Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice Podcast with Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz

by Mary Howard

View our #G2Great chat discussion Wakelet here

On 11/12/20 our #G2Great team launched the first podcast chat in our nearly six-year history of weekly twitter chats. We chose this amazing Heinemann podcast as our podcast launch knowing that educators needed to listen and learn from the wisdom of Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz on such an essential topic: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice. We were honored that both Nell and Colleen engaged in our chat.

This podcast was a virtual celebration of the wonderful series, Not This, But That currently edited by Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz. They explain how the series rose from a shared concern of researchers and professionals who agreed that there are certain practices unsupported by research which seem “intractable.” The podcast continues:

They’re out in the field and they’re frustrating when we see them, but we don’t seem to be successful in uprooting them at a large scale.”

The Not This, But That series strives to bridge this research-practice gap by including the voices of both researchers and practitioners. Each book revolves around three key sections that seem like areas we could highlight when engaging in professional discussions about our practices:

NOT THIS: Intractable Practices

WHY NOT? Research Support

BUT THAT: Shifts in Thinking

Nell Duke and Collen Cruz shared some of their favorite books in the series: 

No More Telling as Teaching

No More Mindless Homework 

No More Culturally Irrelevant Teaching

No More Reading for Junk 

No More Teaching a Letter a Week

No More Math Fact Frenzy

No More Science Kits or Texts in Isolation

Colleen highlighted a favorite newer book in a tweet, No More Teaching Without Positive Relationships:

Adding to her enthusiasm for this book in the podcast, Colleen illustrates why this book is a particularly important read now:

 “I love its focus on anti-racism and practical classroom practices teachers can put into place to create classrooms that welcome and celebrate kids and where they come from and who they are and their identities and build healthy, lasting relationships with their teachers.” 

Inviting our #G2great chat family to suggest other “intractable practices” make it seems fitting to turn our attention to our second chat question. These topics may well be worth exploring in future books or at the very least within conversational explorations in our schools. 

There was no shortage of #G2Great additions as shown below:

In the podcast, Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz bring their wisdom to our current instructional reality in the midst of a global pandemic. Discussing the role of research during this crisis with virtual teaching and learning at the center, they shared an important point:

“Be cautious about people who say “research says…” in this situation. Those studies didn’t address what we’re doing now because they were written PRE COVID.” Colleen

“If people are telling you things like, “Here’s what the research tells us,” they’re probably making it up, because we don’t have research on a lot of these questions.” Nell Duke

They ask us to be thoughtful as we look to what research says but then consider what that might look like as we transfer these practices into a virtual setting. For example, we know that interactive writing is supported by research but we must now contemplate how this research can then be translated into a virtual setting given available technological tools and resources. These conversations could not only draw attention to available research around key practices but also help us to evaluate those practices in light of pandemic-fueled teaching as we keep children at the very center of our thinking and thus our decision-making.

Another critical podcast discussion was focused on the all-too-common instructional battle cry of “learning lost” and the widening gap. Nell Duke implores us to assume an “asset stance” as we focus our attention on what children have gained during this time, stating:

“We don’t bemoan all the things kids didn’t learn while they were/are home. We think about what they did learn.”

I have returned more times than I can count to the story Nell Duke tells so eloquently from Ernest Morrell,

The kids did nothing wrong here. We don’t need to come at them with all the things you missed and all the things you weren’t doing, and how far behind you’re getting. We need to come at them with look at all that you have been doing, look at what you’re experiencing in this once in a lifetime event and you are enduring, and you are here with me, and you’ve learned things and you’re going to learn things, and we value you, and you’re important to us, and to our work, and to the future of our country.

How can we then shift our view from our assumption that children come to us somehow lacking and rather celebrate what each of our children bring to the instructional experience? With that in view, how do we then use those assets as a stepping stone to to the teaching and learning choices we make on their behalf?

