Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Inspiring a Culture of Readers

by Amy Brennan

As summer approaches, students, teachers and administrators begin to think about summer plans. Different types of plans come to mind – vacations, beach days, summer camps, and for many there remains an uncertainty that comes from school closing for the summer months. How to we prepare our students for summer? How do we ensure that all their growth over the school year doesn’t get lost over the long, sun-filled summer? How can we ensure that they have opportunities NOT for worksheets, NOT for summer projects, but for READING, the pure joy of reading. This alone can help to eradicate summer reading loss. We need to inspire our students to read all school year long so that we develop a natural culture of readers. If we establish a culture of reading at our schools, the members of our school community will take the culture with them for the summer. At the #G2Great chat on April 12, 2018 we sat at our virtual table and shared ways to inspire readers across all grades. 

Collectively Define “Culture of Readers”

As with anything, we first wanted to define what we collectively meant by a culture of readers across all grades. Having a common defintion is important to leading and inspiring any kind of movement. The chat generated so many descriptors that define by example what a culture of readers looks like.

To begin, just a few things can get us moving towards a culture of reading. We need to have books available to read. Once the books are there we need to create an invitation to read. After we have invited readers to the the world of reading we need to allow choice and time to read. Valuing books and readers requires that we set aside resources to purchase books, we set aside resources to store books in bins, on shelves, and on display. Relevent texts need to be available – every member of the school community should be able to see themselves in the books available. When we see ourselves individually, only then collectively we see our community. Discussions about books generate more reading. Book recommendations and choosing to read books together provides opportunities for discussions. Publicizing the books we read, posting the books we are reading on classroom or office doors, or bulletin board in the hallways – these steps all help to inspire a culture of readers. A culture of readers develops from these collective experiences at the building level. It only takes one person in a school to be the leader in this charge. Be that person – find your first follower and the others will follow. Develop your collective culture of readers together as more and more followers join your movement. Reach out to all school community members; administrators, teachers, parents, teaching assistants, teaching aides, secretarial, custodial and lunchroom staff and enlist them to be a part of the culture of readers. 

Get Started

Once we define and put into place structures and develop shared beliefs around reading it is important to spread this across to leaders, teachers, staff and parents. This shift will be most effective and lasting if we are all inclusive – all members of the school community can talk about reading. Sharing books, talking about books, reading books around school throughout the day. All members of the school community should be able to talk to students about the books they are reading. Beginning with a shared book acorss a school can really begin this process. In my former school, we gathered the whole school community around a shared read-aloud – the first one was Wonder by R.J. Palacio. We welcomed students back to school after the winter recess with decorated halls sharing quote of kindness and engaged students in adding decorations and quotes as the read aloud spread through the building. 

Develop Your School’s Unique Reading Culture 

Once you’ve started, well that is when your school will begin to develop its own reading culture. Include all stakeholders, listen to all ideas and the school will build its own culture around reading. There are so many ways and so many ideas out there, but the important thing is to collectively engage the school community so that the culture represents that school.

Ready, Set, Go! 

If your school does not already have a culture of readers, be the first to get the movement started. Be positive, have energy and find those first followers who can help you begin the change. Get students involved, they are the reason this is so important and often they have the most creative ideas – unlike the adults sometimes in a school community their minds are not usually restricted by they way things have always been. Students’ minds flexibly think about possibilities without being held to a vision of what was or has been always done. Above all – READ –  people will follow you.




#BowTieBoys: Exploring Instruction Through Students’ Eyes – Group Work and Collaboration

By Fran McVeigh

My post for the #BowTieBoys guest host stint at #G2Great in March seemed easy. I reread the questions, reviewed the tweets, considered formats and began writing. In fact it was so easy that I began worrying about this second post. What would be different or unique?  What would be the bookends for the learning?

I am in awe of these middle school and high school students: their focus, drive, poise and incredibly articulate positions on so many issues in education. As I worried about appropriately expressing my respect for their work, I remembered that April is synonymous with poetry. So I created this acrostic “fan poem” about the #BowTieBoys before we even had the chat and had my first 19 words.










After the chat, I was still in search of my goal for this blog post – stuck with my 19 words and the title.  I dreamed of a post worthy of clearly and succinctly articulating the depth of their participation as guest hosts for #G2Great on April 26, 2018. But I felt like the center fielder who had missed a line drive straight up the middle.

