Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

#BOWTIE: Building Meaningful Connections with your Students

Guest bloggers Brent Gilson and Roman Nowak with Mary Howard

On 4/25/19, #G2Great welcomed the second half of the newly reorganized #BOWTIE students back to the chat table to discuss the important topic chosen by our eighteen guest hosts: Building Meaningful Relationships with Your Students. On 3/14/19 eighteen other #BOWTE students engaged us in dialogue for Creating Environments that Work for Kids. This new addition makes the ninth time that #BOWTIE students have graced our chat as honored guests: 12/13/18, 4/26/183/8/185/25/173/6/1712/17/17, and6/9/16 (Sam Fremin). 

Anyone who has ever participated in our #BOWTIE chats are astounded to experience the insight these middle school and high school students bring to the professional thinking table. They study the teaching/learning process, write blog posts and present at national conferences like NCTE under the support of their teacher, Jason Augustowski. The #BOWTIE acronym (Bringing Our “Why” (because) Teachers Include Everyone) is an accurate reflection of their chosen role of professional co-conspirators since their wisdom affords understandings that gently nudge us to look at our own teaching from their perspective.

The commitment #BOWTIE students demonstrate to our profession is apparent each time they join #G2Great. We literally turn our chat over to them as they choose their own topic of discussion, write the chat questions and lead our chat family in an always engaging dialogue. This week seventeen students and their teacher, Jason Augustowski, posed questions in teams of three including

Doug Unger (grade 11); Spencer Hill (grade 11); TQ Williamson (grade 11); Ryan Beaver (grade 11); Kellen Pluntke (grade 12); Rishi Singh (grade 11); Vedika Mahey (grade 10); Anjali Jarral (grade 10); Jason Austowski (English teacher, grade 6-12; JChris Myslenski (grade 10); Sachin Srikar (grade 10); Ellie A. Anderson (grade 8); Ella McLain (grade 8); Madison K. Whitbeck (grade 8); Nyla Lindsey (grade 8); Connor Grady (grade 11); Finn Schaefer (grade 10); Charis Anderson (grade 8).

As you can see in this photo taken just before #BOWTIE chat go started, they were all ready to rock the #G2Great chat house…. and they surely did!

This time, we invited two #G2Great friends who believe as much in these remarkable young men and women and we do to guest blog. We are so grateful to Roman Nowak and Brent Gilson for sharing their thoughts around five questions:

Why are meaningful connections with students a professional imperative?


As educators, we must recognize the importance of having meaningful connections to support student learning and student success. We cannot hide behind “traditional ways” or lack of time. If we acknowledge the truth that students learn more and learn more deeply when they have that connection, we need to prioritize the connections we make with students. Building trust is a two way street, let us never ask of them what we would not be willing to do. If we want our students to be open, honest & authentic, we must show our willingness to be the same with our students. Let us strive to follow Spencer’s advice in building that trust with students.

Brent Gilson

How do we know our students without meaningful connections? How do we serve our students without knowing them? I don’t think we can do our job to the fullest without having that person to person connection. My kids know that I care about them, that I want to know their stories and because of that connection I can get more from them. The feeling of safety that comes from that group connection creates a classroom culture that promotes sharing, curiosity and a sense of community. Without the connection, just like a string of Christmas lights with a bulb burnt out, we don’t have that functioning classroom.

What could educators do to create more meaningful connections with students?


Connections are often made by simply taking the time to talk to our students. Learn about their family, their passions, their interests. Show students that they are seen and heard. Students want to feel that they are important and contributing to their class. It is up to us, as educators to let them feel that way. Some first steps in creating those connections includes greeting students at the door,  having their pictures and their families throughout the class, having lunch with them, including them or their stories in project types or assessments. Sometimes it doesn’t take much, but that connection that you build with a student will create a lasting impact.


Treat them like people instead of products would be step one. Often the work (outcomes, assignments) become the focus and we forget that our kids are kids and that they should be our top priority. By no means do I think we should push the “work” aside but the stuff the really matters, how they are doing, family life, stresses, fears, learning what makes our kids tick and them knowing we actually care, is so much more important. Educators that focus on their kids and connections over the work seem to get the results on the work too. The same can not be said for those that do not see the value in connections.

What are some “meaningful connection” take-aways” you learned from our chat?


This chat has given me amazing reflection from soul. As an educator, whenever we have the chance to hear thoughts and ideas directly from students, there is immense power in those words.  I absolutely love this take-away from Chris Myslenski (below). In life, we often talk about the importance of balance: balance in our personal and professional lives, balance with our hobbies/interests and our families, etc. When creating connections with students, as important as it is to learn about students, we also have to be willing to share about ourselves. Be proud of your own story and do not be afraid of sharing important parts of your life with your students. When you can use personal examples to consolidate learning, this becomes not only an important learning strategy but an important human strategy. Students learn more than knowledge about subjects, they learn how to be people from us.


