with Student Centered Learning from Nellie Mae Foundation (2011)
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
CoSN Leading Education Innovation

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Guest Post: Summer Drift

By Beth Baker and Char Ryan, authors of The PBIS Team Handbook

Like most educators, we always enjoy our summer breaks—doing a little traveling and a lot of reading, taking some time to reflect on the past year, and preparing for the new year. It’s our time to rejuvenate.

Beth Baker and Char Ryan

Beth Baker and Char Ryan

But what does summer break mean for PBIS? Some educators think that after a year or two of implementing PBIS, the hard work is done and they can forget about what it takes to sustain PBIS in their buildings. A lack of attention (or intention) causes a drift in all of the hard work invested in planning and implementing PBIS. In our book The PBIS Team Handbook, chapter 8 is devoted to sustaining and continuously improving PBIS in your school. To avoid drifting over the summer, here are some big ideas to keep your PBIS framework uppermost in mind so that you’ll be ready for fall:

First, select a few key summer assignments for the PBIS leadership team. An important one is updating the matrix, making changes based on your experience and data from the past year. Prepare to unroll it in the fall.

Welcome  PBIS team membersSecond, create a PBIS orientation and training for new staff and students. Consider having a PBIS leadership team meeting via Skype or GoToMeeting. Meet with student leaders to get their ideas for introducing your school’s routines to new students.

Third, focus on activities that promote continued staff and student buy-in, which can wax and wane yet is critical to maintaining ongoing implementation. Several factors contribute to buy-in, including frequent clear communication.

For example, send out a summer e-newsletter to all staff:

  • Include positive thoughts for the day and showcase photos from your school’s celebrations.
  • Have staff send in photos of themselves on summer vacation and use the photos for a slideshow at the beginning of the year. It’s a great way to introduce new students to staff.
  • Share articles related to PBIS and social/emotional learning—for ideas, check out freespirit.com, edutopia.org, or pbis.org.
  • Dig through your school’s data and identify specific areas of progress over the year. Acknowledge staff for their accomplishments.

Fourth, build community support: Visit with community members and discuss how they can support your school. Some examples:

  • Ask shops near your school to display your school expectations. Reinforce students for following the expectations outside of the school, too.
  • Train area police officers, park and rec employees, and library staff in PBIS. Together you can create learning matrices for these community areas that relate to your school-wide expectations.

Fifth, be sure to invest in yourself. If music feeds your soul, while cruising on a road trip keep your ears peeled for a song that could be next year’s school theme. Some suggestions:

  • “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
  • “Firework” by Katy Perry
  • “Hall of Fame” by The Script, featuring will.i.am (look for the edited version)
  • “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera
  • “I Got This” by Jennifer Hudson

So enjoy your summer break and relax a bit. But be intentional about your break. Accomplish what you can, doing what is meaningful for your school. You’ll start two steps ahead of where you left off in the spring, ready to dive in and set the summer drift back on track.

How do you sustain the momentum of PBIS year to year?

Beth Baker, M.S.Ed, is an independent behavioral consultant and an intervention specialist at Minneapolis Public Schools, where she works to create positive behavioral environments for elementary students. PBIS Team Handbook from Free Spirit PublishingShe was formerly the lead PBIS coach for a school district in the Minneapolis metropolitan area, as well as a special educator for many years, working with students who have emotional behavioral disability (EBD) needs. Beth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Char Ryan, Ph.D., is a PBIS coach, evaluation specialist, and Minnesota State SWIS (Schoolwide Information Systems) trainer. She is also a licensed psychologist and consultant with the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health. Formerly, Char was an assistant professor at Saint Cloud State University and state PBIS coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning. She is a frequent conference presenter and has been published in numerous journals, including Psychology in the Schools. Char lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Free Spirit Author Spotlight: Jill Starishevsky

The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following interview was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News.

Starishevsky_Jill_RGBJill Starishevsky has been an assistant district attorney in New York City since 1997, where she has prosecuted thousands of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Her mission to protect children, along with her penchant for poetry, inspired My Body Belongs to Me, which was released in May from Free Spirit Publishing. After originally self-publishing, Starishevsky decided to sell the book to Free Spirit to give it a larger reach. The second edition has brand new artwork and suggestions for parents and caregivers on discussing body safety with young children.

Q: Can you share a bit about your life’s work and how you wound up in your profession? 

