Nancie Atwell Gives the 2017 Drew Lecture

Jan 16th, 2018 | By | Category: Campus News, Winter 2018

Nancie Atwell, Honorary Doctor of Letters, BLSE 2016, and one of the most respected and influential educators in the world, gave the 2017 Elizabeth Drew Memorial Lecture on the Bread Loaf Vermont campus this summer. Atwell, who attended Bread Loaf from 1979–80 and in 1982, has been recognized as Poetry Teacher of the Year by the Library of Congress and as the first recipient of the Global Teacher Prize from the Varkey Foundation. Atwell’s classic book In the Middle has been called “the greatest book on literacy teaching ever written in this country.” She is also the author of The Reading Zone, Systems to Transform Your Classroom and School, Naming the World, and Lessons That Change Writers. She teaches seventh and eighth grade writing, reading, and history at the Center for Teaching and Learning, a K–8 school she founded in Edgecomb, Maine, which advances excellence in teaching, teacher research, and writing, and to which she donated the entire $1 million Varkey Foundation award. The Drew Lecture, given July 5, inspired many BLTN teachers to focus on deepening their students’ “self-selected independent book reading” opportunities in this academic year.

In her talk, presented in full below, Atwell makes the case for a curriculum that includes “frequent, voluminous, happy experiences with books” in a time when commercial products and traditional curricula are squeezing self-selected reading out of the school day. “All students,” she contends, “benefit when teachers take care of them as readers.” Atwell uses the story of “Mike,” an inexperienced middle school reader who experiences a profound transformation from a non-reader to a voracious and skilled reader over the course of a year in a supportive and challenging intellectual environment featuring “self-selected, independent book reading.”

“More than anybody else we teach, it’s the inexperienced, unenthusiastic readers like Mike who need and deserve choice, time, compelling stories with characters they can identify with, vicarious experiences, and pleasure. They don’t need strategy instruction. They don’t need anything to do with Post-it notes. They don’t need close reading sessions, reading logs, book reports, quizzes, whole class novels, vocabulary lists, or digital platforms to catch up with their peers . . . We’ve got to give them a community to read in, a curated classroom library, and regular conversations with a teacher who knows and loves that collection. They will grow into fluent, passionate readers.”


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