I’ve enjoyed this podcast on many occasions and with each listen I manage to hear something new that makes me stop and think even more deeply than the time before. I hope that each of you will do yourself a tremendous favor and listen to their eloquent wisdom as well using this LINK.

As I close this post, it seems appropriate to look ahead as we will be pairing this amazing #G2great chat experience with the newest addition to the Not This, But That series. On 12/3/20, we will celebrate a new book written by Erin Brown and Susan L’Allier, No More Random Acts of Literacy Coaching (Heinemann, 2020). We hope that you will considering joining us for this incredible discussion.

This seems like an appropriate segue between the two chats by returning back to #G2Great chat tweets from both Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz.

Nell also supported our thinking about coaching in the podcast by sharing that there is research evidence on the impact of coaching in remote settings where coaches could offer digital learning support through feedback. She also supporting this knowledge by sharing the research references on coaching below:

The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence

Essential Coaching Practices for Elementary Literacy Document

Colleen Cruz piqued much interest with this tweet and “super active coaching with readers.”. We hope to learn more about her ‘experiments’ in the near future.

Your #G2Great team would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz for sharing their wisdom in this remarkable podcast, for their commitment to personally support each book in the Not This, But That series, and of course, for taking part in our #G2great chat. We are so inspired by you both and eternally grateful for all that each of you have so generously done to enrich our understandings of research-supported practices and our responsibility to our children.

Exploring Playful Inquiry with Opal School

By Brent Gilson

For a record of the chat check out the Wakelet here and if you are interested in learning more about the work Matt Karlson (@matt_karlsen) and Susan Harris Mackay (@sharrismackay) are doing at Opal School please check the link The #G2Great team are so grateful they were able to join us this week.

It is funny when I think back to my times in school from K-12 I remember the times I was free to have fun, to wonder, to explore to be curious and to pursue the learning I was interested in. Those moments are still so vivid even in some cases 30 years later.

As we started the chat this week participants shared what they felt were the unique gifts of childhood and as teachers how do we honour them. Here are a few of the responses.

All week I have been pondering the times in my life that I was free to do these things as a student. So I wanted to treat this post as my own love letter to playful inquiry and inquiry in general and the teachers that fuelled my most powerful learning experiences.

Grade 2 Mrs. Anderson

I remember in Grade 2 we were studying life cycles and wetlands. We could have just spent our time looking at overhead transparencies of a frog and butterfly life cycle and doing some colouring sheets. However, Mrs. Anderson had different plans. She packed up this group of 2nd graders and we went to the local wetlands armed with nets and buckets and spent the day exploring. We caught bugs and freshwater shrimp, tadpoles and frogs at different stages of development, we brought them back to class and studied changes. I still remember where the tank sat in the classroom and the toad I caught that got out and was found on another students desk after recess.

Grade 5 Mrs. Fast/ Mrs. Ness

Studying plant life was scavenger hunts and exploring nature at a Provincial Park. We did have a booklet to complete but it was more like a field book to collect samples and different leaf rubbings to describe what we were finding and identify different plant life we encountered. We could have done it all with simple worksheets but through allowing us to run, play, explore and wonder our teachers had 30 Grade 5 students engaged for a whole day and I can still remember moments from that learning experience.

Favourite Teacher Mr. Soetaert Grade 8 Science

There is that one teacher for so many that makes school more than just a place but an experience. Mr. Soetaert was that teacher for me. He allowed use to explore our interests. In one instance I had an acquaintance bring me a frog they had caught for me (my frog obsession is real) but in the process of capturing it had broken the poor amphibians leg. I asked my teacher if he thought there was anything we could do and we started researching how to induce hibernation, freeze the frog, amputate the leg, cauterize it and then wake the frog up good as new, well minus a leg. Now of course my teacher was fully aware that we could not do this and that the frog would die but he didn’t shut down my wonder or curiosity. He let me explore and look at the potential ways we could save this frog. He didn’t dismiss me and tell me we had “more important things to learn”. He let me learn. The frog died but my curiosity grew and I will never forget that learning experience.

