Tara Welty is senior vice president and general manager for Teaching Solutions at Scholastic. Here, she explains how book study can be a beneficial form of professional learning.
Back-to-school is on the horizon and it promises to be a year like no other. Kids are returning to the building with a wide range of experiences over the past 18 months—both academic and personal. Teachers want to offer the extra support students need, but many ended the year feeling depleted and burnt out. I recently received an email from a teacher advisor that read, “2020 nearly broke me.” This is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever met. If he is feeling broken, so are many of his peers. A brain break over the summer is a start, but more is needed to support our teachers as they approach the critical work of guiding students in their academic and social-emotional development.
I recently attended a panel discussion with a diverse group of superintendents from around the country about what issues mattered most to them for back to school. Professional Learning (PL) was top of mind for all of them. Effective PL can be a great way to reinvigorate weary teachers. Ineffective PL can drain them further. One way to achieve the former and not the latter is to create professional learning opportunities that are educator-driven, task-centered, and collaborative. A book study is a great place to start.
Why a Book Study?
Book studies put the learning into the hands of educators. They can be tailored to the needs of Professional Learning Communities (PLC), grade level teams, or other small groups who want to come together to learn about a particular topic. Because they’re teacher-driven, they promote teacher voice and teacher choice, which teachers tell us is critical for their buy-in to professional development. And they give educators strategies they can immediately apply in their classrooms.
How to Get Started
- Form a book study group. Group sizes will vary, but 5–8 members is ideal. An administrator may wish to join and participate in the learning process, but they shouldn’t run the show.
- Set roles, norms, and goals. These should be created collaboratively and agreed upon by all members of the group. Roles describe who does what in the group. They might rotate. For example, one person might facilitate discussion during one meeting and take notes the next meeting. Norms are what is expected of members during working sessions. How will we show up to this work? What will we do when a conflict arises? Goals are about outcomes—how will we put this work into practice?
- Set a meeting cadence and timeline. Be realistic. There is a lot going on in teachers’ lives and classrooms and it is important to respect that.
- Choose a book. Offer a few options and allow the group to vote. I’ve provided a few of my favorites below.
Guiding the Meetings
Book studies are flexible and can be co-created by the participants, but there are some common attributes to include, such as:
- Text-related questions for discussion by the group (developed by the facilitator)
- Journal prompts for personal reflection
- Discussion of applications to classroom practice
- Applying concepts in practice and sharing back with the group
Books to Try
- Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-based Approach to Readingby Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Maggie Hoddindot, & Suzanne Carroll
- Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad
- Choosing and Using Decodable Texts: Practical Tips and Strategies for Enhancing Phonics Instruction by Wiley Blevins
- Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Supporting Our Immigrant and Refugee Children Through the Power of Reading by Don Vu
- The Educator’s Guide to Understanding Child Development: Supporting Healthy Academic and Emotional Growth by Linda Mayes, M.D.
- Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers by Cecilia M. Espinoza and Laura Ascenzi-Moreno