Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Preventing Summer Slide: Flexing Our Summer Literacy Muscles

By Fran McVeighWhat does summer mean in your community?  Is it about freedom from school routines or is it about supports in place to help families maneuver the tricky days and nights when parents need to work and children have more freedom?  Our #G2Great chat on May 24, 2018 had both questions and answers for “Preventing Summer Slide” but also some cautionary reminders about remembering to meet the whole needs of children. “Summer Slide” is bigger than just literacy. In these days of declining school budgets and increasing demands, this may not seem feasible YET but let’s begin with some of those general considerations for increased collaboration and communication in your community. 

Have you considered these principles?

If your summer work is already planned, take a few minutes to think about the basic needs of the students in your community over the long summer break. Will they have adequate food, shelter and transportation? Will their basic physical needs be met? How do you know? What about their social-emotional needs? How will you know that your planned summer work is effective? What information will you be collecting from the participants and their families?

Preventing Summer Slide:  What will it take?

I found two major goals/processes in this week’s chat.  The first follows the research findings of Allington and McGill-Franzen. They found that providing books for students to read at home over the summer was both cheaper and more effective than summer school programs. (link) Ways to do that include:

  • Giving students books
  • Having school libraries open
  • Teachers who continue to have book conversations during the summer
  • Teachers loaning books
  • Groups that give books

Any and all of these actions allow students to continue reading, flexing their literacy muscles. With high levels of practice, just like in sports, students maintain their current levels of confidence and competence. Students who read, write, and talk about their passionate and/or pleasurable literacy work increase the likelihood of counteracting “summer slide”. If any of this work can also involve partnerships formed in the student’s own household, there is an even greater likelihood of maintaining or increasing skills over the summer when one or two hours per week are dedicated to shared literacy actions like a narrated photo book of fun and play during the summer!

A second goal or process advocated for totally changing our approach to summer work is evidenced by this tweet.

Would efforts be more effective if there was a deliberate plan to include the following components: community-based, culturally relevant, strength-based, family-centered and literacy-based in order to LAUNCH SUMMER LEARNING?

What would each of these elements look like?


Capitalize on activities available through county parks and recreation offices, municipal music/arts/museum programs, and even explore “service options” with elderly housing units. Weekly bingo games with senior citizens can be a treat for students and seniors. Plan field trips to locations in the community. Set up a comprehensive schedule that builds on Red Cross swimming lessons or open gym sessions. Evidence of community-based efforts to promote literacy would include this sign posted in Gilmore City, IA and shared via @herz6kids.

Culturally relevant

Build relationships that cultivate strong culturally relevant interests and include teacher-student relationships that empower and motivate students. Check community calendars for meetings and events that provide cultural experiences. Promote peer teaching and learning relationships that may begin in books but further extend to face-to-face interactions.


Allow students to have choices in activities in terms of recreational activities and sports as well as reading, writing, speaking, listening, drama, and math activities. Build on what the students can do, want to do, and mirror the lives they see at home and in their neighborhood.


Build on strengths of the family by asking other members of their household to participate and respond to activities both at home and in the community. Create books of shared family stories and events. Encourage all family members to write about the same events from a different point of view. Collect recipes, songs, or poems to share with others.


What if summer literacy-based work was about choice, wonder, passion, and not the same old routine from the school year?  The use of Wonderopolis or independent choice would be one source of promoting joyful self-exploration that helps develop life long readers and writers.

For further information about a successful summer launch and summer program, check out this tweet from Valinda Kimmel.

“Summer Slide” was first reported in 1906, and folks have been searching for solutions ever since.  There is NO, ONE single solution.  It’s a complicated problem with many solutions that will assist students in maintaining or growing reading, writing, and learning. Collaborative partnerships will be necessary in order to provide optimal learning environments for all students. Considering novel solutions that involve new learning environments and opportunities to explore personal choice and wonder to this century old problem will allow students to thrive and not fall prey to the “summer slide.”