So I researched, reading previous Literacy Lenses posts as well as posts from the #BowTieBoys. I even DM’d Jason  Augustowski about a post outlining the origin of this group. You can find those details in his biography here. I read through the Wakelet artifact, collected tweets and reread the archive again. Ideas swirled in my head.  And then I reread the title:  Exploring Instruction through Students’ Eyes:  Group Work and Collaboration and the theme coalesced around that title. No surprise. The title became my North Star, my purpose.

This group of students, ranging from 8th graders to juniors, wrote the questions, responded to the questions, and had multiple conversations with educational folks during the #G2Great twitter chat. In essence, they collaborated with each other in the question development and then participated collaboratively in group work during the chat. They executed group work and collaboration in an online format while sitting together in the same physical space. Middle school and high school students!

Were the students doing this for participation points?

Were the students doing this for a class requirement?

Was there a rubric where the teacher was making tally marks for participating comments?

Would a student be “marked down” for “not speaking up”?

The answer to each of those questions is a resounding “NO!” And therein lies the purpose. These students are learners who understand that they learn in different ways, like to respond in different ways, have different interests, but yet they are united in their passion to provide input in order to improve their educational lives. They read professional texts by Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Laura Robb, Linda Rief, etc. and strive to improve their own knowledge on their own time and in their own ways. (Does that sound familiar, dear readers, who have found your own personalized learning on Twitter, Voxer, or in books by similar authors?)

Student perspectives on learning are necessary in order to improve educational practices AND learning. Teachers need student feedback, beyond assessment numbers, that range from classroom environment to routines/procedures to the content and instructional delivery systems.


Dr. Mary Howard is fond of telling us that our “WHY?” is our most important question to answer for any instruction, assessment or even planning. And she is so correct.  Beyond teachers and administrators knowing the WHY, so must the students. The WHY cannot be left for students to infer. It should be obvious. It should be stated often. And it should be the driving force behind every decision made in the classroom, of the classroom and for the classroom.

Why Group Work?

These tweets really helped me collect a wide range of thoughts about Group Work.

Why these tweets? Because of the key words that popped out in this word cloud.

Several priorities for Group Work had surfaced:  Allowing all students to have a voice, providing opportunities to add ideas, affording time to discuss and/or gather information, new viewpoints and ideas, and encouraging others to interact.  Aren’t those all habits and behaviors that employers want? Why would we ever be surprised that students want these? The surprise might be that students have not previously felt comfortable with sharing these needs. The surprise might be that some teachers don’t collect feedback from students.  The surprise might be that the feedback is perfunctory and never acted upon.


Why not have a combination of interactions daily in the classroom that allow students to learn together?  Why not provide choice in interactions? Why not ask the students (voice) when learning is working as well as when it is not working?

WHY Collaboration?

For this second big topic, I again returned to the tweets for the benefits of collaboration.

Merriam Webster defines collaborate as “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor” so it does overlap with the previous Group Work conversation. The heart of collaboration is that new thinking or product emerges as a result of collaboration.  As you can see in the tweets, the students recognize that combinations of individual and group work are needed and that there needs to be a real purpose, not “just” a principal or teacher evaluation for the collaboration. The process of collaboration should include frequent checkpoints so that both the students and the teacher have frequent feedback on the effectiveness of the collaboration.  Student ratings or rubrics designed collaboratively with the teacher and negotiated with group members are often effective. Will all groups be 100% effective every day? Probably not without some specially designed instruction, tasks and productive work that builds respect, trust and a community of learners commited to deep learning.


As shared in the tweets, collaboration is not necessary for all tasks. Students recognize fake collaboration to impress an observer or to mark it off a checklist. And perhaps the beginning of a class period is not the best time for collaboration if students have not yet settled into the learning mode. Are there some tasks that are better suited to individual work? Having real world, meaningful tasks tends to make collaboration more successful.

WHY does it matter?

The goal is mutual learning. Students collaboratively involved in the learning processes have a deeper understanding of teaching just as teachers involved in collaborative work have a deeper understnding of student learning. When this commitment to education and learning is reciprocal, magic happens. That magic was evident in our #G2Great chat with the #BowTieBoys. Students. Teachers. Learners ALL. Understanding WHY is the essential element.

