Category Archives: Book Reviews

Professional books reviewed by educators

Hands-On Physical Science in Middle School

Hands-On Physical Science, Grades 6-8: Authentic Learning Experiences That Engage Students in STEM 
By Laurie E. Westphal, Ed.D.
(Prufrock Press, 2019 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Tracy Albers

We live in a time where students are tempted to find answers to questions they have by simply “Googling them” without being challenged to think for themselves.

Hands-On Physical Science, Grades 6-8: Authentic Learning Experiences That Engage Students in STEM does not allow students this luxury, and challenges them to develop ways to solve tasks and answer questions while using an inquiry-based approach.

Physics and Chemistry make up the two parts to this book, with each part broken down into chapters that represent common physical science units. Included in each chapter is an overview, objectives, chapter activities, vocabulary and resources.

Each activity includes an objective, rationale, list of materials, activity preparation and activity procedure. Where applicable, evaluation sheets, recording sheets, lab station cards that contain directions, and rubrics are included and can be photocopied with ease.

Linking exercises to real life

This book allows plenty of room for guidance and direct instruction where needed. My favorite aspect is that each chapter begins with a student design or research project that provides students an initial experience on which to connect new learning.

Students are challenged to connect what they’ve learned to real life examples within the post lab questions. There are also opportunities for students to research, present and provide peer feedback in a couple chapters. The activities could be modified to fit any preferred format for a science lab notebook.

Resources for new science teachers

Teachers who do not have a strong science background may need to spend some time brushing up on vocabulary, mathematical formulas and scientific processes that are presented as part of this book. The extra resources provided would help alleviate this. A few of the activities require a junk box of materials, which students could contribute to, but that teachers would need to start in advance.

At certain points in the book I felt as though the author presumed that students would have quite a bit of prior knowledge about physical science processes. However, she explains that this approach is intentional and allows for students to question and observe things that weren’t originally intended. Younger students may need to be front-loaded with some vocabulary (which is included) and visual examples of processes, even prior to the design projects.

Reasons to read Hands-On Physical Science

In my opinion any middle grades physical science teacher would benefit from the engaging, hands-on opportunities presented in this book. The author takes abstract physical science concepts and makes them more concrete by allowing students to experience hands-on examples. There is a nice balance between standard “cookbook” directions and students guiding their own inquiry based experience. Individual, small group and large group experiences are all included.

This book also provides alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in each chapter and lends itself to providing students cross-curricular connections in the disciplines of math, engineering, language arts, history and technology.

Tracy Albers has completed her 18th year in education teaching at the middle school level. She currently teaches sixth and eighth grade science in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Tracy serves on various committees within her school, as well as acting as a team leader. It is her belief that students need to experience practical, hands-on experiences that make sense of the world around them.

Connecting Instruction to Student Values

Two-for-One Teaching: Connecting Instruction to Student Values 
By Lauren Porosoff and Jonathan Weinstein
(Solution Tree Press, 2020 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Alex T. Valencic

I listen to a lot of education podcasts and participate in several Twitter chats for educators. In the process, I have come into contact with dozens of authors and heard reviews for hundreds of books.

Because of the saturation of book recommendations, I usually don’t pay much attention to the book itself; I am much more interested in what the author has to say during the interview or what snippets of wisdom they can share during a 30- or 60-minute tweet exchange.

This makes it all the more worth noticing that one book that had been in my Amazon wishlist for several months was Two-for-One Teaching: Connecting Instruction to Student Values by Lauren Porosoff and Jonathan Weinstein. (Full disclosure: while I have never met either author, I have been connected to Ms. Porosoff via Twitter for quite some time and have exchanged a few emails related to the topic of this book.)

As the curriculum coordinator for 21st century teaching and learning in my school district, I am tasked with the challenge of helping teachers bring their instructional practices forward from the late 19th century industrial model to the early 21st century innovation model.

I am often called upon to come into classrooms to observe teachers and students and provide feedback on what could be improved. A common question that educators ask me, and are asking across the world, is how we can help our students be more engaged in the classroom, particularly against the backdrop of instant gratification via social media and video gaming.

Focusing on what students value

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are certainly things we can start doing that will get us much closer to finding an answer. One of those things is at the heart of Two-for-One Teaching — find out what students truly value and make it something that is not merely tolerated but actually expected within the instructional setting.

This will lead to not only academic achievement but what one school district’s mission statement describes as “achieving personal greatness.” As the authors put it, “the purpose of school – the reason underlying all the time and effort we put into educating students – is so they can live productive, satisfying, world-bettering lives, not just after they finish school, but right now.”

The foundation of values-connected instruction

For those who want to know the science and the reason supporting values-connected educational practices, I highly recommend reading Part I of this book, which comprises Chapters 1 and 2.