Selected tweets that were the source of ideas for this blog post:

Additional Resources:

Wakelet archive for #G2Great chat – Link

Video – McAuliffe on YouTube (for parents) – Link

Allington- Summer Slide article   Link  

Pernille Ripp – “On Summer Checkouts” 

Valinda Kimmel – “3 Surefire Ways to Avoid the Summer Slide”  

NCTE Middleweb:

NOTES FROM THE NERDY BOOK CLUB Book Floods and Book Deserts

Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, Cindy Minnich, and Katherine Sokolowski

180 Days with Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle

By Fran McVeigh

What a night!  Before the chat began Paul Hankins suggested that our theme song might be Petty’s “Free Falling” and as it ended Colleen Cruz talked about re-reading the stream “…to bask in the glow of @pennykittle and @KellyGToGo.” Either celebration would be so appropriate for that hour in time. Less than ten minutes was all it took for #G2Great to trend in the top “3” due to the wisdom flying through the twittersphere so I knew narrowing down a focus for this post was going to be a challenge as Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle joined the #G2Great chat table for their first time on May 17, 2018 to discuss 180 Days:  Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents.

I first heard about this book last November at NCTE 17 from a panel presentation consisting of Nancy Atwell, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. The chair for the panel was Nancy’s daughter. Her introductions were fabulous. Each one was better than a five paragraph essay –  well constructed and so thought-provoking. I was mesmerized. I was entertained. I was so curious.

In that session Kelly and Penny shared the overview of their collaboration and I knew instantly that this was a book that I could not wait to get my hands on. But it wasn’t  just the content of their presentation.  I was completely awestruck by their behaviors.  When Nancy Atwell went to the podium, Kelly and Penny (seated on stage) took out their notebooks, poised to write and then did write throughout Nancy’s presentation.  I was so amazed by this that I tweeted out a picture that showed them, on stage, writing while Nancy was speaking. Then when it was time for their part of the presentation, it was no surprise that at times, they finished each other’s sentences . . . truly collaborative partners. Here’s the picture and a link to a brief description of their session.

Many may think this is a book only for secondary ELA teachers.


I would recommend this book to EVERY literacy coach, curriculum, and/or department chair in the district as well as every administrator.


Because the first half of the book deals totally with values and beliefs that define the decision-making process for teachers.  Elementary teachers can review it from the lenses of how they prioritize their own literacy instruction, coaching, and observation because the reading and writing standards are similar PK -12. Their work would be parallel to that of the secondary students and teachers. (Not all primary teachers will believe that this book is relevant, so don’t force them to read it!)

As the lead up to this chat, I wrote a blog post on Tuesday with many of the links listed at the end of this post. I also watched Twitter comments during the week, and then Brett Whitmarsh, (@HeinemanPub), posted this podcast the morning of the chat.  It was a read aloud by Kelly and Penny.  

A read aloud of text that I had read twice before.  

A read aloud that I have listened to twice.  

The depth of my knowledge after multiple readings and listenings cannot be measured objectively, but I can tell you that the “story” behind the text and my connections to the text have increased exponentially. I will probably listen once more as I continue composing this piece.  I didn’t annotate the text, I didn’t take copious notes. I really worked on “holding my ideas” across the text with some jots and post it flags as I “spied” on my own reading in hopes of finding the big ideas.

And then came the chat.

The two areas from their book title that continue to fascinate me are both “engagement” and “empowerment”. Do you know high school students? Do they routinely feel engaged? Do they routinely feel empowered? How does this play out in real life with the students that Kelly and Penny have in California and New Hampshire?


How do students get to the “deep thinking that reflects intellectual growth”?  Allowing student choice is a critical element. How much choice? This is most evident in reading where Kelly and Penny propose that 50% of student reading is independent reading where students choose their own reading text. How does the “content” fit into a plan to give students choice?  This entire book is about answering: “How does it all fit in?”

When students are engaged, teachers  and students will be able to dig into deeper levels of understanding. Core beliefs found in their previous books, like Book Love, by Penny and Readicide by Kelly share foundational thinking for their literacy instruction but 180 Days: Two Teachers and their Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents  provides the nuts and bolts about what this really looks and sounds like in classrooms.  Then you will discover their ideas on how to accomplish it. This is simultaneously overlaid with the WHYs so that you can follow the thinking that drove all of Kelly and Penny’s decisions.   

