Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense

by Mary Howard

On 5/23/19, we launched the first of a five-week #G2Great chat series: Rethinking Our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative. We knew that our first exploratory venture of the series should highlight the central intervention feature so we set our sights on Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense. Considering the critical nature of this topic, the passionate twitter dialogue that grew to a fever pitch followed by early twitter trending did not surprise us.

From the first inspired tweet, I felt a sense of gratitude that I was bestowed the honor of writing this post on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I have been quite vocal about my hopes and fears for Response to Intervention since IDEA 2004 made RTI a reality in our schools. In fact, it was my perpetual two-pronged hope-fear conflict that first prompted me to write RTI from All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know (2009 Heinemann) and since then write extensively about this topic on my Facebook page.  

After the chat, I excitedly dug into the inspired tweets as renewed hope quickly rose to the surface along with pride and gratitude for our #G2Great family. That joy was soon clouded by feeling lost in a sea of twitter goodness. After all, making Tier 1 our central intervention feature feels like an overwhelming prospect and yet irrefutably is the most crucial professional imperative of all. I didn’t want to just replicate the not-to-be-messed-with-twitter-wisdom since that’s what our Wakelet artifact is for. While I was utterly inspired by this wisdom, the sense of direction I’d hoped to find was fading.

When my writerly worries rise to the surface as they often do, my coping mechanism usually pushes me to take a side trip to my favorite thinking playground (aka Google). Realizing that accomplishing this lofty Tier 1 as the first line of intervention defense requires us to establish non-negotiables that would transform our imperative into reality, I hopefully tossed the word “non-negotiable” at my google friend. Lo and behold, my new favorite word came instantly into view:

The word sacrosanct felt like it oozed a sense of intervention urgency.  I suddenly realized that the best way to approach this post was to narrow my thoughts to a few critical factors we must regard as too important or valuable to be interfered with. Problem solved. Sense of direction back in view.

And so I give you my six “Sacrosanct Priorities” that I hope will offer a thoughtful nudge to ensure that Tier 1 does not continue to get lost in the intervention shuffle, but rather will regain a much deserved role at the very center of our efforts:

Sacrosanct Priority #1: BELIEFS

I can’t imagine how we can ever achieve Tier 1 as the central intervention feature without naming and highlighting the innermost beliefs that we hold professionally dear. I often visit schools and as I enter the building I’m usually greeted by a framed vision statement. While the calligraphy lettering and glowing language are visually impressive on the surface, too often I find a glaring mismatch between what is alluded to in that frame and the reality of Tier 1 on a day-to-day basis. The truth is that these framed papers merely represent shallow words until we are able to verbalize our values so vividly that we can show our commitment to them in the company of children where they matter most. Our beliefs are the promise that we make to our children but they mean nothing until we are able to bring them to life in our classrooms. Making our beliefs public becomes a visible reminder that anything less is simply unacceptable – not in theory but in practice. 

Sacrosanct Priority #2: CULTURE

But breathing life into our beliefs does not mean that any teacher can opt out. We do not identify our beliefs so that those who want to embrace them can do so and those who don’t can do whatever they choose even if in direct conflict with those beliefs. We must create a culture of excellence that stretches from from one side of the building to the other so that our children are not relegated to the luck of the draw. Wishing and hoping on every professional star in the belief universe will never turn those beliefs into a culture until we have collective commitment. This means that every teacher must embrace those beliefs so that we can carry them in our back pockets every day we walk into that building no matter who we are. But to do that, we must transform our beliefs into actionable experiences so that those things we value will become the beating heart of the entire building so that we will all be in professional sync. This is especially important at Tier 1 since this is where interventions students will spend the bulk of the day. Why would we make excellence optional?

Sacrosanct Priority #3: TIME

Ah, the great intervention belief killer. I’ve always wondered why most of our interventionists have a healthy respect about our limited time, respect that is not always evident in Tier 1. My theory is that the more we have of something the more we tend to forget just how valuable it is. Wealthy people seem to throw vast money sources away while those without much seem to conserve it. Perhaps this is also true in our schools where those who have thirty precious minutes to spend with children expend that limited time wisely while those who have six hours with children may feel a sense of complacency about some of those minutes. But time is precious no matter how little or how much we may have, especially for students who need more intensive support. Interventions cannot be something that we relegate to any one person. They are owned by all of us and so should happen in the Tier 1 setting. The clock intervention clock is always ticking so we can’t afford to waste a minute no matter how much time we have. The question that begs to be asked at Tier 1 is, “Why are we?” 

