Teacher Spotlight

Chris Pirkl

English Teacher, Grade 8


For this month’s Teacher Spotlight, we choose an English Language Arts teacher in Kittery, Maine, who has successfully paired technology and word of mouth to increase reading among his students and colleagues.

Chris Pirkl isn’t the kind of teacher who lets anything get in the way of connecting his students with great literature. While some teachers shy away from using social networking and technology in their classrooms, Pirkl embraces this opportunity.

After spending a year keeping his own personal record on Goodreads.com648 books read since 2008 – Pirkl decided to create a classroom homepage. He incorporated the social media website as a vehicle for his students to break out of the “reading log” rut.

Individually, Pirkl and his students use the site to rank and post comments and quotes from books they are reading. They use the “friending” feature of the site to secure their communications and interact online through lively book discussions. Students can observe where someone is in a book and read quotes from authors. Some professional authors have memberships on this site and interact with students through Pirkl. For example, students corresponded with the author of The Truth of All Things, a book with regional appeal set in Portland, Maine.

Pirkl’s students are always reading at least two books, and they write and post no less than two book reviews to the site per trimester. This activity promotes a love of reading as they interact with one another by writing responses. He encourages students to add books to their lists based on what their friends are reading. A typical post states, “Should I read the next book in the series?” to which another student replies, “This is what I thought…” Others can also join the online conversation. Pirkl both monitors conversations and interacts with his students in these online classroom-chats.

Technology is a wonderful tool, but Pirkl’s students don’t have to go far to find the face-to-face interaction and personal connections between students and teachers.  In addition to lively discussions; their classroom library is full of individual-choice books, motivational posters, and comfortable chairs beckon once the perfect selection is made!

Reading is truly contagious at Shapleigh Middle School! After Pirkl began modeling himself as a reader by letting everyone know the three to four books he is currently reading… other teachers followed suit! Photocopied enlargements of the covers of books that each teacher is reading can be seen hanging on classroom doors throughout the school. Covers from books students have read also decorate the walls and serve as an invitation of what others can read next.

Marilyn Woodside, Kittery’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction, believes Pirkl’s “…enthusiastic promotion of reading and writing is exactly what the students need”. She says,In short, Chris is a well-respected teacher who makes reading ‘cool’, while reminding his students that there is a book just waiting to be read and enjoyed!”

We are proud to spotlight the achievements of Chris Pirkl and his colleagues for modeling and promoting literacy at Shapleigh Middle School, in Kittery, Maine.

Contributed by Jean Keegan and Nancy Kach