If students have choice, some teachers believe it feels “loosey-goosey” and seems like “free falling” because the teacher cannot plan out the year during back to school workshop days.

Free falling.  

Falling without a net.  

But as  a teacher plans there is a need to keep a laser-like focus on the end goal for the year while also waiting to see the eyes of the students before outlining the year. Within this plan is the flexibility to add/change to meet the interests of students.  An example from this school year was a mini-unit that Kelly created, planned and ultimately shared after the Parkland shooting. (Mass Shooting Unit Link)

Tweets from Kelly and Penny that Support Engagement:

As I read back through the Wakelet, I identified three themes that I felt supported “Engagement” in our chat.  We will be hearing more about engagement in two weeks when we discuss Ellin Keene’s gorgeous new book, Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning, but for now the themes of Joy, Reading and Writing Lives, and Standards and Assessments from Kelly and Penny’s tweets support increased student engagement and helped me organize my thoughts.  Do note that I deliberately left in the number of retweets and likes so that you can see how the #G2Great chat members (and or other friends within the first 12 hours) responded to this wisdom.

Which tweets stand out in your mind?  

Which ones would you like to continue a conversation about?


Empowerment is the second promise from the authors. What does empowerment mean? Again, students who feel they have choice and voice in their daily lives will feel empowered as well as able to reach a higher level of engagement. The two elements are not easily separated. The curriculum allows students to strengthen their reading and writing skills. The daily framework for instruction allows students to be more successful with less “push” and “scaffolding” by the teacher. Knowing that half of their time during the year will be spent on self-selected books is empowering. Respecting students’ lives outside of school is also empowering for students as it reduces external stress in their lives.

The clearer the learning targets, the more efficient and effective the instruction becomes.  The clearer teachers are about their belief systems, the easier they can articulate the relevance to the students. And yet, truly empowering adolescents will require change in the actions and work of students as well as teacher’s roles.  Students will have the power to control their learning within the class. The teacher’s role will be reduced as students take the lead in discussions and book club work.  This is not work for the faint-hearted. Students will resist in the beginning.


Because it is work!

Why does it matter?  

Because the WHY should be guiding all decisions!

Tweets from Kelly and Penny that Support Empowerment:

Specific tweets from Kelly and Penny that supported “Empowerment” seemed to fall into two categories:  Actions and Work of the Students and Teacher’s Roles. When students are empowered, there is no need for “fake” accountability systems. Students meeting in book groups with students across the country were interested in completing their work in order to be a part of the cross-country collaboration. Note particularly what one of Penny’s seniors said as reported in Penny’s first tweet below.

Which tweets stand out in your mind?  

Which ones would you like to continue a conversation about?

The chat revealed that Kelly and Penny originally began with 20 core beliefs and they did whittle it down to 10.  Their schedules provide for daily reading and writing. Kelly (from the book and a live PD session last week) has 10 minutes of reading and writing every day.  Time matters in terms of how it is used each day, as well as across the year and throughout the secondary careers of our students.

Time matters:

Just as I can tell you that a thousand seconds = 16 minutes,

a million seconds = 12 days,

a billion seconds equals 31 years,

and a trillion seconds equals 31,688 years.

Seconds do matter! A sense of urgency is needed!

Being responsive to our students does not mean employing a whip and timer for every time segment in class, but it does require that we pay attention to the balance of time and not waste precious minutes that take away from student application and transfer of reading and writing. At all grade levels.  With all students.

Those are non-negotiables.  The videos in the book are priceless. I remain impressed with the collaborative nature of this work.  The need to have another professional to discuss your ideas with, to plan together, to teach in each other’s classrooms.  How can book clubs meet virtually in California and New Hampshire? What do students (used to sun and sand in California) who may have never seen snow fall from the sky have in common with students from New Hampshire who ride snowmobiles to school in the winter?

What questions remain?

How do YOU fit it all in?

What will YOU do to engage and empower yourself, your peers, and your students?  How do YOU fit it all in?


