SLOW CHAT: Fueled by Collective Curiosity and Collaborative Conversation

by Mary Howard

You can read the Wakelet artifact HERE

#G2Great chat celebrates 7 years on 1/6/22. Your chat co-moderators often contemplate new chat designs for twitter style dialogue. This week, we decided to draw inspiration from the continuing challenges of this pandemic and its impact on our shared love for attending National Literacy Conferences. If COVID-19 had not thwarted our plans, #G2Great chat would have taken a break this week to attend the International Literacy Conference in Indianapolis, IN. Unfortunately, ILA shifted from an in-person conference to varied virtual opportunities. We know that this decision was not taken lightly and we are grateful that ILA chose to put our safety first.

Since we had already planned to take this week off, we decided this afforded us a wonderful opportunity to try something new. We had discussed using a SLOW CHAT format in the past, so we thought that this was the perfect time.

WHAT IS A SLOW CHAT?

For those of you who have never participated in a SLOW CHAT on Twitter before, some background information would be helpful:

In a typical chat, we gather at our #G2great hashtag on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. and share 7 to 8 questions across the night that are answered in real time. If you have ever taken part in our chat, then you know that this format makes for a fast-paced process of reading and responding to questions while engaging in conversations around those ideas.

By contrast, a SLOW CHAT is literally meant to slow down this pace using many variations that may span across one or several days. A few questions are asked at key points during the designated time and educators respond to questions at their own pace rather than during a live chat hour. Our one-day SLOW CHAT began in the morning with initial thoughts from your co moderators I share at the end of this post followed by five questions we posted every ninety-minutes during the day as we checked in across the day. Since we plan to do this again, putting our first SLOW CHAT into action was a wonderful learning venture that we can draw from in the future.

And so, in the spirit of our first SLOW CHAT I give you our first SLOW BLOG with five twitter takeaways that captivated my professional heart.

SLOW BLOG TWITTER TAKEAWAYS

Our deep desire to embrace curious learning in our lives has a much broader purpose. We cannot expect that our children will engage in and beyond our schools as curious learners unless we are willing to model a curious spirit each and every day. Our actions (or lack of) speak volumes.

Engaging in collaborative dialogue with other professionals on a regular basis gives us a lifeline to collegial support. These inspired interactions help us to fine tune, adjust and add to our thinking from both sides as we learn in the company of trusted others.

We make our own learning a priority not just for the sake of learning but in honor of the children that learning is dedicated to. The tipping point is when we carry our learning with us and make professional decisions that will lift learning to the highest heights in their name.

It is admirable for each of us to value professional collaboration, but the goal is to create a culture of collective collaboration that spreads across a school. Every child deserves to experience professional joy in action no matter where that learning takes place or with whom.

We all need a safe space where others support and fuel our learning. While we hope that this comes from within a school, it can also span across great distances. Used thoughtfully, social media can offer a safe haven where ideas, passions and curiosities can flourish.

Last Thoughts

COVID-19 pandemic has altered the landscape of our professional and personal lives in many challenging ways. Yet, there were also many blessings as we have traveled along a meandering path of uncertainty. Conference cancellations have been difficult for those of us who thrive on professional gatherings, but it also nudged us to explore options for learning together. These new learning doors have compounded our unwavering thirst for professional learning in any capacity. Yes, the pandemic altered where, when and in what way our learning happens. But our determination to hold tight to the WHY of professional learning has strengthened our commitment to celebrate our learning through this new lens. Fueled by Collective Curiosity and Collaborative Conversation was the perfect title for our first SLOW CHAT since it reflects a way of life that we are proud to lead on a daily basis.

We want to thank those of you who joined our first #G2Great SLOW CHAT. We believe deeply in collaborative professional JOY and we know that invitational discourse is possible in any form. Here’s to more SLOW CHAT in the future!

