Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Writing

By Fran McVeigh

Anticipation. Planning. Prepping. A waiting period. And then the event begins. Fingers race across the keyboard. “NO, wait,” echoes as I scroll down looking for a specific item. I check each time frame, still scrolling. More self-muttering until the lost is found. Replies, likes, retweets, and laughter fill the hour. A frenetic pace builds up to the closing quote and then just like a story map, the arc of a Twitter chat slows its ebb and flow. Unlike a sporting event with a starting kick off or tip and an ending whistle, time slows but does not end. The chat is over, but then Direct Messages, closing Tweets and emails extend the chat for the next nineteen minutes. Nineteen minutes or 1,140 seconds. Folks continue to chat and celebrate the learning. It’s a never ending chat as the wakelet is published and folks continue to like and retweet the conversational tweets from the chat. Such is the arc of the weekly chat of #g2great. Enthusiastic, energized folks show up to share ideas and learn together for 60 minutes. An uplifting aura surrounds keyboards across the country and sometimes the world as participants add their thoughts and questions in a life-long quest for learning.

No requirements to attend. No grades. No participation points.

Folks voluntarily joining together with a common goal.

A Twitter chat. Virtual interaction among many folks who have previously met in real life, in a variety of configurations/communities, who choose to gather around a common topic for an hour. That’s the weekly focus of #G2Great.

And what a focus on April 21, 2022! There are so many words I could use to describe Melanie Meehan, our guest host for #g2great. She is a regular member of the #TWT group, a district language arts and social studies curriculum person, a coach, a mentor, a mother of four daughters and an active parent who watches many soccer matches! But she’s also a reader and a writer. As a writer, she’s been busy. These three books are a testament to her writing skills! We celebrated Every Child Can Write: Entry Points, Bridges, and Pathways for Striving Writers on October 3, 2019 with this Literacy Lenses post and The Responsive Writing Teacher: A Hands-on Guide to Child-Centered, Equitable Instruction with co-author Kelsey Sorum in this Literacy Lenses post from March 25, 2021.

This quote from The Responsive Writing Teacher is one I refer to frequently:

When you approach writing instruction with a deep understanding of children in your classroom, everything else―assessment, planning, differentiated instruction, mentor and shared texts―begins to fall into place. And you can teach writing with inclusion, equity, and agency at the forefront.  

–Melanie Meehan and Kelsey Sorum

We met on April 21, 2022 to celebrate the third book: Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Writing, the second in a Corwin series of Five to Thrive professional books. This series has so much promise for teachers and students.

Wakelet collection of all Tweets from the chat – linked here

Why? New teachers and experienced teachers will benefit from the many features that include: “Equity and Access”, “Agency and Identity”, and “Keep in Mind”. Here is the Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1: How do I Build and Maintain a Writing Community?  
  • Chapter 2: What Should Students Know and Be Able to Do As Writers?  
  • Chapter 3: What Are Key Instructional Practices to Know and Use?  
  • Chapter 4 How do I Use Assessment For Students’ Benefit?  
  • Chapter 5: How do you shift agency from teacher to students in the writing classroom?

Curious? Interested in a specific chapter?

I’m on my third reread courtesy of my Kindle download. I’m currently checking my notebook entries against Melanie’s meticulously sourced ideas as I plan for some professional development in writing. I’m double checking and creating two column (or 2 color) notes for Melanie’s words vs. my reactions and thoughts. I’ve been studying writing during week long institutes for the last ten years and I think I have finally scratched the surface of teaching writing.

I often begin with the end in mind and I do so again in this post as I use Melanie’s words to describe her thoughts around this resource. We ask our authors these questions before each chat.

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

As the mother of four daughters who have gone to college and are now working, I have a front row view of the importance of writing and people’s ability to use and leverage the power of written expression. Schools have many priorities and teachers take on many responsibilities; I want to make sure that powerful writing instruction remains or becomes important. I also want to provide pathways and possibilities for teachers who are looking to be the best possible writing teacher they can be. 

Melanie Meehan

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

Writing this book challenged me to distill all that I know, wonder, and believe as a writing teacher into the most basic elements. Before drafting, I sat and worked to establish my own guiding beliefs about writing instruction. Those beliefs centered me and served as guideposts as I wrote. My hope is that teachers who read this book will also take the time to establish their guiding beliefs, which could be different from mine. Guiding beliefs create a powerful foundation for developing, revising, and fine-tuning all elements of teaching and learning. 