Chapter 1 focuses on creating a learning environment in which students (and teachers!) are willing to bring and share what they value. This is accomplished by designing learning opportunities that are actually relevant to students, help them stay mentally present, and respond to students in ways that are both instructive and supportive.

Chapter 2 presents the science of empowerment, exploring the research of contextual behavioral science, dialectical behavior therapy, compassion-focused therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy. The purpose is not to overwhelm the reader with technical language and jargon but to present a foundation for why values-connected instructional practices are successful.

Thirty protocols to adapt to your class

Part II, which is the bulk of Two-for-One Teaching, presents an overview of 30 different protocols that can be used in different aspects of the teaching and learning process, whether it is preparing for learning, exploring new material, reviewing material, creating products that demonstrate understanding, or refining those products.

The description of each protocol is divided into the following sections: summary, preparation, implementation, boosting impact, and next steps. There is also a visual guide to approximately how much time the protocol takes to be done well.

It is worth noting that Porosoff and Weinstein do not present these protocols as strategies that must be done exactly as written and in the sequence that they are presented to be successful. In fact, they close out their book by saying exactly the opposite. Drawing a comparison to using a recipe to prepare a meal, the authors point out that each protocol can and should be adapted and modified to the meet the unique needs of the teachers and students using them.

Two-for-One Teaching is an excellent resource for any educator who wants to help connect what matters most to students with what matters most to schools. As we make these connections, we will see our students learn and grow and become the successful, productive, world-bettering members of society that we all want them to be.

Alex T. Valencic, Ed.M., is the Curriculum Coordinator for 21st Century Teaching and Learning in Freeport, Illinois. He has taught professionally for over ten years. When not working with K-12 teachers who are implementing project-based learning and other innovative strategies to support students, Mr. Valencic can likely be found reading, hiking, or spending time with his family and friends playing tabletop games.

You can learn more about his adventures in teaching fourth grade by visiting his blog Adventures in the 21st Century or by following him on Twitter @alextvalencic. This is his tenth book review for MiddleWeb.

Lessons for Teaching Grammar in Context

More Grammar to Get Things Done: Daily Lessons for Teaching Grammar in Context 
By Darren Crovitz and Michelle D. Devereaux
(Routledge and National Council of Teachers of English, 2020 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Karen Rubado

More Grammar to Get Things Done is a follow-up to Grammar to Get Things Done by Darren Crovitz and Michelle D. Devereaux. The second book opens by acknowledging why teachers might have decided to read it in the first place. For most of us, teaching grammar isn’t a fun part of our jobs, so we don’t often choose to read about it.

If we’re being honest, we might not even feel competent to teach it. How can we be feeling otherwise, with such damning evidence that we aren’t teaching it effectively. Year after year, students don’t readily apply even the most basic concepts of grammar in their writing.

We know traditional drill and practice aren’t working, but the alternative, teaching grammar in context, seems overwhelming. Crovitz and Devereaux start by calling out those frustrations and inviting readers to get real about our experiences and long-held beliefs about grammar instruction.

What we can learn from art teachers

So what does it really mean to teach grammar “in context?” As I read, I found many similarities between what Crovitz and Devereaux suggest and the strategies used by my colleagues who teach visual arts.

They engage students in analysis of their own and others’ art, asking them about what they notice in terms of both form and function and consider how other choices would have impacted the end result. They build on the skills their students already have as artists and encourage them to take creative risks in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Imagine a visual arts class where students don’t do that kind of thinking and creating, and instead, learn what seem to be arbitrary rules and then practice fixing errors on a worksheet. It’s easy to recognize the ineffectiveness of such an approach to learning in the visual arts, and yet that’s how our students are expected to learn language arts.

Teaching grammar in context, according to Crovitz and Devereaux, means that we make learning about language usage meaningful by helping students analyze pieces of writing and, through inquiry, discover tools they can use to improve their craft.

Readers are reminded that language is woven into our identity. There are some contexts that require Standard English, but there are many others in which casual usage is more appropriate. Our students come to us with varying levels of experience with dialects and usage patterns related to cultural groups. Teaching grammar in context can add relevancy to a discussion and can find a place in students’ writing. Studying language usage under those conditions can be empowering.

Protocols for teaching usage

The second half of the book offers suggested protocols for teaching 10 commonly needed usage concepts. Each concept is divided into a series of short daily lessons. At a glance, the lessons appear scripted; however the authors point out that teachers don’t need to use them that way.

They chose to provide that level of detail so that teachers who are new to this style of grammar instruction have a solid starting point. I appreciated the scripts, as they helped me visualize how the lessons might play out. Having everything laid out for me in such a way will ultimately give me the confidence to design my own.

In More Grammar to Get Things Done, Crovitz and Devereaux struck the right balance of ideological and practical to make the idea of a pedagogical shift to teaching grammar in context not only doable but exciting.

They are honest, direct, and, at times, funny. They encourage us, as teachers of grammar, to be those things too. Who knows, maybe grammar can become one of our favorite things to teach!

