I wasn’t sure I really needed to read Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. After all, I have followed Pernille Ripp’s excellent teaching blog for years and felt like I had a good understanding of her work with readers. But even if you know Pernille’s work, Passionate Readers is still a great professional development read. It’s a book I’m going to enjoy recommending to my pre-service teachers who are eager to learn more about reading workshop. Here are five things I especially appreciated about Passionate Readers.
Then and Now stories show how change happens. Ripp’s greatest strength as a teacher-blogger, in my opinion, is her honesty. She never shies away from sharing mistakes and vulnerable moments and taking risks by writing about the most difficult moments or controversial topics. I suspect that her greatest strength as a teacher is her passion for learning and changing and growing. She is always, always striving to do this work better, and the “Then and Now” stories that contrast what she used to think and do in her classroom with what she now understands about effective reading teaching model powerful teacher reflection and improvement. She also helpfully explains the “why” behind her thinking, both then and now. Naturally most of us want to celebrate success, but usually we learn the most from failure. So I appreciate Ripp’s willingness to be vulnerable and show what she learned from her failures.
Ask the experts. When something isn’t working, we need to ask the experts: our students. They know why they don’t like to read. They know what would get them reading more. They know what they need in order to learn effectively and be engaged. But we rarely ask them and we rarely take their expertise and experience seriously enough to make real changes in our classrooms. Throughout Passionate Readers, Ripp shows how student needs and student expertise guide her pedagogical decisions and how she creates a classroom where power and responsibility are equally shared. What I especially loved about Passionate Readers is that there is a consistent focus throughout the year on asking the students what they think. We often do a lot of this at the beginning of the year, but then we forget to keep consulting and keep asking as the year progresses. The needs and knowledge of Ripp’s students guide her choices throughout the year, and her students lead much richer and more engaged reading lives as a result.
Ask the right questions–of yourself and your students. I’ll be honest: I usually skip over the reflection questions that are so often included in professional development books these days. They’re usually just not very good. But the questions in Passionate Readers are incredibly specific, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Many can also be used with students.
Books aren’t enough. This was one of the biggest surprises to me when I first transitioned my classroom to a reading workshop–and one of my biggest early failures. I thought if I had the right books and gave them time to read, students would just naturally start reading. I didn’t realize that the development of readerly identities is also essential to the work of reading workshop. Ripp shares plenty about building and using a classroom library, but her real focus here is on reader identity–what it means to lead a passionate literate life, how to model that for students, how to invite them to develop their own identities as readers.
It’s all in the details. Passionate Readers is a good balance of theory, reflection, and the nitty-gritty specifics of making all of this reading magic happen. Ripp thinks deeply about the details–how should books be shelved, where should you buy books, how should you display books, how can you give effective book talks, how you can assess students’ independent reading–and shares many of the forms and tools she uses in her classroom in a thirty-page appendix. My pre-service teachers are desperate for the specifics about how to put the theory into practice, and I think they will love this aspect of the book the most.