About five minutes into my first year of teaching, I realized I was certified but clueless when it came to teaching kids to read. Almost 20 years later, I’m still asking questions about how to best reach my students. I’m always on the lookout for the best professional books about teaching reading.
So, whether you’re just getting started teaching, or you’ve been around for decades, here are some of the questions you may be asking yourself and ten books that will provide answers.
Q: What am I supposed to do with the kids sitting in front of me?
A: The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading by Jan Richardson
This book is the go-to for teaching guided reading. There’s a big difference between understanding the concept of guided reading and actually teaching a group of sweet kiddos how to read. This book is a must to help you make that transition from concept to reality.
Q: Is it time for a fresh look at balanced literacy?
A: Who’s Doing the Work by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris
Take a new look at balanced literacy in this in-depth (and easy to read) explanation of each of the four reading components. The authors walk you through what that might look like at various grade levels. (Shared reading isn’t just for kinder and first grade friends!) Most importantly, it will help you realize some well-intentioned things you may be doing that get in the way of your students’ reading success.
Q: Why am I talking about levels instead of students?
A: The Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Continuum by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell
I came across a picture on Donalyn Miller’s Facebook page of a little boy holding a sign that said, “I am not an H.” My heart stopped. I talked about students as if their identity was a reading level. What does a level H mean anyway? A level is a way of talking about where students are on a path of literacy learning. The Literacy Continuum has a rich 6-8 page explanation of each guided reading level A-Z including characteristics of the texts and what learners need to read successfully at that level. This book has allowed me talk about reading behaviors versus reducing a student’s identity to a level.
Q: What are the rest of my kids supposed to be doing anyway?
A: The Daily 5 by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser
We spend a lot of time worrying about the students sitting in front of us. But what about their time working independently? The Daily 5 caused me to reevaluate the work I was asking students to do outside of our small group time. Were they growing independently as readers? Or just being kept busy? This book will help you structure your reading time so every moment counts, even the ones not with you.
Q: What would it look like if everyone wasn’t reading the same book?
A: Conferring with Readers by Jennifer Serravallo and Gravity Goldberg
Ready to stretch beyond your guided reading comfort zone? It sounds great to let students select texts based on interest, but it also sounds like complete chaos. The authors helped me wrap my brain around how it might work for me to let go of the class or a small group reading the same text, and instead shift to meeting with students one on one or in strategy groups.
Q: Why am I throwing strategies out like Mardi Gras beads?
A: The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo
You get a strategy! You get a strategy! Everybody gets a strategy! I often found that I was just randomly throwing strategies at my students and hoping something would stick. Inside this book, you’ll find over 300 strategy lessons grouped around 13 concepts. Each group of strategies builds in complexity. A single page per strategy gives an overview of how to support the reader, what guided reading levels it is geared towards, and an example of an anchor chart or quick visual to share with students.
Q: How do I defend independent reading as a classroom practice?
A: No More Independent Reading Without Support by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss
Here you’ll find all the ammo you need if (for some ridiculous reason) you need to defend the time your students spend reading independently in class. It’s also a great short read that will push you to question your independent reading practices so that students will receive the full benefit of this time.
Q: Why is teaching vocabulary such a chore?
A: No More “Look Up the List” Vocabulary Instruction by Charlie Cobb and Camille Blachowicz
I’ll be honest. I knew vocabulary was important, but I also knew everything I had tried wasn’t working. This book helped me develop strategies beyond just reviewing word meanings with students. This is a quick, easy read that packs a big punch.
Q: What is missing from my literacy instruction?
A: The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
Donalyn answered a question I didn’t even realize I was wondering. As soon as I started reading this book, I recognized what the hole was in my instruction. That missing piece in my classroom wasn’t being the best at teaching guided reading groups, whole class novel studies, or literature circles. Instead, it was giving my students a reading experience beyond assignments, responses, and projects. This book will help you shift your thinking into that beyond with your readers.
Q: What are my responsibilities as a teacher of reading?
A: Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst
Now matter where you are in your understanding of reading instruction, this book will make you rethink your responsibilities as a teacher. The authors challenge us to think about the line many of us walk between creating authentic reading experiences for our students and teaching in a standardized test driven culture. “Did you finish that interesting article on the global water shortage, then call your friend so she could ask you ten multiple choice questions about the text?” I’m going to guess that’s a nope. Get ready to question what you’re doing and why.
My understanding of literacy wasn’t transformed during in-services featuring 70 slide PowerPoints that were read to me word for word (#truestory), but from the pages of books like these and conversations with other educators about those ideas. So, round up some likeminded friends in your building or connect with other curious educators in Facebook groups or Twitter chats, and keep asking questions this school year.
What are your favorite professional books about teaching reading? Please share in the comments.