Melanie Meehan

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

Children learn to write in different ways, and there are many processes, pathways, and possibilities. For many teachers, it’s easier to identify as a reader than it is to identify as a writer, but being a writer and studying my own processes, struggles, and celebrations has led to my greatest understandings and insights about how to teach children to write.  

Melanie Meehan

Pathways and possibilities are the two words that challenged me as I read and reread Melanie’s thoughts in response to our author questions. Distilling beliefs and knowledge. Identifying as a reader or as a writer. Those themes took me back to the chat archives!

These three quotes from Melanie’s book were the pre-chat teaser, the opening and the closing. Pause for a minute and think about how these apply to your role. Which one would you like to discuss?

Goals, beliefs, and mindsets. What a treasure trove of ideas! And then just a sampling of Melanie’s tweets below illustrates the chat story line of non-negotiables, choice, writing environment, writing examples, writing identities and timelines, “I’m done”, handwriting and conventions, kidwatching, seminars, resources, student self-assessments and mentor texts.

In Conclusion

Writing is complex. Writing is a combination of physical skills (actual writing or keyboarding) and mental skills that include thinking/generating ideas, sorting out the best and most important ideas for inclusion, how to best present ideas and examples and the entire writing process.

Writing that conveys the precise meaning of the author is complex. Writing style is also individual. Every writer begins, pauses, and stops at different places.

Writing instruction is complex when it is responsive to student needs and dispositions. Teachers, families, and communities need to explore what they value in writing instruction and expand their support roles just as they do in reading because writers also deserve quality support. A knowledgeable guide can help you find access points that will benefit your writers and encourage their growth. Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Writing can be that guide for new teachers, experienced teachers and administrators leading literacy work focused on writing.

Additional Resources:

Chapter 1 Preview Link

Corwin Downloadable Resources Link

Melanie Meehan – author page link

Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading

by Mary Howard

You can access our Wakelet chat artifact here

On 4/14/22, we had the great pleasure to welcome an old friend to our #G2Great guest host seat. Christina Nosek first joined our chat with co-author Kari Yates on 6/7/18 for their book, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy (2018, Stenhouse). This week Christina returned to help us explore her amazing new book, Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading (2022, Corwin)

Christina opens her book with a loving hat tip to her first-year mentor, veteran teacher Midge. In celebration of the “Midge inspired mentors” that every teacher so richly deserves, we shared Christina’s words below during our chat that is a foundational centerpiece of professional dedication.

In one sentence, Christina offers three essential reminders:

1) Find a mentor who will set you on a success trajectory (and stay on course)

2) Acknowledge the never-ending role of your professional quest for learning

3) Keep children at the ver center of your efforts from the first day to the last

These three beliefs reflect the heartbeat of Teaching Elementary Reading and are intricately interwoven across the pages of the book. Through her words, we are consistently asked to verbalize, internalize and individualize our beliefs often and with a critical lens. It’s worth adding that while our first mentors launch a path to professional excellence, our need for mentor figures continues across our careers. I have been blessed to have countless mentors across fifty years and counting who inform and support my thinking even now. Christina models deep respect for the mentorships that will sustain us even in the most of challenging of times if we are willing to take the time to find and access the inspiration and information they so generously offer us and put it into glorious action.

In each of our #G2Great guest chats, we ask our authors to respond to three questions that offer insight into their book WHY. Since our first question directly reflects the mentors who support us, let’s begin here:

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

When I was a first year teacher, I was mentored by a dedicated and loving grade level partner named Midge, who I discuss in the introduction of the book. I was so fortunate to have a mentor to turn to whenever I had a question or concern around the teaching of reading. Many teachers do not have a Midge to mentor them as they enter the profession. I hope teachers can turn to this book in the way that I turned to Midge many years ago. 

One of the wonderful things about the entire Corwin Five to Thrive Series is that they are all positioned around essential “guiding questions.” These questions are unique to each book in the series and offer a reader friendly, belief driven experience. Christina poses and responds to six essential questions that include five key areas:

1) community (pages 8-35)

2) organization and planning (pages 36-67)

3) instructional principles (pages 68-101)

4) assessment (pages 102-125)

5) student agency (pages 126-145)

NOTE: I linked sneak peek chapter descriptions on Christina’s wonderful blog

These five chapters are tied together with next step words of wisdom in chapter 6 (pages 146-148). To add to this question-based framework, each of the five umbrella questions have 7-12 subquestions as well as additional questions that accompany wise instructional suggestions and advice across the book. With professional grace, Christina gifts us with our own mentor between two covers.