Karen Rubado has been working in education for over 25 years as a special education teacher, alternative education teacher and equity trainer, and in her current position as a 6th-grade reading and language arts teacher. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and dog and serves as her local union president. She enjoys camping, snowshoeing, and hanging out with her two adult children.

Sharing Your Expertise with the World

Sharing Your Education Expertise with the World: Make Research Resonate and Widen Your Impact
By Jenny Grant Rankin
(Routledge, 2019 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Kathleen Palmieri

Let me start this review with why I chose to read this book. As an educator, I feel compelled to collaborate with my colleagues. Being in the education profession, I find sharing is a skill that is necessary to build best practices.

I’ve branched out into the virtual world by networking on Twitter, sharing on Instagram, and even finding groups of interest on Facebook.

While this has been enriching as I learned from others, I was looking for more ways to “step outside of my box” so to speak and give as well as take. One day as I scrolled through MiddleWeb’s list of titles available for review, this one jumped out at me.

An inviting voice to help build your outreach

Jenny Grant Rankin, PhD, has written several books for researchers, educators, and those who share information or data. In Sharing Your Education Expertise with the World: Make Research Resonate and Widen Your Impact, Rankin has created a resource that helps anyone looking to increase their audience and the visibility of their ideas and practices.

As I began to read, I was immediately drawn into the flow of her writing as her voice comes through in an encouraging, confidence building, and fun way! This is not the typical, sometimes droning, informational read. This is a book that is easy to navigate and choose chapters by interest in each topic.

Beginning with the preface, Rankin captured my interest, starting off with, “This is a book full of secrets and shortcuts. It contains all the tips and tricks I gathered on my journey to share my expertise and research with the world….The most important reason for reading this book, however, is to make your expertise benefit more kids by reaching more of the folks who serve them.” (p xiv)

Within each chapter

Rankin’s “Book Structure and Content” describes each chapter as offering descriptions of opportunities, lists of specific techniques using various media sources, tips and tricks to help you gain opportunities, and strategies and exercises to hone skills and apply the strategies shared in the chapter.

I particularly like the “Scrappy Tips” that are included throughout this book. I know you are probably wondering what the term “Scrappy” means. It is defined by Rankin as, “Being scrappy means being determined and thinking outside of the box to find numerous, creative ways to seize opportunities. It also means aiming high (while simultaneously seizing more accessible opportunities) for maximum impact.” (p 6) Perfect! Yet another way that I found myself in this book!

A quick look at the Table of Contents

Rankin’s “Table of Contents” is where the reader can begin their journey to widen their impact. Below is a snapshot of the topics. In the book they are broken down into subtopics and well defined. I’ll offer my takeaways on each:

Table of Contents

Meet the Author – I think reading about the author is incredibly important and interesting.

Preface – must read! This maps out the book.

eResources – table of great resources, and the author offers a site with a link to access them as well.

Acknowledgements – the inspiration behind this book.


  1. Introduction – helps you to find your message and not let the “critics” discourage you.
  2. Image – ways to highlight your expertise and contribute to your polished professional image.


  1. Writing Anything – guidelines are offered to finding writing opportunities.
  2. Writing Short-Form (Articles, Papers, Etc.) – blogs, newspapers, newsletters, websites, etc.
  3. Writing Books – help provided to craft a good book and to get published.


  1. Speaking Anywhere – fundamental guidelines for speaking anywhere. TED talks, conferences, etc.
  2. Preparing Slides for Anywhere – creating visuals that will inspire, enlighten, not bore or overwhelm.
  3. Speaking at Conferences and Other Events – applying to speak, criteria, tips for success, etc.
  4. Speaking on Air and Recordings – find broadcasts devoted to education, list of broadcasting opportunities, etc.


  1. Connecting – at events, social media, business cards, etc. Get involved in the conversation.
  2. Serving – mentoring, sharing lessons, serving on a board, plus ways to share expertise, build presence.
  3. Awards, honors, grants – how to seek them out.


  1. Multiply Your Impact – Exposure is important! Various ideas on using Twitter, etc. to promote you!

The “Table of Contents” reveals the book is an incredible resource presented in a mentor’s encouraging voice. However, there is more! Web addresses and e-resources, “fast tracks” and contact information are woven throughout.

Honesty and integrity are discussed, as Rankin writes, “As you follow your path to maximum impact and career growth, commit to maintaining honesty and integrity. This means never lying on your CV, never taking credit for someone else’s work, never throwing a colleague or acquaintance under the bus, etc.” (p. 7)

Reaching for equity among educators

Rankin also discusses the importance of equity in relation to groups that tend to face discrimination. She writes,

“This book celebrates the need for all education experts to share what they know so our field and students can benefit from their wisdom. Yet women, people of color, and LGBT+ individuals face discrimination in their efforts to share their expertise within our professional arena. It is important to be aware of unfair obstacles, and how they manifest themselves, so we can all find ways to ensure the field benefits from diverse voices….Please get fired up with me, and hold this issue close to your heart as you seek to share your expertise with the world.” (p 7)

What a powerful thought for all of us, especially in the education field, to keep in mind.