Additional Resources:

Wakelet (to review all tweets from the chat)

180 Days

Sample Chapter

Heinemann podcast 1

Heinemann podcast 2

Facebook page

Podcast part 1 – Read Aloud

Resourceful – Planning

Travis Crowder Review

Kelly Gallagher website

Penny Kittle website

Teaching Hope to the Next Generation

by Amy Brennan

Hope is the thing that I hold onto. As long as I can remember, I remember hoping. I was a child and I remember hoping my dad’s car would start. I remember when my mom was dying of cancer, hoping she would be cured despite the fact she had an incurable form of cancer. Hope is what helped me through those 2 years as my mom struggled for life. Hope is what carries me now, 24 years later with other trials I face in life. Hope carries me. Serendipitously, the book, Making Hope Happen entered my life. It is a book I read over and over, because I have come to realize the power of hope and when I look at people around me, at home, in school, I notice there are people who are hopeful and there are people who are not. I think the reason I go back to this book so often is because of Dr. Shane Lopez’s message that hope can be shared with others.

Hope matters.

Hope is a choice.

Hope can be learned.

Hope can be shared with others.

-Dr. Shane Lopez


Hope does not mean that the thing you hope for has to happen, it just gets you through to where you need to go. I struggle when I am with someone who does not have hope. In intrigues me as I wonder why I can be hopeful, even in the darkest times and others have no hope even in not so dark times. When I see children in school and I recognize that they do not have hope I struggle to figure out a way to give them hope. In the world they are growing up in, they need hope more than ever before. As an educator, I have to ask myself, “How can I teach hope to these children?” Inspired by Dr. Shane Lopez’s Ted Talk, and book, “Making Hope Happen: Create the Future you Want for Yourself and Others” the #G2Great team decided to take Dr. Shane Lopez’s advice and create ripples of hope for students everywhere through our #G2Great chat on Thursday, May 10, 2018. Until I wrote that I date I did not realize it was also my mother’s birthday, Happy Birthday Mommy, this is perhaps the best gift you could ever receive.  I know when #G2Great trended that night and when this blog post is published (late because I drafted and revised too many times) I know the ripples of hope are alive and in motion spreading those who need hope to continue their journey. Hope carries us through life.

The power in hope spreading across our schools can be seen through the tweets from our #G2Great PLN.

Hope is…

Hope can be learned and shared…

 Hope needs ambassadors… be one

This post is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Shane Lopez and my mother, Jane M. Kruger –  both who always inspired hope.

Special thanks to Dan Sinnott  who shared Shane’s work with me through one email on 7/28/2016 and spread more ripples of hope. Forever grateful. 

Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension

by Mary Howard

On May 3, 2018, we (me, Fran McVeigh, Jenn Hayhurst and Amy Brennan) were delighted when Sara Ahmed graced our #G2Great chat stage as first-time guest host. Educators everywhere admire Sara Ahmed, so collective excitement was high. From the moment our #G2Great family settled in for a conversation around Sara’s exquisite new book Twitter style, Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension, the virtual swarm of passionate tweets began to literally flash across our #G2Great chat screen at warp speed.

I first began following Sara’s amazing work in 2015 when she joyfully burst into my professional view in a remarkable collaboration with Harvey “Smokey” Daniels: Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry. Since then, I find myself soaking in her brilliance and heart through social media, webinars or even face-to-face meetings at NCTE and ILA. Sara brings a lovely mix of humility, humanity and wisdom to all she does so it is always an honor just to be in her presence.

As soon as I received Sara’s book, I flipped back the cover and began reading. It didn’t take long to understand why Terrence J. Roberts used the word “gift” three times in his foreword. Sara’s dedication to this profession transforms the words “Being the Change” from a title on the cover of a book into a profound commitment that takes shape through her sense of urgency writing. This spirit is evident from the haunting opening story of her father to Sara’s words of hope for the future tucked lovingly into each lesson she so beautifully crafted in the company of her students so that teachers can bring them to life in their own classrooms. Yes, I can’t think of a more appropriate descriptor than “gift.”

Whenever it’s my fortunate turn to write our #G2Great chat reflection, I usually gather tweets as a springboard for my thinking. But no matter how many times I perused each of our inspiring chat tweets, I kept wondering if my gathering approach could possibly do a topic of this magnitude justice. I did, however, find myself returning to one tweet exchange between Sara and Tricia Ebarvia since it felt so reflective of the underlying message of Sara’s beautiful book.

