Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Teaching With Heart: Unlocking Growth Through Mindsets and Moves

by Jenn Hayhurst

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Springtime makes promises: Yes more light will fill your days. Yes new life will color your landscapes. Yes your world has begun a shift to something new. Teachers are always on the lookout for signs of change. Our work is to learn how to cultivate growth, to understand its process, and to help it thrive no matter the context. We rest our hopes on a small but powerful word – yet.  When teachers use a mindset that embraces the power of yet, they make promises: Yes I believe in you. Yes I will help you. Yes together, we will find the next step in the journey.

So it seems like perfect timing that Gravity Goldberg hosted #G2Great Thursday, March 24, 2016. In her book, Mindsets and Moves, Gravity challenges teachers to honor growth in all its forms. Her work reminds us to make choices that value individual learners and the unique process that each will experience. Learning something new is seldom easy so if we are going to live and breathe a growth mindset our instruction needs to deal with struggle in strategic ways:Q1 Answers


Admiration: Gravity’s work celebrates an admiring lens. All students are worthy of  study, and we should regard them with a sense of wonder and curiosity. This beautiful stance embraces where they are and place trust in their potential for growth:

Answers to Question 2The Gradual Release: We offer the support students need and then work to move them toward independence. Students shape the path for learning so that our teaching has relevance. The message was clear that the more we bring students into the process the more meaningful learning becomes:

Answers to Q3Student Centered: Gravity’s work inspired reflection for the intellectual worlds we create for students. Let’s co-construct spaces for wonderment, choice, and demonstration. When teachers are expert learners rather than holders of knowledge, we reach a higher standard of rigor:Answers to Q4

Ownership: The chat began to converge on this topic and our message is ownership is the antidote to learned complacency. Thoughtful planning that supports collaborative work and independence is a sign that teachers are being responsive to students’ needs:

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Being Strategic:  This is different than teaching strategies. Being strategic demands an authentic  context. Whether it is: selecting a text, discovering new reading territories, or building libraries that promote connectedness. The strategy has to fill a genuine need:

Answers Q6

Problem Solving: Students are meant to be active participants who can articulate what they need next.  We name the challenge and put the learning in their hands.  When we give them time to work it out we are amplifying their learning process:


Feedback: is essential! Chatters agreed that when we take risks and push ourselves to learn more our students get the benefit of an authentic model.  When we provide clear and concise feedback, we help students to think through the process so that they can outgrow themselves:  

Answers to Question 8We invite you take the #G2Great Challenge

#G2Great ChallengeJust as springtime makes promises, we also make promises to our students. Yes, we will help our students find the next step in their growth journey. We are in this together, take Gravity’s advice back to the classroom.

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In Defense of Read-Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice

by Mary Howard

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My copy of Steven Layne’s remarkable book, In Defense of Read Aloud, is dog-eared with my meticulous notes illustrating a life-long love affair with read-aloud. I’ve savored every eloquent morsel of wisdom through fits of laughter, frustration, wonder and delight. But Steven’s quote above lingered like a warning sign of impending doom, breathing fear into my heart that this critical practice could be abandoned in spite of irrefutable research support ever so expertly interwoven throughout the pages of Steven’s book.

On March 17, 2016, Steven Layne renewed my sense of hope when he was our guest host on #G2Great Twitter chat. His deep belief that we must indeed defend read-aloud quickly spread like a blazing wildfire across the twittersphere and passionate educators responded to his call to arms with promissory tweets that awakened a collective commitment in us all. Our shared enthusiasm for Steven’s words inspired this wonderful read-aloud list.

Spurred by unbridled enthusiasm, I searched Steven’s twitter love notes for signs pointing the way ahead as we join forces to steadfastly defend read aloud. I discovered seven underlying points that can guide our efforts:

Be Resolute

We’ve all been subjected to dismissive comments demeaning the value of read-aloud, so when principal Mindy Reid described read aloud as a ‘non-negotiable’ in her school you could almost hear an appreciative Twitter sigh. Steven’s response reminds us that we desperately need administrators to take a stand so read-aloud will not be relegated to the luck of the draw.


Be Knowledgeable

Teachers who acknowledge the immense instructional power of read-aloud know that choosing a just right today book is essential. Steven reminds us that we must know the book intimately so that we will be privy to those just right moments that will bring this just right today book to life before our most important audience – students.