ACTION To Consider:  Take these remarkable questions and discuss them with your teachers and classmates.

And summarize with:

WHY is Group Work important?  

Is all Group Work equal?  

WHY is Collaboration important?  

How do Group Work and Collaboration support student learning?  Find your WHY and find your guiding principles for learning!

Please follow the #BowTieBoys on Twitter:

Kellen Pluntke @kellenpluntke

Spencer Hill @spencerrhill99

Joe O’Such @joe_osuch

Christian Sporre @CSporre

Ryan Beaver @rbeaver05

Connor Grady @ConnorGrady11

TQ Williamson @tq_williamson

Rishi Singh @RishiSingh08

Sam Fremin @thesammer88

Dawson Unger @dawsonunger

Jack Michael @jackmichael776

Tam Mandanis @TMandanis

Aaron Eichenlaub @AEichenlaub729

Nihar Kandarpa @NKandarps

Jason Augustowski @misteramistera

Additional Resources:

Storify from April 26, 2018 chat Wakelet Link
Storify from March 8, 2018 chat   Storify Link
#BowTieBoys Blogs
4 minute video from 3/9/18 after #G2Great chat Link
#BowTieBoys YouTube Channel Link
#BowTieBoys Biographies Link


Previously on Literacy Lenses:

#BowTieBoys Exploring Instruction through Students’ Eyes: Creating a Positive Environment

A Reflection on #NCTE17 with the BowTieBoys – Exploring Choice from Students’ Eyes

BowTieBoys -Exploring Instruction Through Our Students’ Eyes

JV BowTieBoys – Exploring Instruction Through Our Students’ Eyes

Sam Fremin:  Viewing Instruction Through a Student’s Eyes  (storify)


Reclaiming the Principalship with Tom Marshall

by Jenn Hayhurst On April 19, 2018, #G2Great’s PLN welcomed Tom Marshall to the fold. We had an inspired conversation about his new book, Reclaiming the Principalship Instructional Leadership Strategies to Engage Your School Community and Focus on Learning   In Tom’s book he extends a beautiful invitation to “Make the word principal an adjective again. Join me, Head Learner, on the journey of reclaiming the principalship in the name of learning!” This is a powerful challenge. He is asking us to consider a richer more meaningful definition of what it means to teach and lead. How would school be different if we were learners first?

This left me wondering, what if…

What if we were learners who fostered collaboration and coaching?

Collaboration is alive and well. There are so many ways to learn with colleagues. We can learn with teachers in our schools and we can learn with teachers from around the world. Learning can be scheduled and it can be spontaneous. When we decide to raise the bar on our learning lives and open ourselves up to coaching we create a whole new dynamic. Coaching offers the benefit of a shared learning experience. The more we learn together the more informed that learning becomes because everyone has something important to offer:

What if we were learners who were responsive leaders within a learning culture?

Being responsive to needs requires us to think deeply about what is happening so we can plan a course of action. Leaders who make this an inclusive process, one that encourages us all to think of creative solutions, promote a learning culture. Tom reminds us that this relevant work, whether it is at the building level or classroom level, should pass a litmus test – does this benefit student learning? All of it – our evaluations, school improvement plans all of it can be swayed by a learning stance:


What if we were learners who honored each other’s values while growing professional discourse?

Classrooms are dripping with formative data and it tells a story. It reveals what we value and where we may need to go next. Every time we push ourselves to be honest and authentic about instructional practice we invite growth. This is the first step, the beginning of more substantial conversations that build upon strengths and reflection.

What if we were learners who built on community and momentum if we nurtured inner curiosity? 

Leaders who set clear goals and pair them to a metaphor make it take root within a faculty.  Teachers who come together around a goal build community and that is powerful. Whenever we tap into our personal power and harness it supports a shared vision we are making a huge impact on the lives of our students. Writing plays an important and meaningful role in this process. Taking time to stop and reflect is a game changer:

What begins with a “What if…” can lead to powerful changes and important discoveries. Tom’s wonderful book was written to encourage us all to adopt a learning leadership stance.  Thank you Tom. Your wisdom and passion are exactly the right next step forward in education.


