4 Professional Development books & what they mean to me

Breathing in, Breathing out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher

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My favorite part of this book was the chapter called “Necessary Words”. It talked about the random words that spot our notebooks with seemingly no connection. I related hard to section because I love quotes and sayings. I am currently working on packing up my dorm room and I have found so many sticking notes and scraps with random quotes, song lyrics, Bible verses and snippets of conversations. Fletcher wrote, “we record words we like from others who have “mastered the craft.” We take phrases from people who have written before us as inspiration to keep writing.

If your writer’s notebook is similar to mine, there are unrelated quotes and random words all over the place. Fletcher tells us how we can use these pieces to build up their meaning and better our writing. Say you have a word or quote you just love but don’t know what to d with it; write a poem about it. Don’t look it up, just write.

I also liked the chapter about “Triggers: Lines, Bits, Lists, Questions”. I am a fan of writing short, descriptive pieces, if you couldn’t tell yet. Anyway, this section was all about what makes us want to write. Just by writing down odd facts you learn, you can create so many writing options. Write down questions; questions you have, questions other people ask, questions no one asks. The best pieces of writing will come from the hard, unanswerable ones. Lines and insights are like necessary words, the sparks that keep your paper lit. The last one is lists, a writer’s BFF. I make lists for everything. I make lists for what I have left to pack, what I need to get done, what I want to write, what I need to read and what I have done. My favorite current list is titled “Books I think I need”.

The Power of a Plant by Stephen Ritz

See the source imageI picked this book up at NCTE for the same reason I picked up forty other books – it was free. As I was walking away, I realized it was a professional development book, not a novel like I had expected. We have all heard the plant metaphor, planting the seed of learning and watering/nurturing students as they grow. I just figured this book was an extended version of that. I was wrong.

Mr. Ritz was a teacher in the Bronx and could see his students suffering culturally and agriculturally. These kids have never experienced what it is like to grow anything, let alone their own food, and some had never grocery shopped. One day, after determining the smell coming from the back of his classroom was the leftovers of a science experiment turned onion, he decided to help his students. If he could accidently grow an onion, what could they grow on purpose?

The story follows his classroom project to nation-wide program. It’s more than just an account of in-classroom gardens, it’s about how the gardens impact attendance, graduation rates and over-all well-being of the students for the better. The gardens benefitted Ritz’s and the students’ health and brought more jobs to their under resourced community. Even though I don’t see myself starting a classroom garden, I learned from the relationships the garden brought Ritz, his students and their community.

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell

See the source imageThis book validated every feeling I’ve had about reading since I was a middle schooler. Seventh grader Jed is right there with me because he defined the zone. The Zone is the magical trance readers experience when they are completely immersed in their books. My goal is to get each of my students to experience and enjoy the zone.

The book continues on about what works in a reading-focused classroom and how to conduct these tactics. I thought the most helpful rundown of the book was a list Atwell made from student responses. She asked them to respond to “What conditions helped you engage in reading?”. The top three responses were: 1. Book talks and mini lessons, 2. A big, diverse classroom library and 3. Quiet, daily, in-class time to read. I felt empowered. There is no big, complex secret out there to get kids engaged in reading. We really just have to talk about reading, give them books and let them read and I know I am capable of that.

Jim Burke’s Letters to a New Teacher with Joy Krajicek

See the source imageI started this book forever ago and I think part of the reason it took me so long to finish is because I didn’t want it to end. The epistolary follows Krajicek’s first year of teaching. Burke acts as her mentor teacher, but askes her to write her questions and concerns down as he is a wordy person and would prefer to write her a letter in response. Notecards with questions and letters in response make up the book. Her questions are ones I imagine myself asking in a year’s time. I thought it was comforting that the dates on her questions cards become more spread out as the school year continues. We will all catch on to teaching with time and guidance from those with more experience. Even better, both Burke and Krajicek are English teachers, so their conversations were always relevant. I don’t really have anything specific to say about the letters, they map out a new and old teachers’ experiences and show how important relationships are with faulty, as well as students.

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