Jill: For the past 17 years, I have prosecuted child abuse and sex crimes in New York City. As the middle child and the only girl in my family, I was often mediating disputes between my brothers. The skills I acquired led me to become an attorney. Upon graduating law school, I knew I wanted to do something that would help people and I could think of no better way to help than to fight for justice for the victims of violent crime.

Q: What prompted you to write My Body Belongs to Me?

Jill: As a prosecutor, I have often encountered children who were sexually abused for lengthy periods of time and suffered in silence. One case in particular had a profound impact on me and compelled me to write this book.

I prosecuted the case of a 9-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather since she was 6. She told no one. One day, the girl saw an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show about children who were physically abused. The episode, “Tortured Children,” empowered the girl with this simple message: If you are being abused, tell your parents. If you can’t tell your parents, go to school and tell your teacher. The girl got the message and the very next day went to school and told her teacher. I prosecuted the case for the District Attorney’s office. The defendant was convicted and served a lengthy prison sentence.

I have thought often of that very sweet, very brave 9-year-old girl. It occurred to me that after three painful years, all it took to begin the end of her nightmare was a TV program encouraging her to “tell a teacher.”

MyBodyBelongstoMeI wrote My Body Belongs to Me to continue that message. It endeavors to teach children that they don’t have to endure abuse in silence. It wasn’t until I had children of my own and wanted to talk to them about this important subject that I realized there was nothing out there to guide parents in having this discussion. It is my hope that by educating girls and boys about this taboo subject, My Body Belongs to Me will prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of writing this book?

Jill: Without a doubt, the most rewarding part of writing My Body Belongs to Me has been the feedback and praise I have received from readers. From survivors of child sexual abuse to new parents who are grateful for the resource, I have been overwhelmed by the book’s impact. I wrote the book to address a subject many publishers were unwilling to take head-on. I had not considered the level of appreciation my work would receive from those who had waited for such a book for far too long. It is truly humbling.

Q: What advice do you have for parents who are leery about talking about body boundaries with their children or who think that they don’t need to? 

Jill: I think it is incredibly important for parents to talk to their children about this subject. Many parents avoid the discussion because they fear it is uncomfortable or think this won’t happen to their child. But the statistics tell a very different and sad truth. In the United States, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused by the time they are 18. This conversation is not something that is intuitive to a child. If they do not learn from their parents, oftentimes the only person the child learns from is the perpetrator.

Furthermore, many children do not immediately tell someone if they are being abused. Unlike a child falling down on the playground, abused children are less likely to run and tell a parent what has happened to them due to fear, shame, embarrassment, not understanding that the behavior was wrong, being told no one will believe them, or believing it was their fault or that they have to keep it a secret. If parents talk to their children about being touched, the likelihood is greater that children will disclose abuse.

Q: How often do you recommend talking about body safety with young children? 

Jill: It depends on the child. Parents should address the topic periodically as the child grows, and reinforce the message when it feels right, e.g., before sleepovers or the start of a new sports program. Parents can also take the opportunity to seize on “teachable moments.” If the topic is in the news, revisit what your children understand about body safety.

Q: Do you have any advice specific for educators about discussing body safety with young children? 

Jill: Children can sense fear. Educators should embrace this subject and teach it fearlessly. Teach children the correct terms for their private parts so as to enable prompt disclosures. Make certain you understand what your responsibilities are as a mandated reporter and that you know how to effectuate a report.

Q: Finally, we always like to ask authors: What makes you a “Free Spirit”? 

Jill: I am a Free Spirit in that I have an alter ego. The Poem Lady is my alter ego. The work I do as a prosecutor is so heavy and sad that I found I needed some sort of release. Ever since I was little, I had a talent for writing poems that rhyme. People would often ask me to write a poem for someone’s birthday or going-away party and I would do so happily. A few years ago, I created a website called The Poem Lady where I write customized poems for bar/bat mitzvah candle lighting ceremonies and baby and bridal showers. People send their information to me and I turn it into a cute rhyme. Being able to share in the joyous events of total strangers somehow balances out some of the sadness I deal with in my regular job. The best part is that people love the poems. I enjoy being able to help people express themselves when they are unable to find the right words.

Q: Are there any more books or projects in the future?