Sacrosanct Priority #4: INTENT

Based on my extensive work in schools, this unfortunate wasting of time isn’t always the fault of teachers. As long as we mandate belief-sucking, time-wasting culture-killing nonsense that is in direct conflict with what we purport to value, the promise of Tier 1 at the center of our intervention efforts will remain ever out of view.  If we force-feed teachers (and thus children) one-size-fits all boxes and computerized programs, interventions that could actually make a difference will be out of reach as we send mixed messages and the very practices that would be thoughtfully responsive for meeting the needs of our intervention students would be out of reach. If we set our sights only on the most effective practices then we’d have a full six hour day to intervene across virtually every curriculum area. Intent allows us to make reading, writing, talking and thinking the heart of our learning day. But this will require us to address the myth of a full day of whole class instruction so that we can we return a balance to Tier 1 with I Do, We Do and You Do experiences that include whole class, small group and side by side teaching and learning. Intent, or choosing experiences that enrich the learning lives of all children all day, creates a culture where our beliefs inform where we spend our time collectively.

Sacrosanct Priority #5: RESOURCES

But in order to make balanced literacy a reality in the Tier 1 setting, we must ensure that we make a financial investment in the resources our Tier 1 teachers need. We can’t embrace beliefs, culture, time, or intent until we provide the resources that support those things. This begins by showering teachers with the books that will enrich the entire learning day across the curriculum. Imagine what would happen if we said “NO” to the $500,000 basal program so that we could say “YES” to investing those dollars in the resources that would make a real difference for teachers and children, such as filling our Tier 1 classroom libraries to brimming. We have decades of research to support the role of dramatically increasing the volume of reading, especially for our intervention students. But until we choose to expend available financial resources on those instructional resources designed to increase rather than decrease volume, we will forever be doomed to repeat past mistakes. We don’t have an intervention problem; we have a commonsense problem. We could start to right this wrong by taking the checkbook away from irresponsible others so that our expenditures reflect our beliefs, not what blinds us to those beliefs, and thus culture, time and intent would follow.

Sacrosanct Priority #6: KNOWLEDGE

But none of those five Tier 1 priorities will ever be possible until we make a commitment to ensure that every teacher in our building has the research-informed knowledge that will fuel the entire learning day. This knowledge guides teacher decision-making and the ability to use formative assessment that will support us in using that research in practice. Our Tier 1 teachers are then far more likely to embrace each of our sacrosanct priorities and far less likely to hit Teachers Pay Teachers activity buy buttons, complain that there isn’t time for independent reading or suggest that a scripted read aloud can come even close to the invitational read aloud that can happen only in the hands of a knowledgeable teacher in the company of curious listeners. Unless we are willing to make ongoing professional learning a high priority every day, we cannot blame teachers for making the choices that derail our efforts to elevate the Tier 1 learning day. Our growing knowledge will fuel our efforts and thus become embedded in all we do, buy, say, think and support when we create a wide range of opportunities for respectful professional dialogue across the learning year in support of ongoing learning.

So, let’s play a little Mary style math here. If you add up my six Sacrosanct Priorities of Belief, Culture, Time, Intent, Resources and Knowledge, you get the ultimate Tier 1 magic: 

Child at the Center

And that, my friends, is the Tier 1 united sacrosanct priority at its finest! I believe that the potential for our intervention success rests on our ability to keep Tier 1 at the center. But this requires us to take a long hard look at what has thwarted our path to this point and how we have (or have not) thus far positioned Tier 1 within this process. Our intervention efforts must become a force of good for the children who need them and this resides within Tier 1 where children spend most of their time. The path from 2004 to present has reflected many successes to this end, but that path has also been littered with missteps along the way that are far from the force of good our children deserve. Until we honor those things we regard as too important or valuable to be interfered with, I don’t think Tier 1 will ever be positioned as our first line of intervention defense. And that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.

And so we stand at the crossroads once again…

We are at a crossroads. We can either use response to intervention as an opportunity to rebuild a positive climate or allow it to devolve into something that takes us even farther from the reason most of us became teachers.

Mary Howard, RTI from All Sides, Heinemann, 2009, page 2

Where we go from here is entirely in our hands, but I believe that if we could initiate the same kind of inspired dialogue we all witnessed on Twitter May 23, 2019 from 8:30 to 9:30 EST… well, then we would stand a chance to alter the course of our Tier 1 efforts and ultimately meet the intervention promise that I first saw in 2004. But that will never happen unless Tier 1 is leading the way as we alleviate our view of thirty-minute fix-it rooms and opt to re-envision a full day where Tier 1 can become our intervention superpower. 

