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Read or perish.


This week I posted ten educational books that have helped me. That list could be pages long. But it made me think — while those books help with lesson structure or instructional strategies (recipes and formulas) they haven’t necessarily shaped who I am as an educator.

Here’s a short but impactful list of books that have shaped me, in chronological order:

Harriet the Spy

Are you there God, It’s Me, Margaret

To Kill A Mockingbird

East of Eden

The Shining

Great Expectations (specifically Miss Havisham)


Still Life with Woodpecker

The Handmaid’s Tale

Life of Pi


Keep reading. Keep questioning. Keep thinking.

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Cart, meet Horse.


What are your top ten teacher/education books? My purpose is to curate a list for my student teacher. I’ve given her my extra copy of Notice and Note, and have more that are my go-to’s. I am curious as to what are others–those tomes and scrolls that continue to serve and support.

The thing about education books is they’re a lot like baby/parenting books. You don’t know what you don’t know, yet they’re reassuring or anxiety creating, depending–when you read them before beginning a teaching career, they can help or hurt. The trick is to look at them again in times of need, reflection, and try not to panic.

Here are my current top-ten, not in any order:

What If? Randall/Munroe

Understanding By Design

Reading Strategies

The Book Whisperer

In the Best Interest of Students

Image Grammar

The Writing Thief

Teaching Reading in the Middle

When Kids Can’t Read

Academic Moves

Let me know what you think: what books can’t you live without?

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Keys to the kingdom…

kelly love

Great post from Nerdy Book Club on books adolescent boys may enjoy. Most I’ve read, but there are quite a few new/surprises:

Top Ten Books to Give to Adolescent Boys*

And not only that: that blogroll. Talk about some link love! Check out the blogroll on that site–so many good resources.

I’m not accepting students not reading anymore. This is a ridiculous and terrible situation. After watching #13th, I’m more convinced than ever that access to knowledge, literacy, is the only thing that changes anything…along with the grand conversations, which is creating new knowledge.

*Postscript: I admit – it does make me question the practice of finding ‘books for boys’ or labeling books as girl books or chick-lit. Not sure what to do with that right now, so I’ll just leave it there for the time being.

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Very dry.


Currently, is there any topic that more widely confusing and debated than learning targets/success criteria?

Right about now, I’d love to adopt John Spencer’s Design Thinking, use and implement what I know from Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Donnalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, and the writers at Ethical ELA, Marzano, DuFour, Mattos. Richard DuFour and Mike Mattos both clearly said the learning targets and success criteria do not have to change each day: it depends on the instruction. The clarity and teaching points are the important factors. But now I’m doubting my own ears, sensing their sage advice was a phantom, a mist…an illusion with a puff of confirmation bias.

But this is the current obstacle: the staff and district are so singularly focused on narrow interpretations of learning targets and success criteria tunnel vision is a distinct outcome, and I have witnessed that my students this year are less engaged, grudgingly compliant, and lacking in curiosity more than I’ve ever seen before.

Things are too dry, laid bare, and not engaging or interesting at all–it’s become very teacher-focused and demanding, and not supportive or interesting.

Time to shake things up.

Yes – know where students are going. Be clear. But engagement and inquiry mean the timing and creation of goals needs, nay demands, to be more student driven.

I am a firm believer in student reflection and discussion. 

Here are what others say:

The Timing of Learning Targets: Make sure not to expose so as to decrease inquiry, especially in science.

Grant Wiggins:

Greetings Edutopiates, Grant Wiggins recently posted an article about the mandatory posting of Learning Targets / ELOs. Grant makes a great point in his post. Are you being mandated to post things as well? Mind you, I am fine with posting daily agendas, essential or driving questions, and even learning targets when they help students focus on their learning. How much is too much? Grant raises that question as well – he states: [quote]”…it’s important for students to understand the goals for the day and beyond. But does any supervisor honestly believe–if they would just think about it for one minute–that a policy requiring the chanting out of Standards numbers or making and hanging 4 teacher-crafted posters each day is in the best interests of learning and the best use of teacher time? This gets it all backwards.”[/quote] Posting? Sure! But for what purpose? Where do you think?

From the Grant Wiggins’ article:

So, while the intent of the poster policy makes sense, there is little or no benefit to merely requiring the posting. That gets it all backward, as the agenda analogy suggests. The posting is a means; the end is understanding of the meaning of the work and a way to stay on track. So, merely requiring the posting shows that the policy is really not for the learners at all but for the satisfaction of supervisors to make us all think that focused learning is happening (by osmosis?).

Here is where I contend not just learning target but teaching points are more valuable for students, along with more discussion, teacher feedback, etc. Tracking and parroting learning targets are a waste of time. However, analysis and reflection are not, and incredibly important: there is a huge difference with digging deeper with a skill or strategy and its purpose, and moreover, transference.

Changing learning targets and success criteria daily as a matter of course or procedure is also a waste of time, not best practices, and dismisses learning and mastery. Understand the nuance between process and content-driven targets. 

Nowhere in this article by Marzano does he discuss a mandatory daily change, but getting in deep with the objectives and taxonomy.

John Hattie:

Here is my takeaway from this: understanding what the ‘rules of the game are’ isn’t the same as not allowing students to craft and design. I sense many teachers/coaches are not understanding this nuance. Take his example of Australian football: if you told the students the rules of the game that doesn’t mean they’re going to be great football players– all that means is they are allowed to inquire and strategize of how to play the game well. 

Do not confuse success criteria with strategies or mastery.


If our goal, our objective, as we’ve repeatedly stated is to have students drive their learning, the most effective measure by John Hattie, etc. then please consider who’s in control of their learning; the teacher or the student?

Joe Bower passed away recently, and his voice is greatly missed, as is Grant Wiggin’s.

But I’ll carry on the work.