Jill: The next book I will be working on is a children’s book on Internet safety. Both parents and children are unaware of the dangers that lurk on the Internet, and I hope to provide a simple tool that can help keep children safe in cyberspace.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Why Manners Matter

A podcast from Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

Fourth in a monthly series of podcasts from Free Spirit Publishing.

podcast start arrow notation

Podcast transcription:
HowRudeSome days you leave your house and it seems like you’ve stepped into Hunger Games. With daggers of discourtesy and arrows of annoyance coming from every direction, these weapons of mass disruption can sap your confidence and spoil your day. Is there anything you can do? Etiquette expert Alex Packer takes a look at why manners matter and how you can keep the barbarians at the gate.

When I asked teens, “What’s the rudest thing anyone’s ever done to you?” here are some of the things they said:

Someone . . .

lifted me up by my underwear
spread rumors about me
slammed my arm in my locker
pretended to be my friend
said I was fat
called me a name


Are people really ruder today than ever before? 75% of adults I surveyed think so. While that’s bad news for society, it’s great news for you. Why? Because if you have good manners, you’ll stand out from the crowd. Good manners are attractive. They impress people and put them at ease. And people who are impressed and relaxed are more likely to respect you and agree to your requests. Good manners also make you feel good, since you’ll know you are doing your part to make the world a better place. And best of all, good manners don’t cost a thing. You can have the very best for free.

Doing the right thing. Getting ahead. Getting what you need. Here are the Top Five ways being polite paid off for teens:

  • NewJob_Got a job.
  • Got something I wanted from my parents.
  • Got compliments and respect.
  • Got in good with somebody I liked.
  • Got help from teachers.

Learning good manners helps you deal with all sorts of situations from the trivial to the life-changing, from how to tell a friend he has a booger in his nose, to how to impress an admissions officer or ace a job interview. You’ll know just what to say when a friend asks you if she’s ugly, or goes out with your ex, or tells you he’s gay.

“But what if someone’s rude to you, is it okay to be rude back?”

Not according to the teens I surveyed. They say . . .

If you respond to rudeness with more rudeness . . .
you may offend someone who had no intention of being rude
you may end up in trouble yourself
you add to the general level of rudeness in the world

But when you use good manners to respond to rudeness . . .
you stand the best chance of stopping the behavior
you maintain your own dignity
you set an example that may change the behavior of others

There are two good ways to respond politely to rudeness.

The first is to ignore it. You could yell and stomp your feet. But this is how fights or road rage start. So sometimes it’s wisest and safest to just let it go.

The second way to respond to rudeness is to act as if the Rude One didn’t intend to cause offense. This works because “accusing” puts people on the defensive. Giving them the “benefit-of-the-doubt” provides a face-saving way out. Suppose someone cuts into the line you’ve been waiting in for over an hour. If you say: “No cuts. End of the line, buttface!” he may get in YOUR face. But if you say, “Excuse me, it’s a little confusing, but the line actually begins back there,” he’s more likely to slink away since giving him the benefit of the doubt lets him leave without being humiliated.

Another way to respond politely to rudeness is to ask the Rude One to do you a favor rather than to stop being a jerk. Let’s say you’re at the movies and some bozo is blabbing away. If you say, “Shut up! If you want to talk, go outside!” he may ask YOU to step outside. However, if you say, “Excuse me, it’s hard for me to hear in movie theaters. Would you mind not talking?” Bozo is more likely to quiet down since he can see it as doing a favor rather than giving in.

Now that you know how important good manners are, which manners would parents most like their children to practice?

1. Saying “Please,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” and “Excuse me.”
2. Writing thank-you notes.
3. Looking people in the eye.
4. Cleaning up after yourself.
handshake5. Not interrupting.
6. Using good table manners.
7. Giving people a firm handshake.
8. Having compassion.
9. Not saying hurtful things.
10. Responding when spoken to.
11. Using electronic devices in appropriate ways at appropriate times.

Any questions?

“Do you have to extend your pinkie when drinking from a teacup?”
This practice is no longer necessary. But under NO circumstances should you extend your middle finger!

“Why are manners so important? Isn’t it what’s inside a person that counts?”
Certainly, but nobody’s going to stick around long enough to know the “real you” if being in your presence grosses them out.

