Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Saying “NO” to Question Interrogation So We Can Say “YES” to Engaging Dialogue

By Amy Brennan 

“Teaching is listening. Learning is talking.” Deborah Meier’s quote was used to open the December 15, 2016 #G2Great Twitter chat.  This quote speaks to the heart of this chat and places students at the center of the classroom.  When we say “NO” to question interrogation we are able to say “YES” to engaging dialogue so we can keep our students and their learning at the center.  

Whenever I enter a classroom and hear that healthy buzz of a student centered classroom, it gives me a moment to pause and listen closely.  Each time I am amazed at the discussions I listen to, the detailed conversations where students are growing their learning together.  This happened to me just the other day in a second grade classroom.  As the teacher facilitated the student to student discourse through skillful conducting, I watched in awe as I witnessed this maestro. Similar to Rodrigo from  Mozart in the Jungle (an Amazon Prime Original- you must watch!) as he skillfully conducts the New York Symphony Orchestra when you watch as he leads and teaches, he is not playing the music — he is listening to the music.  Of course he plays occasionally during a practice, but it is lean coaching along with very few quick demonstrations and the work or dialogue of the orchestra is done by the musicians.  When the symphony practices he listens, when the symphony performs, he listens.  Individual players or sections receive feedback and at times the entire orchestra will receive feedback.  Always the maestro is listening.  Skillful teachers are maestros and they listen to the discourse and move along as the conversations.  

Drop the Mic

Saying “NO” to question interrogation so we can say “YES” to engaging dialogue was a chat that brought deeper levels of thinking and learning to the conversation.  This of course is the result of the collective learning that happens each week at #G2Great.  Every week I reflect on the power of this PLN and December 15th was no different.  If you want a quick peek into the power of this chat check out this tweet below:  

And this one…

Learning to talk, learning to question and learning to listen are all essential in a classroom that supports engaging dialogue.  This is a practice that takes time to develop as a classroom community.  

Learn to talk

Learning to engage in meaningful dialogue is not developed by questions designed to interrogate.  Learning happens when the learner is “doing” the thing they are learning.  Rodrigo said in episode 3 of the 1st season when he speaks about practice, “I can assure you this (practice) is the only way this music is going to get into our bones.” Students will improve in the depth of their discussions when they effectively practice.  Keith Gavert shared an important point that  students need to have time to think before they turn and talk.  Providing time for in-the-head thinking and rehearsal allows students to practice before they say it to someone else. After individual thinking it is necessary to put our ideas out there to share and then allow them to grow in the company of others.  The insight that students share helps to build on this thinking.  

Learn to Question

Learning to engage in meaningful dialogue requires that students also learn to question.  This is a necessary part of the process of discourse and generating questions facilitates the growth of ideas.  Teachers model effective questions and teach students how to create their own questions to deepen the conversation and level of thinking.  Sharing with students how to generate questions at different levels; literal, inferential and metacognitive can open so many possibilities to create engaging classroom dialogue.  Using tools with students such as Bloom’s Taxonomy, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or Costa’s Levels of Thinking or Questioning can provide students with the language they need to develop and understand different levels of questions.  

Learn to Listen

This comes full circle, just as the maestro and teacher listen to the Symphony Orchestra or the class discussion, we also have to teach students to listen, to listen closely not only to understand but to grow ideas.  The engaging dialogue begs to be listened to, ideas cannot grow alone and without being heard.  Just as Rodrigo from Mozart in the Jungle cues the orchestra to listen to certain sections of the music or orchestra, the teacher cues the class into the dialogue like what to listen for, or who said something in a partnership that needs to be shared with others.  Turn and talk and share are critical elements for teachers to conduct their class discussions.  Students learn to listen closely to become stronger at discourse and to grow deeper ideas through listening, thinking and responding.   


If we listen closely we can be the maestro of our classroom conversations.  Our students talk should be the foundation of classroom learning.  If we are growing ideas together our ideas are better, it is as simple as that!  The next time your class is engaging in meaningful dialogue raise your hands, hold your imaginary baton, close your eyes and listen to cue each section to grow ideas and learn.  Be the maestro.