Master of Text

Be Intentional

Steven emphasizes read-aloud as a rich instructional experience that allows us to model what it means to be a thoughtful reader. This means we must expend time and effort to plan the best possible read-aloud experience that will both captivate and empower our readers. Knowing the book, students and effective literacy instruction affords us the tools that will infuse instructional energy into the experience.


Be Purposeful

Steven expresses his firm belief that the launch of a book is the key to a successful read-aloud. Whether we have chosen a longer book or a brief text, it is the first glorious exposure to the text that invites students into the book and makes them hungry for more. Creating a sense of joyful anticipation is responsive read-aloud at its best.

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Be Proactive

An effective read-aloud feels like the lap experience without the lap. The closer we can bring our students to that experience, the more they can become part of it (and so they will). Room design is an important consideration as we plan for an effective read-aloud. This may require creative adjustments but it will be well worth the effort.

Seating 2Be Responsive

Motivation is intricately interwoven into the read-aloud experience, making it essential for teachers to consider student interests. We do this by pulling texts across the curriculum as we find both fiction and non fiction texts that will speak to the heart of our readers. Of course, this assumes that we know those readers so that we can make intentional text choices that will awaken passionate listening and engagement.

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Be Strategic

Our efforts to initiate an effective read-aloud program is never-ending. As our students change and grow over the course of the year, our choices must reflect those changes. This is not about jotting pre-selected titles in a lesson plan book to read dutifully on pre-selected dates, but choosing a book because it is right ‘at this time of year for THIS group of students.’ This flexibility of purpose allows read-aloud to grow with us.

Plan strategically


As I ponder the central messages that are Steven’s gift to each of us, I realize this comes with a responsibility. If we choose to remain silent, read aloud may become an instructional casualty and we will all be complicit in its demise. We can only defend read aloud by embracing it. Every school. Every classroom. Every teacher. Every day. Every child.

Steven reminds us where our ultimate responsibility resides on page 24 of his book. When his middle school student asked him why he turned his classroom upside down to create a read-aloud gathering space, Steven responded, “You’re just that important.”

So I end with a question. Why must we raise our collective voices to defend read aloud to anyone who will listen, regardless of other demands that may vie for attention?

      Because our students are just that important!


More #G2Great Tweets on the power and joy of read-aloud

Maintaining Perspective Around Reading Levels and Independence

By Amy Brennan

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On March 10, 2016 #G2Great teased out our perspectives around reading levels. In reading through the tweets from our always thinking and learning #G2Great PLN, I focused my reflection and thoughts around these three ideas.

How do we teach them to do it on their own?

While levels have an important place in reading instruction, we have to keep one question in mind.  That question is and always should be “How do we teach them to do it on their own?”  This is the question that lingers in my mind as I raise my own children and every day as I walk through the halls of a school.  If I am honest, this is at the front of my mind anytime I put a learner at the center and make a plan for instruction.  I think of this question whether it is my children, teachers or students.  Whether we talk about parenting or teaching (adults or students for that matter) what we are actually speaking about is learning.  Learning.  That is it. The goal for learning is independence in whatever “thing” we are teaching.  


In the case of reading the goal is independence.  Independence in reading looks like someone who chooses their own books, is responsible for their own reading, is curious and, therefore motivated to pick up something and read. Ultimately, the reader will experience growth in learning because of the reading. I am grateful to have @jdolci as part of my PLN because when he sent this tweet out into the Twitterverse he put the image in my mind that represents what I believe all readers can be.  

JDolci 9:04

But it cannot just be about independence, there is more to it than that.  The second part of teaching them how to do this on their own is considering how we can best support students as they are learning to read texts with increasing complexity.  It seems here is where the levels really come into play.  As Irene Fountas taught us “Levels have an important place in the hands of teachers who understand them.”  This quote moved our chat in a direction of so many thoughtful responses.  @Kari_Yates  and @lau7210  rallied our #G2Great troops around the idea of levels as instructional tools used by the teacher.  This is the intentional work that helps students grow.  Skillful teachers support students in independent reading and small groups that are flexible, based on not only student levels but also to support areas where students can stretch in their reading.   