When we are honored to have an author lead our #g2Great chat twitter style discussion, we ask them to craft their own questions. We do this because it gives us a glimpse into what each author believes are the most relevant underlying book ideas from their perspective and how we can translate the passions that fueled their writing into a chat format so that those same passions will rise to the surface in the form of a twitter discussion. Because we value their responses to their own questions, let’s pause for moment and look at our six questions with Christina’s thoughts about each one in the course of the chat.

TWITTER QUESTIONS/RESPONSES

Q1 Drawing from the “Five to THRIVE” series theme, let’s establish our #G2great baseline. What do you value most in reading instruction that is designed to help children THRIVE? What practices are non-negotiable?

Q2 What are specific ways that teachers can grow and nurture the reading communities in their classrooms? 

Q3 Describe one high-impact instructional method or routine that both engages students and stretches them as readers. How do you know the method/routine works for your students?

Q4 What does it mean to use reading assessment in the service of students? What does this look like in the classroom? 

Q5 What advice would you give to a new teacher who is learning about the teaching of reading or to a veteran who wants to make their reading instruction more authentic?

Q6 One goal of our #G2Great chats is that you will take action after the chat. What have you seen or heard tonight that you a) want to learn more about? b) want to implement? Or c) want to revise to meet the needs of your students?

Christina’s responses clearly illuminate what matters deeply to her, both in her book as well as over twenty years in her own classroom. Let’s extend this by sharing her response to our second question on her book takeaway hopes:

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

My hope for teachers is that they embrace following the lead of their readers in the classroom. I want teachers to feel inspired to teach the readers in front of them rather than follow a canned curriculum page by page. Afterall, we are teachers of children, not of curriculum. 

In Teaching Elementary Reading, Christina heightens our responsibility to envision a broader perspective that is sorely needed in our schools right now while also cautioning against the one-size-fits-all approaches and practices that have long maintained a stranglehold in our schools. She asks us to expend our time and energy in the most effective, productive, and yes, joyful ways by making a commitment to let go of those things that set up roadblocks to what matters most. This process of “letting go” reminds us of the harmful impact on our learning day when a clock rigidly dictates every choice we make. Christina reminds us that we always have a choice about how we spend the important moments of our day and that those choices clearly reflect that we see ourselves as “teachers of children, not curriculum.”

One of the choices Christina enthusiastically asks us to embrace is reflected in this second quote above we shared during our #G2great chat. This is not only a choice that she embraces in this book, but one that she has embraced in her own classroom since I have known her. Volume is a topic that Christina holds dear and she approaches this with deep conviction for three areas of reading she refers to in her book: reading to learn, reading to be entertained, and reading to grow.

Before I close this post, let’s return to Christina’s third question:

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

It’s ok to feel that you do not have all the answers right now. Learning and growing as a teacher is a continual journey. Never stop seeking out the ways to best support your students. I am a very different teacher than I was even five years ago. I hope to teach differently five years from now. Serving students is all about learning and growing. 

The most important thing you need to know right now is that you are on a continual learning journey to be the kind of reading teacher who values your own learning because you know your students’ learning depends on it.” (p 6)

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

Early in the book, Christina cuts to the chase and focuses her attention on what matters most in our teaching as she brings Teaching Elementary Reading to life across each page filled with essential advice.

“Good teaching always involves following the lead of your students above all.” Christina Nosek, page 17

Every suggestion, every idea, every description and every question Christina posed and responded to so eloquently brings us back again and again to the reason for all we do – our students and what is in their best interest. Teaching Elementary Reading is a book of questions; but even more than that it is about crafting questions that rise out of curiosity and commitment to children and using them as a springboard for the view that teaching is a process of reflective introspection that helps us to make the best possible choices on their behalf.

As I began writing this post and revisiting the incredible questions Christina crafted to guide her readers on their own journey, it occurred to me that generating questions can initiate a powerful process of exploratory discovery. Just as I am certain that Christina fine-tuned her thinking in the course of breathing life into each question, we too could do the same. Just imagine if teachers created a growing list of BURNING questions, using those questions as the gentle nudge that can lead to a “continual learning journey to be the kind of reading teacher who values your own learning because you know your students’ learning depends on it” Self-discovery begins with the questions that drive us to know more, to understand more, to be more and to apply those things in our teaching. And when those questions inspire us to reflect on our innermost beliefs and commitment to kids, it can awaken the best kind of teaching and learning that occurs in the company of and in the name of kids.