I look at the idea of class discussions and how we as teachers need to be more aware of how to build our students up but also respect their individual personalities. It is odd that we condemn things like Round Robin Reading (because it is archaic and puts striving readers on the spot) but often will try to drag students who prefer to sit on the edge into a conversation out of their comfort zone. Discomfort is ok, growing pains are a real thing but in the classroom, we need students to know that we respect the time it takes for them to grow and that what that growth looks like will be different for everyone.  

What is one way that #BOWTIE students have inspired you as a professional?


Ryan Beaver (below) has given me great inspiration and a huge dose of reflection. When we understand that day to day, year to year, our experiences will not be the same with our students. When we understand that we need to constantly adapt to the hearts before us, we will know that we will creating better learning experiences for our students. Including students in conversations and feedback for strategies, lessons and assessments will help us improve as educators. We know that students do not have the knowledge about metacognition that we do, however, they are the reason we are in the classroom. When we change our vocabulary from being in front of our students, to being in class with our students, we show them that they are an important part of the class. I will definitely be listening to Ryan and finding ways of including discussion about learning and strategies with my students throughout the year. My students deserve the best and I deserve to have that formative feedback to grow as a learner and educator.


The biggest piece for me has been the smashing of stereotypes. So many voices tell us students don’t really care about school. They just care about Fortnite and partying. The #BOWTIE crew probably do these things but they also advocate for educational excellence, they share how important it is for teachers and students to work together as a team. Our jobs as teachers are not to command but to connect. The #BOWTIE kids and their teacher have shown us the possibilities when this is the focus.

What advice would you offer #BOWTIE for using their voices to enhance the educational process in the future?


Never stop using your voice. Our voice is part of our identity and it is important to stand up with our values and convictions. I not only applaud #BOWTIE for taking the risk and sharing their thoughts with so many people around the world, I encourage them to never stop sharing their voices. Keep pushing and challenging the status quo; keep sharing the parts of you that are important. Your stories need to be heard, your stories will help transform education.


I would be more comfortable with them giving me the advice. All I would say is keep up the work, keep those voices strong but also make sure that you make room for all the “other” fun stuff out there. I don’t think they need advice in sharing their voice, they are already making education better for so many kids.

Mary’s Closing Thoughts

Your #G2great co-moderators (FranValJennAmy and Mary) are dedicated to this professional learning space where an invitational culture of joyful twitter style dialogue has been celebrated since our first chat January 8, 2015. #BOWTIE students bring our spirit of shared learning and engaging dialogue to life. They understand that the quality of their learning opportunities are dependent upon the quality of our daily professional choices. Their questions inspire us to take a closer look at those choices with students in mind as they encourage us to envision our teaching in a new light. 

The educators who return to our #G2Great chat week after week are dedicated to this professionally responsive process. We are all inspired by #BOWTIE students’ generous sharing of ideas that allow us to envision the impact of our teaching from their side of the learning experience. They encourage us to contemplate the intentional shifts that would maximize our efforts so that we may contemplate the richest possible learning opportunities.

And so, for the ninth time, we are grateful to our #BOWTIE students and teacher, Jason Augustowski for inspiring our thinking as we consistently strive to become the best version of ourselves in honor of students everywhere.  

Tweets from our #BOWTIE guest hosts this week

Keeping Students at the Center: Shifting Our Professional Responsibility

by Mary Howard

This week #G2great was delighted to highlight a much-needed topic that has been a recurring theme over the past four plus years of our existence. On 4/18/19, we engaged in enthusiastic collaborative dialogue for Keeping Students at the Center: Shifting Our Professional Responsibility. Your co-moderators (Fran, Val, Jenn, Amy, Mary) are committed to our collective responsibility for ensuring that children are given a seat of honor center stage of our professional priorities. Judging by the #G2great Twitter response, it seems clear that this is a common sentiment expressed by many educators.

I was thrilled to be afforded the opportunity to write this after-chat reflection on a topic near and dear to my heart. Keeping students at the center of all we do is challenged in an age where programs, agendas, mandates or personal desires compete for attention. Too many schools are the poster child for how not to keep children at the center; a model for what happens when actions confiscate values and our unwavering desire to put kids above all collides with reality. When things compete for our focus on children, a professional tug of war invariably thwarts our efforts to awaken a “child first” spirit.

