Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres

by Mary Howard

#G2Great was delighted to welcome Amy Ludwig Vanderwater as our guest host on 10/26/17. I am one of many devoted Amy fans, following her heart-warming poetry through her books like Read! Read! Read! and her blog, The Poetry Farm. As soon as our chat began, our incredible group happily gathered together to celebrate her beautiful gift to all educators, Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres (Heinemann, 2017) – and we accept that gift with absolute gratitude.

I had the great pleasure to read Amy’s book in advance to craft questions for this chat. Since a foreword is a promise of things to come, I began by reading Katherine Bomer’s lovely foreword and discovered a literal promise:

“I promise that you are about to experience joy reading this book.” (page XI)

That sounds like quite a lofty promise, doesn’t it? Well I can assure you that these are not empty words since I personally experienced joy from beginning to end as I read Amy’s amazing book. And that “magic dust” that Katherine told us was sprinkled across the pages of the book? Well, it soon became my personal reader reality.

I always feel a sense of elation when I am afforded the honor of writing a #G2Great reflection for a guest author since it’s always someone I admire.  I must admit that there is also an intense feeling of responsibility angst rising from my deep desire to do the author and the book justice. About midway into the chat, Amy shared her own responsibility angst for her readers:

Well my friend, you can officially release your fears because your “poetry legos” are arranged into an array of professional beauty!

Amy’s book offers the intricate details that will help each of us transform poems into teachers. Since her book does the heavy lifting, I decided to turn my attention back to Amy’s #G2Great tweets to explore how we could help poets and teachers unite in a shared role as professional partners. As I savored her inspiring messages, five Professional Partnership goals began to emerge.

Professional Partnership Goal #1: Allow our worlds to collide

Amy reminds us that our role as reader allows us to step into the writer’s words and experience the beauty of the poem from a personal perspective. When we willingly linger a bit longer in that beauty, we bring those roles together and notice things that we could never have imagined on our own. We have a responsibility to children to allow them to regularly feast upon a lovely banquet of ‘poetry helpings’ so that they too can experience poetry from the inside out.

Professional Partnership Goal #2: Lift Our Voices into the Air

Amy reminds us that we elevate our role as reader by using our voices to bring the poets words to life in an oral rendition informed by how it speaks to us. As we read, we recreate the poem through a personal translation of new meaning using drama and expressive language. This transformation from written to spoken poetry creates new meaning since we have become part of it. And as we read aloud, we invite the writer to stand beside our young listeners as the author’s words and the sound of our voice beckons reading, writing and listening to join forces.

Professional Partnership Goal #3: See the World through New Eyes

An unlimited source of exquisite poetry is everywhere we turn. Each author crafts their unique view of the world through their words. As we openly share these beautiful resources with children, we let our worlds collide – and we are forever changed by this celebratory collaboration. Amy reminds us to share a wide range of poetry to broaden and enrich this view since each piece shows us poetry from a new angle of understanding. We willingly join hands with our mentor poets and welcome them in as our teachers.

Professional Partnership Goal #4: Create a Renewed Vision

Once we bring the world of reader and writer together, we can then craft our own view of the world. We do this by making room for children to assume a seat at the writer’s table motivated and supported by the poems we have come to love. Their journey with our mentors inspires children to find just the right combination of words. Amy emphasizes that we need time; time to think, time to explore, and time to reflect. This respect for time also affords children to gather words and ideas so that they can place them lovingly in a notebook where they will eventually find a heart home in a student-created poem.

Professional Partnership Goal #5: Keep the Choice Door Wide Open

This shared professional journey implores us to bathe children in self-selected reading daily and ensure that poetry is in that mix. We refuse to perpetuate a system of readerly control with levels or scores that restrain us. Rather we offer a ‘no-strings-attached-we mean-it perspective that embraces freedom to explore. By making choice our professional priority, we invite children to make their own discoveries as we fill their head and heart with visions of wonderful we never even dreamed possible.

When poets and teachers come together as Professional Partners, we acknowledge our responsibility to children. Just as Katherine made a promise to each of us that Amy fulfilled, we too must make one of our own. There is a price we must pay to do this wonderful work. At a time when our beliefs are being challenged by questionable quick fixes, mandates and dictates, we must have the courage to speak up as we make a conscious choice to do the right thing for children day after day.