So I am thinking you already are aware of how much I enjoyed this book. I should probably add that midway through this fabulous resource, I looked Dr. Rankin up on Twitter. I tweeted what I was reading, and within minutes I received a reply and a “follow” from her. I know two things for sure: One, Sharing Your Education Expertise with the World: Make Research Resonate and WidenYour Impact will continue to be a go-to resource for me. Two, I will continue to read and learn from Dr. Rankin. (Read a review of Rankin’s book First-Aid for Teacher Burnout here at MiddleWeb.)

Jenny Grant Rankin’s voice throughout this book promotes the message that sharing our individual wisdom and expertise with the world is necessary, and, more importantly, possible. Read this book to feel encouraged and inspired in your quest to expand your impact on the world, as well as to giggle often.

Kathleen Palmieri is a National Board Certified Teacher and a fifth grade educator in upstate New York who reviews regularly for MiddleWeb. With a passion for literacy and learning in the classroom, she participates in various writing workshops and curriculum writing endeavors. As a lifelong learner, she is an avid reader and researcher of educational practices and techniques. Collaborating with colleagues and globally on Twitter @Kathie042500 are her ongoing practices.

The Skills That Matter for College and Careers

The Skills That Matter: Teaching Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competencies in Any Classroom 
By Patricia M. Noonan and Amy S. Gaumer Erickson
(Corwin Press, 2018 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Anne Anderson

Are you tasked with preparing students for college and career? The Skills That Matter: Teaching Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competencies in Any Classroom by Patricia M. Noonan and Amy S. Gaumer Erickson can help! Their book gives teachers and administrators a place to begin.

Click to enlarge.

Based on 2012 research from the National Research Council, the skills necessary to be college and career ready are categorized into three domains: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive.

Chapter 1 is devoted to the research and implementation of these competencies. While the College and Career Competency Wheel (p.1) includes 26 competencies, the authors address only five: self-efficacy, self-regulation, goal setting, assertiveness, and conflict management.

Each chapter focuses on a specific competency.

Before addressing the Instructional Practices associated with a competency, the authors provide background and research, key points of the competency, and the components needed to develop a specific competency.

Throughout each chapter, the authors include scenarios related to the competency. Don’t be surprised to see yourself and/or your students in these scenarios!

Each competency includes a questionnaire designed to help students understand their strengths and weaknesses and to support educators in planning instruction related to the competency. Educators have the option of administrating a paper test or using a free online survey.

Questions to guide instruction

Armed with the information from the questionnaires, teachers are ready to provide instruction within their content area. The authors provide practical instructional strategies. Each chapter concludes with these four questions:

  1. How will you instruct students on ___ and its essential components?
  2. How will you provide guided practice in ___ that includes both of the components?
  3. How will students independently practice or demonstrate ___ while addressing both of the components?
  4. How will you support reflection and provide feedback/reinforcement to students as they practice ___?

The Skills That Matter is filled with practical instructional strategies for use with middle and high school students. The book, however, may be difficult to use since the recommended handouts are not easily available. I was disappointed that Corwin had not created an electronic file for the many questionnaires and handouts. A reader must go to the authors’ website for these materials. While many resources are free, I noted that the Teacher Lesson Sets have a cost.

Educators, employers, parents and community leaders want students to succeed in school and in the real world. The Skills That Matter: Teaching Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competencies in Any Classroom is a resource that can help students achieve success.

Anne Anderson is a retired middle school teacher living in Shreveport, LA. Now she shares her expertise as an educational consultant providing educators with practical solutions to teaching and learning problems. Contact her at

This Social Studies Compendium Is a Keeper

The Social Studies Teacher’s Toolbox: Hundreds of Practical Ideas to Support Your Students 
By Elisabeth Johnson and Evelyn Ramos Lamarr; series editors Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski
(Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2020 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Sarah Cooper

It’s a little strange for me to say this, having written two books of my own about history pedagogy. But if you’re going to buy only one book about teaching social studies, The Social Studies Teacher’s Toolbox should be it.

Elisabeth Johnson and Evelyn Ramos Lamarr, experienced teachers at the same Sacramento high school, have constructed a research-based, honest, human guide to helping our students in grades 6-12 understand, remember and care about what they learn.

As the authors write in the introduction: “In building this collection of hundreds of practical ideas, two questions stayed consistent in our minds: How is this strategy helping students improve their knowledge and skills? and Why should students care about this social studies topic?” The book delivers answers to both questions in 400-plus chock-full pages.

The series editors, Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski, are veteran teachers and writers themselves. Johnson and Lamarr call out Ferlazzo’s prolific blog in the introduction, “due to its overall comprehensiveness” – very much like this book.