Until next time, this is Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

Wise Highs from Free Spirit PublishingAlex J. Packer received his Ph.D. in educational and developmental psychology from Boston College and his master’s degree in education from Harvard. He has been headmaster of an alternative school for 11- to 15-year-olds and director of education at the Capital Children’s Museum. He is president emeritus of FCD Educational Services, a Boston-based provider of drug education and substance abuse prevention services to schools worldwide. He is also the author of an e-book for teens Wise Highs: How to Thrill, Chill, and Get Away From It All Without Alcohol or Drugs

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Worth Repeating: 30 Books Every Teacher Should Read (this summer!)

Summer is upon us, and for many teachers this means some extra time to relax, and to read. Light reading for a day at the park, thrillers for stormy evenings, audio books for road trips: the choices are endless.

Summer can also be a time for professional development, and books are a great resource on that front as well. Whether you are reading to hone a teaching strategy or checking out books that you may use in future coursework,free clip art beach scene your summer reading list can help prepare you for next fall’s classes.

Last summer we asked our authors to name the books that they felt all teachers—be they student teachers or experienced supervisors—should read. We liked their ideas so much that we decided to repost them this summer, in case you didn’t get through the entire list.

Their suggestions are drawn from literature to classroom management texts, and cover nearly all aspects of teaching. We are certain that this list of 30 books every teacher should read will inspire your teaching next year, and entertain you as well.

Note: Authors and books are listed in no particular order.This is a repost from July 4, 2013.

Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner

1. Teacher

Otis Kriegel, author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know

Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner is a great book for all K–5 teachers about methods designed to use the relevancy of life experiences outside of the classroom to teach literacy and other skills inside the classroom.

Ann Camacho, author of Bookmarked

To Kill a Mockingbird

2. To Kill a Mockingbird

I can’t read, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’” without choking up, even after teaching Harper Lee’s novel for well over 20 years. Even now, tears sting my eyes, because everything in me longs to be that kind of person, that kind of parent, who can claim that kind of respect. To Kill a Mockingbird gives us a blueprint for parenting, and thus, can greatly impact our interactions with students. Lee’s novel shows us how to maintain our integrity of self while being there for our kids and is proof that raising children in a village is still the most effective and loving approach. It’s a must-read for students and teachers alike!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is well on its way to becoming the new Catcher in the Rye. Both feature a teen male protagonist struggling with coming-of-age issues and past personal demons, and both have a tone that many adolescents of its generation can relate to. However, the differences are notable as well, for the overriding motif of isolation and loneliness in each young man is handled entirely differently in each text. It seems indicative of the emotional direction of the different generations, as well, and sheds light to many difficult issues. Insightful and sensitive to the modern teen, Perks is a must-read for any high school teacher.

James J. Crist, Ph.D., CSAC, author of Mad and What to Do When You’re Scared & Worried and coauthor of Siblings

Elementary School Discipline Handbook

4. Elementary Discipline Handbook

I still recommend the Elementary Discipline Handbook: Solutions for the K–8 Teacher by Richard E. Maurer. It’s an oldie but goodie and gives many useful tips for handling students in the classroom. I like the section on Reality Therapy and the inclusion of surveys for students to complete, rating their feelings about the teacher and other students in the class. Too often, teachers take a “hard line” approach on discipline, forgetting that developing a positive relationship with students while at the same time setting firm and fair limits works best. Kids won’t listen to you unless they are motivated to, and the relationship you establish with the students—and the relationships you help them build with each other—makes a huge difference.

Teaching with Love and Logic

5. Teaching with Love & Logic

Too often kids tell me how hurt they feel by comments and actions from their teachers. This leads me into another recommendation: Teaching with Love & Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom by Jim Fay and David Funk gives a comprehensive description of how “love and logic principles,” which I use all the time in my therapy with kids, teens, and parents, can be used to create a positive class atmosphere. Four principles of love and logic from the book: “Share the control, share the thinking, balance consequences with empathy, and maintain self-concept.”