Thank you Amy. You honored us by facing your fears so that you could give us this beautiful gift of Poems Are Teachers. Just as you kept Katherine’s promise of joy and faced your fears, we too make a promise of courageous commitment to bring your gift to life. We believe this promise is worth keeping…

And so, keep it we will!


Amy’s Website


Amy’s book (Heinemann)

Interview at Two Writing Teachers

Book Trailer for Amy’s new poetry book, Read! Read! Read!

Supporting Struggling Learners With Patty Vitale-Reilly

by Jenn Hayhurst

On October 19, 2017, Patty Vitale-Reilly joined #G2Great for an in-depth discussion about learning and ways teachers can work to inspire all students to be successful. As I look back over the chat, I realize there are five Power Moves that any teacher can put in place in the classroom to help students access their learning process.

Power Move #1 Creating Culture

Creating a culture of student ownership begins when we encourage a sense of belonging. There is so much we can do to influence our students’ identities. When we take the time to really know and celebrate who our students are we are creating culture. When we create classrooms where students are allowed to make choices and be part of a community we are extending an invitation to learn:

Power Move #2 Shifting Structures 

Offering a variety of predicatble structures breathes life into student centered learning. As students are able to negotiate various ways to learn they will be more empowered. When we model structures like workshop, guided writing, or initiate fishbowls we are shifting towards greater independence because they will know what to expect:

Power Move #3 Collaborative Classrooms

When we plan for collaboration we are planning for student access to learning. Collaboration is another way to activate the gradual release of responsiblity. As we plan for students to work in partnerships, using students as mentors, or center work we are leveraging collaborative work to foster greater independence:

Power Move #4 Vital Visuals 

When it comes to being strategic about using anchor charts or other visual tools our goal should be to faciliate greater student agency.  Our classrooms should be built on meaning making. Students who can use charts strategicly are in control of their learning process:

Power Move #5. Purposeful Practices

Having a repetior of instructional moves helps us our teaching be more intentional.  When we elect to pre-teach we are giving some students a head start to augment their learning process.

Thank you for joining #G2Great Patty, your work reminds me to reflect on my practice and as always be thinking about how I can continue to grow

From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers

by Mary Howard

On 10/12/17 #G2Great was delighted to welcome Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward to our guest host seat of honor. As soon as we said our first “hello friends,” our dedicated #G2Great family of learners enthusiastically joined forces Twitter style as we collectively savored the message of their exquisite new book: From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers (Scholastic, 2017).

I first discovered From Striving to Thriving when Scholastic posted Stephanie’s video message on Facebook. This was just the inspirational impetus I needed to launch a journey of discovery that was a preparatory launching of this Twitter love fest. The icing on the cake was the opportunity afforded me to read the book pre-publication to prepare for our chat. But my excitement was multiplied ten-fold when I opened to their introduction and read words near and dear to my professional heart, “The Best Intervention is a Good Book” as a happily a recurrent theme:

Stephanie and Annie remind us why books must remain at the center of all we do – especially for our striving readers:

We’re firm believers that to fall in love with reading forever, all it takes is getting lost in one good book. When that happens, we discover that reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures. An entire generation became readers inside the pages of Harry Potter books. We advocate for our strivers every day so they, too, will experience nothing short of the transformative joy and power of reading. (p. 13)

The words transformative joy and power of reading reached out and grabbed me by the heartstrings, holding me captive until I turned to the last page of the book. As I read, I was struck by the idea that I was experiencing this ‘transformative joy and power of reading’ from a professional perspective and I knew that this sense of elation was precisely what our children deserve.

With this idea in mind, I perused their messages in our #G2Great chat to explore how we can create this ‘transformative joy’ for every child. And so, in honor of their wisdom, I’d like to share five Transformative Joy ideas we must embrace as we begin to put their words into action and move our children From Striving to Thriving:

Transformative Joy #1: Make Beautiful Books Your Beating Heart

Stephanie and Annie draw a line in the proverbial sand as they take a clear stance on the powerful role books play for our striving readers. They highlight the critical goal of increasing the volume of reading within a rich environment filled with books. They ask us to engage in ‘relentless book matching’ so that we can get just right book into the hands of the children driven by the wild readerly abandon only choice can awaken. We recognize the impact of bathing children in books across the learning day and so we make room for joyful engaged independent reading because we view it is a professional priority rather than because we find extra minutes here and there. We make a time commitment to reading and expend our energy putting this into practice day after day. And we do this because we know that it matters deeply for our striving readers.