With these four savvy educators at the helm, you will dig through and dog-ear this compendium as if you’re eating a 21-course meal, and your students will be the richer for it.

Equipping Teachers With Everything They Need 

The book is divided into four parts, each with highly detailed chapters:

I Reading and Writing

1. A Fresh Look at Vocabulary
2. Reading Strategies
3. Read-Aloud Protocol
4. Thematic Data Sets
5. Writing in Social Studies
6. Mnemonics
7. Timelines Revisited
8. Current Event Case Study
9. Genre Study
10. Concept Attainment

II Analysis Tools 

11. Questions for Learning
12. Image Analysis
13. Analysis of Primary Sources
14. Synthesis Charts

III Speaking and Listening

15. Listening and Speaking Activities
16. Discussions

IV Additional Key Strategies

17. Project-Based Learning
18. Culturally Responsive Teaching
19. Social and Emotional Learning
20. Assessment
21. Getting the Most From Your Textbook

The chapters are all organized the same way. Each starts with a description of what the strategy is and why the authors find it useful, often referring to the higher-level thinking it encourages.

Then they list research, Common Core and social studies standards that support each topic. The research is no joke, with 25 pages of citations at the end of the book that could easily background a dissertation on teaching social studies.

Then comes application. For the Current Events Case Study chapter, this includes Sequencing of Events, Developing Questions, Bias Awareness and Research, Written Analysis, and Additional Ideas for Including Current Events in the Classroom. Each set of applications finishes with options for differentiation and advanced extensions.

All chapters also feature copious handouts, examples and figures that are ready to use. The chapter on Writing in Social Studies, for example, features a handout called Point-Example-Explain Paragraph Structure, while the Social and Emotional Learning chapter includes a Personal Empathy Map.

Finally, each chapter ends with a helpful troubleshooting segment called “What Could Go Wrong?” In the Timelines chapter, the authors suggest, “Don’t go overboard on using timelines… They can grow old and stale,” and in Discussions, “Lack of monitoring during group discussions can make small problems fester or make some students feel that the teacher does not care about their success.”

Such comments made me feel as if I was in easy conversation in the teachers’ lounge with colleagues who had already made notes for next year on what they wanted to improve.

This Book Applies to Everyone, Novice and Veteran and In Between

Even after teaching for more than two decades, I found this book invaluable in its gathering of so many classroom-tested ideas in one place. It reminded me of practices I haven’t tried for a while, such as primary source image analysis and the creation of mnemonics, and also introduced me to new ideas, such as genre study grids and concept attainment “nonexamples.”

The book also filled in some weak spots I’ve wanted to address, such as preparing students most effectively for a guest speaker (in a chapter on Listening and Speaking Activities) and setting up community circles (or restorative circles) on “provocative subjects in the curriculum like voting rights, the effects of nationalism, and the cost/benefit of war” – in an excellent chapter on Culturally Responsive Teaching.

After my one reading, The Social Studies Teacher’s Toolbox has earned a permanent place on my shelf of necessary teaching books. While planning my 8th grade U.S. history classes for the fall, I will dip into it for inspiration, and in years to come I anticipate consulting it like an encyclopedia of teaching. You’ll be missing out if you don’t do the same thing!

You can read Elisabeth Johnson and Evelyn Ramos Lamarr’s recent MiddleWeb article here.

Sarah Cooper teaches eighth-grade U.S. history and is Dean of Studies at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada, California, where she has also taught English Language Arts. She is the author of Making History Mine (Stenhouse, 2009) and Creating Citizens: Teaching Civics and Current Events in the History Classroom (Routledge/MiddleWeb, 2017). She presents at conferences and writes for a variety of educational sites. You can find all of Sarah’s writing at

Teaching Kids to Talk with Clarity and Purpose

Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk: Teaching Kids to Talk with Clarity and Purpose
By Shana Frazin and Katy Wischow
(Heinemann Publishers, 2020 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Karen Rubado

On a typical day in my classroom, I will, at least once, ask my students to discuss with a partner or in small groups. I announce the topic then walk around to catch snippets of conversations, sometimes joining in.

In addition to the students who enthusiastically dive in, there are those who stay silent. There are others who talk, but not about the topic. There are many who nod and affirm the speaker but don’t add anything new to the conversation.

We have practiced discussion as part of our classroom routine, yet I find myself time and time again referring to our classroom norms and redirecting students who are not engaged in genuine discussion.

I decided it was time to rethink the role of partner and small group discussions in my classes, starting with the ideas I found in the book Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk by Shana Frazin and Katy Wischow.

Foundations of Talk

This book is organized into three parts, beginning with Foundations of Talk. In that section Frazin and Wischow introduce classroom talk as a necessary skill that needs to be taught as a process or cycle. They draw a comparison to the way we teach writing.