The idea of giving our whole self by assuming an open listening stance really struck me. Sara modeled this stance across the entire chat. Even though she joined us on a very early Bangkok morning, she was completely present in each chat moment as she enthusiastically engaged in appreciative dialogue with everyone. I was inspired by Sara’s admission that she is not always successful at open listening and as I contemplated being the change as a work in progress, I turned to Sara’s definition of social comprehension:

This topic felt so big that I struggled to find a direction for this post, a struggle that continued as I flew home the night after the chat. And then it happened in the quiet solitude of the night sky! Without warning, one of the most amazing and humbling experiences of my life flashed into mind and the direction of this post came into view. I wasn’t sure how looking back would translate on paper but I loved the idea that Sara was part of this looking back. The experience is still fresh almost two years later, so heeding the beckoning of a lingering memory seemed important. While my memory of actual event was clear, I’m grateful to my far younger and thus far better ‘rememberer’ friend, Justin Dolci, for jogging my date and place memory).

The experience I am going to share invited me put it in writing, so this is a personal reflection of social comprehension from an insider’s view. Therefore, I will be taking some liberties with this post by setting my sights on an adult perspective. I believe that we cannot be our truest best selves for children until we become our truest best selves for ourselves first. The promise for Being the Change begins within each of us and so the work starts by gazing into a reflective mirror as we ponder the misconceptions that may be thwarting this important work ahead. I am suggesting that being the change resides within each of us and therefore we must have a laser focus on ourselves before we can have a lasting impact on our children, I’m going to do this by looking back so that I can look forward.

In July of 2016, I attended the International Literacy (ILA) Annual Conference in Boston, MA. Shortly after the conference began, an electric energy spread across the conference halls when we heard that Sara Ahmed and Cornelius Minor would be hosting an impromtu session for ILA attendees to engage in dialogue around recent tragic shootings. Brett Whitmarsh interviewed Sara and Cornelius the day before the event in this Heinemann video: When the World Hands You Curriculum.  Sara explains the impetus for this session:

“We’re coming to a place now where people are asking more questions than they are coming with answers and that’s a tremendous spot for learning – for growth. I think creating a space where people can listen, where people can talk and just lean in and say they don’t know is really important.”

I knew I had to be part of this essential “not knowing” conversation since it certainly fit the way I was feeling about the world. On July 20, 2016, I rushed with friends to the small gathering room and we made our way to the front row. The room quickly filled to capacity and as I looked around, I saw both familiar and new faces (Kwame Alexander even sat on the floor at the back of the room). As soon as Cornelius said his first words, a quiet hush fell on the room as often happens when people choose to come together to emotionally connect with others even though we may be strangers. I listened intently to the remarkable initial discussion and then it happened…

Cornelius opened the stage to anyone who wanted to share their stories for the group. Heartfelt personal reflections of struggle, pain, and loss were recounted as quiet sobs reverberated across the room. The raw human emotion was palpable, and each story lovingly reached out and touch anyone lucky enough to be in its path. I listened to each story as tears fell down my cheek, feeling pure gratitude to be in that moment in the presence of such courage. Yet I still vividly recall conflicting emotions washing over me. On one hand I felt humbled that strangers would trust this little old woman from Tulsa Oklahoma with their heart, confident that it would be received in love!

But at the same time I felt an odd sense of shame I couldn’t shake. Suddenly I had an overwhelming desire to stand up and thank these brave educators for sharing their lives with me. I wanted to walk across that room and hug those who spoke as well as those who listened. But what caught me by surprise was the nagging sense that I needed to apologize. I am still struggling even now to understand that odd mix of gratitude and guilt in a small love-fueled room in Boston. I didn’t know what I wanted to say but suddenly I felt like a coward for not saying something. After all, how could I sit in silence and fail to return their gift of courage? I still feel the shame that held me back from standing bravely beside these beautiful courageous humans and express how I felt in that powerful moment, believing that my story would seem so small.