SLOW CHAT reflections from your #G2Great co moderators

Guided Practice for Reading Growth:  Texts and Lessons to Improve Fluency, Comprehension and Vocabulary

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet LINK

Laura Robb is no stranger to #G2Great. She frequently participates in our weekly chats and has been a guest host with principal son and coauthor, Evan Robb, for Schools Full of Readers: Tools for Teachers, Coaches and Leaders to Support Students. This link gives you access to the blog post and wakelet for that book. Laura and Evan Robb coauthored this blog post in 2020, “Breaking the Cycle of Professional Compliance: Teachers as Decision-Makers.” (Link) It was truly a pleasure to welcome Laura and her coauthor David Harrison to his first chat this week.

Routines. Habits. As I drove, I hit my turn signal. It was automatic. I had driven this route for years. More years than I can count (or remember). But I had to reach down and turn that signal off because that’s not the route anymore. Change. It requires thought and a conscious effort. Changing habits and routines is hard. What will make this travel change MORE automatic? More practice!

Teaching.

Teaching also requires thought and conscious effort. Teaching requires so many decisions that teachers need to consciously make. Gravity Goldberg and  Renee Houser tell us that teachers make 1500 decisions per day (Edutopia link). It’s exhausting and yet equally stimulating to make decisions that matter for students. We must TRUST teachers to make decisions that will increase student joy AND student learning.

What is the end goal? Here is Laura Robb’s response. 

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

Teach the children in front of you. Get to know them. Watch. Listen. Have conversations with them. Read their notebooks. Increase their reading stamina with daily independent reading of self-selected books. Respond to their needs by knowing and building on their strengths. Become a responsive teacher who can adapt instruction and interventions to students, knowing that their needs change throughout the school year. Remember, that volume in reading is the best intervention and can develop students’ joy in reading, positive reading identities, and create lifelong readers!

Laura Robb, email.

I wrote this book blurb for Corwin Press after the first time I read Guided Practice for Reading Growth and now after the third reading I believe it to be even more true. 

Book Blurb: Guided Practice for Reading Growth

“What is essential for reading growth?  David Harrison and Laura Robb provide guidelines and tips for schedules, routines, instructional practices and lessons that improve students’ reading skill and self-confidence with proven sustained growth by real students in real classrooms. The authors use the research and their classroom work to provide evidence that students working below their grade level do not need pre-made programs or one-size basals but do need knowledgeable teachers who know their students and align and craft guided practice that encourages students to work hard to meet their goals. This book details how guided practice reinforces and enhances independent reading, interactive read-alouds, vocabulary building and writing about texts in a reader’s notebook. The implementation of the ideas in this book will help teachers develop effective and efficient targeted instruction that capitalizes on teacher knowledge and relationships with the students in their classrooms.”

Fran McVeigh, email.

Three big ideas form the focus of my thinking and understanding about this book based on Laura and David’s ideas, my previous work with middle school students, and the nature of curriculum/intervention plans and resources for middle school students. Let’s explore.

Instruction that meets the needs of students must be carefully crafted and implemented

No one lock-step, one-size-fits-all curriculum works. I see students in middle school and high school who are “not proficient” in reading. I am over-generalizing, but basically that means they missed a cut-off score on some skill area. Some argue that they must ALL need phonemic awareness or phonological awareness if they are struggling in reading. But what of students who have been a part of explicit phonics instruction who year after year are given another NEW phonics program because the last one was not successful and they are now down to literally TIER 6 in phonics programs and have very little time READING but spend much of their time in drills and isolated word work? Students are frustrated, disheartened and tired of “work that makes them feel stupid.”

Instruction can be so much more for students. The lessons Laura and David provide in Guided Practice for Reading Growth can be used “just in time” for student practice that they need NOW. Not after a data team meeting, but NOW to allow students to make accelerated growth without waiting for the roulette wheel to spin up their name at a pre-designated review.

David’s stories and poems are an excellent catalyst for instruction. The lessons Laura crafted are easily replicable by teachers. There are two sets that teachers are encouraged to make their own. Trusting that teachers know the students best, there is a set for partner discussion and a set for shared reading which lead to student writing. Talk. Writing. Part of the reciprocal action cycle of reading.

And then the finale. Part III in the text is “Next Steps for Guided Practice and Growth in Reading.”  The beauty of adding in fluency practice that is self-selected and performed by students is tantalizing. Maximizing efficiency and effectiveness with teacher data-based decisions about how to structure time and resources to meet student resources is teacher autonomy at its best!