Play and Democracy

Too often teachers brush off play as just “something fun” or “extra”. As the chat continued participants reflected on the relationship between play and democracy.

These common threads of freedom, collaboration, creation, compromise. They all come from play and are important pieces to reflect on not just as our students make their way through school but also going out into the world. We need our students to be prepared to question, to push back on injustice, to speak out when they think there is a better way. Because without that, when our students just conform and become compliant we end up with something else.

Fostering World-Makers

As I read this quote on playful inquiry I focus on “citizen world-maker” and can’t help but think about these last few years and the youth of the world that have refused to be compliant and how they are being given or just taking the opportunity to question, to challenge, to push back and to lead. They are becoming the leaders of change movements. They are pursuing their goals and fighting to achieve them. As we look at classrooms that are built around playful inquiry I can’t help but notice these qualities our youth activists display are first modelled and nurtured in these settings. The skills our students learn in these playful inquiry classrooms indeed are the skills they will need to make the world a reflection of their values.

What if?

Reflecting on this chat I can’t help but wonder,

What if we shifted our focus? What if we put more value on students exploring learning than we did formally assessing it? What if we allowed our students to create their curriculum? What if their interests guided our teaching and not the other way around?”

How much more engaged would our students be? How much more prepared would they be for the world they are in and one day will be asked to lead?

Change Is Inevitable: What The Pandemic Has Shown Educators

by Valinda Kimmel

Access the complete chat on Wakelet

I think teachers are doing what we’ve always done — we’ve taken what we’ve been handed and we are making sure that our students get the best educational experience possible. And we are continuing to stay up late at night, trying to figure out how to make that happen. We don’t want our kids to get the short end of this pandemic and lose out on things that they have a right to, things that they so desperately need. –Neshonda Cooke (Time Magazine, August 2020)

We first chatted about what educators had learned during the spring of 2020 in a #g2great chat back in July. Recently, #g2great followers revisited the lessons learned by educators in the first weeks of the 2020-2021 school year. Much has happened, much has changed as a result of the pandemic and teachers are reflecting, collaborating, creating in order to make the current learning environment optimal for all kids.

There’s been much to lament about during this pandemic, but there have been equal amounts of moments to celebrate. The job that teachers, administrators and support staff are doing is worthy of praise. It is even more amazing that in the midst of all the difficulty, teachers are still pursuing learning for themselves in order to improve online, hybrid and face-to-face learning for their students.

We’ve known for years that academic needs of students are not the only concerns teachers consider when planning. The pandemic has brought attention to the fact that in educational settings, whether F2F or online, that social/emotional needs of kids must be a priority.

It’s been both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring to see how teachers have risen to the multitude of challenges brought on by the pandemic. In spite of personal, family, health and staffing issues, teachers have persevered in planning, teaching, assessing, building community for their students. Let’s be real–that’s what teachers always do, regardless of the situations that arise.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that is causing stress and uncertainty. However, there are steps that school leaders can take to foster health and well-being in themselves and their school communities. Keep in mind that recovery from a crisis takes time and may not happen in a linear fashion—especially during a pandemic that does not have a discrete, known end. Awareness, balance, and connection can help! Set and celebrate achievable goals and celebrate the resilience of the great people in your school who go above and beyond as they support and help others in times of crises. (National Association of School Psychologists (2020). Coping with the COVID-19 crisis: The importance of care for the caregivers: Tips for administrators and crisis teams.)

There is no precedent for the times we are living in at the moment. It’s difficult in our personal lives to navigate the changes required from day to day to attend to our physical and mental health. It’s even more challenging to be an educator and care not only for one’s self, but for a classroom (in person or virtually) full of learners. Our #g2great cadre of educators is committed to supporting one another during this difficult year. Join us each week on Thursday evening for collaboration and professional camaraderie.

We see you. We care about you.