Lauren kaufman 8:40

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“Start with the Child not the Book.”

Dr. Mary Howard tweeted this little nugget of wisdom early on in the chat. It reminds me how important it is to look at what students need first.  Often we find ourselves choosing books for students because they are our favorites, they are part of a program or they are recommended for a unit of study or to teach a particular strategy.  What really matters is the child.  We need to remember that books need to be relevant to kids.  We need to sit down beside a child and talk about book choices for independent reading.  We need to get books into kids’ hands, books that they can really connect to. We need kids to choose books for themselves for independent reading and at times when they need some support we have to think about the best way to do this.  Nothing is more powerful than sharing with a child and saying, “I thought about you all weekend and I found this book for you.  I really think you are the kind of reader who will get this book.”  Ultimately our students need to read if they are going to become proficient independent readers.

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Always Remember to Think and Ask Why

If something does not make sense we have to stop, think and ask why.  @ChristinaNosek reminded us in the chat that we must always put purpose and intention first.  Often we are racing day to day, trying to close gaps that widened over many years.  We get so caught up that we don’t make time to think or ask why.  If we want to create independent readers we have to create opportunities and experiences for students to practice that work in good chunks of time and in different situations.  We have to always think about how we teach kids to read on their own.  We have to put the child before the book and when things don’t make sense…ask why.   

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When we identify goals for individual students, those goals should always remain at the center of instructional decision making.  Additionally ensuring that students experience multiple texts at various levels provides them with opportunities to navigate complex texts.  Through read-aloud, shared reading, book clubs, small groups, strategy lessons, guided reading or independent reading, students will be making meaning of texts at different levels throughout the day.  These intentional instructional experiences provide meaningful practice through a gradual release of responsibility that guides the way for readers. We can maintain perspective by viewing reading levels in flexible ways as we support students toward increasing independence.  Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 11.46.32 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-13 at 11.45.39 PM

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Dedication And Generosity: Celebrating Independent Reading

By, Jenn HayhurstScreen Shot 2016-03-06 at 10.58.30 AMOn Thursday March 3, 2016 #G2Great hosted a chat that began a conversation about the importance of independent reading.  This blog post is dedicated to anyone who is “holding tight” to this work, either at home or in the classroom.  It is for those of us who believe that literacy reveals a path of growth and self discovery through text.  

Question 1The following Saturday morning, I was part of an incredible team of teachers from my district, @SCCentralSD . We went to an event sponsored by a local organization called @TheBookFairies.  This amazing nonprofit opened their doors to teachers everywhere and we were able to shop for free books!   

Imagine all of us giving our time, the Book Fairies volunteers and so, so many teachers.  I am struck by the generosity of amazing people who gave up a gorgeous Saturday to build robust classroom libraries for students to enjoy:Question 2

Many people were telling touching stories about the readers and writers in their classrooms. There was not a mention of levels.  Wise teachers value levels because they are an important tool that informs instructional practices. Levels are not to be mistaken with labels that hinder a love for independent reading:

Question 3

We were all swapping stories as well as books.  You could hear teachers excitedly saying, “Oh this is so great! Jorge is going to be so happy!” “Look what I found.” “I can’t believe I found this book, my mother used to tell us this story!” and “I’m so excited I can’t wait to get to school on Monday!”

Question 4

It was quite a sight seeing everyone loading books into boxes, crates and bags.  One teacher could barely close her trunk for all the books she and her colleague were taking back to school.  We need to share our stories about the lengths teachers will go to promote  literacy.  We need to encourage our students to become connected so that they can share their love for independent reading.

Question 5

When we work together, we are creating a community with a purpose for reading.  We are being the change we hope to see in education. Literacy changes lives.  Our dedication and generosity to that effort is the flip side of the urgency we all feel.  For these reasons, teachers are opening up their classroom libraries and giving free access to books because that’s one way to keep students at the center of all that we do.

Question 6Our message is clear. We understand that now more than ever we need to “hold tight” to independent reading.  Think of a classroom library as a garden, and every book a child reads is like a seed.  Narratives and informational texts take root and grow to fill students’ heads with stories and ideas.  This becomes our context to teach children how to read.  But even more than that, we are growing a love for literacy that will last a lifetime.

Question 7

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