Knowing that I was starting a whole new position when I left school at the end of May, I had all these grand designs that I would do lots of planning and develop lots of ideas during summer break. Reality set in a week later when I returned to start teaching summer school. I was teaching six different courses in a day—three at a time in the morning and three at a time in the afternoon. The resulting chaos isn’t relevant to this discussion, except (of course) for the honing of my differentiation skills (three courses in the same room will do that!), and the severe lack of planning for my new job as the K–12 gifted and talented coordinator my school. Sigh.
Then I started my three weeks of vacation! I was determined not to waste a minute, so I dove headfirst into my new job. But where to start? What did I need to do most? I realized that my biggest concern was elementary school. I’ve been a high school math teacher for the last five years, so I’ve never really had to work with little kids. I’ve definitely never had to work with them in anything besides math, either! I went first to Costco and Barnes & Noble with a bunch of gift certificates I had been saving, and decided to splurge on some new resources.
I want to share the books I found that made the biggest impressions (both good and bad) on me this summer:
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth (by Alexandra Robbins): I bought this book on a whim because it was on the summer reading table for a local high school and I thought it could be a good book for my high schoolers to read. While I’m not sure that my school would allow me to loan this book out to students (some of the content is a little risqué), I would certainly recommend that every single middle and high school teacher, administrator, and parent in America read this book immediately. It is absolutely fantastic. I could not put it down. It gave me so much to think about and I would encourage everyone to read it. I could do a whole post just on this book, it was so amazing!
Here’s a snippet: “Conventional notions of popularity are wrong. What if popularity is not the same thing as social success? What if students who are considered outsiders aren’t really socially inadequate at all? Being an outsider doesn’t necessarily indicate any sort of social failing. We do not view a tuba player as musically challenged if he cannot play the violin. He’s just a different kind of musician… Rather than view the cafeteria fringe as less socially successful than the popular crowd, we could simply accept that they are a different kind of social.” How cool is that?
Differentiating Instruction with Menus (by Laurie E. Westphal): The most amazing books ever written for differentiated instruction!! The author has created pre-differentiated lessons for topics in each subject in each grade level. It is amazing. All that the teacher has to do is photocopy and give it to the kids. I’ve been handing the books out to the teachers all summer, and they just hug me and say, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
The first thing I’m going to do with my GT budget is buy the books in all of the other grade levels. Even cooler, they also have the same type of books, but differentiated for inclusion classrooms for special education! I spent some time looking at the publisher’s Web site, and I want practically every book that they publish… they seem amazing!
Gifted Grownups (by Marylou Kelly Streznewski): I wish I had read this book before I took my endorsement test for GT! It is a great review of the history and development of gifted and talented as a designation. There is also a lot of great material about the relationship between gifted children and gifted parents, which I have seen a lot, at least in the high school. It can be a very strained relationship, especially if only one parent is gifted, or if the parents are gifted in different ways from their children.
The Daily Spark: I bought seven of these little books (Critical Thinking, Journal Writing, Writing, U.S. History, Spelling and Grammar, Math Word Problems, and Reading) and I’m really excited about them. They are short activities that you can use as warm ups, discussions, or springboards for a lesson. I’m not really an English teacher and since my job isn’t really to teach new content, but get students thinking more critically and more in-depth, I feel like these could be a great way to start working with kids in content areas that I’ve never done before.
Uncover Book Series: I got four of these books from Costco (Tiger, T-Rex, Human Body, and Whale). They looked really cool, because you can flip through them and see all of the different systems. Unfortunately, three of them actually depict the reproductive system, with reasonably explicit wording, and the human body book actually tells kids that human urine is safe to drink (in all fairness, it tells the kids not to do it, but…). I can’t bring that in to a public elementary school in a conservative state! If you work in a different area than I do, these books would be great.