Saying “No” To Teacher-Centered Practice So That We Can Say “Yes” to Student-Centered Practices

By Jenn Hayhurst

Kathleen Tolan Memorial Fund

Dear Readers,

On a personal note, this blog post is dedicated to the memory of Kathleen Tolan, who devoted her life to student-centered practices. She would have been the first to, unapologetically, say “no” to whatever was not in the best interests of students. For this, and so many other reasons, she was a teacher to admire.

On December 8, 2016 #G2Great continued a conversation in our Five Part Series: Saying “No” So We can Say: “Yes” as we examined the topic – Saying “No” to Teacher-Centered Instruction So We Can Say “Yes” to Student-Centered Practices. These conversations are essential to the health and well-being of our profession because as we examine our beliefs, we clarify the work the work that needs to happen in our classrooms. Our professional growth is both an individual and collective process. If we keep the conversation going, we can begin to uncover the power of our impact. Ours is a community that is devoted to discovering professional empowerment.

Get Set:

Saying yes or no to any practice begins with reconciling what we believe. Now more than ever we need to make decisions around best practices that link to an authentic philosophy for educational practices. Our stances must be informed by formative and summative data and  it is imperative that we read and write professionally,  This is how we have the good judgement to say yes or no to a mandate that does not keep students at the center of decision-making:


Get  Ready:

Part of keeping students at the center of instructional decision-making means that we value independence. We say yes to independence when we flex guided practice. Setting explicit goals, modeling and reflection are some practices that we need to incorporate into our instructional day. These are practices that every teacher can say yes to despite any mandate that comes our way:


Letting Go:

During the chat our conversation took a turn toward agency. For me, agency is a topic I return to again and again. It is the ultimate intention for every teacher – to have students who work with as Peter Johnston put it “a sense of agency”. Working in classrooms We know there are many paths to independence as we work to create our maps for empowered learning. No matter where we work or what curriculum we follow there is always room for the gradual release through guided practice and collaborative learning. When we can finally let go and have and give students room to teach and learn from each other we know we have achieved a classroom built on a foundation of high expectations that students can grow into:

A teacher’s life is immersed in growth  We are always evolving as if we are waking up to new understandings for how students learn best. Coming together each week for #G2Great is a way to uncover these best practices and that is amazing. However, I think what I love the most about our brilliant PLN  is that no matter where anyone is in the journey, we are always coming back to kids at the center and to learn with a sense of joy and wonder.

Saying “NO” to Trivial Stuff So We Can Say “YES” to Rich Substance

by Mary Howardtitle

On December 1, 2016, #G2Great continued our five part series, Saying “No” So We Can Say “Yes” with our sights set squarely on alleviating the trivial stuff that usurps time for the rich substance students deserve. Our willingness to say “no” to the work that doesn’t matter so we can say “yes” to the work that does is the heart and soul of Good to Great Teaching, the book that inspired our #G2Great Twitter chat.

And so in that spirit I look back to reflect on the impact of those two small but professionally monumental words that can have a lasting impact on the quality of our day-to-day practices. This week our amazing #G2Great educators drew a professional line in the sand with enthusiastic collective commitment to pull those words out of their back pockets in just right moments when the choices we make keep children at the center of all we do:

Making a commitment to celebrate time as a limited precious resource

Have you ever really listened intently to the sound of a ticking clock in an empty classroom? Well I have done that every day of my career so as an expert clock listener I can tell you that the sound reverberates loudly across the walls once we acknowledge that time is our most precious commodity. The stark realization that time is a gift that is utterly irreplaceable is a profound thought that should be at the forefront of our every move. Imagine if we were to leave a note in every nook and cranny of our classrooms that said simply, “Each minute is irreplaceable and if you choose to waste even one of them – you owe your students an apology.” (exactly what I wrote to myself). Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance view the wise expenditure of time as a serious responsibility, choosing to focus on what is most likely to have a positive and lingering impact on the lives of students.



