Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Maximizing Our Potential (part 2): Classroom Design

by Mary Howard

On 9/20/18, we were excited to continue our five-part #G2Great series: Maximizing Our Potential. In part 2 of the series we turned our attention to Classroom Design. Knowing that our design choices are instrumental in “maximizing” the quality of our efforts, a passionate two-pronged discourse ensued. We quickly began contemplating the design factors that could enrich the teaching-learning process while acknowledging inevitable roadblocks that can deter our efforts.

The topic of classroom design often goes to a default view focused on the visual appeal of classrooms such as furniture or room arrangement. There have been many books on this topic and there are even Twitter hashtags that celebrate Pinterest-worthy photographic displays. While these images are intriguing, we were committed to broaden our dialogue beyond mere physical design. Early twitter trending demonstrated that our #G2Great family was just as eager to explore a loftier design view.

One of my favorite quotes reflecting this deeper view of classroom design comes from Loris Malaguzzi, founder and director of renowned preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. She said:

“The environment should act as an aquarium which reflects the ideas, ethics, attitudes and culture of the people who live in it.”

I love the image this brings to mind of classroom design as a protective field where our innermost beliefs about teaching and learning reside. Furniture and room arrangement are a slippery slope since they can either reflect or contradict this process. It’s less about what we bring into and arrange in our learning spaces than how those things honor our “ideas, ethics, attitudes and culture” with the thoughtful day-to-day experiences we offer children. This deeper perspective brings the beliefs we hold dear to life in the context of teaching and learning as illustrated in Genevieve Arcovio’s tweet below:

With this depth of thinking in mind, I’ll share Four Design Essentials with selected tweets at the end of the post. Each design essential works in concert to help us to embrace understandings that will ensure our design choices moves beyond a narrow visual appeal. Ultimately, our goal is to highlight those design features that work together to transform the emotional and academic learning lives of the children within our learning spaces:

Design Essential #1: What They SEE

This first design essential is easily captured in still photographs as we look at the physical features of room design. This visible design is important since it’s the first thing students see when they enter a room and it surrounds their visual field all day. Just as we create our own living spaces that beckon us to enter, our classroom design should entice children into a safe and welcome space. Since we have a wide range of unique learners, we offer a wide range of unique seating options that afford opportunities to work alone or with others, most often by choice. This is not about the wiggle seats, colorful pillows, or tables with legs cut off but how those things match the learning needs of the children who inhabit these spaces and the engaged literacy that will take place in the name of students learning. We know that the traditional image of neat desks in a row leaves little room for children to stretch out or collaborate comfortably and so we create a space that is appealing to the eyes but also to the mind and body. We create gathering areas where teachers and children can work together in a more intimate setting during whole class, small group and side-by-side learning. We put a great deal of time and thought into the heart and soul of this design: our classroom library. We view our text collections as the driving force of our design, making it visually appealing as we highlight quality resources with easy access. We co-create learning walls where children assume a starring role through celebratory displays reflective of their engagement in learning, devoid of the red marks, stickers or happy faces that simply label children and reflect approval over appreciation. We make sure that what visibly surrounds them also cognitively and emotionally energizes them and we create precious opportunities to make them active participants in that learning. These goals acknowledge visual appeal while putting students’ thumbprint in that design. This means that we make our students active participants in a space that works for them as they take ownership of these spaces.

