Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Start Here Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community.

By Brent Gilson

For a record of this amazing chat you can check out the Wakelet archive here

This week the #G2Great team had the honour of welcoming Liz Kleinrock (@teachandtransform on IG and @teachntransform on Twitter) to come and chat with us about her work and new book Start Here Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community. It was a fantastic chat filled with a ton of great conversations around these important concepts. As I took time to look back over the chat the idea of the importance of two things really stood out to me as we consider teaching with an Antibias Antiracist lens. These concepts were recognizing and honouring identity and building a community. Before we dive in here are some words directly from Liz.

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

“There were a number of motivators for this book! The biggest one was connecting with teachers all over the world who were struggling to get started with shifting their classroom practice to center antibias and antiracism. I also noticed that there are many books and resources that exist in the theoretical space, but fail to connect with how the ideas show up in daily classroom practice. Teachers constantly hear what they’re not supposed to do, but need examples of concrete actions to try in the classroom.”

As we started the chat the first question really caused me to pause. How did that fit with my own teaching? I have made identity a real focus over the last few years. I remember being in an IREL session last year when either Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul or Tricia Ebarvia mentioned that Identity needs to be more than a unit, it is more than a one and done. Identity is such an important part of who we are, who our students are, that we must give it the time it deserves.

Looking back on my own years in school I don’t really recall ever being asked about my identity. I don’t recall doing any webs or sharing around what made us unique. This was not a unique experience I came to find out as answers to that first chat question rolled in.

Other responses mentioned not fitting in because they were “band kids” or only the jocks were recognized because academic success was not seen as valuable. More reported just kind of existing, “no one really paid attention to me, I was quiet.” As I reflected more personally I remember how much my identity was tied to being my father’s son. And I was the kid who wore shorts in the winter. But as to my identity we did no work to address and honour that. Now I look at my classroom and the work I am doing and others do to honour identity and build community and I have hope that more students in more classrooms will be seen and honoured for what they bring to their individual communities.

As we do this work we often are prompted to look at our practices in the classroom. Which ones affirm and which ones erase?

It can be uncomfortable to unlearn practices that are proven to harm and even halt student progress and our ability to form community. We need to embrace that discomfort. We cannot let discomfort allow us to ignore harmful practices. Taking steps to improve to better support our students is important and also can been seen as a task “too large”. Liz reflects on this in our prechat questions.

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

  1. ABAR doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. 
  2. Implementing an ABAR lens doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch.
  3. Students are ready and willing to do this work.

“Students are ready for this work”

Liz Kleinrock

So we have started to build a community, now what? I think one of the great things about Start Here Start Now is that it is full of manageable steps and work that we can do at whatever point we are at in our ABAR journey as educators. Like the title suggests we just need to start. As teachers reflected on this question the focus around their students became clear.

As teachers we advocate for all kids and doing so with both Antibias and Antiracist lenses we can also address the systems that so often tries to have all kids conform to one shared identity erasing their individual characteristics.

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

There is an access point for EVERYONE when it comes to antibias and antiracism work. The journey looks different for everyone. How this work will manifest itself in your classroom will and should look different from other classrooms, because you need to be responsive to the needs of YOUR students.

Again Liz brings us back to our focus needing to be our students. Start Here Start Now is a great place to… start. If you have already been doing Antiracist Antibiased work there is more to learn. If this work is new to you there are communities supporting each other in the learning. You must take the first step.

I often tie in my own thinking in the classroom to working out. When you add a new exercise it is often uncomfortable, you don’t always do it right and you might be a bit more sore than anticipated the next day. However, you keep it up and it becomes more familiar, you get better at it, and you become stronger. Too often when doing Antibias and Antiracist work teachers, especially white ones, struggle with the discomfort and the struggle proves to be too much. Don’t take the easy way out.

Start Here Start Now A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community provides the reader with the support to work through the discomfort. It includes strategies and tips to make this new work less intimidating.

As I wrap up I think back to the beginning of the chat as we discussed identity. Adults sharing how little of themselves was really present at school. I can’t help but think if our teachers really knew how little we felt seen they would be devastated. The world has changed since I was a kid but the problems of racism, bullying and indifference to the suffering of others still exists. Liz has provided us a place to start. A path to help us to better see our students as the whole humans they are and how to course correct when we or our students make mistakes.

I am so grateful that Liz brought this book into our professional libraries. As a team we are so grateful she joined us for the chat and we are grateful for the community of learners that join us each week. There is important work to do. Find people to support your learning. If you want to learn more from Liz and support her work please be sure to check out the links below.






Phonics In Perspective: Taking a Closer Look

by, Jenn Hayhurst

To access the archive of the chat please click here.