Making a commitment to the beliefs and values that are your internal guide

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance are committed to making choices in the name of children, but this process of assuming professional responsibility does not happen by chance. We begin by identifying our deepest innermost beliefs about teaching and learning that will then form the values that guide those choices. Once we embrace our beliefs and values fully, they become part of who we are – ever present and inseparably intertwined with our words and actions. Regardless of the demands that will always vie for our attention, those beliefs and values are infused into every learning experience and somehow enrich even those we may not have chosen for ourselves. Our beliefs and values elevate our work because we know that it is not what we do that matters, but how we do those things in the most effective ways and always grounded in why we are doing them.

Making a commitment to exploratory discoveries leading to new possibilities

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance know that great teaching is a process of uncertainty that often leads us in directions we could not possibly have imagined before the learning begins. Purpose guides us on a messy pathway to what is possible but it is the step-by-step journey along the way that has the potential to dramatically impact each of us. If we are willing to set the stage for discovery and trust children to lead the way as we wait in the wings to support their efforts – well it is quite something to behold because those are the lessons we will never forget. When we craft the learning opportunities that are designed to instill a sense of wonder, our role changes as children become our teachers. Within that zone of unknown where discovery resides, meaningful, purposeful, authentic learning fills the air with the low hum of joyful learning. And we are forever changed as a result!

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Making a commitment to prioritize our daily professional non-negotiables

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance hold tight to the practices that deserve a place of honor in every school day. While there will always be some things we cannot control, we can control what we choose to honor and refuse to relinquish regardless of competing demands. We do this by putting our non-negotaibles in the daily calendar, carved in professional stone so that nothing can replace them. We make them the center of our day because we know that we must fill each learning day with reading, writing and talking that will actively engage our students in enthusiastic learning. We don’t make excuses and we don’t covet anything that will force us to abandon those non-negotiables. Why? Because we are not willing to give up what we know matters most!

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Making a commitment to respectful dialogue that has the potential to lift us higher

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance know that in order to have the joyful experiences our students deserve we must be willing to initiate honest and even difficult conversations. We do this because we know that this respectful discourse has tremendous potential to increase the likelihood that every educator in the building will move closer to saying “yes” to the work that matters. Although many of us suggested closing our doors to do this inspired work, our #G2Great dialogue helped us reconsider the impact of opening our doors to become a model for school wide change. If we believe every child deserves the best we have to offer then we must work together to spread this commitment across the building in any and every way that we can so that every child will have the richest opportunities.

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Making a commitment to the opportunities today affords to impact tomorrow

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance know that we must always keep an eye to the future but that today is where we are needed now. We celebrate each moment as we consider how to provide the opportunities that students need at this point and time, yet knowing that our choices will impact children long after the day is done. We work to ensure that we offer the learning experiences our students need at that moment and time but always with our sights on how that may change on a day to day basis. We accomplish this by knowing each child and using that knowledge to create a learning day to meet their immediate needs while building upon those needs as new opportunities arise. We know each new day is another opportunity to provide the interconnected experiences that will have staying power.

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Making a commitment to the children who inspire the work that matters

Teachers who say “yes” to rich substance make these hard choices because they know their students depend on them to do so. They have an unwavering dedication to each child and this dedication fills them with a resolute desire to make daily professional promises that know no boundaries. They refuse to be tethered to programs or scripts, willing instead to focus on the learning needs of their students as they hold tight to what matters. They do this because they are present in each learning moment and willing to use those moments as an instructional guide. They view children as a lesson plan waiting to be written, shifting their plans based on the child in front of them while always believing that every child can and will be successful.

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This week, we challenged our #G2Great educators to put their commitment to students in writing:

In closing, I want to express gratitude for incredible #G2Great educators who bring their passion for teaching day after day. Our commitment will forever lift us above the multitude of absurd mandates, directives and questionable programs ever-present on the educational horizon.  Never lose faith that “No” is your stepping stone to “yes” and the antidote of roadblocks that cloud our view if we are willing to choose the one little word that will lead us upwards.

We choose children over mandates. We choose children over directives. We choose children over programs. And we do this by saying “no” to the trivial stuff that alleviates precious time so that we can say “yes” to the rich substance that will leave a lasting imprint on the learning lives of children. In an age of uncertainty, we need more than ever to hold tight to the literacy work that matters!

We are grateful for your unwavering commitment to children #G2great friends!