I am very privileged to call Christina Nosek a dear friend, making this opportunity to craft our #g2Great post this week an added honor.

Thank you, Christina!

Shake Up Shared Reading: Expanding on Read Alouds to Encourage Independence.

By Brent Gilson

A record of the chat can be found on wakelet

This week the #G2Great team welcomed Maria Walther to discuss her new book Shake Up Shared Reading: Expanding on Read Alouds to Encourage Student Independence (2022, Corwin). It was a fast and furious chat of passionate educators sharing ideas and of course books. 

As an early teacher, I discovered the power of shared reading. Classes were captivated by the stories of a young pig or a group of kids who discovered their teacher was an alien. As a Canadian in elementary school, we had Robert Munsch books at the ready and kids on the edge of their seats. In one particular shared reading experience, the power of shared reading was on full display as we read I’M HERE by Peter Reynolds. 

That year in our class we had a student that had some pretty significant behavioral challenges. Kids had a hard time understanding the tantrums and the often disruptive behaviors. As they gathered to listen students began to make connections from that story to their own interactions with this student. That shared moment with text lead students to develop a newfound empathy for their classmate. This is just one of many moments in those early days of teaching that really illustrated to me the power of shared reading.

As the chat began rolling the community spent some time reflecting on the topic

For my own practice, I think about the opportunities I have to utilize shared reading experiences with my Junior and Senior High students. The power that comes from sharing a poem, modeling the reading, the thinking in community is always a rewarding experience. Even the opportunities to think through a novel and the author’s craft. These teaching moments can’t be replicated with worksheets.

As the chat continued we discussed the various ways shared reading experiences show up in our classrooms.

The environment that we try to establish is a key piece to the success of Shared Reading in the classroom. I think about the sense of wonder that was established as I read novels to my third graders or the fun that would fill the room as junior high students would follow along as I read The Adventures of Huggie and Stick or the emotions that spilled over while we practice Notice and Note reading That Squeak. All of this was made possible by the environment that we built as a community.

The opportunity to use Shared Reading time to assist in other teaching moments makes it all the more important. Modeling thinking, working on strategies, building relationships, and forming a love of reading are all byproducts of time spent in shared reading experiences.

Of course, what would shared reading be without the amazing books we can access and bring into the classroom? I loved the time spent at the start of every year reading The Graveyard book with my 6th-grade classes. I loved the moments we spent on the edge of our set reading Refugee by Alan Gratz. So often the favorite memories shared by students are those moments they recall as their teacher leaves them at the cliffhanger end of a chapter… to be continued. Finding the right book can be a challenge luckily Fran Mcveigh created a little Padlet full of suggestions for your classroom.

The #G2Great team is so grateful to Maria Walther for her time and this wonderful book and chat. I am personally grateful for the reminders that even though I teach the big kids that we can all take time to enjoy the joys of shared reading.

AUTHOR REFLECTIONS

We always appreciate the insight that only authors can give us about their book. Below are Maria’s reflections on three questions that offer us an insider’s view.

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

I wrote this book while adjusting to no longer having my own classroom (after 34 years) and to living during a pandemic. I knew that I wanted to continue to support and partner with teachers in any way that I could. I’ve received so many kind tweets, notes, and e-mails about the positive impact Ramped-Up Read Aloud has had on children because it has helped teachers, librarians, and families engage in joyful interactive read-aloud experiences. I wanted to take the ideas in that resource a step further.

There is never enough time in the teaching day, but during the past two years instructional time has become even more compressed. My motivation in writing this book was to help teachers to see the endless teaching possibilities that can be found right inside their students’ favorite books. Then, spotlight those skills and strategies in short bursts of shared reading. If the ideas in Shake Up Shared Reading get one child hooked on books or make one teacher’s life even a teeny bit easier, then I’ve met my goal!

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

I’m hopeful that teachers who read Shake Up Shared Reading will embrace short bursts of shared reading. A short burst of shared reading happens when teachers and students collaboratively reread vibrant picture books with a laser-focus on either processing or comprehending text. Each short burst follows the gradual release of responsibility model with a “my turn, our turn, your turn” structure. After the short bursts, learners are invited to take a writer’s stance while innovating on the text.