Design Essential #2: What They HEAR

Once we create an inviting visual space that nurtures and supports our work with children, we begin to move from sights to sounds that emanate from those spaces. Student-centered classroom design means that we are willing to relinquish responsibility to our children over time.  The central feature of this shift from teacher to students revolves around the voluminous talk that we willingly lift into the learning air so their voices rise above our own. This meaningful, productive, authentic talk reflects the quality of talk that is central to our own lives. We want talk to flow from our gathering spaces where the teacher offers real life instructional talk opportunities and then invites students into a shared dialogue. We use read aloud and shared reading to build a bridge from student to teacher talk with teacher modeling and think aloud. Within these opportunities we intentionally plant talk seeds as we invite children to the talk table to nurture that role. In a student-centered design, we welcome them to the conversation as we avoid scripted question interrogation and opt for a spirit of open ended wonderings that celebrate their thinking. We welcome their ideas as we begin moving along our talk bridge from teacher supported to student engaged talk. We strengthen that bridge as we offer varied small group and side-by-side experiences where two-way dialogue continues to honor student thinking until it becomes business as usual. Finally we gradually relinquish this role to students as we make room for them to form partnerships and collaborative experiences where they can engage in reading, writing, talking and creating without the teacher. At just right moments, we are then wise enough to assume a secondary role as we soak in the soft buzz of conversations that occur without us and encourage them to apply the authentic dialogue we set into motion using wonderings that rise from interests and passions. We recognize that this is an opportunity to offer support as needed but we also give them the room to grow. We become curious kidwatchers by noticing and gathering our in-the-moment assessments that may lead to whole class, small group or side by side support but continuously promote independence. We immerse children in talk until we are no longer needed and willingly step aside as our learners become our teachers.

Design Essential #3: What They EXPERIENCE

As we look at our third design essential, I want to emphasize that each one works in tandem and is both individually and collectively a crucial feature of powerful classroom design. What children experience is active engagement in the process of learning, both with and without the teacher. Students quickly become active participants as we place the reins of learning in their hands. While we continuously design instructional experiences for children, we also leave ample space for them to take over. We make instructional decisions but we also acknowledge that choice as a critical part of these experiences and is present in all aspects of this design. Students choose the texts that they want to read and where they will read them. Students choose what they want to write and whether they will work alone or with others. Students choose the kind of collaboration they will do with partners and within small groups of peers as we encourage them to initiate their own book clubs, writing partnerships, or student selected explorations that draw from those interests and passions. We continue to offer models and instructional supports that elevate and escalate these opportunities using supportive rather than dictatorial experiences and we gradually hand over primary responsibility from teacher to child. We demonstrate by these opportunities that we trust students to work without us given the foundation we have put into place as we support and observe children in action by meeting them where they are. We can only truly create student-centered classroom design when we have the courage and wisdom to wait in the wings watching the sparks of learning fly. We acknowledge and celebrate the learning experiences that occur when we are no longer needed.

Design Essential #4: What They FEEL

I intentionally saved this fourth design essential for last. While it also works in tandem, our ability to achieve this final point may well reflect our overall success. Our ultimate goal is to create  joy-driven engagement, knowing that children stand to learn most when they are happy, feel successful and are central to this success process. We use our assessment of this essential feature to determine our own success, recognizing that what we hope to accomplish from our side of the learning process and the impact this has on our children from their side of the learning process may be at cross purposes. We begin by building relationships, both teacher to students and students to students, knowing that this is the foundation on which all else stands firm. We do this by creating a classroom design that nurtures a safe environment, again not just from our eyes but from theirs. We see this in their faces as well as how they actively engage in the learning process. We know that fill-in-the-blank forms and controlling activities diminish this emotional aspect of learning and even minimize the potential for that learning so we choose not to use them. When we see evidence that we have achieved this final design essential, we know that we have made students active and respected members of a learning community where teaching is not what we do TO children but what we create WITH them. And only then do we have a classroom design with our children in mind. This is the design that children will still remember long after they have forgotten what color your walls were, what kind of chairs you bought or where you put the collaboration bench. We have now added the human factor where learning is a joyful, engaging, collaborative, respectful experience. And this is the defining moment when we know we have a classroom design children deserve.


When we combine these four design essentials, we recognize that everything we do has a specific purpose and always for the sake of our learners. And what makes this realization of student-centered design even more powerful is that we now acknowledge that the precise design that worked for these children this year may not work for those children next year or the year after. Design that is student-centered rather than teacher-driven matches the children we have at that moment in time so it is a never-ending design process.

As I come to the end of my post, I want to draw your attention to the way I named each design essential by using the word THEY vs. WE. Regardless of how well-intentioned our design may be, intent and reality may be at odds when our measure of design success is from our eyes rather than theirs.

And so I close with the wise words of Sir Ken Robinson:

“Look at your learning space with 21st century eyes: Does it work for what we know about learning today, or just for what we know about learning in the past?”