As I perused the inspired tweets following our chat, I kept returning to question 1 that epitomizes this spirit. I realized that in order to put children first so that we can keep them at the center, we must use the language that reverses our sense of priorities with the “YOU” that breathes life into this spirit. When our practices are riddled with a ME-WE mentality of personal or schoolwide agendas, we turn a blind eye to those who should be the central informant for all we do – children.

The more I thought about this idea, the more I realized that this YOU-centered question warranted my reflection focus. I returned to my lengthy collection of tweets and centered my thoughts solely around those based on question 1. In this post, I will spotlight twelve tweets followed by my brief refection.


Kim highlights the starting gate of YOU. Before we can bring YOU to life, we first build relationships to demonstrate that we value our children.
Kasey reminds us that YOU is a invitational event that connects us both. Through these shared experiences, wonderful realizations come into view.
Laura recognizes that we could learn much about children if we celebrate the daily agenda free writing about reading that illuminates who they are.
Cara emphasizes that giving writing a public audience within a personal blog space offers insight into the thinking that rises from this experience.
Valinda shows us that teaching and learning are a collaborative event. If we are brave enough to changes sides with our children, we gain so much.
Mary Anne continues the student as learner perspective by using their reading and writing as visible references to support instructional choices.
Mollie illustrates that being a learner is about our history of experiences. This history can help us by looking back so that we may ponder next steps.
Jenn points out that our carefully selected learning tools can enhance this learning. Scaffolds offer supportive stepping stones from NOW to NEXT.
Derrick underscores that we teach with our sights on empowering our children. Independence is seen as the ultimate goal of our focus on YOU.
Julie asks us to look squarely at the core of YOU. When we respect that learning is closely linked to confidence, we make that our daily priority.
Fran extends the role confidence building plays by demonstrating that enthusiastic kidwatching with feedback can elevate our focus on YOU.


I don’t normally share my own tweets in my posts, but as I came to the close of this reflection, I realized that this is the way it was meant to end. The day after Christmas 2018, I wrote a facebook post on something a wise teacher did for my niece Kendall that brought her YOU to the surface. If we truly want to keep students at the center of all we do, then we must make it our professional imperative to notice the remarkable gifts children carry with them within and beyond our four walls. Once we do, we then let them look into the proverbial mirror every day as we celebrate their YOU from both sides.

In closing, thank you for keeping students at the center as you thoughtfully sharpen your own lens by gazing through the oh so wise eyes of our children.

Balanced Literacy: What’s In A Name?

By Valinda Kimmel

Thursday, April 11, #G2great hosted a Twitter chat entitled, Balanced Literacy: What’s in a Name? We had a powerful discussion around the balanced literacy framework with #g2great veterans and some first-timers as well. Let’s revisit the framework and some of the thoughts from the chat.

Balanced literacy is a framework that delivers extended reading and writing support in varied environments within the classroom applying instructional methods that differ by level of teacher support and child control (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996).

Through this framework “children are explicitly taught the relationship between letters and sounds in a systematic fashion, but they are being read to and reading interesting stories and writing at the same time” (Diegmueller, 1996).

Originally, balanced literacy was focused on both a skills-based approach and a meaning-based approach in the literacy block. There is a renewed effort to include the systematic teaching of phonics along with a focus on comprehension–all within and around rich and meaningful literature-based experiences (Asselin, 1999).

The optimal balanced literacy program consists of literacy events, such as read alouds, guided reading, shared reading and independent reading and writing (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). Most recently, some educators have included book clubs as an integral part of the framework.

It is important to note that a highly successful balanced literacy framework includes teacher directed instruction (direct instruction and modeling of skills, strategies, dispositions, procedures and processes by the teacher) along with student centered and student directed work.

When planning, teachers can strategically design instruction, modeling and practice for students in each of the components listed above. For instance, when thinking about the practice readers need in applying knowledge of letters and sounds, it makes sense that the instruction and application would take place during the phonics, word study and spelling portion of the language arts block. But, in fact, it would also make sense to include quick instruction and group application in a day’s lesson included during shared reading.

In addition, emerging patterns observed in benchmark assessment and progress monitoring are not only reserved for instruction during guided reading. Teachers can strategically plan to include modeling of the observed gaps during an interactive read aloud or the reading mini-lesson. You can see that readers’ needs can be addressed through instruction and modeling in any or all of the components of a balanced literacy approach.

A balanced literacy framework provides a system whereby instruction in reading and writing is delivered and supported in contexts that are connected and designed to meet student needs. It’s well worth our time to continue to learn and perfect the components and their interconnected systems to grow readers and writers in authentic ways.

Welcome to Writing Workshop with Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman

By Fran McVeigh

The #G2Great chat on Thursday, April 4, 2019 welcomed writing workshop aficionados near and far as a powerful duo, Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman, joined us to chat about Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works. It was an hour of celebration as well as an hour of learning and affirmation of basic principles of writing workshop practices.