Erin Frankel, author of the Weird series

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

6 .Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire

I gave a copy of Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith to my daughter’s third-grade teacher last year because she lit a spark in my daughter and reminded me of the book’s author. They both share a vision for what their students can achieve and understand that achievement goes far beyond standardized test results. They strive to make learning meaningful and fun while cultivating an awareness in students about choices and what it means to do the right thing. They bring passion and energy to the classroom, and as the title goes, teach like their hair’s on fire. Their message to students is loud and clear: “There is no place I would rather be than right here with you. Our work is important. Our work matters.” This book was truly inspirational and made me want to be a better teacher myself. It reminded me that the sky is the limit when it comes to teaching and learning.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

7. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

I would also recommend Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The book gives a fascinating account of what it means to be an introvert in a society that hails extroverts. I was particularly interested in Cain’s observations and tips regarding introverted kids and the dominant group-work culture that prevails in classrooms today. I found myself wondering if we are teaching only to the extroverts and whether we are sensitive to cultural differences when it comes to how students learn. Cain made me reflect on the false assumption that introverted children are shy children. And I was surprised to learn about all of the great thinkers, inventors, authors, and others who considered themselves to be introverts and whose greatest ideas or inventions came at moments of quiet contemplation and reflection. Truly inspiring.

Judith Galas, M.S., author of The Power to Prevent Suicide: A Guide for Teens Helping Teens

To Kill a Mockingbird

2. To Kill a Mockingbird

I can’t imagine a junior high reading experience that doesn’t include To Kill a Mockingbird. I have taught it in seventh-grade English for many years, and never a year goes by when students don’t tell me that the book was the first serious book they had ever read—no vampires, no fantasy, just real people, in real struggle, doing the right thing. My class also included a yearlong examination of the virtues, and each student would give a short talk about his or her virtue. As part of the exercise, the speaker had to pick one fictional character that demonstrated the virtue under discussion. Virtues like honesty, courage, compassion, empathy, and integrity almost always included one name: Atticus Finch. This fictional man loomed large in the impressionable minds of my young readers, which delighted me.

The Little Prince

8. The Little Prince

Moving toward fantasy, I also love The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This small book has had millions of devoted fans since its publication in 1943, all drawn in part to the lessons gently delivered about love and loss, childhood innocence and adult intransigence, responsibility, sacrifice, and an engaged life. Most readers don’t expect to find the book a portal into discussions about World War II, Nazis, Jews, adventurous pilots, romantic love, bullying, heaven, and the Harry Potter series, but all those topics and more lie in wait for those willing to look.

Les Miserables

9. Les Misérables

When I taught the theme of love in literature to sophomores, I plucked from my reading shelf a book I discovered when I was fourteen—Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Like I did, my sophomores felt a major sense of accomplishment when they read through to the last page. The book pulses with love on every level—man for God and for country, parent for child, neighbor for neighbor, lover for lover, idealist for a cause, and to the foundational love—love and acceptance of self. It helps immeasurably that this dauntingly huge book also has been recreated as a world-famous musical and now as a movie, making the text and its rich characters even more accessible. I know of no other work of fiction—other than Shakespeare’s plays—that teaches so much about the human condition and how profoundly people impact others’ lives.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Advancing Differentiation

A Different Mirror

10. A Different Mirror

Ronald Takaki’s book, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (2012 revised edition), is one of my favorite looks into the complexities of American history. As schools become more and more diverse, it is essential that teachers familiarize themselves with the burden many of our families carry as they try to achieve the allusive American Dream. Takaki, a preeminent multiculturalism scholar, masterfully retells the stories of minority people’s struggles within early America. From colonization to current events, this book will help us better understand our children, their families, and their cultural past.

Brain Matters

11. Brain Matters

As a teacher, I often analogized my role to that of a race car driver. The track was the school year time I had with each student, and each student was a car I drove. The fuel I used to run the car was the curriculum and instructional practices to “put into the car’s tank.” The one part of my car (students) that I had little to no understanding about was the engine (their brains). Therefore, I spent many years trying different fuel types (instructional practices) within my classroom that either worked or didn’t work. I would never be sure if it was the fuel, the track, the car model, or me (the driver) that won or lost the race. Therefore, I started my own journey to learn about how children learn. Patricia Wolfe’s Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice transformed my teaching. She lays out the fundamentals of how our brains process information and learn. Her book is full of useful strategies for teaching and learning. Dr. Wolfe’s work has helped thousands of teachers gain a better understanding of how to efficiently and effectively tune our children’s engines for greater learning achievement.


12. Mindset

Very few books have truly had an effect on all parts of my life outside of Carol S. Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck is a world-renowned psychologist out of Stanford University in California. For over 25 years, she has studied the hows and whys behind the achievement or lack of success. She found that two types of “mindsets” are in play: either a fixed mindset (I am what you tell me I am) or a growth mindset (as long as I work at it, I can achieve). Important for teachers to know is how to assist students in moving from the fixed (I can’t) mindset to the growth (I can) mindset. Her book, though not specifically written for educators, provides useful information in refocusing how we work with students to assist them in gaining greater achievement.