Transformative Joy #2: Strengthen Your Bridge to Deepen Understanding

Stephanie and Annie ask us to return comprehension to a place of honor as the “Super Power” that will spur readers forward. They do not trivialize the role that decoding plays as one component of the reading process but remind us that teaching comprehension under the umbrella of listening and viewing will build a foundation for decoding through understanding rather than isolated sounds. We do this from the earliest stages of learning by using daily read-aloud and beautiful picture books as words and images become our springboard to reading as a meaning-making event. We know that each component of reading has a place but we also recognize that information sound-bites are not meant to be the meaning-making sacrificial lamb. We do this because we know that it matters deeply for our striving readers.

Transformative Joy #3: Hold Tight to Your Professional Purpose

Stephanie and Annie ask us to approach reading in ways that will promote these experiences as an act of thinking rather than one of compliant doing. We know that this is only possible if we are willing to immerse children in books that will invite thinking and demonstrate this as we make what is invisible visible by sharing our own thinking publicly. We know that we can only celebrate “thinking-intensive’ reading opportunities by refuting the isolated tasks of thoughtless skill and drill and question interrogation so that we can opt for ample experiences that will engage children in the very reading opportunities that elicit the thinking we desire and children deserve.  We do this because we know that it matters deeply for our striving readers.

Transformative Joy #4: Release Celebratory Talk into the Learning Air

Stephanie and Annie acknowledge the power of collaborative talk and ask us to do the same. When we keep books at the center and marry them with experiences rooted in meaning and thinking, we set the stage for lifting the level of talk to the highest heights of teacher-supported and peer engagement. We use whole class dialogue to support this talk within an instructional context and then offer ample opportunities to apply this learning. We value conferring as a scaffold to support this transition to independence followed by a wide range of opportunities for students to engage in collaborative talk so that they can begin to take ownership of this process as we step to the sidelines. We lift their voices into the celebratory air while ensuring that conversations elevate reading rather than substitute for these experiences as we offer children the very real-life opportunities we hold dear. We do this because we know that it matters deeply for our striving readers.

Transformative Joy #5: Reawaken a Spirit of Common Sense Assessment

Stephanie and Annie emphasize assessment as a decision-making process that will lead us from where children are at this moment to next step efforts that will help them to grow. They ask us to make a shift from viewing reading as an isolated process of repeated assessments that rob teachers and children of the time we need to achieve each of the essential goals above. We know that this requires us to become expert kidwatchers who are present in the precious day-to-day learning opportunities that meet us at every turn. We use those experiences to inform our practices and illuminate next step efforts rather than numbers on a spreadsheet that cloud our view of the child in front of us. Above all, we view daily assessments from the lens of our responsibility to ensure the success of learners rather than to label them as a ‘struggling.’ We do this because we know that it matters deeply for our striving readers.

With these five points in mind, we step back and view them as one, knowing that bringing transformative joy to life in our classrooms requires a new mindset:

Within the pages of their beautiful book and generous sharing on Twitter, Stephanie and Annie show us what is possible. Driven by a deep commitment to our striving learners, they remind us that it is our professional responsibility to support a journey from striving to thriving. They celebrate the potential impact when we make room in every day for the practices that will enrich the learning lives of children and inspire us to refute those things that will not. I believe that their wisdom could at long last inspire a shift in the intervention mentality that has plagued us. This much-needed refocusing could truly make from striving to thriving our new professional reality. And we are grateful to follow their lead!

In closing, I’d like to thank Stephanie and Annie for their wisdom at a time when interventions have been reduced to joyless one-size-fits-all practices that minimize our efforts and blind us to the voluminous enthusiastic reading of can’t-put-down books. We are ready to joyfully launch a renewed intervention mindset that will offer our striving readers the very experiences we so willing offer our most proficient readers so that they can achieve their newfound status as thriving readers and experience the transformative joy they deserve. In their words,

And that my friends, is a professional imperative!


More Twitter Messages from Stephanie and Annie



Stephanie Harvey discusses what striving readers need

You Tube Video

From Striving to Thriving

I Am Reading with Kathy Collins and Matt Glover

By Amy Brennan

On October 5, 2017 #G2Great welcomed two of the greatest advocates for our youngest meaning makers. Kathy Collins and Matt Glover support our earliest readers in nurturing ways by promoting a healthy reading identity while thye develop a love for reading as they make meaning with texts they read, whether they read the words or make meaning through the pictures or their memory of a familiar read. In their book, I Am Reading, Kathy and Matt open their introduction in part by sharing that their fascination wtih children’s thinking is what brought them together, which makes complete sense as Kathy came to the collaboration from a background of reading and Matt came from his experience with writing. Reading and writing are really rooted in the thinking that comes before, during and after both reading and writing. They are about making meaning.