As we stand at the intervention crossroads, it is my deepest hope that we choose the Tier 1 priority pathway. Anything less robs children of our best hope – a classroom teacher who should know their intervention needs more than anyone.

And that makes the Tier 1 teachers sacrosanct, doesn’t it?


Stop. Right. Now. The 39 STOPS to Making School Better with Jimmy Casas and Jeffrey Zoul

by Valinda Kimmel

When educators are together, we spend the bulk of our time talking about all the things that need to be implemented. ASAP.

We don’t, however, often talk at length about the practices that should be avoided. That conversation, however, is critically important and thanks to Jimmy Casas and Jeffrey Zoul we have a clear, concise resource to start (and continue) the dialogue.

Before we get to details from the chat, let’s hear about the book from the authors themselves.

Most schools are mostly amazing places. Yet, for far too long in education, we have continued to do many things simply because “we have always done them.” In writing this book, our hope was to motivate other educators to fight to change what is no longer working in our schools and focus on what does.

We hope that after reading this book, educators will continue doing many of the great things they are already doing. At the same time, we hope to challenge educators to stop doing those things that are counterproductive to maximizing student performance and start doing what matters most.

We believe that teaching is the most noble profession imaginable. Almost every teacher we know, gives the profession their very best each and every day. The job is rewarding, but extremely demanding. We cannot waste our teachers’ or students’ time on things that do not matter most.

How fortunate we are to have two educators such as Jeffrey and Jimmy to speak to this critical issue of shutting down the practices that do not contribute to the academic and personal success of the kids in our classrooms. Take a look at the contributions from our #g2great PLN from Thursday evening.

Many thanks to Fran McVeigh for sharing this chart from Dave Burgess. It’s incredibly helpful to see the 39 STOPS in a clear concise format.

Engaging in practices that kids need based on what we hear and observe, has been, and will forever, be the best way for teachers to determine what kids need. We will never get that valuable information from a box, or computer program. For that reason, we must be alert to the practices that are not adding value to students’ learning and development.

It was said over and over during our chat that teachers must work in collegial ways to affect change. True change is difficult to see when decisions are made from those farthest from the everyday work. Campus administration that invites collaboration from all staff are wise to include “stakeholders” in the important process evaluating teaching and learning in an effort to choose what matters most.

The old adage of “Don’t Weigh the Elephant–Feed the Elephant” has perfect application here. Teachers need far more “input” in relation to the amount of evaluation of their practice. In education, when we spend more time, energy, resources on providing coaching support for teachers, we see personal reflection that leads teachers to seek out solutions (research-based) that align to their students’ unique needs.

We can talk about practices that we need to abandon in favor of ones that benefit students, but if we’re not replacing the poor practices with those that support our kids toward academic and life success, then we fail both teachers AND students. That’s where building teachers’ capacity through coaching and collaborative support leads to success for all. Teachers have autonomy and new practices/resources to implement in the absence of the poor practices that were abandoned. If we expect teachers to cease the “less than” practices, we must empower and embolden them through collaborative coaching.

Many thanks to Jeffrey Zoul and Jimmy Casas for their book, Stop. Right. Now.: 39 Steps to Making School Better. And much gratitude to all the amazing educators who return to #g2great chat week after week to share their knowledge, wisdom and insight.

Harvey, Goudvis, Buhrow & Halverson and Inquiry Illuminated: Researcher’s Workshop Across the Curriculum

By Fran McVeigh

Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis, and Brad Buhrow joined #G2Great on Thursday, May 9, 2019 to illuminate their vision of the power and possibilities of Researcher’s Workshop. Stephanie and Anne are not strangers to #G2Great chats as they were here for the 3rd edition of Strategies that Work and Stephanie for From Striving to Thriving Writers and From Striving to Thriving Readers here. But this book has long been anticipated since Stephanie laid the groundwork for a “four a day” workshop model years ago. Our chat illuminated their vision of a “Researcher’s Workshop”, some essential elements of the workshop, a sampling of instructional elements, and the need for teachers and students to be curious.

What is “Researcher’s Workshop”?

What are two crucial elements in “Researcher’s Workshop”?

Researcher’s Workshop scheduled every day is motivating to students because of the time dedicated to learning HOW to research within supportive inquiry frameworks as well as the TIME to have in depth student-chosen research rather than regurgitation of trivial facts and topics. Teachers who are already using “Passion Projects” will love the embedded essential questions available within curricular research in science and social studies.

