Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Life Preservers and the Island of Isolation

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

I am in my ninth year of teaching, and I am amazed how much education has changed in that short amount of time.  Some of that change has been brought on by education reform, and some of that change has been my own reformation, which has not always been easy and many times quite lonely.

My first year of teaching, I taught 5th grade reading.  I used a basal series and all that accompanied it.  I hated it, and so did my students.  The following year I moved to 4th and my quest for change began.

That summer I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  This book was my life
preserver, and I clung tightly to every word she wrote.  We are an Accelerated Reader district, and I knew better ways to motivate and create readers were out there; I just had to find them.  The Book Whisperer validated my beliefs while I tried to survive on that isolated island where we teachers sometimes inadvertently find ourselves.  This book was the catalyst in changing the way I taught reading.  

I began to:
  • give kids more choice
  • improve my classroom library with books kids wanted to read
  • unlevel my classroom library
  • decrease the use of worksheets
  • increase the talking about books
It was slow, but it was a start.  Each year I implemented more and more of her ideas. My classroom was changing in ways I could not even imagine.  Now I read The Book Whisperer every summer to reaffirm my beliefs.

My eighth year of teaching I moved to middle school and felt like a first year teacher all over again.  I knew I could carry over many of the ideas and methods I used in my elementary classroom, but I also knew I needed to change some of the ways I approached independent reading.

My next life preserver was Book Love by Penny Kittle.  I read Book Love for the first time last summer and it completely changed how independent reading looks in my classroom this year.  Again, I held on tight and became brave enough to make some changes that I knew I needed to make.

I began to:

  • include independent reading every day during my 48 minute periods
  • establish reading rates and keep track of pages read
  • have students keep track of books read using an online reading record
  • have students rank the difficulty of their reading though reading ladders
  • have students reflect on their reading
  • conference with my 100+ students on a regular basis
  • eliminate Accelerated Reader
I know that I am a much better teacher because of the influence of these two women and the books they have written.  The reading culture in my classroom is magical. And that is not an easy task to attain with middle school readers.  Turning students into readers has become my passion and my primary existence in the teaching world.  

Change is not easy, but when we have mentors like Donalyn and Penny who throw us life preservers, we musy grab them and not let go.  We must be brave enough to make the tough decisions.  And brave enough to swim off that island.


  1. These two books have rocked my world too! I've actually moved from ELD (15 years) to ELA (four years) to being a reading intervention teacher--this year. I am so excited to use what I've learned, even though we are STILL an AR district and I'm expected to use AR to determine student grades. (Shhh---I made it 50% of the grade and the rest is through "book community" and "personal goals.") After reading your post, I feel like I need to go back to Book Love and pull some more from that.

  2. These are life preservers in the sea of programs that forget we are trying to raise literate human beings. Beautiful reflection Leigh Anne! Your students are so lucky to have you!

  3. Love this...and LOVE those 2 books & the amazing educators who wrote them and continue to inspire so many of us! Thank you for sharing your journey

  4. Two of my favorites, for sure!!! LOVE this! Thank you!

  5. There is nothing like learning from experts who give us new insight to start a new journey. Everyone benefits.

  6. I love this post. You track your reflective teaching and thinking so beautifully here. I haven't read book love, but Penny Kittle is amazing. I have two other of her books and use them like a bible. Donalyn Miller's book was my first life preserver as well.

  7. Your words could have been mine, Leigh Anne.

  8. So true - both powerful books! It is great when I book speaks to you and you feel heard! Some teachers tell us that books are their best colleagues. I wish that was not the case, but glad they are out there when you need them! Thank you for sharing two amazing books and leaders.

  9. Just saying that you have a reading culture speaks volumes about your class. Two wonderful books written by passionate teachers/learners.

  10. Just saying that you have a reading culture speaks volumes about your class. Two wonderful books written by passionate teachers/learners.

  11. Leigh Anne, you have chosen to follow two of my favorite reading gurus. Their wisdom is far-reaching.

  12. Such great authors and books! I've been thinking about this and I currently have 10 books on my list . . . and still considering additions. (With separate lists for elem and secondary - CHEATING! YEP!

  13. I love those two books, they have also inspired me with my teaching.

  14. I too read Book Whisperer and it changed my teaching and thinking. I recommend the book to new teachers and not so new all the time. Thank you for your thoughtful post sharing how professional books can and do help us grow as educators.