Limiting children only to just right books impacts meaning making and reading identity

Children may be developing decoding skills as they advance through these levels, however they may lose the benefit of making meaning with texts and engaging in a playful sense with books that help to develop the thinking skills that children develop even before they can read conventionally. Reading identity begins to develop right away and if students are limited by choosing only just right books they begin to limit their own reading identity by these levels. The rush to advance through levels further impacts reading as students lose opportunties to interact with texts in real ways where they are developing the thinking and talking work that develops comprehension and meaning making with texts.

Rereading familiar picture books helps children’s reading, oral language, and reading identity

There are many benefits of children rereading familiar texts. Often the reading of familiar texts is discounted and comments such as, “She has heard it read so many times, she has just memorized it.”  It is helpful to consider what the child is doing when reading the familiar book:

  •  Applies reading or thinking strategies
  •  Paces the reading to the pages/illustrations
  •  Uses picture cues to make meaning or support memory
  •  Returns to previously read pages to start over
  •  Adjusts voice to reflect meaning of the text
  •  Recalls and uses rhymes and patterns in the text

In addition to strategy use and thinking there are language benefits to both reading aloud familiar books and children reading familiar books.

  • Vocabulary
  • Expressions
  • Concepts
  • Literary language patterns
  • Syntax

A child’s initial moments with unfamiliar books are critical and how we support them matters 

As a child encounters an unfamiliar text they will engage with the book in different ways than they do with familiar books. How we encourage and support this interaction matters. It matters because when children read unfamiliar books before they are reading conventionally it can be empowering. When children have opportunities to engage with texts that are unfamiliar they will need to be resourceful, put in effort, make meaning, take risks and solve problems. It is not as common for a child to pick up and engage as deeply with an unfamiliar text and for this reason how we support them matters. Children need to be provided with opportunities to choose and to read unfamiliar books as well as have motivation to do so. Supporting students to choose unfamiliar books that are:

  • Interesting and accessible
  • Have illustrations that are detailed enough to support meaning
  • Have characters who look like they are saying something
  • Elements of the illustrations are somewhat consistent

Just right books, familiar books, and unfamiliar books were just some of the topics we explored durring the chat. To learn more about supporting our earliest readers such as informational books and the value of conferring check out our #storify for the chat with Kathy Collins and Matt Glover. Their book, I Am Reading is a great source for anyone who reads with our earliest readers and wants to look deeper at ways to nuture early reading.


Readers Front & Center: Helping All Students Engage with Complex Texts

by Mary Howard

On 9/28/17 #G2Great happily welcomed guest host Dorothy Barnhouse for the second time. Dorothy shared the seat of honor with Vicki Vinton on 4/20/17 to explore their amazing collaboration, What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making (Heinemann). We were delighted for a second dose of amazing with Dorothy as we celebrated her remarkable book, Readers Front & Center: Helping All Students Engage with Complex Texts (Stenhouse, 2014)

As I began reflecting on this post, my personal fascination with what motivates authors to write a book was at the forefront of my mind. When I read Readers Front & Center, my curiosity was instantly piqued to know what inspired Dorothy. I didn’t have to wait long since her motivational muse appeared in her dedication, “For Nora, wherever you are” and first paragraph of her acknowledgement where she explains the book ‘seed’:

This book began many years ago with a child–Nora–and I first want to thank her and the other students on the New York City Public Schools who show up (usually) and do what they’re told (usually). We owe each of you so much more, and my deepest hope is that somewhere within the cracks of the system you’ll find a few exhilarating moments, as I have in my teaching–as I did in my conversations with Nora–and that those moments will sustain you and help you create more exhilarating moments.” (vii)

As I read on, I found myself reading and rereading pages where Nora reappeared as I imagined myself in the conferring seat beside them. I am struck by the idea that we can only put readers front & center if we intentionally seek those ‘exhilarating moments’ and bring them to life in spite of the system cracks. Motivated by my desire to capture this idea in writing, I began perusing her words in a glorious hour of conferring with Dorothy #G2Great twitter style.