Selected Tweets from Our #G2Great Family

Tweets from Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan

Tammy and Clare, authors of It’s All About the Books are central to any chat on classroom design so I am sharing their tweets separately below:

We hope you will join us for the rest of the chats in our #G2great Series




Maximizing Our Potential: Allocating Instructional Time 1/5

Guest Post By Valinda Kimmel

In 1963, John Carroll first wrote about the correlation between learning and time. His paper, “A Model of School Learning”, advanced that authentic learning relies heavily on the amount of time an individual is allowed to devote to active engagement in a specific learning process. Thirty-five years later, Wong and Wong (1998) described four types of time built into a school day:

  1. Allocated time. The total time for teacher instruction and student learning
  2. Instructional time. The time teachers are actively teaching
  3. Engaged time. The time students are involved in a task
  4. Academic learning time. The time teachers can prove that students learned the content or mastered the skill

Furthermore, Wong and Wong (1998), found that 90 percent of allocated time was occupied by teacher talk. This is in opposition to the way that students learn best—by engaging in the authentic work of the content area.

Teachers mean well in wanting to give students valuable information, but extended teacher “mini- lessons” which then result in brief student work time, (independent or group structures) doesn’t allow kids adequate time to internalize or sufficiently transfer the learning.

Other practices in classrooms also steal valuable minutes from academic learning time. One of the biggest time-wasting activities is using lesson time to collect resources, materials, supplies for the lesson. This unintentionally allows students to be in a sort of “limbo” and often results in off-task behaviors or undesirable social interactions.

In addition, terse or non-existent closure for the lesson leaves students without a critical element of learning that “sticks”. Little or no intentional lesson closure also cheats the teacher of valuable formative assessment data when there is a lack of time for students to reflect, discuss or write about their learning.

It’s true that academic learning is reliant on quantity of time, but it also involves quality of time spent on content standards and learner dispositions. How much of the allotted time is dedicated to students working on the authentic tasks of readers and writers? Respectful tasks that lead readers and writers to greater understanding of the processes required for the work is critical for academic success. Instruction and practice of new concepts must be intentionally, strategically planned in a way that allows students to experience success at a minimum of 75% of the learning time.

Artful teachers facilitate transfer of learning by:

  • designing compelling, relevant lessons that engage and captivate
  • differentiating for the unique learning needs of all students by adjusting elements of instruction, practice and formative assessment tasks
  • including skillful pedagogy moves by modeling, providing guided practice, and curative feedback

As professionals we know we are often plagued by the tyranny of the urgent, so we’re clear on the importance of intentional, systematic instructional planning that starts with the student at the core of the curriculum. When we take the time to know our students, design instruction and application of new learning with adequate supports in place, use ongoing assessments that inform and influence subsequent learning we are aligning our practice with our belief that every student can and will learn.

Curated Tweets:

About Our Guest Blogger:

Valinda Kimmel began teaching three decades ago. She most recently worked as a K-6 instructional coach on an elementary campus in Texas and now has an educational consulting service collaborating with teachers, coaches and campus administrators. You can find her on Twitter @vrkimmel and on her site at

Reclaiming Independent Reading as a Professional Imperative

By Fran McVeigh

On September 6, 2018, the stars aligned, the chorus appeared from heaven, and the #G2Great chat was literally almost trending from the first minute because Independent Reading is huge, hot, and hard to say “no” to. It would have been easy for teachers and edu-friends to say, “I’m busy. I will catch this  topic later.” For many attendees, it was the first week with students back in school. For others, school has been in session for two, three or even four weeks. But our crowd was splendiferous and the learning was off the charts.  It was inevitable. The quotes for this chat included words of wisdom from such literacy greats as: Donalyn Miller, Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Ellin Keene, Nancy Atwell, and Richard Allington.

But just as I was narrowing down my final selection of tweets for this blog post, ILA issued their “Children’s Rights to Read” (link) and I was captivated. 

Ten rights. Ten simple rights. Ten rights that highlight the need for access and equity. Ten rights that don’t use the word “Independent” but wouldn’t that just be a redundancy? The “Children’s Rights to Read” are, in truth, aimed at the 750 million people across the world that cannot read and write at a basic level. This notion of “Rights” inspired me to think about whether these ten rights are in place in ALL schools in the U.S. and I am saddened by the knowledge that we have no evidence that they are firmly established in every school building.

