Reading around ELA, first quarter 2018

Last week I wrote about why teachers, particularly English teachers, professional development depends on their reading around their field instead of just in their field.

I practice what I preach.

My 2018 first quarter fiction reading

dust jackets of some of the fiction I'm reading in 2018

My reading for the first quarter of 2018 was a unusually light on nonfiction. There’s a reason for that.

In 2007 I began posting contemporary reviews of bestselling novels at least 50 years old on a blog, GreatPenformances. I went a bit beyond my original scope, finishing posting reviews of bestsellers 1900-1969 last fall.

After a few weeks rest, I decided to finish up reviewing all the bestsellers of the twentieth century. My reviews published in first three months of 2018 included all but one of the bestsellers of 1970, 1971, and 1972. The full list of my first quarter fiction reading is here.

My 2018 first quarter nonfiction reading

I read five nonfiction books during the quarter, beginning with Todd Whitaker’s What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most.

Whitaker’s underlying premise is that great teachers have high emotional intelligence, although I don’t believe Whitaker uses that term.

9 butterflies (8 identical, 1 different) on cover of What GreatTeachers Do Differently

Whitaker provides this-is-how-it’s-done scenarios from great teachers which less great teachers can adopt.

What Great Teachers Do Differently is very short and it’s easy reading. I read it in the dentist’s chair while waiting for a crown to be made.

Except for a small icon representing the brain, the dust jacket of The Reading Mind is all words.

Another book I read was Daniel T. Willingham’s The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads.

If you’ve ever wondered why some of your junior high students can’t read, Willingham’s book might provide some clues. He delves into what happens in the brain when people perform the action we call reading. It turns out reading is a lot more complicated than teachers are led to believe in elementary education courses.

Willingham is a cognitive scientist rather than a "professional educator." He writes clearly and with wit about complex subjects, but The Reading Mind  is not a book you’ll read while the dentist makes you a crown.

That said, however, I consider The Reading Mind must-reading for English teachers.

Willingham not only goes into how people become readers (as opposed to how they learn to decode letters), but also into related issues such as whether the distractions of online reading are making people stupid and how to get teenagers to read books.

spine of book When Can You Trust the Experts

I liked Willingham’s The Reading Mind so much that I bought another of his books (and put other ones on my Alibris wishlist.)

When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education is a book for everyone in education. 

Willingham approaches the problem of fake science from the point of view of a scientist who is an otherwise normal human being as capable of being misled by clever marketers as anyone else.

He explains the difference between good science what today would probably be called fake science. Then Willingham explains a shortcut to analyzing whether the science behind an educational product or procedure is reliable.

I particularly recommend When Can You Trust the Experts for anyone involved in or concerned about funding for education programs (school administrators, school boards, community anti-tax curmudgeons) and those whose remand includes teaching media literacy (ELA teachers, librarians).

Dust jacket image on Switched shows an electrical switch.

The fourth nonfiction book I read this quarter is Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It is a book about selling, specifically about selling ideas.

Switch is chock full of stories about real people’s experiences effecting change through the way they framed the problem.

If you want to know how to get your students to write better, or how to get your school board to change a policy, or how to make yourself exercise regularly, the Health brothers will help you.

Switch is easier reading than either of the Willingham books, but you won’t be embarrassed to be caught reading it. Both brothers are academics (Stanford and Duke) so they provide notes to sources as well as recommended reading.

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East  by Eugene Rogan, professor of modern Middle Eastern history at  the University of Oxford my most recent nonfiction reading.

Novels set in Britain during and after World War I—a war that touched virtually every family and community in Britain—got me interested in the history of that period.

Photo of Turkish soldiers raising their flag in Galipoli in 1915 is on the cover of The Fall of the Ottomans

Most histories of WWI dealt almost exclusively with the war in Europe, but Philip Jenkins’s The Great and Holy War piqued my interest in learning more about what happened in the Middle East during the first world war.

I found Rogan’s book in a military history book catalog from Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller, a favorite source for books I’d never run across in my everyday life.

Rogan is good writer who knows the value of narrative. His preface opens with his personal story of how taking a wrong turn while going to pay his respects at the grave of a great uncle killed at Gallipoli brought him face to face with the extent of Turkish involvement in World War I.

The Fall of the Ottomans would not have been difficult reading except that I knew very little of Middle Eastern history outside of the Old Testament. I had to read Rogan’s preface and first chapter twice before I felt comfortable enough with the terminology and names to continue reading.  Maps in the book were a huge help.

The Fall of the Ottomans is a book I’ll probably read again before I read the next title on my history book shelf.

Enough about my reading. What have you been reading?

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