Early in the chat, Dorothy instilled a sense of urgency for this work:

Dorothy’s challenge asks us to sharpen our vision for what is possible with our students – the very possible she so eloquently describes in page after page in her book. I love the dual purpose of this challenge in that we cannot possibly make this shift for our students unless we are willing make this shift for ourselves in the form of professional responsibility to students by virtue of our day-to-day instructional actions. This dual shift allows us to create professional stepping stones that will alter the very way we approach instruction – and thus change the trajectory of success for us both.

And so in honor of an enthusiastic exploration to ponder how we can make this shift, I’d like to share five ‘exhilarating moments’ that will keep all of the Nora’s of the world front & center as we work relentlessly to support our shared journey side-by-side with students as they work with complex texts.

Exhilarating Moment #1: Begin with the Reader

Dorothy reminds us to keep our students at the center of all we do as we celebrate their identity as a reader first and foremost. I have long been concerned that many districts make the questionable decision to initiate formal assessments at the beginning of the year. I can’t help but wonder why we would want numerical assessments in our hands before we know the child behind the number. In order to keep children at the center of all we do, we must begin by exploring who our students are as readers before we allow those assessments to cloud our view of their emerging identity.

Exhilarating Moment #2: Be Present in Reader Moments

In Dorothy’s book she asks us to “notice smarter,” a point highlighted in her reminder to become expert kidwatchers. These precious opportunities afford us the time to be quietly present in student learning moments so that we can notice what they do as they actively engage in literacy work. Those quiet moments allow us to name what we see and hear so that we can make our noticings public within literacy conversations with children in order to make the thinking work they do in the course of learning visible.

Exhilarating Moment #3: Engage in Research Conversations

Dorothy’s intentional use of the word ‘research conferences reminds us that within these rich literacy conversations reside the data that will drive our instructional efforts. One of the most powerful aspects of conferring is that we are able to make in-the-moment decisions as we listen intently to what our students do or struggle to do. Dorothy celebrates the potential of not knowing as she recognizes that the best instructional agenda is often the agenda that only the child engaged in literacy work can share with us. In other words, they are making us privy to our next step moves in the heat of those literacy conversations.

Exhilarating Moment #4: Celebrate the Thinking (vs. Doing)

One of the myriad of problem with lesson plans and scripts is that they focus on the text by making preconceived instructional decisions for teacher without the benefit of knowing the students in front of us. This contradicts the idea that the text is only the vehicle but it is the child and the thinking they engage in during the experience that demands our attention. This priority mismatch distinguishes instruction as a process of doing vs. instruction as a thoughtful student-centered process that begins with the reader. This means that we are less interested in what they do or struggle to do than we are with the thinking that occurs within those doing moments. A script blinds to here and now thinking moments and can even thwart our view of them.

Exhilarating Moment #5: Make Room to Meander to Meaning

As adult readers, we know that there are many pathways to understanding and that we choose those pathways as we engage in reading work. If we acknowledge that this is the central role of reading, then we need to support our students in assuming that role as they do the heavy lifting beside us. By refuting the traditional view that we are looking for the right answer, we can be open to the flexible thinking that invites unexpected responses – thinking that can enrich the experience from both sides. When we create a positive and supportive experience for this thinking and allow students to engage in the messy process of problem solving beside us, we then begin to relinquish control of the very process that we engage in during reading.  And within this process grounded in trust, our students begin to grow as readers.

I preceded my five points with Dorothy’s words of wisdom, so I’d also like to close with her final words of wisdom. Together, those opening and closing words form an invisible thread that hold my exhilarating moments together:

In order to celebrate who our students are as readers we must trust the books that they are choosing to use alongside us. I can’t think of a better way to bring their reader identity to life than the books that reflect their reading lives in the context of authentic day-to-day engagement as we hold both in high esteem.

As I close this post, I find my thoughts inextricably drawn back to Nora and the potential impact that one conversation can have on our thinking and the thinking of students. As I read Dorothy’s conversations with students, I found myself leaning in as if I were part of each exchange. Then I opened to Dorothy’s closing chapter and soaked in her oh so wise words:

“But I believe if we do listen, our voices will be more authentic and insightful. This book was born out of such a pause. I pulled a chair next to first one student and then another and simply listened as they read. I didn’t talk, though the teacher was watching me, and the students themselves seemed to expect me to fill those moments with what I knew or thought I knew. I had to give myself permission to pay attention.” (p. 144)

We are listening Dorothy!

 Twitter Words of Wisdom from Our #G2Great Family