Welcome to Writing Workshop was lovingly written by expert writers, expert writing teachers, and expert writing coaches. As you enter the book, whether you are a novice to writing workshop or an experienced teacher, you will find that Stacey and Lynne’s words linger in your brain and you will return to pictures, pages, and charts to consider your own alignment with the expectations outlined. Kelsey Corter said it well on TWT:

Welcome to Writing Workshop is not the kind of book to read and shelve. It needs an accessible home, perhaps at a favorite writing spot, or perhaps in the classroom, alongside a conferring toolkit. Keeping Welcome to Writing Workshop nearby means never being in it alone. Stacey and Lynne are there, every step of the way.” TWT Blog

In this blog post, you are first going to see Stacey and Lynne’s responses to three questions about their goals and messages for Welcome to Writing Workshop. And then you will view some curated tweets that are representative of just a small portion of the  tweets generated during the #G2Great chat, followed by some additional resources available to support your learning.
Stacey: Write alongside your students no matter how uncomfortable it feels at first. Keep doing it. Day after day, it will become easier. If you’re writing, then you’re part of the classroom community of writers and that is the secret to being a great teacher of writing.

Lynne: Make time for writing every day. Writing is the most valuable tool we have for thinking aloud on paper. Writing instruction and time to write daily is absolutely essential. When our thinking is there, we can organize it, layer it, and revise it. We can let other people’s thinking in because we are not worried about forgetting what we wanted to say. After we listen to others, we can revise our thinking. Expressing our opinions, sharing information, and telling our stories. Human beings are storytellers. Every day is a new page to write on. The stories of our lives are important!Stacey: We hope teachers will listen to children’s ideas when they confer and help them create pieces of writing — across the genres — that hold meaning and value to them. Most of all, it’s my hope that teachers will treat kids like real writers. Kate and Maggie said it well in the foreword, “The promise of writing workshop is that if we help every child become a writer, they will write and think well. This book shows us ways we can thread that needle—how we can reach for high standards yet not at the expense of the heart and soul of our classrooms.”

Lynne: Of course, that a teacher of writers has to be a teacher who writes. Writing is not a spectator sport – you have to jump in and play the game! Modeling with your own writing and thinking aloud so you can make your process visible to your students. So, an understanding of the importance of writing process. Also, we talk about the importance of the physical and the socio-emotional environment. Our workshop should look like, sound like, and feel like it is student-centered where our young writers have a voice and lots of choice. Another big takeaway is daily time for writing which involves good planning so we can move through a literature hook, modeling, active engagement, and on to writing. Closing with reflection is also essential.Stacey: There were two motivations for writing this book. First, we were both adjuncting and noticed there hadn’t been a new, stand-alone book on the fundamentals of writing workshop in quite some time. I was teaching online and had grad students in my classes from across the USA and around the world (e.g., India, Peru). Many times my international students were unable to get print copies of books and wished there was an ebook they could purchase on writing workshop. Therefore, we thought it would help if there were a new book, that would also be an ebook, about writing workshop. Second, through the consulting work we do, we noticed that many teachers are given a curriculum to teach writing, but they are unfamiliar with the guiding principles that make writing workshop work. Therefore, we wanted to write a book for people who were new to teaching writing workshop so that they would have a solid foundation on which to implement the curriculum they were given.

Lynne: I have wanted to write this book for years and years!  My interest in writing began in elementary school. I was inspired by my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Steinberg and even tried to write songs. I loved playing folk guitar. Later, I became an NWP fellow through the PA Writing & Literature Project. As I began teaching graduate courses on writing and presented at conferences, I realized how many teachers were uncomfortable with their own writing and with teaching writing. When Stacey and I got together to talk about the possibility of writing a book about writing workshop, we realized that the last book that discussed workshop essentials was a book by Ralph Fletcher – Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide. Ralph’s book was not available as on online publication. It was a 2001 copyright, so we thought there was room for our book. Our goal was to provide video clips as well so teachers could have a glimpse into writing workshop classrooms.

Curated Tweets

In Welcome to Writing Workshop, teachers will find tips to enhance their writing instruction including how to manage time, choice, environments and the socio-emotional supports to engage ALL learners. A teacher who is interested in “re-invigorating” or making their workshop more joyful will find the essential information in this text and supporting materials and videos. The pause at the end of each chapter in the “When You’re Ready” section provides the time and space for the reader to reflect and consider how to best use their new learning. Check it out! You won’t be disappointed!

#G2Great Wakelet Link
Stenhouse Book preview Link
Kelsey Corter’s Review on Two Writing Teachers Link