In purposeful conversation we generate ideas, then we narrow our focus, choosing the topic of discussion. We then engage in the talk itself, developing and deepening our knowledge and understanding of the topic. The cycle culminates in action and reflection, often sparking more ideas and beginning the cycle again.

The explanations of each part of the cycle are accompanied by examples from the authors’ work with children in classrooms as well as in adult conversation.

Purposes of Talk

Part two, Purposes for Talk, opens with a prelude about reporting. When we ask students to discuss a topic, often they report instead, and the conversation quickly dies. Reading that introduction, it was as if the authors had visited my classroom, saw what was happening day-to-day, and understood my frustration.

They go on to share strategies to help students build their capacity to engage in four different types of talk – talking to build relationships, talking to play with ideas, talking to clarify, analyze, and argue – and, yes, talking to report.

Frazin and Wischow then devote a chapter to each type of talk, offering lots of examples and visuals that make their suggestions easy to try with confidence. In addition, readers can access an online resource that includes videos of strategies in action, PDF versions of materials, and video clips to use as mentor talks.

Leveling Up Your Talk

Frazin and Wischow compare the last section of their book, Leveling Up Your Talk, to a junk drawer in that it contains a number of useful items that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. There is a chapter on listening, one on assessment and celebration, and finally, one on troubleshooting classroom issues related to talk. Again, they offer concrete suggestions and examples in all of those areas.

As a 6th grade teacher tasked with making sure my students meet rigorous speaking and listening standards, I appreciated these chapters as they answered the questions that lingered after section two. When I read Tackling Talk Trouble, I had specific students and situations in mind and left those chapters feeling empowered to change what I thought was an inevitable struggle in my classroom.

New Perspectives on Teaching Conversation

When I started reading Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk, I thought I might pick up some tips to make “turn and talk” moments in my classroom work better. Instead, I got new perspectives on teaching conversation as a skill and on using talk as a way to deepen knowledge in any subject area.

I teach Reading and Language Arts, but I was also drawn to the examples of how the strategies in this book can be applied in other subjects. Student talk, done this way, seems to lend itself easily to interdisciplinary work. I recommend this book to anyone who wants classroom conversation to be a powerful learning tool.

Karen Rubado has been working in education for over 25 years as a special education teacher, alternative education teacher, equity trainer, and in her current position as a 6th grade reading and language arts teacher. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and dog and serves as her local union president. She enjoys camping, snowshoeing, and hanging out with her two adult children.

Ten Principles of Artful Read-Alouds

The Artful Read-Aloud: 10 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and Transform Learning
By Rebecca Bellingham
(Heinemann, 2020 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Jeny Randall

I love reading. Leaving home without a book is as unthinkable to me as leaving without my wallet, phone, or keys. And yet, I’ve had a hard time sustaining a read-aloud with my middle school classes. It was with this in mind that I picked up The Artful Read-Aloud by Rebecca Bellingham.

As I was reading Bellingham’s book, my teaching life unraveled. My school, like those around the world, closed. I worked to connect with and continue learning alongside my scattered students. Reading about read-alouds felt ironic.

However, as I returned to The Artful Read-Aloud each evening, I realized what a powerful tool read-alouds are in uncertain times. Stories connect us across time and distance. And so, the first video I recorded for my students was a read-aloud. And, I realized, though I read with fluency and expression I still have a lot to learn.

Bellingham builds her book around “10 Principles of the Artful Read-Aloud” including “Embody the Text,” “Look Up,” and “Invite Conversation.” Each principle highlights several tips illustrated with examples and photographs.

Artifacts from read-alouds including anchor charts, graphic organizers, and annotated sections of text help readers engage with examples. Bellingham draws from her experience reading aloud to students, coaching work she’s done with teachers, and her careers as an actress and literary coach.

Beyond ELA

While Bellingham shows how reading aloud supports Reading and Writing Workshop, she also moves beyond the English/Language Arts classroom.

For example, in Principle Seven: “Be Awed,” Bellingham suggests “dazzling” students. “Using a picture book to launch units in science, social studies, and other content areas is a perfect tool for igniting their interest and giving them some background knowledge right away” (p. 91).

Last fall, I began Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming with a class of sixth graders in a personal narrative unit. One of my pitfalls was modeling all my thinking as I read. As I began to read one day, a student asked “can you just read?” “And not do all that talking?” I finished for him. Humbled, I let Woodson’s beautiful work speak for itself. So I appreciated the time Bellingham took to consider the balance of reading and discussion.

After finishing The Artful Read-Aloud, I began reading Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Mañanaland. I found myself reading differently as I looked for opportunities to engage students while still creating the space for the story to take center stage.

In Principle Four: “Look Up,” Bellingham suggests “by making kids your scene partners, you heighten the drama, but you also give kids access to the nuances inside the scene” (p. 59). As I read, I looked for those places to slow down and invite conversation, realizing they needed to be carefully chosen.

