Our 2018 Winter Book Review Festival


What better way to start a New Year than with a good read? Our MiddleWeb book reviewers (educators all) have a tall pile of books reviewed and ready for your selection. Below are some highlights from the past year. We’ve included content area titles, teaching strategies, leadership tips, and more.

We hope you enjoy browsing through some of our favorite books and reviews of 2017. (And if you’d like to review for MiddleWeb yourself, here are the details.)

Dream Wakers: Mentor Texts That Celebrate Latino Culture 

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“Equal parts how-to and shopping list,” teacher Amy Estersohn says Ruth Culham’s Dream Wakers will help any middle grades ELA or social studies teacher add more Latino voices and mentor texts. Culham’s categories are powerful because “they aren’t so itemized that they are easy to forget and they focus on effect rather than a specific trick. Her prompting follow-up questions for each category can be adapted for any age group.”


FAST Grading: A Guide to Implementing Best Practices 

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In FAST Grading, Douglas Reeves has reached his goal of inspiring teachers and administrators to rethink grading and use his FAST strategies (Fair, Accurate, Specific, Timely) to optimize student learning. In her review, veteran science/math teacher Joyce Depenbusch said her district “needs to put many of these ideas to use as soon as possible.”


Middle School Motivators! 22 Interactive Learning Structures

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Middle School Motivators, published by Responsive Classroom, is a magnet for the teacher who wants to make lessons come alive, reinforce what is being taught, and have the students anxious to come back the next day. Reviewer Linda Biondi loved the book’s practical, at-your-fingertips organization. Each activity in the spiral-bound book “is interactive and fun, and they all promote positive social experiences.”


Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, Grades 3-5

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Bring exploration, fact-gathering and deduction to grades 3-5 life science classes with Stewart and Chesley’s Perfect Pairs. Full of standards-based lessons aligned to fiction/nonfiction picture books, the book’s unique pairing strategy “can bring a world of plants, animals, ecosystems, and natural processes to life, allowing students the opportunity to explore science topics they can’t learn by experiencing it themselves,” says literacy coach Pam Hamilton.


Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student-Centered Approach

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Ariel Sacks’ Whole Novels for the Whole Class is “the ultimate teacher-friendly manual for accommodating all students around a single book,” says ELA veteran Mary Tedrow, who finds Sacks’ specificity convincing and her confidence infectious. “In her determination to bring together a cohesive community, (Sacks) has worked her way through the practicalities” and addressed all the concerns practicing teachers are likely to have.


What Successful Principals Do! 199 Tips for Principals, 2nd Edition

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Retired principal Mary Thompson finds lots to like in Franzy Fleck’s book of tips for succeeding in the challenging position of school leader. Quotations and research support the tips, and Thompson offers a rich sample of what you’ll find. “The best use of this book,” she says, “would be to hand it to new administrators upon their becoming a principal to emphasize what the district stands for and the practices expected.”


Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected 

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Many of us would love to improve our communication skills with peers. Thankfully, Jim Knight’s Better Conversations can help us achieve this goal, says instructional coach DeAnna Miller. “Knight explores the beliefs and habits necessary to promote better communication leading to positive change. And his straight-forward, to-the-point examples allow us to immediately begin to hone and put into practice these beliefs and habits.”


First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success

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Jenny Grant Rankin’s First Aid for Teacher Burnout is the perfect salve for the tired teacher’s soul, says veteran educator and teacher-librarian Rita Platt. Rankin’s short book is packed full of great ideas to relieve, rejuvenate, and energize, she says. “It is a must-read for teachers, administrators, and anyone else who is interested in understanding the profession and helping to make it a sustainable career choice.”


Routines for Reasoning: Fostering the Mathematical Practices in All Students

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In Routines for Reasoning, the authors make the case for establishing and sticking to routines to foster mathematical practices for all students. Educator Rita Platt is energized by the authors’ approach, which starts with an overview of the CCSS practices, but rather than presenting them linearly, “they order and emphasize them in an enlightening hierarchy.” Platt says she is “a better teacher and thinker” for having read this book.


Hacking Project Based Learning: 10 Easy Steps to PBL and Inquiry in the Classroom

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Hacking Project Based Learning is a rich resource for teachers and administrators who want to begin implementing project-oriented inquiry learning, says PBL teacher and curriculum leader Sandy Wisneski. She appreciates the strong emphasis on student ownership throughout. The book “explores areas including assessment, feedback, the use of mini-lessons, and the final publishing/presentation of projects. Each chapter is an easy read with practical ideas, hints and blueprints that could be used the next day.”


Assessing Middle and High School Social Studies and English: Differentiating Formative Assessment

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Author Sheryn Spencer Waterman shows the way to make the evaluation as well as the curriculum fit the learner. Middle school teacher Joanne Bell finds the author’s fully developed discussion of differentiated formative assessments helpful for social studies and English. “Because this book is current in both topics and methods, I think that we might all want to make a place for it in our libraries.”


Teaching Kids to Thrive: Essential Skills for Success

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In the well-researched Teaching Kids to Thrive, writes reviewer Laura Von Staden, Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford give us “a supreme guide” full of resources, both in their book and in the companion website, to teach the essential (not soft by any means) “thrive” skills. They include mindfulness, control of executive function (including time management, organization, self-control, flexibility, focus and others), self-efficacy, perseverance, resilience, responsibility, integrity, empathy and gratitude.


50 Writing Activities for Meeting Higher Standards: Dynamic Activities With Ready-to-Go Prewriting Sheets and Rubrics

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Marilyn Pryle’s 50 Writing Activities for Meeting Higher Standards provides educators across content areas with opportunities to teach writing in a logical, fun, and research-based way. The fully developed lessons take Writers Workshop to the next level, says Linda Biondi, and encourage critical thinking, collaborating, informational and technological literacy, flexibility and leadership. “I dreamed of this book for a long time.”


Challenging Learning Through Dialogue: Strategies to Engage Your Students and Develop Their Language of Learning

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Noting that high quality classroom discussion fosters content learning and critical thinking, social studies teacher Michael Yell reports that Challenging Learning through Dialogue is a powerful resource to help make class discussions more thoughtful, engaging, and real. Yell, a past president of the National Council for the Social Studies, found “a myriad of ideas and strategies that we as middle school teachers can use to initiate high quality discussions in our classrooms.”


Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers

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Shirley McPhillips’ non-traditional book about teaching poetry is insightful, practical, “mostly hands-on” and fun to read, says retired principal and former California senior poet laureate Mary Langer Thompson. Teachers and students need to find poems that speak to them and get poetry “out into the airwaves” – reading poems aloud daily, writing or recording intriguing lines, having poetry slams or competitions, having “Poetry Fridays,” and writing thoughts and notes in verse.


Shift This! How to Implement Gradual Changes for Massive Impact in Your Classroom

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Laura Von Staden says teacher Joy Kirr’s Shift This! is a must read for all educators, full of actionable strategies, the research and reasons to implement them, and the steps and support to transform teaching to reach every student with the maximum impact possible. Kirr, a well-known advocate of Genius Hour and student-driven learning, “has produced an easy-to-follow guide…for making our own journey of gradual shifts, and eventually to be the catalyst for the next teachers to follow.”




MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

2 Responses

  1. Mary Langer Thompson says:

    Thanks for including two of my reviews!

  2. Anne Jolly says:

    What a great set of books! If you had no teaching courses except for reading these books, you’d be well-prepared.

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