For as long as I can remember there has been an ongoing public debate for how to teach children to read. The “Reading Wars” asked teachers to take a side – are you pro phonics or whole language? Not even a global pandemic could silence it. If anything, it has only gotten worse. Nowadays it is: are you for the Science of Reading or Balanced Literacy? While that may all be well and good for selling newspapers, or getting “likes” over social media, it does little to elevate teacher knowledge or practice. The best way to do that is to engage in a good conversation rather than rigid one-sided debates.

On August 12, 2021 the #G2Great team hosted a chat to take a closer look at how to keep Phonics in Perspective. Teachers from all over came together to share their knowledge and experiences for phonics instruction. We discussed what we know to be true, we listened with the intent to understand, and aspired to build on our existing knowledge base to grow our instructional practice.

What we know to be true

Phonics learning is a strategy that helps readers to match spoken sounds to letters in an effort to decode. Phonics knowledge also helps readers identify common patterns embedded within syllables, this is helpful for both reading and spelling. Teachers of young children know that phonics instruction is important. When it comes to teaching children to read, nothing should be off the the table. Reading is a very complex process, one that requires teachers to differentiate instruction based on the needs of the students in front of them. This is a basic truth that many commercial programs fail to acknowledge and I think that is why so many programs fall short:

Listening to learn and grow instructional practice

During the chat I found myself reflecting on what others had shared about how to keep phonics in perspective. I returned to the Wakelet and gathered some tweets that really helped to clarify what I learned to grow my instructional practice. One takeaway I had was the importance to make room for transfer of learning to occur. Making room for transfer can happen when students: participate in word sorting, interactive writing, shared reading, or independent reading of decodable or more authentic texts. Then my thoughts turned to how important it is to bend the curriculum in order to make room for lots of component work. Finding ways to integrate interactive writing, shared reading, guided reading, and conferring to phonics learning will give students so much repeated practice for their learning of phonics as well as many other important strategies. I also though about the reading writing connection and how that promotes opportunities for phonics learning during reading and writing workshop. Again, I found my thoughts returning to the need to differentiate because reading is complex and there is no one simple “right” way to teach children how to read.

Teachers already know what side to take when it comes to the “Reading Wars” debate. There is no alternative but to be on the side of students, and that means integrating phonics instruction and honoring student centered decision making. Throughout this post many smart educators discussed how to embed phonics instruction for their students in meaningful ways. I am truly so grateful to be able to learn from so many talented and experienced teachers.

Intentional From the Start: Guiding Emergent Readers in Small Groups

by Mary Howard

You can access the full Wakelet chat artifact here

On 8/5/21, we were honored to be joined by first-time #G2Great guest hosts Carolyn Helmers and Susan Vincent. The twitter style dialogue that quickly turned into joyful engagement was a clear sign that educators are as excited about their remarkable new book as we were as soon as we read Intentional from the Start: Guiding Emergent Readers in Small Groups (Stenhouse, 2021). 

From the moment I opened the cover and began reading, the word “INTENTIONAL” loomed large across the pages. In their introduction, Carolyn and Susan describe their early efforts as “step-followers” of the small group WHAT with limited results. It was only when they embraced the WHY and HOW of small groups that these experiences were transformed into the in-the-moment decision making that was responsive to the children sitting in front of them. This is reflected in a quote we shared on #G2Great

Since your #G2Great co moderators believe that there is great power in seeing a book through the eyes of the author/s, we ask three questions. Let’s start with question one: 

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

In our work with teachers, we recognized a need to better understand what children should learn in the earliest levels and how to teach those skills most effectively. We hoped to bring greater clarity to issues such as: 

  • how to understand what to look for in early-level books and appreciate the fine gradient between levels.  Do teachers really know the difference between an A and a B? Do they know why a child might need a C rather than a B?
  • how to evaluate books using multiple criteria.  Do teachers know how to evaluate a book’s support of early print concepts?  Do they really know what to look for in terms of font, spacing, print placement, word choice, etc… for each of the early levels? Are they selective about choosing books that have engaging topics, characters, and stories? Do they evaluate their guided reading books in early levels with a critical eye for representation, just as they do their read alouds? Are diverse characters and families represented?

What struck me personally as I read Intentional from the Start was several reasons that this book represents a much-needed missing professional resource:

First, although there are many books on small group reading, few address the unique needs of emergent readers as Intentional does so passionately. Their thoughtful attention to student-centered decision making will support early learners and those who teach them as we begin to see powerful shifts in small group instruction that our youngest readers do indeed deserve.

A second reason is also illustrated in one of the book quotes we shared during the chat. There has been much criticism about the use of leveled texts, particularly at the early stages. Carolyn and Susan wisely move our thinking beyond the surface level features that motivate these criticisms and refocus our attention on the sophisticated text crafting designed to promote a complex reading experience.