Bellingham provides tools to support classroom discussion including tips and prompts that can be transferred to discussions outside of the read-aloud as well. One gem is a table of questions organized by bands of text complexity (p. 68). Many of her prompts and strategies can be applied more broadly to classroom discussion such as “resisting the urge to confirm correctness” (p. 50) coupled with strategies for guiding students who need support in their understanding.

Beyond day-to-day preparation

Teachers can also find strategies to help guide their preparation, such as a list of “Questions about making meaning to keep in mind as you read children’s literature” (p.38), strategies for fueling your own reading life, and a thoughtfully curated list of read aloud texts (Children’s Literature Cited p. 152).

Bellingham drew me in most successfully when she showed her own learning journey, doubt, and growth – as she does in the section “Take a Breath.” She writes that being busy “is something I’m working on, as a person and a friend, definitely as a mom and always as a teacher.”

At other times, her writing seems self-congratulatory which, unfortunately, is reinforced by nearly two dozen color photos of the author at work. For example, when introducing a quote from personal correspondence, she writes, “I have a lot of friends who are working actors. I have known Alison Cimmet since our college days when we performed in shows like Into the Woods together” (p. 45).

Deeply thoughtful and empathetic

Other aspects of the book, however, are deeply thoughtful and empathetic. When discussing how read-alouds help teachers connect with all students and level the playing field for students who are reading below grade-level, Bellingham notes that “reading aloud always makes it possible for me to love my kids back up, even the ones who are in pesky moods or full of trouble on any given day” (p.60).

In Principle Eight, “Dig Deep: Promoting equity, action, and change,” Bellingham examines how to support “a pedagogy of social justice” through read-alouds by making “room for complicated conversations where [her] perspective is limited.” She provides strategies for reading challenging sections of text in a way that acknowledges the discomfort and makes space for students to process their responses.

I recently took a deep breath and began reading Mañanaland out loud to my students through a series of Google Meets and pre-recorded videos. During the first chapter, I paused twice to give students a chance to respond. Instead of a turn and talk, student responses scrolled through the chat window. As I closed the book, I recognized the look on students’ faces. One that showed me for a moment, at least, they’d traveled to another place, reminding me that indeed, reading aloud is a “source of comfort, connection, and ultimately love” (p. 61).

Jeny Randall, a Responsive Classroom certified teacher, teaches 6th grade Language Arts and science at Saratoga Independent School in New York State. As Middle School Coordinator, she oversees the curriculum and program development for grades 6 – 8. Outside of school Jeny teaches yoga, reads whatever students send her way, and spends time with her family, outside if possible.

Assessment of Gifted and High-Ability Learners

Assessment of Gifted and High-Ability Learners: Documenting Student Achievement in Gifted Education
By Yara N. Farah, Ph.D., and Lindsay M. Nixon
(Prufrock Press, 2019 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Kate Boonstra

Assessment of Gifted and High-Ability Learners is a guide to classroom assessment for instructional decisions. The authors put forth a framework they call Dynamic Teaching, which is a cycle of assessment, evaluation, and decision making.

Material supporting the framework is presented in three main sections: defining the purpose of classroom assessment, sharing examples from content areas, and suggesting small steps educators might take toward change. Checkpoints embedded in each chapter make it a workbook of sorts, offering practitioners scaffolding toward application.

Using a checklist, rating scale and rubric

Farah and Nixon provide foundational explanations of assessment types and purposes, with examples of situations when a checklist, rating scale, and/or rubric might be best suited.

Pre-service and early-career educators will find the authors’ analogy of a light switch helpful: checklists are like a light switch that is either on or off. Rating scales indicate the degree of performance, and are like a dimmer switch with a range of brightness. Rubrics include descriptive information pertaining to quality, in the way LED and incandescent bulbs offer differing light color qualities.

Of particular interest for teachers of the gifted was the authors’ point that careful construction of rubrics is crucial. A gifted student’s learning and creativity should never be constrained by rubric criteria that are too specific or too limiting.

As a gifted education specialist serving students in grades 8 and 9, I approached this book with an interest in measuring student achievement during and after gifted program participation. One portion of this book that will be useful in my role was an example of student ownership and involvement in elucidating levels of performance. I plan to implement more of these reflection opportunities with my students.

Passing the “Passow test”

I did find myself wondering, however, how this book emerged as a gifted education title. Educators of the gifted frequently refer to the “Passow test” when considering programming for gifted students: Should all kids be doing it? Could all kids do it? Would all kids want to do it?

This notion remained in my mind as I read Farah and Nixon’s book…don’t these precepts about assessment and instructional decision-making apply to any and all students? What makes this framework and its associated examples of particular suitability for gifted and talented learners?

Several questions were left unanswered for me, such as how to assess above grade level within the differentiated classroom, what the authors’ Dynamic Teaching framework might look like in a secondary subject area (most examples were elementary or middle school), and how instructional decision making for gifted learners does or does not follow the same steps as it does for typical learners.