But as I write this now, I wonder if feeling connected in that room was what I was meant to do – or perhaps it was all I knew to do at that time. I wish I could have been brave in that moment, but maybe sharing how I felt wouldn’t have been so brave after all. I had never experienced this kind of unselfish giving but looking back I think I was looking from a loving lens but also from a selfish one. Forgive the double negative, but I felt ashamed that I could not NOT be a 68-year old white heterosexual woman born in the U.S.A. into a middle-class family with loving parents who shielded me from world terrors and close-knit siblings who continue to wrap protective arms around me. Somehow, gratitude and shame intermingled as I felt conflicting desire to express my love for everyone in that room while also wanting to apologize for who I am.

Others have written about this amazing experience far more eloquently than I am able to do in this emotion-laden moment including Julieanne Harmatz and Carol Varsalona. But I am grateful to Sara for giving me the words to be able to relive this from another perspective in a moment I will hold dear for the rest of my life. I am ready to acknowledge the guilt of that moment but also to let go and celebrate this opportunity to have lived it and see only the blessing of that lovely moment.

You see these beautiful humans showed me that we must learn to be open listeners even if the lesson took awhile to reach me. These caring strangers who surrounded me taught me far greater lessons than speaking up would have done at that moment. Maybe choosing not to stand up to share my voice was not the point. Maybe it was about being sitting quietly with an open heart so that I could truly bring my whole self to the experience. I’m not sure why it took two years to understand this lesson, but I am grateful for the opportunity to relive that moment from a new way of seeing. The love I felt for everyone in that room in Boston is as real to me now as it was in 2016.

As I write this, I am reminded of Sara’s beautiful message: Doing the work of social comprehension erodes the boundaries between “us” and “them.”  I hope I wasn’t inadvertently doing that since eroding the boundaries requires us to acknowledge the thinking that resides deep within that can blur those boundaries. So I am standing up here and now sharing my heart through my fingers on a keyboard and using that experience as a learning opportunity. Looking back is a lovely reminder that all of our stories matter, regardless of who we are or what we look like or what experiences we can or cannot bring to the conversation. What I do know now and what I want to remember is that feeling of love for strangers who crossed paths and thus hearts so long ago. Maybe deep love and appreciation for others is what social comprehension is all about. I’d like to believe that relationships are the undergirder of this process.

In her book, Sara’s resounding message comes through loud and clear that “kids are our curriculum.” It seems to me as this flood of memories hovers over me that the world really did hand me a curriculum in that moment. And when the world does so as it certainly is doing these days, we can be moved to broaden our scope by making our work with students the impetus that has potential to change not only how we view our schools but how we view ourselves, others and the world around us – and how we CHOOSE to interact with each of them in a way that will leave a positive mark in this world. I’d like to believe that the next time I feel compelled to share my heart willingly with gratitude, I would choose not to let my whiteness stand in the way of being brave. This seems so important since I’m not sure that I can bring my whole self to children unless I can bring my whole self to adults. Suddenly this work seems so much more expansive and ever so critical!

In Being the Change Sara reminds us what I find comforting at this moment:

I am comforted by the idea that we can make the world a better place in our own way even when we are not even sure how to begin. This beautiful book is our heart guide as we embrace social comprehension and the ever so relevant transparent conversations that are essential to that process. Without even knowing it, Sara helped me to understand that if we’re willing to engage in open listening and to bring to each experience a compassionate heart as an observer of the world… well then the stories that others so lovingly bring into our lives could fill our hearts and minds with the fuel that could implore us respect the identities that we all bring to this world. I now understand that every story has value – even my own!

On the morning of our #G2Great chat, Sara wrote me an email that I captured in this message below:

Well I can assure you that your remarkable book will bring your hope to life, Sara. We are so grateful to you for making this world a better place and we will each find our own way to “Be the Change” alongside you. And I am grateful to you for allowing me to see this experience in a whole new light. ❤

More Links for Being the Change


Official Being the Change Podcast (interview):

Sara reading a story about her father from Being the Change:

Sara Ahmed, Cornelius Minor, and Sonia Cherry-Paul podcast: Dismantling Racism in Education:


Terrence J. Roberts (Little Rock Nine) foreword from Being the Change

What is Social Comprehension in The Classroom (video of Sara):

Kristi Mraz on Being the Change