I recently read 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.  Mr. Mann talks a lot at the beginning of the book about the lies that he was taught in school, and how he's now dealing with his son being taught the same lies:

  • The native population of the Americas was very sparse, when in fact it was not. 
  • American native cultures were very simple, when in fact they were very complex.
  • American native peoples "walked lightly on the land", when in fact they had an enormous impact on the land.

(All of these things I learned long ago, sometimes even as a child, but especially as a teacher, so I thought they were common knowledge.  I don't remember seeing these untruths in the textbooks I used, but I didn't use the textbooks very much, so I probably wouldn't have noticed.)

Most of the book was about Central and South America—the Inca and Aztec cultures that could never seem sparse, simple, nor easy on the land!  The book primarily discussed the arguments between historians, and other professionals, about the minutiae of each one's theories.  

After reading the entire book, studying the images presented (and they were very interesting), and listening to "cat fights" for page after page, I didn't learn anything that I didn't already know. 

Reading the book brought a big question to the forefront of my mind—how do we really know what happened in the past?  How do historians get to the real truth?  How do they prove their theories?  How are they held accountable for what they present?  Reading the book was worth the thinking it's given me, and a new perspective on looking at the past, and a new direction in curricular design.





Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom by Thomas Armstrong has been a great reference for me.  It's a book I keep nearby my desk, so I can refer to it as I plan new units.  The book explains, in a simple way, Howard Gardner's theory of intelligence, and includes a section on the criticism of his ideas, which I find interesting.  But the most helpful aspect of the book are the numerous charts presented throughout.  They make the information very understandable, easy to locate, and simple to implement in daily planning.  I particularly use the combination of multiple intelligences and Bloom's Taxonomy chart (page 170).  I made a template of it so I can use it quickly.  This is one of my "must have" books.




Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children's Literature, K-8  is an excellent resource of trade books to use as you teach children to write nonfictional pieces.  The authors identify specific ways each of the titles can be used in a variety of writing genres.  It is easy to read, and the book lists contained at the end of the book make it a great reference.  It will help you learn more about effective writing instruction as well as guide you through the vast amount of children's literature as you select titles to try out.

Best practices and lots of educational reform thinking focus on the efficacy of integrating all subject areas.  An important instructional area that has long been neglected, or relegated to the role of the "cute" is that of drawing instruction.  Brain research has shown that all students have the ability to learn basic drawing skills, enough to be able to communicate with people from other language groups.  If you are interested in learning more about how to teach your students basic communication skills through drawing, these are materials that have been around for a long time, but which are tested, and true.  They are inexpensive, easy to use, and extremely effective.  I have used them with general education students as well as those with special needs and achieved amazing results with everyone!  I wish that I had received drawing instruction when I was in school. 



Drawing Textbook

Bruce McIntyre's work to provide drawing lessons for all teachers to use with their students has been around for a lot of years.  Originally recorded on the Sony Betamax machines (one of the earliest video recorders), he had a series of 15 minutes lessons that worked with first graders up to college students.  These lessons are now very hard to find, but his two textbooks taught me enough to present the lessons to my students.  The first one, a little yellow booklet, Drawing Textbook, provides all the information you need to give a year's worth of instruction to any class.  It is very basic in the information given to the teacher, and very simple to turn each lesson into steps to teach students basic drawing principles. 


Mark Kistler's Draw Squad

One of Bruce's students carried on with what Bruce started, attempting to make the video lessons more interesting for elementary students.  You can learn more about
Mark Kistler's Draw Squad at his website.  The classroom video series is made up of 44 lessons based on the popular PBS series "The Secret City."  It comes with a teacher's guide.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was one of the first books I read to learn more about research into brain function.  It became one of the projects of my Master's Degree as I worked through the lessons of the book.  I used the book, along with the work of Bruce McIntyre, to teach drawing skills to many classes of students, those in general education classes as well as students with special needs.  It is absolutely amazing how drawing skills magically appear using the little "tricks" Betty Edwards presents in her book.  Now she has The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence, an updated version that includes new information about brain research, as well as a new section on using color.  Translated into 13 languages, and having spent weeks on the best seller lists each time it has been revised, it remains my favorite and most used book about drawing, personally, as well as a textbook for classroom teaching.  I highly recommend it to any teacher interested in improving art instruction, even with elementary aged students. 