Choice and agency are necessary for students to grow as readers.

Independent reading is a daily expectation in this structure. Students are allowed to choose texts that align with their interests. Teachers are encouraged to choose texts that students will find engaging.

Fluency practice as presented in this text is never reduced to reading rate, but instead, is all about the interpretation and the love of language. Empowering teachers. Empowering students. Empowering student learning. Empowering student progress. Empowering students as leaders. And again, providing practice opportunities for students to do the work themselves and choose their own reading materials!

Student reading identities matter.

Students have to find both the joy and belief in their own ability to read. By middle school and high school this is not easy. Some students have already fake read the same book three or four years in a row. Other students are quite good at shrugging off the “I’m too busy to read. Check out my activities” excuses. We’ve known about the importance of reading and writing identities but often not had the time, energy, resources or support necessary to grow identities. Successful and powerful reading and writing identities that respect their age, emotional maturity, and are worthy of both student and teacher time and attention. Choice and scaffolded instructional times provide opportunities for student identities to grow and mature.

This is further emphasized in the authors’ responses to the remaining questions.

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

The first big takeaway is to use formative assessments and relentless kid watching to identify students’ strengths and build on these strengths with guided practice lessons. Guided practice lessons are short, focus on what students need, and invite them to do the thinking and work that can improve their reading and enlarge vocabulary. The next big takeaway is that volume in reading is an intervention that can bring students reading below grade level into the reading life and develop their reading identities.

Laura and David, email.

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

My work with fifth grade students entering school reading at a kindergarten to early second grade reading level pushed me to rethink reading instruction and intervention.  Besides having them read self-selected books every day for about 20-minutes, I began developing guided practice lessons using short texts to engage them in deep thinking, meaningful discussions, and writing about reading. Another goal was to enlarge their vocabulary and background knowledge, and watching short videos prior to reading worked well. Students loved them, but if a few needed to revisit the video, it was easy for them to watch it a second or third time on their own or with a small group. With award-winning poet, David Harrison, writing the poems and short texts for the guided practice lessons, students can read culturally relevant texts on topics they suggested through surveys conducted in grades five to eight 

         David and I hope that teachers of grades 4 to 8 will integrate guided practice lessons into their instructional reading. Once teachers try the lessons, there are guidelines in the appendix for developing their own guided practice lessons. To support teachers as they get started with developing lessons, David Harrison wrote extra poems and short texts that are in the appendix; there’s also a list of magazines teachers can mine for short tests and lists of poetry collections to investigate. The goal is for teachers to intervene as soon as they observe students require extra practice and gradually release responsibility for learning to students.

Laura Robb, email.

In conclusion, just as students need carefully crafted instruction, with choice and agency as well as support for reader and writer identities – so do teachers! Guided practice is a simple, yet practical way to provide students with opportunities to joyfully develop into lifelong readers who can and do read.

The Last Word: What would you like teachers to know?  David’s response


Five Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books by Melissa Stewart and Marlene Correia

You can access our chat Wakelet artifact HERE

By Brent Gilson

“I know lots of writers who love to create characters and invent imaginary worlds. But for me, the real world is so amazing, so fascinating, that I just want to learn as much as I can about it and share it with other people. That’s why I write nonfiction.” -Melissa Stewart

When I was a kid I did not spend a lot of time reading novels. The occasional Choose Your Own Adventure would be thrown into the backpack to read at home but generally, I was a reader of nonfiction. My grandpa was an avid bird watcher. I remember going to visit and just thumbing through his collection of books learning about the species of birds that would frequent his yard. I have the clearest memory of my other grandparents giving me these little binders full of fact files on different animals, I toted that around with me everywhere. The Komodo Dragon file was my favourite. My earliest Scholastic Book Fair memory is buying this sweet dinosaur book and giving out the stickers to my friends. Spending time learning about ecosystems in this giant book full of beautiful art and fold-out pages is another memory that I can picture as clear as it was yesterday.

