15 Best PD Books for Teachers of Literacy

Hi I’m Samantha and I belong to PD Books Anonymous. It is very easy to admit because I am obsessed with staying on top of my craft. Every year I read between 4-5 professional development books including re- reading portions of what I would consider classics when I am developing lessons or working with reading remediation with a student. 

I try to read books on varying topics from instruction in reading to instruction in writing, as well as books dedicated to understanding student motivation and student behavior in the classroom so my collection is quite eclectic.

I might have a problem but it’s a good problem to have. I believe that it is partly due to my background in  science. My undergraduate degree is in Neuroscience so even with my teaching I have a scientific approach- thus my stance on research- based instruction and being reflective in my work.

So let me get right into it. What started out as a top ten list increased to fifteen. There are plenty others that could be included but if I had to narrow it down, these are it. In no particular order. Some books have been a staple for a decade and more and others are new favorites. Let me start with a new one to the list.

We Got This by Cornelius Minor. If you follow me on IG you know I have been raving about this book since I started reading it. To be honest, I’ve heard about the book, follow the author on Twitter but it was not on my radar to read. Then in April, its publisher, Heinemann Publishing, offered it for free as an audiobook download. One chapter in and I already purchased the hard copy because I need to take notes, circle , highlight, and fold pages that I will refer back to many times. It’s that good and that powerful. Many of the stories and discussions resonate with me because I’ve had them. From what I teach to how I teach he vocalizes in a well-written way. I have taken it slow because I want to digest every drop of what is discussed and let it take form in my brain. As I have said, It’s THAT good!

The next book hit me the same way that We Got This did when it first came out. It has been a staple in my personal library and have gifted it to new teachers in my department. Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst is one of many books by these authors that I will share in this post. Their work has done so much to enable me to be abetter teacher as well as for thousands of other teachers They are rock stars in the field of literacy research. They challenge you throughout the book to do a number of things but including champion for your students and their future. Develop thinkers in a world that tends to like conformity. They want us to disrupt our thinking of some lessons that we think are teaching but are not. I know I was convicted after reading which is why I implore you to grab a copy yourself.

What’s the Big Idea by Jim Burke is like a teacher philosophy book with lesson ideas throughout. If you engage in backwards planning with an essential question that drives your unit, then this is for you. When I started teaching gifted, this was the model I used and it has overflowed into all the classes I teach. It makes the most sense to me for all the pieces of my lessons for a nine week to come to a conclusion driven based on a question. His lesson ideas work well and he even offers templates available for download to print and use. Easy peasy!

No More Fake Reading is one that I read the summer of 2019 . By now I had transitioned to a language arts teacher with a core curriculum but still trying to make time for authentic reading. I needed to figure out the best way to blend the needs of my students including the required standards and the need for choice in books. This book helped me map out a plan of action for the year with ideas that supported my vision of a classroom engaged in the practice of books taking the lead. If this sounds like the mission you are trying to accomplish, then this one is for you too.

When Kids Can’t Read by Kylene Beers is my bible as a reading teacher. Before I was a language arts teacher, I spent eight years teaching Intensive Reading. Primarily, I had students in secondary reading between a K-4 level. This book was my go to especially as someone who did not have a formal training in reading. Even after I acquired my masters, this book saved me on those occasions that I was stuck as a teacher with a student who was not improving or was demonstrating deficiencies that I didn’t have the insight on what to do.

When the rumblings of Common Core started to make its way down the pipeline, a popular term came out: rigor. Rigor was (and still) an ambiguous term but yet that was supposed to be our goal as educators: maintain rigor. Luckily, Carol Jago wrote With Rigor For All which helped me hone in on a working definition and then the understanding of why it is so important. The data from the Opportunity Myth shows that most students spend their time NOT working on grade level material because most cannot do it and educators end up “dumbing down” the work leaving our students unprepared for career or college readiness. The chapters range from topics on holding students accountable, navigating complex texts, and developing proficient, independent readers. This has been one my highly recommended for many years.

