The February column of SLM‘s Essential Reads column is now online. This month, I’m rather humbled to be featured with a recommendation next to Gary Hartzell, whose work on librarians and principals has been so influential.
My pick is David Somoza’s Writing to Explore (Stenhouse 2010), which is hands-down the best professional book I’ve read in some time. He, in collaboration with nonfiction author Peter Lourie, reimagines the same-old state report we all struggle with. Using Lourie’s work as a mentor text, he leads his students on an amazing multisensory journey, replacing the report with an adventure essay. Along the way, he helps his fourth graders learn to navigate consumer web sites as they work to figure out which planes or trains they’ll take, where they’ll sleep, and where they’ll eat (including what they pick from the menu). He provides scaffolding that guides but does not construct; one notable example is one in which students paste evocative inspirational images into a Word document, along with citations and captions.
If you, like me, have done too many boring, middle-grade state reports in your life, and if you have yearned for a spark of new energy in the way kids tackle research, and if you’ve worried that databases aren’t always the best route to interesting research-based writing for kids, and if, perchance, you even have adventure as a genre for middle-grade students (as we have four fourth graders here in Michigan), you need to get this book.
I picked up a copy at NCTE and have already loaned it out to a teaching team who was excited about its premise. You can, for a short time, read the entire text online, but I warn you: you may stay up until 3:30am to finish it and immediately order your own copy. When’s the last time you did that with a professional book?
Fair warning: for those of you out there who want to read books that prominently feature the librarian, you won’t find that here, although the ideas are just begging to be adopted by a teacher-librarian team. However, when I finished said book at 3:30am and wrote a frenzied email to the author asking this question, he kindly reported that he did work extensively with the librarian in his school to build foundational skills with students, but that time limitations precluded her from collaborating with him on this long-term project. My humble advice to you, if you are worried about that, is get over it and show how it can be done with a team.
To deny yourself this Valentine to your professional self would be sad indeed.
As my mother is fond of saying at the end of her email messages, “Here endeth the reading.”