Overall, authors Farah and Nixon present a good foundation of three common assessment tools. Educators seeking additional knowledge in applying checklists, rating scales, and rubrics will find that in Assessment of Gifted and High-Ability Learners, along with step-by-step examples for implementation in elementary and middle school classrooms.


1 Adams, C. M., & Moore, S. D. (2003). Designing and Implementing Curriculum for Programs: Elementary and Middle School Levels. In Joan Franklin Smutny (Ed.), Designing and Developing Programs for Gifted Students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Kate Boonstra, M.Ed., (@kateboonstra) is a gifted education specialist in Waukee, Iowa. Her previous roles have included choral director, special education liaison, stay-at-home parent, and the villain in every musical her high school put on.

Why Mindfulness Belongs in the Classroom

Mindfulness in the Classroom: Strategies for Promoting Concentration, Compassion, and Calm
By Thomas Armstrong
(ASCD, 2019 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Nicole Warchol

Throughout the course of an average day, you have taken more than 17,000 breaths. Thousands of times when your lungs filled with and then expelled air. How many did you pay attention to? How many did you take with intention? If you’re like me, I am guessing not that many.

In his book, Mindfulness in the Classroom, Thomas Armstrong makes a compelling argument and shares recommendations to ensure that implementation of mindful attitudes can be successful.

Mindfulness, as defined by this book, is “the intentional focus of one’s attention on the present moment in a nonjudgmental way” (2). He points out pitfalls that can be avoided in order to better support mindfulness efforts.

Armstrong advocates that teachers and administrators develop their own personal practice before introducing mindfulness to students. I agree that our personal buy-in is necessary for success.

My students know about my strong yoga and emerging meditation practice and so that is why they ask me if I can teach these topics to them. However, I don’t feel qualified to lead mindfulness yet. After reading this book, I am certainly more convinced that my school should be incorporating it into our program of studies.

Relating teacher stress to student outcomes

In addition to the research cited about teacher stress, Armstrong offers “that in a study of 121 teachers at elementary schools in a midwestern school district, the teachers who reported the highest stress levels and lowest levels of coping also had the worst student outcomes, such as lower math scores and more disruptive behaviors (Herman, Hickmon-Rosa, & Reinke, 2017)” (47). He acknowledges that while the research available is limited and evolving, based on what we can see so far, the potential benefits shouldn’t be ignored.

As educators, we are always focusing on finding avenues to improve academic performance. But we also know that we can’t ignore social-emotional learning. It seems that mindfulness can have a positive effect in all areas of student growth and development.

Mindfulness for all ages

The text includes examples for how mindfulness can be adapted for all age groups in all content areas. Armstrong also offers suggestions for how mindfulness can be seamlessly incorporated without taking away from instructional time.

I often begin class with independent reading as a way for my students to transition from their previous class (which could be physical education or a science lab). I have recently noticed that this strategy is not as effective as it used to be, and I am wondering if a few minutes of mindfulness would give my students a chance to refocus.

Armstrong offers resources like apps (Calm and Headspace) that are easy to access and use. I had both downloaded on my phone and this year started using Calm with some of my classes. The result is that my students began requesting mindfulness sessions.

Armstrong also advocates for a whole-school approach in order for mindfulness to be a sustainable practice. As teachers, we are responsible for our class environment, but we cannot shift school climate alone. Many of us are familiar with the impact a negative school culture can have, as outlined in the book Mindful Happiness by Anthony Quintiliani (2015):

“When a school is stress-prone, social-emotional stability is harmed, students do not learn well, and teachers and administrators may move into avoidance behaviors to protect themselves from the highly negative psychological and physical effects of chronic stress. Not many people smile or laugh as norms in such systems. More people are absent due to illness and fatigue, and parents and taxpayers are dissatisfied with outcomes versus costs” (97).

If mindfulness can improve even some of the above, then I’d say it’s a worthy endeavor. Armstrong includes a variety of options for implementation from multiple schools, showing us that those with the will can find a mindful way. He offers key strategies to increase the probability that your classroom or school efforts are successful.

This book is not a mindfulness program. When you reach the final page, you will not receive a certificate. However, what Thomas Armstrong does in Mindfulness in the Classroom is make a strong, research-based case for why mindfulness is essential for our students (and ourselves).

Armstrong delves into neuroscience in order to illustrate how mindfulness can reduce stress. The question isn’t whether or not mindfulness should become a core component in schools, but rather, what has taken us so long to realize it.

Nicole Warchol has been teaching middle school for more than a decade. She is a former NCTE Lead Ambassador and current Executive Board member for the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English. She is an Aquarius and so from birth she was destined to contain multitudes. Nicole is also a Ravenclaw who on occasion writes poetry and does yoga with puppies. She tweets from @MsNWarchol.