The third critical reason this book is needed is illustrated in a book quote that opened our chat. The often contentious banter around phonics in recent years has led to unfounded criticism of small group instruction in general. There has been a growing push for isolated phonics as meaning has taken a back seat. Carolyn and Susan show us how meaning and decoding can work in support of each other. They back up this thinking by giving us countless ways to merge meaning and decoding into a rich process of emergent reading in action. 

During the chat, Susan and Carolyn helped us to understand two supportive but also distinct ways that we address phonics within and beyond small groups as we consider our purpose. I love the way they reinforced the same idea in different ways while they also emphasized the importance of being responsive to the unique needs of those children in the small group. While we may follow a scope and sequence in whole class learning, our small group instruction allows us to zoom in on the learning they need at that time so that we may reinforce whole class learning while we offer opportunities to apply learning that is most applicable within the context of meaningful print.

Inspired by these tweets, I’d like to linger in more Susan and Carolyn combined twitter insight across our #G2Great chat. These tweets further illustrate the vast wisdom of Intentional from the Start while offering another layer to their messages, ideas, and cautions. I’d like to start with a three-way conversation inspired by #G2great regulars and past guest hosts, Jennifer Scoggin and Hannah Schneewind:

A common criticism of twitter is that it’s impossible to have “deep conversations” in 280 characters. I would argue that twitter isn’t designed for deep conversations but to offer thinking points that could invite this dialogue in other settings. Jen and Hannah shared a thinking point reflecting a common misconception that was then extended by Susan and Carolyn . Considering lack of knowledge or personal bias can often drive tweets, I would hope this could motivate discourse to move us beyond misconceptions that fuel shallow finger pointing as Jen, Hannah, Carolyn and Susan model for us here.

There was so much thinking point twitter wisdom from Susan and Carolyn that I wanted to share some here, with more at the end of my post. It is my hope that you will share this wisdom and use them to deepen your dialogue with colleagues.

Twitter Chat Wisdom to Inspire Deep Conversations

Let’s listen to Carolyn and Susan reflect on the second question we asked them: 

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

  • Although guided reading is our focus, it’s important to note that small-group reading instruction is a smaller piece of a much larger literacy puzzle for the emergent readers you teach. Exposing students to a wide variety of print in a wide variety of ways is crucial.  
  • Quality leveled books in the earliest levels are written purposefully to scaffold emergent readers’ skills in print. Teachers must understand the fine gradient of increasing difficulty in these early books and must know exactly what their readers need to learn when selecting books for readers. Marching through levels will not benefit young readers.
  • Effective readers hold onto meaning as they decode. Young readers need opportunities to practice this in early books. 
  • Writing is a key to early literacy acquisition. Writing allows work on phonics skills in a meaningful context. Carefully constructed “stories” in writing provide opportunities to work on phonemic awareness, phonics skills, letter learning, word learning, concepts of print, and, of course, reading. 

My Closing Thoughts

Since I began this post by looking at the early challenges that Carolyn and Susan felt as “step followers” of the WHAT of small groups, I’d like to return to their introduction:

The ideas we present in this book are grounded in theory and we want you to have an understanding of that theory to help you move beyond doing the steps of guided reading and toward making expert decisions about what the earliest readers need during that critical small group time.” 

It is so important for us all to recognize that we cannot give our children the small group opportunities they deserve unless we take the time to seek and honor this theory. When we understand the research supported theory that supports our small group efforts, we then recognize that our emergent readers come to us with a wide range of experiences and understandings across a continuum. As we draw from the theory, we acknowledge that the instructional decisions we make keep those unique needs in mind in honor of our children and our deep belief in responsive professional decision-making.

That is the heart and soul of the small group instruction Carolyn and Susan describe in their quote below and across Intentional from the Start:

I’d like to close this post by giving the last words back to our very wise friends, Carolyn and Susan. So, let’s begin by looking at their response to our last question, followed by more twitter nuggets of wisdom:

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

  • Guided reading respects teachers as professionals. Teaching with guided reading allows teachers to use their professional knowledge of how children become literate, knowledge of each child’s literacy development, and skills in selecting teaching strategies.  And although the teaching is complex, the learning is fun, creating joyful readers and writers.
  • People often misunderstand the level of teaching expertise needed to teach children in the earliest stages of literacy. Scaffolding children as they learn the early concepts of print, how words work, and how to maintain meaning in text requires complex teaching moves. Guided reading allows teachers to use all their professional knowledge and allows children to become skillful, joyful readers and writers. 

We are filled with gratitude for your generous sharing Susan and Carolyn. I know that I am just one of many educators who will return often to your sage advice in the pages of Intentional from the Start.

More Twitter Chat Wisdom to Inspire Deep Conversations