The positives in our chat were that I found the following concepts:  value, access, love, ubiquitous, equity and sustenance. In the explanations for each concept, please note the crosswalk for the match to the “Children’s Rights to Read” as well.


When we value something, in our personal or professional lives, we make time for it. It gets priority scheduling. It’s not left to chance.  It’s never, “Well, if there is time left, we will do independent reading.”  Or my most hated because it also speaks to access, “When you get your work done, you can read independently.”  (GRRR!) The old Mathew Principle:  The rich keep getting richer while the poor continue to get poorer!  When independent reading is a priority, I often see it as a “settling in routine” where students enter the classroom and are expected to have their book out and be reading when the bell rings.  When independent reading is valued, it’s woven into the schedules and routines so tightly that students will beg for “just two more minutes so I can finish this chapter, PLEEEEASE!”

Value = establishing priorities for what matters

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


Access is so multi-faceted that is difficult to pick a starting point.  The number one criteria for access is often touted as time. Is it perceived as a necessity for all students or a luxury?  That depends on the value of that time. Would any teacher say that Independent Reading was not important? Then schedule it first. In ink. Boldly. Confidently. After time, the next issue is texts (physical books, magazines, and digital resources including video and art).  Where does a teacher develop that classroom library? What about the new teacher with an empty room?  But broader than that: is there a classroom library in the science lab, math classroom, economics classroom, and more importantly in the office waiting area? Location of texts could be access, value or equity. Other aspects of access to consider may be more subtle. Access to time to talk about books. Access to a knowledgeable adult/teacher to conference with. Access to that next book on the To Be Read (TBR) stack or that long awaited book that just arrived from the publisher when there are NINE names ahead of yours on the waiting list. Access to books about people like you, your community, and your background. Access to books that interest you.  Access to new books that have recently been published. Access to conversations about the books with other kids in your class, your school, your state, or your country.

Access = choice of the right texts at the right time!

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


A love or passion for reading begins at an early age. It is supported when we read aloud, read along with children, and listen to them read. That takes time and texts. It may begin at home or at school. How do we continually grow and nurture book love in our students? As parents, teachers, librarians, or administrators – those many roles that we have – what is our end goal for students?  Will their score on a summative state assessment be what the student takes away from their time in the classroom?  Or will it be the fact that you helped them fall into love with reading? You helped them explore their interests. You helped them find books and authors that opened whole new worlds. They grew. They changed. They lived their lives differently because of that new found love or passion for reading.

Love = an opportunity to change lives

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 3, 4, 5, 8


When something is ubiquitous, it is pervasive, worldwide or universal. The belief that Independent Reading is a mainstay of reading instruction is ubiquitous for teachers who have a goal of helping students get lost in that “just right” book.  Teachers who are readers. Teachers who love books. Teachers who know which titles are being published.  Those are the teachers who can connect students with books that will change their lives and put them on a path to continued reading.

Ubiquitous = a need to build lifelong, independent reading habits

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


Equity in reading means that all students have the opportunity for Independent Reading.  It’s not “what you do when your work is done” because some students never do get their work done. It’s not “pull-out intervention” time. It’s not “pull-out for special education service minutes.”  Equity also means that everyone has access to texts at school and at home. Lack of wifi does not limit access to  digital texts. Students and parents are not expected to personally buy the books on the summer reading lists. Students who are primary caregivers in their homes are not judged when reading logs or notes to parents working multiple jobs simply forget! When equity and Independent Reading are both priorities, then it is a part of Tier 1 for every student. All students. Every Student!

Equity = zip codes do not determine learning

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


How important is reading?  That seems to go back to the value of reading. Is your view of reading that it is necessary for life?  Does reading nourish your mind, thinking and soul? Do you agree with Rudine Sims Bishop that texts are mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors? If yes, than having a reading life is a part of your required sustenance plan. Not a luxury.  Something that must be prioritized into a daily routine or schedule.

