Book Reviews

YA Lit: Book Review of Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Last Saturday, I wandered into the book aisle in the grocery store, searching for something to keep me preoccupied for the evening as my husband was working overnight—all in an effort to avoid devolving into a Netflix binge. The pickins were slim, (so many Harlequin romance books. Not my thing.) but my eyes fell on Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver. I read the back and right away knew it was something I’d like— with the words ‘death’ and an endorsement from Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why, I was sold!

I gave it three stars on Goodreads because it did take me awhile to get into. There are a lot of high school cliches (popular girl in a relationship with insensitive boy, division between the haves and have-nots, annoying but well-meaning parents), but those start to melt into the background once the conflict begins to unfold. True to YA lit form, your heart feels for the loss the characters experience, but seeing the growth in Sam, the protagonist, is well worth it. I think that many of my students would enjoy reading this book, as it explores the question—“if you know you’re going to die, how do you spend your last day? And what happens when it keeps repeating?”

It’s a quick read and definitely worthwhile to highlight effects of bullying, as this is a major theme throughout. And guess what? It’s being made into a movie this year, so read it before you see it!



What I’m Reading This Summer: Education Edition

‘Tis the season for getting into some good education books. I’m not in grad school yet so it’s good to get into some more academic reading.

1. Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle


I have had this one since college, and it is always so inspiring to go back and get tips and ideas. Something I have always been struggling with is implementing a Writer’s Notebook like Kittle does. This year one of my goals is to be more intentional with it.

2. Productive Group Work by Frey, Fisher, and Everlove


This was given to me *cough* last year *cough* to read by my new teacher induction coordinator and I still haven’t gotten around to cracking it open. Group work isn’t something that I would say I really focus on managing in my classroom, which probably means I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. It will be good to be more knowledgable about it.


What I’ve Been Reading

Ah, winter break. What used to seem like pie-in-the-sky is now here, and now that I’ve eaten all the pie, I’m a bit stir-crazy. While I’d like to spend my time reading crappy fiction, for some reason I just can’t. The opportunity to read and learn new things is too great. 

So far, I’ve read: 

1. Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sharyl Sandberg. Feminists unite! This is a good one if you’re considering having kids (or have them) or considering having a husband or already have one. Which, I assume, most women think about at some point in their lives. The advice in the book is helpful and helps you put having kids and having a fulfilling professional life into perspective. Good stuff. 

2. “Can Teachers be Evaluated by Their Students’ Test Scores? Should they Be? The Use of Value-Added Measures of Teacher Effectiveness in Policy and Practice” a research publication by the Annenburg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. I think this is a good pub. to read if you are confused as to how value-added works or should work or want to see how it’s used in academia. It’s not too long, at about 35 pages. 

3. Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College, by Doug Lemov is one that I just started today. From what I can tell, it’s got a lot of good, practical strategies to try in the classroom. It’s one of those books that makes so much sense that you think “Duh. Why haven’t I been doing it that way?” My favorite strategy so far is “No Opt Out,” which is where you do not let students say “I don’t know” to a question you ask them, but instead ask another student to help out, having the original student repeat the answer so he/she still has to put forth the effort (the book does a way better way of explaining it). I have let my kids say “I don’t know” because I’m not really sure how to handle that situation (especially in a group of five students that honestly don’t know the answer). But putting the responsibility on them to come to an answer eventually (the process of learning) is what we should be teaching them. I think most teachers, even veterans, could get something out of this book. If you’re new, I suggest you pick it up and take a look. 


That’s all for now. Enjoy the rest of your break, teachers, and Happy New Year! 


I am not Hilary Swank

While reading Ilana Garon’s Why Do Only White People Get Abducted By Aliens? Teaching Lessons from the Bronx, I realized this—

“Damn you Hilary Swank!”

Of course I’m referring to her inspiring character in Freedom Writers, not the memorable The Office episode when the office spends a WHOLE workday answering the question: Is Hilary Swank hot or not?

I really don’t know. What do you think?