#mtboschallenge Week 2: Professional Books

sunset at lake Coming back from Vermont is always a shock to my system, and even though I spent some time online while I was there – thanks to the Encompass Summer Institute – I somehow missed the #mtboschallenge start.    As I caught up on my blog reading, and listened to everyone’s start of school stories (mine is still 9 days away), the urge to participate has won out [for the moment] over my escapist fantasy of living in the mountains on my beloved lakeshore.  And talking about books is always a joy – I mean, I do have a degree in English Language and Literature….but that’s a long story.

Microsoft Word - Document1 copy

Let me admit, right off the bat, that I am addicted to books.  These are the  bookcases in my office at home.  I try these days to limit my purchases to books that I cannot read online, from the library, or borrow, but the recommendations from the many people I respect in the online community make it difficult to control the impulse to own these treatises of pedagogical wisdom.

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This first set of books were seminal texts in my development as an urban educator.  When I joined the NYC Teaching Fellows, I ‘talked the talk’  – I said that I became a teacher because I thought that was one of the few ways in which an individual could actually effect change in the world, even if on a small and personal scale, and that I wanted to help provide quality education to all children.  I don’t think I knew what that meant until I started reading about the importance of language (Lisa Delpit, Other People’s Children), discourse analysis (James Paul Gee, Social Linguistics and Literacies), and the limits of urban school reform (Jean Anyon, Radical Possibilities).  I can truly say that these books changed my outlook in a fundamental way – or maybe they just gave me the words for the inchoate ideas that motivated my career change.  I read Rafe Esquith’s Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire at the end of my first incredibly difficult (who’s isn’t?) year of teaching, and his creativity in creating a classroom culture of achievement and community gave me fuel and ideas to return for a second one.  Of course, trying to implement all his ideas at once wasn’t a recipe for success (so I learned by mid-October), but I remain inspired to this day.


These two books by Paul Lockhart – especially A Mathematician’s Lament – have hugely impacted my philosophy of teaching math, and especially Geometry.   Geometry was my first love in high school, and I was thrilled to be teaching it.  I was certain, when I started out, that I would be able to enlighten my students, help them progress upwards on the Van Hiele levels, and convert them all to the religion of geometry.  Guess again.  So when I came to the chapter entitled “High School Geometry: Instrument of the Devil”, I took a hard look in the mirror, and began to rethink my approach.   And Lockhart made sure that I suffered no delusions about the benefits of my ‘traditional’ approach to the curriculum: “All metaphor aside, geometry class is by far the most mentally and emotionally destructive component of the entire K-12 mathematics curriculum.  Other math courses may hide the beautiful bird, or put it in a cage, but in geometry class it is openly and cruelly tortured.”   Measurement is a delight; Lockhart explores the beauty of math in an accessible, challenging and engaging way. 

5 invisible vilson

These are my most recent favorite reads, although truth be told, I am working my way through 5 Practices (I know, I know – it’s such a slim book!), but every page has something worthwhile for me to think about, and I have approximately 20 pages unread in both Invisible Children and This is Not A Test.  Vilson’s book – part memoir, part policy narrative, was engaging, familiar [as a fellow Teaching Fellow] and very accessible, and then it hit me right between the eyes – the chapter “Where The Hustle Comes From” held up yet another harsh mirror to my classroom, and my impatience with any student not paying attention, or trying to leave the room.  You can’t read this book and come away unchanged.   I found the book Invisible Children while perusing Don Steward’s excellent blog; he mentioned this book as a highly influential text in his teaching, and based on my respect for his work, I sought out a copy (it was published in 1989 and is no longer in print, I believe).  Pye describes the ‘bottle shape’ in the classroom which captures the teacher’s attention when they are in the front of the room – the center rows and the back of the class.  The sides of the room, even at the front, are where the ‘invisible children’ reside.   His descriptions of how remarkable children, only needing acknowledgment, are hidden and looked over (by their own design at times) ring true for any teacher of large classes.  I will be looking at my classroom very carefully this fall, with new eyes. 

I also have to mention Embedded Formative Assessment; its research-based analysis of formative assessment and practical strategies were enormously helpful in developing my practice in this area.  I don’t have a picture of this book because I have lent it to a friend.

On the reading list for this year are the following goodies:

There are many other books on other lists I have (tucked away in lots of nooks and crannies, both virtual and real) of book references made by people I respect, and I know that these lists will continue to grow.   And I’m sure I’ve forgotten some faves here.  But like I said, I studied Literature, and I can keep going….ad infinitum….

I don’t know how to finish off this post, for some reason, so I’ll conclude with this photo from the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival in Burlington on August 3.  It’s a moving and exciting annual event to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer.  The boats are lovely, and there’s something very mathematical about the rowing team, don’t you think?

Dragon Boat Races in Burlington, Vermont

Dragon Boat Races in Burlington, Vermont





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