Sustenance = the power of “flow” to hook readers for life

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

So if you remember how an acronym works, these characteristics detailed above, Value, Access, Love, Ubiquitous, Equity and Sustenance spell out


Yes, it was a bit cheesy to use “Value” as the first concept.  But it’s important, critical, imperative! It all comes down to our professional values. What do we hold near and dear? What do we know is vital for our students? What does it take to create readers?  What does it take to create literate beings who continue to grow and learn once they leave our school halls?

If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, it will be a priority every day in every classroom. If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, time and money will be allocated to support it. If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, resources from discontinuing old antiquated bribes like AR can be re-purposed to support it (Thanks, Brent for that idea!). If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, students will love to read, will be able to read and will choose to be readers all their lives.

Just a quick reprise for “Children’s Rights to Read.”  Those 10 Rights above are huge.  Note that Value, Access, Ubiquitous, Equity and Sustenance connected to all 10. ALL 10! And there were a total of 55 connections out of a possible 60! 92%  means Independent Reading as a way to support Children’s Rights to Read is a Professional Imperative!

Curated Tweets:



































































































Additional Resources:

Wakelet – Link

Donalyn Miller – “I’ve Got Research, Yes, I do.  I’ve Got Research. How About You?”

ILA – “Making Independent Reading Work”

Scholastic – “The Joy and Power of Reading”

Kari Yates – Heinemann – “Five Ways to Reclaim Time for Independent Reading”

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell  – “On Why We Need Libraries and Librarians”

Dr. Timothy Rasinski and Melissa Cheesman Smith The Megabook of Fluency

by Jenn Hayhurst

On August 30, 2018 #G2Great was delighted to welcome, Dr. Timothy Rasinski and Melissa Cheeseman Smith. Tim and Melissa are fluency gurus who have so much to teach us all. Why is fluency so important?  Fluency is one way that children begin to believe in their reading prowess. I use the word prowess because it implies skill or expertise and it also implies courage and bravery. When children enjoy reading and become more skilled; reading becomes a source of joyful learning that builds them up and helps them to take future reading risks. Risks that will push them outside of their comfort zone into overdrive to their growth zone!

Yet, as part of our shared literacy history, fluency instruction got a speeding ticket. We began to focus our assessments and instruction on speed alone –  and as anyone who has ever gotten a speeding ticket will tell you, we pay dearly for that mistake.

Our conversation Thursday night mapped out a route for the complexities of fluency instruction. Our destination? To strike a balance on the elements of fluency so our instructional practices not only meet children where they are, but gets them where they need to go.

Understanding the Rules of the Road…

Think of the essential instructional building blocks of reading fluency as the “rules of the road” that help readers lay a strong reading foundation.  Just like new drivers, readers need to time to practice a lot with an expert. Here is what the #G2Great PLN had to say…

Read the Road Signs…

Road signs are a quick and efficient way to communicate important information.  Tim & Melissa gave us this powerful instructional device,  “EARS” to underscore the elements of fluency: Expression, Automatic Word Recognition, Rhythm & Phrasing & Smoothness. This tells our students the essential information they need to think about when working on fluency while reminding them to be all EARS! 

Objects May Appear Closer Than They Appear…

Speed has loomed large in the rearview mirror because for so long we been advised to keep fluency success dependent on words per minute. Ironically (just like driving a car) keeping a free and open perspective is what we really need. We need the whole picture. So while fluency has been seen through that quantitative lens of speed, Tim & Melissa have given us a revised Multidimensional Fluency Scale. One that rewards good drivers (a nod to Allstate) and that reflects a qualitative lens. 

Thank you so much for joining us, Tim and Melissa! It was a fantastic night and an excellent journey. If you want to learn more from Tim and Melissa please follow these links. You will be glad you did!

Scholastic Megabook of Fluency link:
Take a closer look at the Megabook of Fluency:
Check out Tim and Melissa on Twitter: @TimRasinski1 ‏@MCheesmanSmith@ScholasticEd #TheMegabookOfFluency
Tim Rasinski, “Why Fluency?”:
Melissa Cheesman Smith, “Today, Choose Joy: Joyfulness in Fluent Reading”: