Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Collective Curiosity: Informational Texts with Authors

by Mary Howard

On July 26, 2018, our amazing #G2Great family gathered together to celebrate our Collective Curiosity for Informational Texts and Authors. Each week our chat trends on twitter and although we are humbled by this honor, we also know that it has little to do with me or co moderators Fran McVeigh, Jenn Hayhurst and Amy Brennan. Rather, we acknowledge that our trending status is the result of the enthusiastic circle of dedicated educators who hunger for engaging respectful collegial dialogue just as much as we do.

I love the passionate twitter style discourse that swirls into the air at warp speed. But in addition to real time joyful dialogue, we are blessed to be able to take a trip down chat memory lane using two venues. First, thanks to our friends at Wakelet we can create “Wakes” to revisit the experience after the fact. Second, we each take turns writing an after-the-chat reflection where our unique perspectives breathe new life into the experience.

When my #G2Great blog turn rolls around I begin by perusing our Wake several times to re-experience both the conversation and the feelings that rose from our live chat. If I am very patient, patterns slowly begin to emerge with each new perusal, although where this will lead me is never quite clear until a direction taps me on the shoulder. This week, a lovely quote from Lester Laminack gently nudged me down my writerly path:

Lester’s words brought WHY into clear view and thus set the stage for the spirit of collective curiosity we had in mind when we crafted this chat. So I’m going to draw from Lester’s inspiration using three big questions to drive my thinking about informational texts: WHY? WHAT? HOW? I’ll share my reflections around each one with a few #G2great tweets. These questions are the glue that always seems to hold my thinking together, so they seem custom made for this post on informational texts.

Big Question 1: WHY?

Lester’s words set the trajectory for this post because his words reflect the heart and soul of the conversations inspired by our chat this week. Pause for a moment and reread his words as you envision the heartfelt meaning. Isn’t creating a sense of wonder, curiosity and pure unwavering joy what we want for all of our children? Our initial question asked our chat friends to send a love note to their favorite informational author. This question awakened a celebratory love fest for informational texts that lingered from the chat opening to the closing.

The tweets below return us to the spirit of collective curiosity we believe informational texts deserve. We want those passionate “Oohs” and “Ahs” Jennifer describes to fill the learning air, knowing that this has much to do with our ability to create an joyful experience that will beckon kids to a shared informational love fest. Melinda eloquently refers to transporting children “in the middle of the ocean where hearts pound.” Informational texts can take us to places we can experience for the first time or one of many because informational text authors and illustrators/photographers intermingle powerful words and images in our honor. Lisa celebrates questions, wonderings, and passions that “come to life” when readers and writers unite in a passionate quest designed to heighten collaborative meaning-making. Valinda reminds us that when move beyond factual information we can uncover “a riveting narrative” patiently awaiting us.

Go ahead and soak in that WHY for informational texts. We do not make informational texts a priority for the sake of completing Standards checklists, doling out passive worksheets, graphic organizers and tasks or playing the ever so dull hunt-and-peck fact game. We share beautiful informational texts because we want to inspire the collective curiosity and wonder that is sure to elicit the oohs and ahhs that symbolize that spirit. When WHY is the GPS that allows us to set our sights on this process, then wondrous inspired and curious thinking is sure to follow. That seems like a worthy goal to have in mind before we even begin.

Big Question 2: WHAT?

WHY is the directional marker that gives us a sense of purpose, but in order to bring WHY for informational texts to life, we must first embrace the essential role only we can assume. Informational texts we thoughtfully and responsively choose for these experiences with children in mind may well reflect the ‘make or break’ that will captivate our readers or merely hold them unwilling hostages in a reader back seat. If we choose a boring, trivial text without considering the passions, interests and needs of the students in front of us, then we have lost our way along the path to WHY before we even begin get out of the starting gate. Responsible text choices with students at the center are only possible when we know our students – not as a number, score, level, or blip on a spreadsheet – but as learners who have incredible potential (and they all do). We must assume responsibility to take ample time to truly know students both as learners and humans, know text options are worthy of those students, and know the literacy process so that we can support and nurture our desire to bring kids and books together. None of these things can be left to chance or relegated to an outside decision-maker.

I see this commitment to text choice in each of the four tweets below. Judy illustrates this point by cautioning the use of “sanitized texts,” opting instead for the authentic informational texts that would invite students to an intellectually and emotionally engaging experience. Laura reiterates this point by reminding us to choose the best possible informational books we can find and extends that message by highlighting opportunities to use the texts as a stepping stone to bring reading, writing and talking to the forefront. Melanie emphasizes the importance of broadening our view of texts by creating paired text sets displayed proudly in the classroom library and Mollie suggests that we create a place of honor to celebrate and spotlight informational texts. These are all ways to instill wonder and inquiry and it seems to me that this is the goal of every reading experience we bring into our teaching and learning spaces.

WHY gives us a sense of direction, but WHAT allows us to pack our instructional bags to full with resources that will bring our purpose to life in action. As long as we continue to focus on informational texts in inflexible guided reading groups that reduce children a level from which there is no escape, we will never celebrate this role. We exacerbate this issue by choosing read aloud texts from controlled anthologies that have not only been ‘sanitized’ but basalized with cropped images and words that change the meaning along with wonder-curiosity potential. Without WHAT, nothing else will matter much so we must spend time contemplating the texts based on a wide variety of options that will excite, entice and invite our readers to the reading process.

Big Question 3: HOW?

Once we have our directional marker of WHY (purpose) and our instructional bags are packed with the finest possible WHAT (texts), we then consider our HOW. HOW allows us to initiate instructional experiences that will enrich and elevate our purpose given the rich texts that we have lovingly gathered. Again, we cannot do this without knowledge of research and students. As we ponder our HOW around informational texts, we begin by contemplating how to create an experience removed from the mere “factual mining” that can easily become the default method when we don’t understand meaningful, purposeful and emotionally engaging experiences that lift those opportunities higher. Our purpose and texts inspire us to reflect on how we can design an experience that brings wonder and curiosity to the surface. Only then can we invite our children to joyfully learn their way across these opportunities that make reading writing and talking a seamless part of that process.

Although HOW is too vast to reduce to a few tweets, the four I have chosen below do give us a starting point. We were so grateful that Melissa Stewart, informational picture book writer extraordinaire, lent her voice to our chat. I loved her words that these texts should initiate a self-driven research process through a ‘treasure hunt fueled by curiosity.” A treasure hunt is not a fact-finding mission but an opportunity for children to follow their passions with our support. Mary Anne reminded us that student choice is the tipping point to maximize the impact of these powerful opportunities. Whether that reflects choice in terms of WHAT OR HOW, we always leave room to put students in the driver’s seat so they can maneuver to a destination where magic happens. Melanie reminds us to seek out experts, using the gift of social; media, onsite visits or any means possible so we can give the text a face. Valerie’s “tiny notebook” ideas brought visions of our young researchers gathering personal passions in words, images or reflections of their choice.

There are endless possibilities for informational text instructional implementation but each of these are rooted in professional decision making and student ownership. The essential HOW is not about finding a script that will blind us to these possibilities but to embrace our responsibility as knowledgeable decision-makers so that we can make the choices that no package ever could ever. We are well aware that no child was ever inspired as a learner by narrow preconceived question interrogation or packets that require little more thought than hitting a BUY button to passively download and print. As professional decision-makers, we recognize that we must trust the book to do the hard work and trust the child to apply our teaching and draw from their own inner resources so that we can then support rather than control this work. We willingly encourage children to follow their own curiosities through book clubs, passion projects, research groups or any other experience where we put decision making in their hands so that we can assume the ever so lofty role of facilitator and kidwatcher.

Bringing our WHY, WHAT and HOW together…

As I was writing this post I realized that although I separated the three big questions of WHY WHAT and HOW, they really work in tandem. Like an enormous curiosity inspired puzzle, these three pieces of the puzzle bring us full circle from the beginning, the middle, the end and all points in between so that we make our way back to our children. It seems only fitting to share the wonderful student comments Melissa Stewart kindly curated as they reflected on their informational text choices. As I read each of these incredible reflections, I couldn’t help but wonder why we don’t take the time to ask our students about their preferences and use the knowledge in our own teaching.

And so in closing I’d like to return to Lester’s beautiful words at the beginning of this post. As we reflect on creating an “experience” that will linger long after that informational text experience, I envision the same kind of fascination that will inspire moments filled with giggles of excitement Lester described, You see, our WHY WHAT AND HOW are so much more than mere questions. They represent our deep belief in our responsibility to create instructional experiences in the spirit in which those questions were intended – to celebrate those practices that will become a force of good so that we can enrich the learning lives of children. In the end, that is a professional imperative that only knowledgeable caring educators can bring to life!

More Inspired Informational Text Tweets from our #G2great Family

What matters most?  Reverence or Relevance?

By Fran McVeigh

In the week leading up to this chat on July 19, 2018, I wondered about the title and where it would take the chat. I consulted the dictionary and the thesaurus. I even discussed the topic with a co-moderator. I wanted an idea or a theme in mind to “jump start” my thinking. A spark.  An angle. A beginning point. After all . . . I was going to be at #ILA18 and my goal was to not spend all weekend writing a blog post. So here’s a small snapshot of what I discovered.

Synonyms for Reverence (Source link)

Synonyms for Relevance  (Source link)

Reverence:  High opinion.

Relevance:  Pertinence.  

The “or” in the title suggests one or the other.

Flip a coin. It’s a high opinion.  

Flip again. It’s pertinent.  

But . . .

I have this queasy feeling in my stomach.

When is high opinion enough?

When the teacher says, “I like it.” ???

When the teacher says, “It has research to support it.” ???

When the administrator says, “This is what I bought.” ???

When is pertinence enough?

When the teacher says, “This is what my kids need.” ???

When the teacher says, “It worked this way for my students last year but I think if I try this one little change, it may work even better.” ???

When the administrator says, “Have you checked with others about this idea? And with whom?” ???

Before you make a decision about what you want (those things you revere) or what is needed (or relevant), let’s review this curated sample of #G2Great community tweets. The link for the entire Wakelet (archive) is at the bottom of this page.

What are our beliefs?

Meaningful, purposeful work:  What are we in awe of?

Goals:  What are we in awe of?  What do we believe is best for students?

Collaboration and Goal-Setting:  How do we keep students at the center?

Time:  How do we allocate and use time to reflect what we revere and what is relevant?

Talk:  How do we ensure that students talk more in the service of learning than the teacher?

Eureka . . .

What if, instead of trying to decide whether we need to start, continue, or stop doing something because of its reverence or relevance, we decided that both factors would be part of the same lens or filter? What if reverence AND relevance became a double simultaneous filter for reviewing and reflecting on our teaching needs and desires?

And as I participated in the chat in the midst of a group of #G2Great dear friends,





Giggling occasionally

Greeting passer-bys

Reverence and relevance both merged together in Brent’s Canva of a quote from Dr. Mary Howard here.

. . . amazing child . . . notice and nurture . . . incredible potential . . . that resides in each child . . . without exception!

If that’s our vision and our goal how can we not use our understanding of reverence and relevance together?

And now that you have read through a curated set of tweets, just think about what learning in our classrooms could be if we asked students to “curate their learning daily.”  What possibilities do you envision?

Copy of Wakelet here


From Homewreck to Homeworth Reimagining Homework in the 21st Century

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Bloggers write to push the thinking of their readers. After reading, Harvey “Smokey” Daniels’ (@smokeylit Homewreck, as featured on  The Robb Review, the entire #G2Great team was inspired to explore ways to reimagine homework. On July 12, 2018, we invited educators to engage in a broader conversation about the role of homework and how we might make it more worthwhile in the 21st Century.

Homework in the 20th Century…

My third-grade teacher definitely believed in homework. Even though the school day was over, the far-reaching hand of my teacher knew no bounds. There I would sit, a little girl with curly hair, impossibly thick glasses, and a highly developed vocabulary, Monday – Thursday (mercifully Friday was my reprieve) with spelling lists, worksheets, and heavy textbooks – it was obligatory and there would be no negotiating. My mother, the saint that she was, would give me a snack, and let me leave Jeopardy on in the background to keep me “company” as I did my work.

Jeopardy is still on the air, and for that matter, homework hasn’t changed much either. So, I wonder if Alex Trebek is some other child’s wingman to a homework dilemma of today. Change can only happen if we are willing to discuss trying something new.

In a Word: Homework!

There were many words used to describe people’s positions on the subject of homework…

In Smokey Daniels post he writes,  “The greatest source of tears and heartbreak in our family, over all of our child-raising years, was homework.” and #G2Great educators all seem to agree! Our words used to describe homework were: useless, irresponsible, and ineffective. The way we’ve done homework in the past is not worthy of students’ time and energy. If we aspire to make homework worthy or, “homeworth”  we might alleviate frustration if turned homework into passion projects, built around inquiry and relationship building.

The Category Is...

“So, let’s start by changing the categories of what counts as homework. Then, let’s design a time that’s stress-free, that invites kids’ curiosity and choice, and that doesn’t start battles between parents and kids, ruin whole evenings, and sell more Kleenex.” – Smokey Daniels I

The best categories are ones that are self-selected and assigned by the students themselves. Reimagining homework means handing over the reins to students to pursue their interests and to stoke their curiosity. We can participate in this process and encourage their ownership and creativity if we involve everyone. That includes students, families, and colleagues. There would be a lot of moving parts but in the end, wouldn’t it be worth it to have happy, engaged children who wanted to continue learning outside of school? I believe it can be done.