It’s All About the Books

By Fran McVeigh

Make no mistake about it.  This book, It’s All About the Books:  How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries That Inspire Readers, is about making sure that ALL students have access to books.  And our #G2Great chat with guest hosts Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan was trending within seven minutes of the opening tweet on April 5th. The pace was fast, furious, filled with the famous (Kylene Beers, Laura Robb, and Penny Kittle to name a few), and packed with powerful learning. As participants, we were given guidance and flexibility through the talented wisdom of Tammy and Clare (and the experts that they base their work on) that would also allow us to insert our own vision and passion to meet the needs of students in our classrooms across the continent. Neither the chat nor the book is about meeting proficiency levels (although books are the appropriate tool) or choosing a set list of books (your student needs will vary), but were both focused on many critical aspects of developing book collections. This post will focus on just two of them:  Access and Design.

What does access to books mean for classroom libraries and bookroom collections?

Every student deserves quality books that he or she can read in order to be a reader. Books are the tools of readers. Access to books cannot be left to chance. That means that within a school building every student needs access to a classroom library and probably some form of a collaborative collection in a bookroom in addition to the school library. When access to books is a priority, every first year teacher will walk into a classroom full of chairs, desks, and tables that also has a classroom library that is fully-stocked. The teachers and administrators understand and believe that when students read a lot – both texts they choose and can read – they will become lifelong readers, and that classroom library is an indicator of the strength of their belief. A final element of access will reflect that the collection will “grow and extend” with the students. The books that are the focus at the end of the year may be totally different from the books that were in the library on opening day. Some books will remain constant but many other books will be replaced as students outgrow themselves as readers and demand different topics and types of books as the school year evolves.

What is the benefit for the students?

Books will be celebrated and students will know that one goal is to build a reader’s identity so some books will match the students.  They will see themselves in the books and will also be able to see all the other members of their community. Each student will have access to the number of books that they need at school and at home that is necessary for him/her to be an engaged and inspired reader. Students will talk about their books with peers and adults.  Students will also have a great deal of choice in what they read as well as when and where they read. Their days will be filled with opportunities to spend extended time reading so that being “lost in a book” is a routine habit. Because we also know that book choice is personal, not every student will want to read the exact same book. Opportunities for choice will need to be encouraged on a regular basis in order to develop and strengthen the habits of readers. Many books will be needed. Tammy and Clare tell us:

“Books are our tools to develop lifelong readers. The only way to merge true choice and accessibility is to have options and lots of them!” (Heinemann, It’s All About the Books, p 12)

What is the benefit for the teachers?

Every teacher will have access to books necessary to meet the needs of their students. These books will match the purpose:  whole group, small group (guided or strategy), partner, and independent reading as well as instructional needs:  Read Alouds, writing mentors, science content and/or social studies content. Access to quality books will enhance instruction and engage and inspire students. Access coupled with equity will mean that classroom collections will no longer be dependent upon teachers personally funding their own classroom libraries.

In order to achieve this access, all teachers will be expected to work collaboratively to identify the existing inventory of books available in the building and then strategically plan for the best use.  What does that mean? Perhaps there are six packs of guided reading books that are gathering dust in current guided reading libraries. Maybe they could be better utilized if they were inserted into classroom libraries or set up for book club usage or even independent reading.  Specific gaps in types of books that students like and want to read can be addressed systemically after establishing priorities and developing an organized purchasing plan. Teachers with access to a wide range of books will be able to share their own passion, agency, and that sense of inquiry that exists in their own reading lives without the pressure of being personally responsible for provisioning every book the students read.

Selected Tweets about Access:

Why is design important for classroom libraries and bookroom collections?

In the book, the chapter about design begins with a Steve Jobs quote:

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.  Design is how it works.”

