Teacher Development

3 Reads to Inspire Your Teaching Practice

Find ideas on student engagement, deeper inquiry, and project-based learning, whether you read on your own or in a book study group.

July 26, 2018
Man reading a book on an outdoor patio
©iStock/Wavebreakmedia

Picking the right book can be a challenge, given the abundance of possibilities. If your professional goal for the coming school year is to increase student engagement, encourage deeper inquiry, or introduce project-based learning (PBL) or another student-centered practice, you’ll find plenty of food for thought within the pages of the following three titles.  

Inspiring Curiosity: The Librarian’s Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning 

Colette Cassinelli’s job title—library instructional technology teacher—reflects the evolving role of the school librarian. She must be knowledgeable about resources and information literacy, fluent in technology tools, connected to the community, and able to support both students and teachers through the inquiry process. In schools that emphasize PBL and other inquiry-based strategies, a well-versed school librarian plays an essential role in scaffolding learning.

(Full disclosure: Cassinelli interviewed me for her book and cited my earlier post Are School Librarians Part of Your PBL Dream Team?)

School librarians are Cassinelli’s primary audience for Inspiring Curiosity, but the book offers so many useful resources for inquiry that it deserves consideration by book groups composed primarily of teachers. With plentiful examples, Cassinelli shares strategies and resources to support a range of student-centered initiatives, including PBL, makerspaces, genius hour, and personalized learning.

For example, Cassinelli suggests “powerful openers” for inquiry. Teachers with an interest in PBL will gain ideas for using library resources to spark student curiosity via documentary film clips, primary sources, and virtual connections to experts. When students tackle research projects, they need to think critically about sources and curate the material they want to track, and Cassinelli suggests how the librarian can be mentor and co-teacher as a project unfolds.

Similarly, a school librarian can help connect students with authentic audiences for their final products. The book suggests a wealth of ideas for students to demonstrate their learning, along with publishing platforms to reach audiences beyond the classroom.

Inspiring Curiosity ends with a call to action, encouraging school librarians to be more involved in all phases of inquiry-based learning. The author’s 10 action steps offer a template for study groups interested in putting these strategies to work.

Just Ask Us: Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement 

Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a veteran middle school teacher, PBL advocate, and Edutopia blogger, goes right to the source to understand student engagement. For a national survey of more than 1,500 students in middle and high school, she posed this question: What is engaging to you as a learner?

Students’ responses, coupled with the author’s own classroom experiences and the insights of researchers, point to nine practical strategies to make school more engaging. From making learning more visual with the use of technology to increasing the authenticity of learning through real-world PBL, the strategies are all about pedagogy, not personality. That’s important, the author says, because “being engaging is learnable... something every teacher can do.” 

Wolpert-Gawron aptly describes engagement as “the starting line for learning,” and reminds readers that learning should feel downright joyful, even when challenging. That’s far from a reality for many students: Research shows a steady decline in engagement as students progress from grade to grade.

Several features of this book make it an excellent choice for shared reading, and for taking action in your own classroom. The conversational tone speaks directly to teachers as colleagues. To help them visualize strategies for engagement, the book includes QR codes that take readers to video examples.

Student quotes, highlighted throughout the book in callouts, invite reader reflection. For example, imagine how teachers in your book group might react to this complaint from a middle schooler: “Most of the things we learn aren’t ‘useful’ in real life.” Or how about this observation from a 12th grader: “I love when my teachers are excited. Sometimes it makes them seem a little geeky, but it makes it much more fun.” To help teachers release their inner geek in the classroom, Wolpert-Gawron describes four ways to convey enthusiasm with body language. It’s easy to imagine teachers analyzing each other’s use of facial expressions, posture, and hand gestures as part of a lively discussion about student engagement.

A Guide to Documenting Learning: Making Thinking Visible, Meaningful, Shareable, and Amplified 

Thanks to ready access to camera phones and other recording devices, it’s easier than ever to document learning. Social media lets us share snapshots or videos of learning experiences with a global audience. But how does Instagramming or tweeting about what’s happening in classrooms actually improve learning? Authors Silvia Tolisano and Janet Hale offer suggestions to leverage documentation as a strategy for deeper learning and professional growth. 

As a choice for book study, A Guide to Documenting Learning will encourage teachers to look more closely at how and when learning unfolds. The authors suggest a variety of digital tools to capture learning in action, along with social media tips to amplify professional conversations. They encourage active learning—each chapter includes an action step to put strategies into practice.

This isn’t a quick read, but it’s likely to spark rich conversations. Associated videos and classroom examples encourage readers to think hard about where, when, and how they are focusing their attention on learning.

Start a Book Group

If you’re looking for professional development that truly amplifies teacher voice, builds collaborative culture, and doesn’t break the budget, it’s hard to beat a book study group with a few colleagues.

By reading and reflecting together about a title of their choosing, teachers build common understanding and exchange perspectives about a particular education trend or instructional strategy. Book groups can lead directly to action if teachers are motivated by their discussions to test-drive new practices.