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Best Books for New Teachers (Part I)

One of the hallmarks of any profession, including teaching, is the requirement to stay abreast of the field, to keep up with the "state of the art." But between the press of the classroom--planning, grading, meeting the myriad needs of individual children--and the obligations and needs of the teacher's own personal life, time is a premium for every teacher.

Every minute counts. So teachers need to know which books are best worth their limited time.

It's with this in mind that we offer these book lists--which represent some of the best thinking on motivating students, instructional techniques, and classroom management strategies.

This is Part I, covering How-To Teach books and Teaching and Learning books. 

Teacher How-To Teach Books

In our reading, we've come across some books that offer useful guidance for teachers with tips, inspirational stories, and strategies. These books will be especially helpful for new teachers in suggesting ways to set up and manage their classrooms to maximize learning and minimize distractions. Even experienced teachers can learn from seeing what works in other classrooms:

  • Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones - This book is part of a series of books, videos, and seminars based on observing successful teachers for over 40 years. The book shows teachers how to use classroom management and discipline tools to increase time available for teaching.
  • Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov - Asserting that great teaching can be taught, this bestseller is a very practical book with lots of how-to advice on classroom management. The 2.0 version includes video clips showing real teachers using the techniques.
  • See Me After Class: Advice For Teachers By Teachers by Roxanna Elden - This book provides no-nonsense survival advice for new teachers through stories from teachers of the things that went wrong in their classes. Instead of the Hollywood storyline of the superhero teacher, this book shows struggling teachers how to survive the challenges not covered in teacher prep.
  • Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith - This "cookbook for teaching" shows how Esquith has taught high-poverty, immigrant Los Angeles fifth-grade students algebra, economics, and Shakespeare. The book expands on his mottos "Work hard, Be nice" and "There are no shortcuts" with techniques, exercises, and innovations that other teachers can emulate.


Teaching and Learning Books

Other books go beyond day to day practice to examine the science of teaching and learning. This helps teachers understand the larger context in which they work and the principles that undergird all effective teaching:


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8 steps to effective K-12 assessments

assessments effective teachers

By taking these steps for effective assessments, teachers can effectively give students ownership over their learning.

Developing quality assessments can be challenging for a number of reasons. And, because assessments are essential in so many student-focused decisions, it’s important to get them right. Here are eight steps that teachers and curriculum directors can use to create high quality, effective assessments:

1. Use assessments to uncover good decision-making evidence. Assessment should be considered integral to the instructional process, and the development of assessments with lesson-planning improves learning outcomes. When done right, planning assessment while planning lessons not only gives instructors the evidence they need to make sound decisions, but it also ensures that curriculum, instruction, and assessment form a cohesive program around which informed decisions can be made.

2. Align learning targets with assessment methods. Mismatches between the target and the assessment method will lead us to making incorrect decisions about a student’s position on the learning continuum. For example, knowledge learning targets are efficiently assessed using traditional selected-response type questions. However, learning targets requiring demonstration of a skill or the creation of products will require more innovative item types in order ensure the learning target is being assessed accurately.

3. Don’t mistake rigor with difficulty. Rigor relates to the extent to which students must transform knowledge (i.e., cognitive demand) in order to display proficiency. Think of it in terms of the thought processes occurring for students: demand connected to interacting with the question affects difficulty, while demand connected to forming a response affects rigor.

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5 ways to enrich communication at the start of the school year-and why it’s essential

communication school parents

An elementary teacher shares her best practices for getting off on the right foot with both parents and students.

Good communication is essential in any relationship, whether it is employer to employee, spouse to spouse, or teacher to student (or student’s parents). In my time as an educator, I’ve seen what a difference good communication can make. When communication channels are open between parents, students, and teachers, students have increased motivation for learning, improved behavior, more regular attendance, and a more positive attitude about school.

Back to school is a great time to build up these communication channels, since so much needs to be discussed at this time of year. At our school, we collect health information, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, and transportation information.

As a teacher, you also need to help students transition smoothly into a new class schedule, routines, and teacher expectations. Here are some great ways to ensure that your communication—with both parents and students—gets off to the right start:

1. Take advantage of in-person events when possible.

At Long Elementary, we have a Meet the Teacher night prior to school starting. I take great pride in building relationships with my students and their parents. This benefits both the students and parents by providing an avenue of constant support for their children. Parents also become more confident about the value of their school involvement, and they develop a greater appreciation for the work the school does.

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Pre-to-3: New mapping tool provides a data snapshot of youngest students

An Urban Institute tool is giving school and district leaders a more accurate view of future kindergartners

School district leaders may think they have a pretty good handle on the characteristics of the pre-K students in their classrooms, but what do they knew about the children who are not enrolled in pre-K, or in any type of early-childhood program? A new interactive site from the Urban Institute allows district leaders and principals to have a more accurate view of their future kindergartners.

The tool can also be useful to community organizations, policymakers and others focusing on increasing young children’s access to early learning opportunities.

The 50-state map, which can zoom in to the community, or “micropolitan” level, provides data on the 10 characteristics that the tool’s creators say are necessary for planning future services, professional development, or even curriculum materials in the early grades. The 10 data points available in the tool are enrollment, race and ethnicity, citizenship, family income, the number of parents in the home and the parents' education level, employment, nativity, English proficiency and primary language.

“Whatever door or agenda you’re walking through, you need the same information,” says Gina Adams, a senior fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute. “Whatever angles you have, you can create a fact sheet for your locality.”

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How Reading Rewires Your Brain for More Intelligence and Empathy

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Fitness headlines promise staggering physical results: a firmer butt, ripped abs, bulging biceps. Nutritional breakthroughs are similar clickbait, with attention-grabbing, if often inauthentic—what, really, is a “superfood?”—means of achieving better health. Strangely, one topic usually escaping discussion has been shown, time and again, to make us healthier, smarter, and more empathic animals: reading.

Reading, of course, requires patience, diligence, and determination. Scanning headlines and retweeting quips is not going to make much cognitive difference. If anything, such sweet nothings are dangerous, the literary equivalent of sugar addiction. Information gathering in under 140 characters is lazy. The benefits of contemplation through narrative offer another story.

The benefits are plenty, which is especially important in a distracted, smartphone age in which one-quarter of American children don’t learn to read. This not only endangers them socially and intellectually, but cognitively handicaps them for life. One 2009 study of 72 children ages eight to ten discovered that reading creates new white matter in the brain, which improves system-wide communication. 

White matter carries information between regions of grey matter, where any information is processed. Not only does reading increase white matter, it helps information be processed more efficiently. 

Reading in one language has enormous benefits. Add a foreign language and not only do communication skills improve—you can talk to more people in wider circles—but the regions of your brain involved in spatial navigation and learning new information increase in size. Learning a new language also improves your overall memory.

In one of the most fascinating aspects of neuroscience, language affects regions of your brain involving actions you’re reading about. For example, when you read “soap” and “lavender,” the parts of your brain implicated in scent are activated. Those regions remain silent when you read “chair.” What if I wrote “leather chair?” Your sensory cortex just fired. 

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