This means that in order for the books to be effective learning tools, there will need to be many books. Tammy and Clare offer suggestions on how to calculate the number of books that must be available for students at each grade level. Do involve the students in decisions because they will be a part of “how it works.” Don’t quit because you are discouraged by the staggering number of books needed because, Tammy and Clare also say:

“When teachers share texts and rotate inventory, stocking a school with authentic literature is a very affordable option. It truly is more bang for your books.” (p. 83)

#1 Design Issue:  What to do with Book Levels

Much has been written about book levels by such literacy giants as Fountas and Pinnell, Donalyn Miller, Kylene Beers, and our own Dr. Mary Howard. I love the phrase “Intent vs. Impact” that Tammy and Clare use in their book and in their podcast. Levels are instructional tools that are intended to be guides – not absolutes and definitely not to limit a student’s access to books. (But wait a minute, access was the last section!) Levels are not going to define a child’s reading so levels will not be the ORGANIZER for books which brings us back to design.  Some questions to be answered are:  How will books be organized?  How will they be displayed? Which books?

What is the benefit for students?

Taking book levels off of shelves and baskets does not meant that “anything goes” just as access doesn’t mean that students can only read a “Level H” for example. Middle ground means that book baskets can be organized by “concepts or ideas” such as “LOL” and the books in the LOL basket on the top shelf may be A-B, while the books in the LOL basket on the second shelf may be C-D, and the books in the LOL basket on the third shelf may be E-F.  Students have access to any of the baskets but when they are choosing books that they can read independently, they can first decide on content: animals, friends, LOL, etc., and then check out the basket on the shelf that they are typically reading from. No one will ever say, “Now, Johnny, what level should you be reading?”  Instead the conversation about books will be around the content and the strategies/skills/habits that the student uses as they tackle the books. Book levels will be inside the front cover or on the back cover, but they will not be the FIRST decision when choosing a book.

What is the benefit for teachers?

Teachers will need to know the qualities of the levels, not to define students but to know just which book will be the next “ladder” for instruction, which will be a challenge or stretch, and which will be “just right”? This actually gives the teacher more flexibility because it is easier to drop a level or two for beginning work with a more difficult skill without causing student or parental panic. With practice students can quickly move through appropriate books for the WORK they are engaging in rather than the “But I’m supposed to be reading H books!” that often currently surfaces.

Students can also be active participants in the book organization and the design of the classroom library so this means less work for the teacher.  The classroom community can work together to create their own categories as they help curate the collection. Their “work” will also enable them to better appreciate the scope of the classroom collection.  I’m always amazed when I’m in a classroom and students from another grade quietly step in, select a book from behind the teacher’s desk, and return to their own classroom. It’s important to know where those “book floods” exist that students actually have access to when they are in search of their next great book.

Shared teacher design is accomplished with the use of a bookroom or collaborative collection that helps provide the volume, range and choice that matches students’ interests. This collection exists to supply access to a world of ideas for students when they need them. Classroom libraries can easily be refreshed or rotated each quarter or each major school break so the teacher has a more ready supply of books available without a run on Amazon, Scholastic or other book sources. Sharing texts and especially series books makes provisioning libraries with authentic literature much more affordable.  A five year purchasing plan, prioritized by gaps, can stretch farther than an individual teacher’s purchases.

Selected Tweets About Design:

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go #BookLove to fund elementary or middle school classroom libraries as explained in the following two tweets:

Books are the mainstay of student learning.  Students gain such a feeling of accomplishment as they name that first book they can read or write.  Literacy identities are important. This book, this chat, and the additional resources posted below literally add to our own passion for books, our “book love”,  Reading is important because it improves our communication skills and enables us to learn about places and people that we may never see. It also helps build vocabulary and writing skills as we communicate better and even become better persons.  Books can help us with all of those skills and this book, It’s All About the Books, by Tammy and Clare can help us inventory, prioritize and develop a plan to further extend our budgets and ultimately our learning! This book gives you a proven process, with a ten year track record, that will help you maximize your resources for increased student and teacher access and design and organize all those resources in your classrooms and bookrooms.

And if you already have Access and Design under control in your classroom libraries and bookrooms, there are many other chapters that deal with: Why a bookroom? Where to find diverse books?  Technology? How are “Texts” defined? What about summer school access? Tammy and Clare will guide you through all the answers!!

Check out these Additional Resources

Events Heinemann Publications Live Facebook with Tammy and Clare

Wakelet/Storify from #G2Great chat April 5

Podcast with Tammy and Clare


On the blog Slice one – “A Reader Reminds Me”

Slice two – “The Power of a Book”

Print Resources It’s All About the Books – Heinemann webpage

Sample Chapter