Differentiating Instruction

13. Differentiating Instruction

Finally, Diane Heacox’s book Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom: How to Reach and Teach ALL Learners is THE best book for introducing teachers to doable differentiation. Dr. Heacox draws on her wealth of experience in education from a classroom teacher to program manager to university professor to lay out manageable ways to meet the needs of all students in the widely diverse classroom. This book is never far from my reach! I refer to it so often that its pages are dog-eared and tattered—the true sign of a useful text!

Alison Feigh, author of I Can Play It Safe

Protecting the Gift

14. Protecting the Gift

My recommendation is Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (And Parents Sane) by Gavin de Becker. De Becker handles concerns about the personal safety of children in a proactive and positive way. This book allows parents and caregivers to reexamine issues around abuse prevention using real-world scenarios and current research. The second appendix, titled “Questions for your child’s school,” is a great way to self-check that your school is taking personal safety seriously. Examples: What are the student pickup procedures? If there is an emergency in a classroom, how does the teacher summon help?

The In-Between

15. The In-Between

Have you ever felt stuck and not sure if you will make it to the other side? The In-Between by Erica Staab helps define that stuck feeling and reminds the reader that healing takes time and the help of others. Some of the best conversations I have had with high school students have been after reading this together. The reassuring words of hope are framed with gorgeous nature photographs to create this calming, hope-filled book. It can be used as a conversation starter or as a sit-quietly-and-breathe resource.

Mariam MacGregor, author of Building Everyday Leadership in All Kids

Lord of the Flies

16. Lord of the Flies

I recommend Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Yes, that book. The one nearly everyone reads in high school. This book presents teachers with a clear view into the social politics of boys, whether 1950 or 2013. Imagine the fictional interactions of these characters in one’s classroom, and a teacher gains a greater understanding of how boys learn, how power and influence affect their interactions, and the unspoken emotional chaos that occurs between and among them. In the world of girls, there are queen bees and wannabes, where emotions and manipulation are used as currency. But this book reminds us that the world of boys is no different, and attempts to alter the pecking order (on the playground, the sports field, in the classroom, online, in public or private) can go from innocent to high stakes in a matter of minutes.

Emotional Intensity

17. Emotional Intensity

Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings by Christine Fonseca will change a teacher’s outlook about every child who enters his or her classroom. Emotional intensity is a trait of giftedness that no amount of standardized or topical testing can measure. Emotionally intense kids are affected by a teacher’s voice, attitude, choice of words, and style of communicating as well as the interactions with and treatment of their peers. Emotional intensity can be wrongly interpreted as a kid being off-task when in fact these kids (and adults!) are busy reading the vibe of the classroom or managing their high level of empathy when they perceive mistreatment or injustice around them. After reading this book, teachers who “get it” will realize that the tone and culture of their classroom and teaching style can make or break the learning environment for emotionally intense kids.

Not Much Just Chillin'

18. Not Much Just Chillin’

Judy Molland, author of Get Out!

If you’ve ever wondered what’s really going on with middleschoolers, Not Much Just Chillin’ by Linda Perlstein is the perfect book for you. Perlstein spent a year immersed in the lives of a group of Maryland eighth graders, and she shares with us all the innuendoes of their preteen lives, from arguing and flirting, to studying and texting “NMJC.” A brilliant read!

A Hope in the Unseen

19. A Hope in the Unseen

A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind tells the inspirational story of Cedric Jennings through his last years in high school and first years in college. With the odds distinctly not in his favor, this young man, a student at Ballou High School in Washington, D.C., manages to complete an amazing journey: from the inner city to the ivy league. Suskind tells Jennings’ story with compassion and intelligence.

Phil Schlemmer, coauthor of Teaching Beyond the Test and Teaching Kids to Be Confident, Effective Communicators

Here are three books that I think will help teachers see the “big picture” of their profession. They are all very readable books and great summer reads as teachers recharge and start thinking about next year and the impact they hope to have on their students.