What are some of the instructional elements of a “Researcher’s Workshop”?

What is the role of curiosity?

Curiosity should never be about answering teacher questions. Both generating and answering questions are important life skills. Teachers can keep curiosity alive during school years by their own actions: the way they support and value student questions and answers.

How will Researcher’s Workshop empower students?

In summary, “Researcher’s Workshop” may be the answer for incorporating more content knowledge into science and social studies learning . . . and not just surface learning or “coverage” of topics. Managed choice as proposed by Allington and as described in Inquiry Illuminated will allow students to choose the learning that is most important for each of them and yet still meet curricular goals. Providing a chunk of time for that research will also provide additional practice time to solidify all those literacy skills – reading, writing, speaking, listening, and THINKING – as well as time for transfer. The perfect WIN/WIN for students and teachers.  Dig  into  the  links  to  research  all  of  the  possibilities!

Additional Resources:

Heinemann podcast


#G2Great Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds In Elementary Classrooms

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to preview the book.

On Thursday, May 2, 2019, #G2Great welcomed Paul Bourque to chat with our PLN about the powerful impact quick writes can have on young writers. As I reflect on the chat and on my own writing identity, it is becoming very clear to me how true this is, not only for young writers but for writers of all ages. Writing is a chance to open up thinking and to focus on developing a perspective on things. Quick writes are a light tool that opens up the writing process in an invitational way. This is so important because the more writers write the more confident and skilled they become. When it comes to writing, volume and stamina matter a great deal:

As we prepared to have Paula be part of #G2Great, we asked her what her intentions were for writing this book. Spoken like a true writer, and teacher this is what she said:

I know to get better at something we need to practice it–a lot. As I have seen curricular requirements heaped upon schools, teachers, and students I have witnessed writing frequently becoming confined to a unit of study or a workshop block of time in a school day. I didn’t think this narrow window of writing was enough practice for our students to grow as writers and it certainly wasn’t giving them the opportunity to write for a wide variety of purposes.

I also knew teachers could not add more to their plates that needed extensive planning and assessing, so I wanted to find a way to ‘sneak’ more low-stakes writing into our school days. It had to be quick and it had to be painless. I found that inviting our students to quick write for 5-10 minutes at different times of the day for different purposes was a powerful way to get that extra practice and stimulate more thinking. These short bursts of writing could spark curiosity, explore and express opinions, encourage gratitude and mindfulness, and even foster appreciation and awareness.

I wanted to share this work we were doing with our K-6 students so I pulled together a collection of our “sparks” to help kindle hearts (with appreciation, gratitude, and empathy sparks) and minds (with metacognition, mindfulness, and mindset sparks). I hope that these small sparks ignite a flame of passion for more writing opportunities in classrooms everywhere and an appreciation for the power of writing to foster deeper thinking.  

– Paula Bourque

Paula’s words seem to whisper in my ear, as they inspire me to continue to shape my own core beliefs about what it is to teach writing. One thing that I believe is that when teachers actually practice writing themselves, their instruction becomes greatly enhanced by their real-life experiences – not as teachers, but as writers. But many teachers (and students) are reluctant to write. Paula and the #G2Great PLN shed some light on this problem. Here are some thoughts that explore entry points for writing…

I encourage you to go back to the Wakelet to either catch up or revisit Paula’s appearance on #G2Great to learn more. I was excited to write this post because I believe that Paula’s book is sure to generate more writing for your students and will inspire you to consider the many ways to leverage this approach. There are so many ways to use quick writes, from Informational Quick Writes that spark wonder and curiosity, to Social Emotional (SEL) Quick Writes that help all writers get in touch with themselves in ways that will generate real authentic writing. Her book is also a treasure trove of resources, like video files, and prompts to get you started. It’s just that good. When it comes to writing, getting started is half the battle, and when we lower the stakes we open the door.

Lower The Stakes, Raise the Risk Taking: Our students need opportunities for more low-stakes writing. Without the worry of grades or evaluation, students can feel free to take more risks and explore their thinking, free to reflect on their own words without the filter of someone else’s lens of expectation. They’ll overcome the anxiety of getting started when they initiate multiple pieces of writing each day/week and reduce their incidents of writers’ block. It may not happen right away, it takes time to build a habit and to stop worrying about what others may think so our students can discover what they think. There is no “right answer” to a Quick Write!

Paula Bourque