​Mathematics...A Way of Thinking

One of my all time favorite teacher books is Mathematics...A Way of Thinking by Robert Barrata-Lorton.  It has been on my mind a lot lately as I've been thinking about workshop style teaching and reviewing some of the more successful experiences of my teaching career.  This book presents math in a workshop style fashion as it presents lessons designed to help students explore, discover, and so, understand, math and the thinking processes associated with it.  This book comes from the same people who gave us Math Their Way, a far better known work, for younger children.   Mathematics...A Way of Thinking for children in grades 3-6.  It covers all the main strands of math, and provides activities where children do the work of learning using manipulative objects, experimentation, guided practice, discussion, argument, and discourse.  They give proofs for their deductions, and learn much about the scientific process (although that does not seem to be directly intentional) through their learning of math.  I bought this book several times during my teaching career:  it fell apart, I gave it to other people, I used it in every class I ever taught above grade 1 (even with middle school students).  The book promotes integrated instruction, just by its focus on math as thinking.  I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about workshop style teaching or integrating math with language arts instruction.

Summer and books are ice cream and cones--each one is better with the other.  This summer I've been reading lots of mysteries, some historical fiction, biography, autobiography, and some teacher books to keep things moving.  Because I've been thinking about a classroom as a "learner's workshop" I picked up a copy of That Workshop Book: New Systems and Structures for Classrooms That Read, Write, and Think by Samantha Bennett.  Her book follows her "burning question:  How do we know what students know?" as she examines the classrooms of seven different teachers in her school in Colorado.  Although much of what she highlights in her book are well known ideas and common practices among workshop style teachers, it's an uplifting and inspiring trip she gives us on the tour of her school.  This week as I was reading about "Josh's Memorialists,"  I wanted to jump up off my beach chair in joy.  I have never come across a better example of the power of REAL!  Josh's middle school students are exploring the history of the Sand Creek massacre (you'll know about that if you've read Centennial by James Michener) by creating a memorial to enter in a state contest.  It's a real contest with real judges and a real project.  Josh uses the work of Maya Lin, the student who won the contest for the design of the Viet Nam Memorial, as the mentor text for his students.  If you want to read a concise, amazing account of workshop teaching at its best, read this chapter.  It will make you glad you are a TEACHER!



Book Shelf

If you are looking for a fresh perspective, increased job satisfaction, or greater contentment, Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching is the book for you.  Using information gleaned from stress management techniques, cognitive behavior therapy, and spiritual principles, Angela Watson presents clear, step-by-step suggestions to help you eliminate negative thinking, unreasonable expectations, and irrational responses to stress, and replace them with healthy attitudes that promote effective teaching, and living.  Angela's engaging style will have you laughing, crying, thinking, and before you know it--changing.  Using examples from a teacher's typical day, and in true teacher fashion, she presents suggestions that are easy to implement, remember, and do.  I HUGELY recommend this book to teachers at any level.  It can truly help you transform your life.

Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching


The Awakened Devotional Study Guide for Christian Educators is an accompanying devotional study which provides Biblical truths, activities, and prayers to help Christian educators change their way of thinking, take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and grow more and more like Jesus.  Angela's insightful questions lead you to a deeper look at your current thought processes, and help you apply scriptural truths to typical classroom situations.  Bible references and prayers help to solidify changes in the way you think.  It is a powerful tool in converting frustration to satisfaction.

These two books are very unique--they are the first "self help" books I've found that are directed specifically at teachers.  Using the daily events common to the lives of all teachers, they present simple and effective tools for transforming your life!  When you've been through them once, you'll want to go again, and again, so treat yourself to a new life this school year!

The Awakened Devotional Study Guide for Christian Educators

Thematic Teacher

Literacy through Art, Science, & Social Studies