The librarian at my school often had to remind me to return the Arms and Armour (Canadian not a spelling mistake) book. I think I checked it out more than any other book in elementary school. I would study the different swords of different areas and their armour. I would imagine what the battles could be like. I was not limited to facts; nonfiction books were the passport to imagination for me in those early years. I wrote stories of knights battling dragons, I studied their swords. These nonfiction texts jump started my fiction reading. They were more accessible, more engaging to the young reader than just pages of text. Beyond that, I learned. I built background knowledge of history and the world. In a time when disinformation is at an all-time high arming our kids with knowledge as they enter the world should be a top priority of teaching and utilizing nonfiction text provides a structure that is both engaging and informative.

As a middle school and high school teacher, I have noticed a decline in the drive to consume nonfiction that my elementary students had. I imagine it is a combination of the “I know it all” attitude the teenagers often proudly display and the fact that with academically heavier courses they no longer see non-fiction as an escape. Either way I want to get back into nonfiction in my classroom and after last Thursday’s chat, I know Five Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books by Melissa Stewart and Marlene Correia provides a wonderful structure to get teachers started.

We ask our authors to reflect on three questions that will offer readers insight for their thinking. Melissa and Marlene respond to our first question:

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

MS: As a children’s book writer, I developed the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system for myself. I hoped that if I could get a stronger sense of the breadth of the nonfiction market, I might have better luck crafting the kind of writing publishers were looking for.

When I shared the system on my blog in 2017, the response was tremendous. To date, that post has received more than 500,000 hits.

At first, I was surprised that the system resonated with so many people, but then I began to see its broader uses in a school setting. The table below from p. 49 of 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books, highlights that different categories can be used in specific ways during literacy and content-area instruction:

So that’s one of the book’s main messages. When students are familiar with the characteristics of the five categories, they can predict the kind of information they’re likely to find in a book and how that information will be presented. And that understanding can help them identify the best books for a particular purpose as well as the kind(s) of nonfiction they enjoy reading most.

MC: For me it was a realization over 15 years ago during a professional development workshop, where I was asked to list all the texts I had read recently. I quickly came to the realization that most of what I read and used was nonfiction (news articles, professional journals, recipes, etc.) That’s when I first began thinking about my own classroom collection of books and how few nonfiction titles were available. But, at first, I didn’t think my students would really want to read nonfiction. I was convinced, as many educators are, that they preferred fiction and stories.

I conducted a small-scale action research study that proved my assumptions wrong. I had students in my class choosing nonfiction over fiction at the library every week. From then on, I took a more deliberate approach, and my own interest and love for nonfiction expanded. I met Melissa, was impressed by her work as a researcher and author, and the rest is history.

My hope is that other educators and librarians will use more nonfiction, from all 5 kinds, in their instruction and in their book collections.

Melissa and Marlene give us more insight with the second question:

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

MS & MC: Many educators have a natural love of stories and storytelling. They fill their classroom libraries with fiction and focus their literacy instruction on stories because they assume that kids feel the same way.

But as these charts show, many children think differently. They prefer expository nonfiction—writing that explains, describes, or informs in a straightforward way.

How can you transform these info-loving kids into passionate, motivated readers? Hand them an expository nonfiction book on a topic they find fascinating. Marlene created this terrific Book Match Survey to help teachers, librarians, and parents do just that.

To show students that your honor and respect all books and all reading, be sure to include all 5 kinds of nonfiction as well as fiction in literacy and content-area instruction. Read nonfiction aloud. Feature it in book talks, book clubs, and whole-school activities. 5 Kinds of Nonfiction provides tips, tools, and strategies to help you share and celebrate nonfiction with students.

In our final question, Melissa and Marlene give us a sense of direction:

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

MS: It’s so important to meet students where they are in terms of their natural reading preferences. Once they have a solid foundation, they’ll develop the confidence to stretch and grow and blossom as readers. They’ll begin to explore new topics, new formats, new writing styles, new genres. It’s exciting to support students on this journey.

MC: Nonfiction has the potential to deepen student learning, fuel their interests, and cultivate their curiosity about the world. All students can LOVE reading! It takes getting the right book, in the right hands at the right time.

Nonfiction on Display: Melissa Stewart Dishes on the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction

Thanks to Melissa and Marlene for sharing their thinking about 5 Kinds of Nonfiction. Check it out as you consider what kinds of texts you are reading. You may surprise yourself.