Last Book Look of the Summer

Reading is breathing in. Writing is breathing out.

During the school year, I teach American Literature and spend A TON of time digging into the finer points of fiction. But no school means that I can read whatever I want! So each Wednesday throughout the summer, I’ve posted a living, breathing “works in progress” reading list of a handful of books I’ve been working through, along with a few lines about what I’m learning as I go.

I once heard it said that the books you are reading today is the person you'll become in five years. I really like that idea. Click To Tweet

Fair warning: I’m a “dabbler,” who works in spurts through a ton of different books at a time. Audiobooks, Kindle, PD reads, leisure reading, and a whole bunch of non-fiction books — usually for professional growth along the lines of personal branding or dedicated research for future projects on down the line.


This week’s audio book:*

Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen – Donald Miller

Is This Thing On?: Part marketing 101, part crash course in web design and a road map for aspiring entrepreneurs. Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand might not be the last book you read in the realm of small business 101, but it’s certainly a very good place to start. In this compact volume on all things “StoryBrand” (patent pending, no doubt) — Miller highlights a number of the elements that successful companies have when it comes to encapuslating their message in a sticky, easily-shared message that can be told in very human terms. At a slim 240 pages, it’s a breeze in print (and less than 5 hours on Audible). If you’ve got a healthy commute and are interested in some easy reading — you can polish this one off in less than a week, and it’s a great way to get your wheels spinning on how to be leaner, clearer, and more memorable when delivering your “story” (in the social media arena or in the classroom!) for the upcoming school year.

Verdict: Building a StoryBrand probably won’t change your life — but it might just help you polish up those rough edges on your presentation strategies that can help you land a new client or two. Especially helpful if you’re a teacher with a website or a pretty active presence in the social media arena!


This week’s PD read:

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by [Tatum, Beverly Daniel]

Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D – Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race

Separate But Equal: A huge part of my work as a high school instructional coach is developing self-guided professional development “course” offerings that encourage teachers to dig deep into areas of social justice, equity, and instructional reform. Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of delving into Christopher Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood, and this felt like a really great companion text to help our school flesh out it’s PD offerings when building a library for educators trying to make sense of the persistent racial divides that still exist in many schools of the modern day in spite of the fact that these institutions have, on paper, been desegregated for well over a generation or more. So what’s the secret? Why are all the black kids sitting together in the Cafeteria? In this fascinating tome on race and education (revised and updated in 2017, after celebrating its twentieth year since release) — Beverly Daniel Tatum offers an eye-opening look at race, identity, and invisible prejudice that can help educators make clearer sense of the myriad roots beneath this deep-seated phenomenon — along with some practical steps on how we can help to correct it.

Verdict: Run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and snag a copy of this book ASAP. I absolutely loved it — and will be referring to it often in my instructional coaching work in the months ahead.

This week on Kindle:

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Second Edition by [Gee, James Paul]

James Paul Gee – What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

Ready Reader One: I was first turned onto the work of James Paul Gee about five years ago after reading the fascinating book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter by former USA Today reporter Greg Toppo. After hearing Greg speak at a pair of conferences this summer, I knew immediately that I would love going further down the geeky Venn diagram overlap between the worlds of “video games” and “classroom teaching” rabbit hole, and so I picked up a copy of James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. I am very happy that I did! To make a long (though incredibly fascinating) story short: video games don’t present the same sort of racially divided “achievement gap” that we see in traditional classrooms. There’s no noticeable performance trend difference between students of color and their white counterparts when it comes to Fortnite, League of Legends, or Pokemon Go — and so there must be something that video games are doing right that the conventional education system continues to get wrong. This one takes you under the hood with some (sorry) “game-changing” research, and lays out a pretty great argument that there is a lot to be learned from the most unconventional sources. As Gee writes: “This book is a plea to build schooling on better principles of learning. If we have to learn this from video games , and not from cognitive science, then so be it.”

Verdict: Game on. Seriously — this is arguably the most thorough, research-informed text I’ve seen in years in the wonderfully nerdy intersection of video games and pedagogical reform. Well worth a read with a highlighter and a bunch of sticky notes!

*A quick note on Audiobooks: Two hours of commuting every day = lots of time to “read” in the car! And yes, audiobooks absolutely count as reading. The research is super clear on this point, especially for readers with learning differences — including folks with dyslexia like me — and I wholeheartedly encourage my students to do the exact same thing.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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