I’ll Take Reimagining Homework for $1000

So, let’s join Smokey Daniels and  #ditchthehw! Together, we can reimagine a better way! We can start by sharing our great ideas. I am so grateful for @Kpteach5 because she did just that, and her tweet was a celebration!: She shared what she does to make homework more meaningful. She provides students with choice, structure, and opportunity:

As I think back to my third grade self, I wish I had a teacher like Ms. Picone, or any of the essteemed educators that participate in our #G2Great PLN. I would have been cooking with my mother, or reading to my younger brother. I might have been working with Dad in the garage building something. Perhaps I would have been singing with my sister, or sketching my dog.  It seems very fitting that for me, I will forever associate the words “homework” and “jeopardy” as one in the same:

Let’s do this better for our students.

Taking a Fresh Look at Our Practices: Shining a Spotlight on Push In/Pull Out

By Fran McVeigh

The fact that we were trending in the opening moments of our #G2Great chat “Shining a Spotlight on Push In/Pull Out”, on June 28, 2018, was not a surprise.  Services for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) have been a hot topic since the first federal law, PL 94-142 (1975) which guaranteed: a free, appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Every reauthorization since that initial law has involved change, but the requirement for educating students in the least restrictive environment remains a topic that requires ongoing discussion in every school across the country.

A walk down memory lane in special education would also shine some light on “mainstreaming” and “inclusion” as other terms used to describe student services. Mainstreaming brought special-needs students who were being served in separate classrooms back into general education classes. It was assumed that these students would be able to find success once mainstreamed, but access alone was not the issue. Many students still struggled because specialized assistance within the regular education classes was not provided. To remedy this, inclusion was the next wave of reform. Students with special needs were placed in general education classes but were also supported by specialists in those classes. Co-teaching became one form of support that still exists because IDEA continues to require students to be educated in the least restrictive placement.

As a former special education teacher who has taught in both push in and pull out programs, I eagerly anticipated this chat about services for ALL students including those who are striving, whether they have an IEP or they are Gifted and Talented. In reality this topic has huge implications because it can also include any student ever pulled out for any services:  a Tier 2 or 3 Intervention, English Learner instruction, band lessons or even speech services.

Let’s begin with what was revealed in our conversations during the #G2Great chat. This quote of Johnny Downey’s sums up much of the thinking and also matched Amy’s quote about many factors being involved. It’s complicated!

When is the location or the content of instruction an equity issue?  

The presumption is that each child will first receive quality core or Tier 1 instruction in the same classroom as their peers. Removal to another location through a Pull Out program during core instruction would be an equity issue because those students could be denied basic instruction.  It depends what they would be “missing” in the classroom. However, this could also happen with Push In instruction if the student had small group instruction during a whole class Read Aloud time. The very elements of literacy instruction that are most needed by students, especially independent reading time, are often assigned as time for additional instruction. This does become an equity issue because the student may actually have access to less time for reading than his or her peers.

What is the primary focus for decision-making?

The student must be at the heart of all decisions made about where and when extra instruction will be provided. This seems simpler for students with IEPs because federal legislation, IDEA, guarantees parental rights:  

each public agency must ensure that the parents of each child with a disability are members of any group that makes decisions on the educational placement of their child.” Source Link

But this is also true for all students whether they are missing class for an intervention, speech instruction, or any of the other myriad of reasons that students are pulled out of classrooms. Parents should be part of the decision-making process.  No parent of a fifth grader should be blindsided by this statement, “Well, she is not doing well in social studies because she missed it for the last two years because of her intervention time.

What issues must be considered?

Quality Tier 1 instruction is critical and must be provided by expert teachers.

Neither push in or pull out is ever perfect for all children.
We must consider effectiveness of instruction and collect results to see if our students are really “learning” and if the support is increasing student success and joyfulness.

Decisions cannot EVER be about time, the schedule or the adults.  It’s not their education on the line.

Sometimes, pull out instruction can be more efficient and more effective.
Thoughtful discussions should always be a part of the process for EACH and EVERY student.

And FINALLY, the biggest concern with Push In or Pull Out is the feelings and perceptions of the students involved. When do we include students in the decision-making process and what do they tell us?

Access to quality instruction is the right of all students. Access in the least restrictive environment is also a legal mandate for many students as parents consider just where that instruction should take place. An arbitrary requirement for ONLY “Pull Out” or “Push In” services must be rejected because the needs of the students should be a central focus of all decision-making. Student responses to their education, as well as their attitudes and perceptions, need to be considered as the focus of staff must be to accelerate learning in order to decrease learning gaps and develop a love of learning. Team Teaching or Co-Teaching is one current popular way of meeting students’ needs in a less intrusive setting and you can read more about that in the Wakelet archive. Data on the successes of Push In / Pull Out settings is inconclusive but more students are successful in life after learning in Push In settings. Other positive benefits from Push In settings include: more positive interactions with peers, improvement on standardized tests, and increased social and communication skills. Decisions about instruction must occur on a student by student basis in order for ALL students to have access to the highest quality education available in the least restrictive environment.  

Wakelet Link  

This Series: