Friday, 20 February 2015

A Must-Read: Book Love by Penny Kittle

There are a number of professional books that have had a profound effect on my teaching. Their content has resonated so strongly with me that it has transformed my practice. Sometimes it is not that the ideas held within are radical or completely new to me, but rather that the book's author has given me the courage to follow my instincts and abandon ineffective classroom practices.

Penny Kittle's Book Love is one such book. Reading it was strangely comforting, like spending time with an old and dear friend; a friend who makes you feel good about yourself and empowered to change! Penny Kittle is inspiring and passionate and a great storyteller; Book Love really is a great read. 

The full title is Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina and Passion in Adolescent Readers and the book is chock full of strategies that seek to do just that. It is a great companion to Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. It is aimed at High School English teachers but as a teacher of Year 8s was still very relevant to me. A lot of what Kittle has to say applies to educators working with all ages of learners although many of the strategies would work best with students about Year 6 and up.

One of Kittle's strategies that worked very well for me in 2014 was calculating personal reading rates and using these to measure one's progress and increased stamina. I used this strategy once a term and it was hugely popular with those learners in my class who liked to see numbers or data as evidence of their growth. It also makes weekly goal setting very easy as students can choose to read more than their current reading rate.

Another strategy I found very helpful was the term reflections. This involved listing books read in the term from most to least difficult. This strategy was powerful because it created in my students, a mindfulness around the challenge level of their reading material. This is turn had the effect of pushing many of them to ensure they had included some challenging books in their reading plans for the following term.

Here is an example that I created. You may or may not agree with the order I have chosen to list my reading material in (and in fact even I now disagree with my own list) but that's actually not important. What is important is this process made me aware of the challenge level of my reading choices. This in turn helps to create depth as learners try to raise their own personal challenge bar. And yes, it became sorely apparent as I created this, that I should probably read more books intended for adults!

I loved this quote that reminds us of the ultimate goal.

 "We have to commit to helping students choose texts they can navigate alone, then teach the skills needed to unravel more difficult texts in class, so that their skills increase while they experience the pleasure of reading. When skills and pleasure align, students begin to choose more difficult texts to read independently." (p. 14) 

I have read the chapter "Creating a School Community of Readers" numerous times. This chapter tells the story of the author's own school's journey to create a lifelong love of reading in every one of their students. There are lots of practical suggestions to help nurture a school-wide reading culture. This section shows what is possible under visionary leadership even if not all are on board.

My principal takeaway from Book Love is that any educator who teaches reading has a duty to read themselves. That sounds incredibly obvious but since reading this book I have heard and read of an alarming number of teachers who comment that they are not readers.  Kittle shared this great quote from Jim Trelease;

Which professional books have you loved? I'd love to hear your recommendations!



  1. Thank you for sharing. I have ordered the books you suggested to add to my collection. I am a teacher-librarian (Canadian by training) teaching at an international school in the UK. Though I work hard at getting students and teachers through the doors so I can talk about books, my greatest problem is the teachers. As you said, if you don't read and don't love reading how can you engender than same love in your students. I will keep working on them!

    1. Hi Serendipity, Thanks for your comment. I am so pleased you have ordered Book Love- you won't regret it. I totally agree with you on non-reading teachers. I have to say that at my current school, most teachers are avid readers and we even have a staff bookclub. This definitely makes a difference to the learners. Teachers are super busy people and sometimes something has to give but I really think at least doing professional reading should be a part of our Registered Teacher Criteria. And as for children's literature, it makes me HAPPY! I can't understand why teachers wouldn't want to read it as it gives us a window into the world of our learners.
      Good luck and keep trying. Sounds like you are doing an amazing job.