Category Archives: Professional Reading

Book Flood


This is a term used by Kelly Gallagher in Readicide that roughly corresponds to Donalyn Miller’s immersion of students in books in the classroom. As I said in my last post I’m keen to revisit ‘surrounding’ my students with books. Gallagher teaches secondary students, as I do and has a similar view to Donalyn, in terms of giving kids time, space and choice. He approaches the need to balance the teaching of the class text (often iconic or classic texts in the cultural heritage) in some interesting ways, but I plan to talk about that in a later post, so back to the subject of my post – the book flood.

I did a lightning quick re-read of The Book Whisperer noting in particular the approach, goals and methods, and then thought about how this might work in my classroom. Some of the things I’m grappling with include the ‘genre’ approach that Donalyn uses to frame the 40 book assignment. I’m not sure that will be the most useful frame for my students and am thinking about how our syllabus and programmes have some specific requirements, such as close reading of : two works each of fiction, non fiction, drama, film, variety of poems or study of poets. These always drive the close study and critical analysis focus of our programme. The other requirement is about ‘experience’. The syllabus says:

The selection of texts must give students experience of:

  • a widely defined Australian literature and other Australian texts including those that give insight into Aboriginal experiences and multicultural experiences in Australia
  • literature from other countries and times
  • Shakespearean drama
  • cultural heritages, popular cultures and youth cultures
  • picture books
  • everyday and workplace texts
  • a range of social, gender and cultural perspectives.

While these give a little more guidance, they are mostly too broad to frame the reading, particularly for developing readers in Year 9, so I am trying to find frames that  will work with my students. Gallagher’s list of “101 books my reluctant readers love to read” (p119, Readicide) has some potential categories, that I think could be used to organise the books in the classroom, but I’m thinking I might just ask the kids what will work best for them from their perspective of needing to find books they really want to read.

As far as the reading assignment is concerned I’m torn between a mixture of genres and text forms. So far I’m working with: Australian Authors, Aboriginal Experience, Multicultural Experience,  Other Countries, Other Times, Young Adult Literature, Poetry, Picture Books, Informational and Autobiography/Biography/Memoir. I can already see problems with the mixing of Australian authors and Young Adult Literature and feel like genres will help students to identify texts that want to read more easily.

Anyone tried implementing Donalyn’s 40 book assignment in a secondary classroom? How did you frame the assignment? Did you use genres or some other categorizing approach? What success have you had? What refinements can you suggest?

The Book Whisperer, Part 2


Just finished The Book Whisperer and want to go back and read it again. It must be my year to revisit things I did in my first years of teaching. Like Awakening the Heart, this book reminds me of things I used to do and the passion I had for teaching reading and writing that I have some how lost over the last decade. I think it coincides with becoming Head Teacher. Maybe now I feel comfortable enough in that role to be a teacher again!

I loved the book so much I sent Donalyn an email , and I seldom  do that. I have already culled my home shelves for old favourites for a class library and plan to raid the stored boxes of books in the shed for more. I’m planning how I am going to get some shelves into my room and a trip into town to check out the Op shops for more books. And I’m not going to spend Term 1 doing Naplan practice! I have a secret desire that my seniors will start asking to borrow the books when they are surrounded by them and plan to have some space devoted to Related Texts for Belonging and History and Memory.


PS if you are interested in resources I have set myself the goal of adding a resource/lesson plan to the Lesson Plan page every week. My first offering is a workbook on the play Two Weeks with the Queen. It’s not your usual kind of workbook so have look and feel free to adapt. Created for Year 7 in 2011, it worked well with my very noisy, energetic, lively Gen z-y (my term for those on the ‘cusp’)


The Book Whisperer


Another great read. I got my copy of  The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller this week and am about half way through. The author’s commitment to creating lifelong readers is reflected in her enthusiasm and ideas for taking our love of reading into the English classroom. It confirms my own belief in the value of a free choice reading programme and providing time for kids to read in class. I am planning a rebuilding of free choice reading in class in our faculty plans for this year and Miller is helping to shape how I might do that. Her description of the ‘underground reader’, a student who is already an avid reader and just wants to get on with the current book brought back memories of hiding a book in my desk in primary school and reading it in my lap when I had finished other work or while waiting for my turn to read the next section of ‘The School Magazine’ which we read aloud in class. I couldn’t help thinking back to last years Year 7 that definitely had a few underground readers. For some reason I didn’t get our reading off the ground until later in the year. How they must have suffered!

Miller sets a goal of 40 books a year for students and reading across a range of genres. The high expectation generated by this goal and the use of genre to support the work  in key units are ideas I plan to take into my reading programmes this year.