Essential Questions

20. Essential Questions

Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. Effective education is all about questions—student engagement, depth of knowledge, inquiry, ownership of learning, memorability, understanding. All of my work has been based on helping students become confident, self-directed, lifelong learners, which is dependent on them pursuing answers to intriguing, challenging, personally meaningful questions. This book is extremely helpful in making that happen.

12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles

21. 12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles

12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles in Action: The Fieldbook for Making Connections, Teaching, and the Human Brain by Renate Nummela Caine, Geoffery Caine, Carol Lynn McClintic, and Karl J. Klimek. Teachers should understand what’s going on between their students’ ears (or behind their eyes). This book focuses on brain research and translates it into useful information for teachers. Every chapter includes a section titled “Taking It Into the Classroom.” I have found the book useful in helping me think through ways of engaging students and helping them become thinkers as opposed to knowers.

TIME 100 Ideas

22. TIME 100 Ideas

TIME 100 Ideas that Changed the World: History’s Greatest Breakthroughs, Inventions, and Theories. If teachers want to emphasize innovation, creativity, inquiry, or the magnificence of the human mind, this book is a must. It highlights the greatest thinking in history. Information from this book can be woven into all kinds of instructional and learning situations to help students understand that all we are came from the minds of fellow humans. Bringing ideas from this book into the classroom is great for getting students excited about thinking.

Jim Delisle, coauthor of Building Strong Writers in Middle School and The Gifted Teen Survival Guide

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

23. Zen and the Art

I’ll recommend two books, one professional and the other . . . a life changer! The life changer is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Ostensibly, it’s about a father and son crossing the country together, ending their travels in Montana. On a deeper level, it’s a book about the search for true quality in life—quality in people, ideas, humor, and so much more. I read this book every five years or so, just as a reminder of what life is and can become.

24. How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

24. How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

The professional book is How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, by Michael J. Gelb. It’s partly a biography and partly a set of instructions on how to use the skills that DaVinci used in his life—curiosity, acceptance of ambiguity as a part of learning, the interdependence of everything, etc.—to enhance both your learning and your daily interactions with others. I find it very helpful to use with teenagers as they begin to explore their emerging selves.

Elizabeth Whitten, author of RTI Success

The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong. There are strategies in this book that even the most experienced teacher will find beneficial to meet students’ needs. It is a keeper!

Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching (What Works for Special-Needs Learners) by Anita L. Archer and Charles A. Hughes. This book can either improve your teaching if you are a seasoned teacher or provide a novice teacher with skills needed to be an effective teacher.

First Days of School

25. First Days of School

Explicit Instruction

26. Explicit Instruction

Teach Like a Champion

27. Teach Like a Champion

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

6 .Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire

Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov. This is full of good examples of effective teaching and how to make it work in your classroom. A DVD is included that provides snippets of how to utilize the strategies addressed.

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith. This is a great book about how to deal with behavior and motivate a diverse classroom.

Cheri Meiners, author of the Learning to Get Along® series

The Optimistic Child

28. The Optimistic Child

While writing an upcoming children’s book on resilience, I reread The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., who is a founder of the Positive Psychology movement. A few years ago I shared the concepts from the book with my own children. Seligman focuses on teaching optimism to children to help them learn to avoid depression and learned helplessness, with examples from school districts who have used it. I found useful information on changing automatic pessimism and boosting problem solving and social skills through learned optimism. The book is directed primarily toward school-age children, but includes a chapter for babies and toddlers.

Marjorie Lisovskis, coauthor of How to Take the Grrrr Out of Anger and the Happy Healthy Baby™ series and Editorial Director of Free Spirit Publishing

Deluxe Transitive Vampire

29. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire

Kids are writing and speaking all the time these days, making it wise for teachers to brush up on their own self-expression skills. A perfect book for this is The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. This is a classic underground writer’s reference (along with Gordon’s equally popular book on punctuation, called The New Well-Tempered Sentence).

New Well-Tempered Sentence

30. New Well-Tempered Sentence

Yes, the book is an excellent reference guide; it is also so clever and devilishly humorous that it makes for great beach reading or read-aloud happy hours with friends. The blurb from William Safire says it all: “A book to sink your fangs into.”

Oh—looking at Gordon’s books online, I found one I haven’t yet read: The Disheveled Dictionary: A Curious Caper Through Our Sumptuous Lexicon. Better add that to my summer reading list!

What books do you think every teacher should read this summer?

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