Christopher Emdin wrote a much needed book called For White Folks who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all too. I’m part of the rest of all. I am from a Caribbean immigrant family that was not raised in the “hood” but yet I have always taught in “those” environments. I explain to people that when First 48 covers Miami, those are the streets my students live and play. I needed to understand a culture that was different from mine. There are things at play that for outsiders such as I, is hard to comprehend but I needed to understand because I need to be the teacher my students need. So many people work in these types of schools with a savior mentality but they did not ask nor need a savior. I especially like how he speaks on building avenues for conversation and how to communicate with students and being able to read the unsaid that they give out. This book has received well-deserved praise.

Mindset by Carol Dweck is a popular book. She is one of the prominent psychologists who has dedicated decades studying achievement and success. Mindset is one of those that you read at different points in your career just because she provides some valuable insight into ability and accomplishment which as educators we are always striving for in our students.

So most people would expect that if there was a Kelly Gallagher book on a best of PD books list it would be 180 Days but that book needs a post all on its own. But also, out of all his books, In the Best Interest of Students resonated with me the most. He is that author, teacher, researcher that just gets it. He is still in the classroom. He shares his knowledge freely and he is centered around students. My copy of this book has so many sticky notes and highlights which serve as a testament to the wealth of knowledge it holds. He has an an eye for writer’s craft and he shares throughout the book well done and simple lessons to do in the classroom.

The next three books focuses on writing starting with Teaching Middle School Writers by Laura Robb. This book touches on everything dealing with writing. She addresses different elements of the writing process. She shares connecting writing to real world writing. There is a chapter on blogging in the classroom, routines, and mentor texts. I use this book as my writing manual- a gospel for a lack of a better word.

No discussion on authors about writing would be complete without Ruth Culham. I was fortunate to hear her speak often at the International Literacy Association convention over the years and each time she inspires me even more. Her book The Writing Thief is all about using mentor texts to teach the art of writing. Students become better writer by emulating others. Culham’s book addresses that point by providing mentor texts to support the three types of writing expected in a classroom- narrative, informational, and argumentative- alongside the writing traits of organization, ideas, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, convention, and presentation .

What can I say about Nancy Atwell and her books that has not already been said and praised. Her ideas that she shares in Lessons that Change Writers are phenomenal and well done. Her expertise has contributed to so many of students developing as writers who want to write. Most of my units for writing includes many of these ideas or based on these ideas. I truly believe you would enjoy this book or any of her books on writing.

Many years ago I was at an ILA (International Literacy Association) conference and had the chance to sit in on a seminar by Alan Sitomer. I’ve read many of his YA novels including, The Secret Life of Sonia Rodriguez, which by the way got me hooked on young adult novels. His session was on his professional development book on writing. This was at the beginning of the transition to Common Core writing requirements and many educators were- for the lack of a better word, jumping in the deep end. We all rushed to get students to keep spewing out essays and they couldn’t even write a short response or knew what an actual claim was (Speaking from the countless hours grading state writing assessments ). This book empowered me to revamp my writing instruction and keep it slow, especially for my sixth grade students who were transitioning from elementary writing. Easy read, well written, and a yes, you should read.

There is no list of books that every teacher of literacy should have that would not contain a book by Carol Ann Tomlinson. Her name is up there with the likes of Gardner and Vygotsky in terms of their impact on teaching. She is primarily known for her books on differentiated instruction such as The Differentiated Classroom. It is filled with research, anecdotes, and tips on how to make your classroom conducive to learning for ALL students and why there shouldn’t be a one class fits all model in classrooms. This book is for teachers in all content areas as well as all grade levels.

Last but certainly not least is Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. It was one of those books about five years ago that I kept hearing about in the teacher Instagram world. It is worth its weight in gold. Not everyone is ready for this book but it is a book every reading and language arts teacher should read. If your goal is to develop readers, then this book is for you. If you struggle with including reading in your classroom, then this book is for you. If you need motivation to up your game and disrupt your instruction, this book is for you. The subtitle is “Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.” That says it all.

There is not only a science to teaching but also an art. Both work hand in hand to create what we see happening in classrooms day in and day out. Teachers work hard day in and day out to better themselves for our kids to be successful. These books have helped me accomplish this goal. Hopefully these book suggestions find a spot not only on your bookshelf but in your heart because they have earned a spot in both for me.

*This post contains Amazon links.


Leave a Comment