Awakening the Heart


I have just finished reading Awakening the Heart by poet Georgia Heard. I enjoyed it very much and I think she would be delighted that her book has re-awakened my joy in reading and writing poetry with students. Something I feel I haven’t done a lot of, over the last few years, and something I always loved as a young teacher. I think a love of poetry is what led me into teaching English.

Georgia’s book is about the importance of bringing kids to poetry in a positive way and for them to learn that poetry is ‘food for all’. She says, “One of the most important life lessons that writing and reading poetry can teach our students is to help them reach their well of feelings — their emotional lives– like no other form of writing can”. Right now, I think that is a really important and significant goal for our current students, and goes to the heart of the debates about subject English. There are many wonderful ideas and inspiring stories in her book that make you want to go into the class room right now and begin. A book to add to the very best books all English teachers should read.

One of my personal favourites from the book is the Living Anthology Project, where kids choose and place poems where people will read them, like waiting in line at the canteen or at the office, or for the bus.  Inspired by the Poetry in Motion project, it made me think about the ways we traditionally teach poetryand how to turn our poetry teaching into project based learning. My idea is that this year we ask year 7 to create their own poetry project which might be a Living Anthlogy project or could take some other form.

English teachers tend to love books, and I am no exception. When it comes to buying school related books, most teachers seem to buy the books that they can use directly in the classroom. The textbook kind. I am not a great fan of these books and my clean up of my resources and shelves has led me back to books  I have collected over the years that inspired me in all kinds of ways. The kinds of professional reading I like are the books that go to the heart of teaching, about how and why and invariably they are books that make me rethink what I do and lead me to some kind of creative innovation, taking me beyond the writer’s ideas into my own, like Teaching Literature: Nine to Fourteen (Benton and Fox) and If you’re trying to teach kids how to write, you’ve gotta have this book! (Marjorie Frank). These are books worth sharing with beginning English teachers, because these books will help them re frame their theories about what teachers do and what English teaching is all about.  May be you have some other suggestions?

Back from Cairns and laptops arrive


My week off was an absolute delight. We revisited places we had gone 34 years ago (in an orange Kombi, much thinner then). Very nostalgic. The weather was beautiful, I loved swimming with Wally on the Outer Reef and didn’t think about school once.

I did read Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern that I picked up at the Airport. An interesting read. The tip I liked best was to estimate the time things will take and plan accordingly, instead of making a great big To Do list and thinking that you will get through it all, then feeling stressed when you don’t.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. I thought I might share some of these ideas with senior students. Do they know how long it takes them to read ten pages, making notes at the same time, or a summary? Do they know how long it takes them to complete each stage in writing an essay or story? Could be useful when they are trying to manage the competing demands of the HSC. She also had a reverse idea – decide how much time you want to spend on a task and keep within that time frame. I think that’s the one I need to work on, especially when I am ‘playing around’ on the computer.

The week away was quickly followed by Equity2009 conference in Sydney (with a short break at school to finalise Trial marks!). I enjoyed the conference, but the best bit was introducing four delightful students to Sydney for the first time. Great ‘tourist’ route – catch bus down George street to Circular Quay, catch ferry to Darling Harbour (checking out harbour landmarks as you go), walk through Darling Harbour, past Convention centre and Exhibition Halls, through China Town and past Paddy’s Markets, back to Hotel. Thanks to Deputy Jennifer for playing tour guide.

Highlights of the Conference included hilarious presentation by Dr Christine Richmond on Behaviour Management, implementing MeE framework with Wayne Sawyer et al, Dr Jennifer Gore on Quality Teaching and Equity and finding out more about National Partnership funding (yes, we are one of those 512 schools). I’ve been reading Christine Richmond’s books over the last week, between finalising HSC assessments, checking reports, preparing year 11 exam and revising with Year 12 – 2 weeks to go! Teach More, Manage Less is a good starter book on behaviour management for teachers, with some food for thought for those of us who can’t remember the steps to learning how to manage and seem to do it ‘effortlessly’ because we have been doing it for so long.  It has some good ‘checklists’ for self analysing what’s going and wrong and steps to take to improve your management. Lead More, Manage Less is more for Head Teachers and Deputies who have a role to play in supporting teachers’ behaviour management and I haven’t read much of this yet.

Of course, the really exciting thing this week is that year 9 got their laptops. We start ‘for real’ on Monday and the English faculty has decided to begin with Digitally Yours (Thanks Curriculum Support, great resource). We are also reviewing a policy document shared by Jameson High, looking to adapt it to our needs. Kids were excited and keen to get started. As one kid said: ‘I feel really smart using this, Miss!’