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

There is no one who knows your students better than you do. Trust your professional expertise. Prioritize meaningful and joyful book experiences like read aloud and shared reading because they strengthen your learning community and support students’ reading development. Watch learners’ eyes light up when they predict where a story is heading and listen to their laughter as they grasp a humorous play on words. Schedule time every day to share a text and share the learning.

Writing Clubs: Fostering Choice, Collaboration and Community in the Writing Classroom

by Fran McVeigh

Wakelet archive of chat tweets here

On Thursday, March 31, 2022, the #G2Great chat featured Lisa Eickholdt and Patricia Vitale-Reilly discussing their book Writing Clubs: Fostering Choice, Collaboration and Community in the Writing Classroom. Neither author is new to #G2Great. Lisa was a guest host at #g2Great for The Power of Student Writing as Mentor Text on September 3 and 10, 2015 and Patty was a guest host on June 8, 2017 for Engaging Every Learner and October 19, 2017 for Supporting Struggling Learners. This new text about Writing Clubs has a magical and practical feel after the disjointedness of education in the pandemic years.

The subtitle says: Fostering Choice, Collaboration and Community. As I reflected on that phrase and thumbed back through the text after our chat, I chuckled to myself. Of course the three Cs were in alphabetical order. However, the most logical place to begin is community and then work backwards through the remaining Cs. Let’s get started.

Why Community?

The Writing Clubs that Lisa and Patty describe in this book are based on a writing workshop classroom. That means that certain conditions already exist and one of the most important is community. The trust. The respect. The safe environment. All writers value each other and their experiences. That power of a community naturally and planfully evolves into a collaborative setting when teachers capitalize on the time that is available for students to write.

Ideas for building community from Lisa and Patty:

Why Collaborate?

Pre-chat Quote

Research on the power of talk appears across the content areas. The increase in engagement, written production, increased depth of thoughts . . . all are possible with collaboration. The teacher has some decisions to make. Should students work as partners? Triads? Partners squared with a second partner group? Space determines some limitations and yet technology can transcend physical space when students are ready to read, review and offer feedback on each other’s work.

Why Choice?

Choice.

Do students really have choice?

What’s the reality?

Do students “get to choose” what they write about in their student writing notebooks? What they write on a daily basis? When they write? The formats they use? What do we know about what students WANT to write if we would only let them?

Consider this . . .

Conduct a status check for students. Then also conduct a status check for teachers. Move into a deep look at writing identity. If the writers have a timeline of their writing identity, have them code the times when they had choice in their writing. They may code choice of topic separately from choice in format. What information are you looking for? What information will guide your future instruction?

Why does choice matter? Carolyn succintly says it here.

When teachers responded to a question about choice, these kindergartners had 95% choice. Some high school students had little to no choice in writing. Similarly, college students had few choices.

So are students writing because they are compliant students? Do they view themselves as writers? Are they writing enough to improve? Where do they go for feedback? Do they have real audiences? Real purposes to write?

And then Part 2 of the book . . . Chapters 3 – 8 . . . the good stuff! Complement Clubs and Stand-Alone Clubs

“I barely have time to teach all the requirements. Where will this fit?”

Teacher question

Maybe you will find logical places in your calendar. Those few days before a longer break. A more casual setting during state tests. Those final days of a semester. Where writing clubs will fit for you and your students may need more exploration, but make a plan. Don’t let it fall off your radar.

The good news is that Lisa and Patty provide the rationale for complement clubs in process, craft, and digital clubs. Stand-alone clubs are genre, author, and conventions clubs. And (drumroll . . .) these clubs can be face to face, hybrid or digital learning. The frameworks have considerations for each type of learning environment.

So many resources. So many opportunities. So much joy in writing.

Lisa and Patty provide examples such as the chart below on collaborations or possible authors, or a month long outline of a club. These examples make this book a necessity for any teacher looking to ramp up their writing instruction and student engagement in writing! With Lisa and Patty’s expertise as your guide, you can consider the clubs that would benefit your students and begin immediately!

You’ve read a lot about the chat and the book from my perspective as a writer and reader helping folks navigate the writing terrain that I see and hear in districts. Let’s hear from the authors about their intentions and expectations for this book!

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

Patty began using writing clubs in her classroom years ago and saw the tremendous difference it made with her students. She loved how these clubs fostered choice, collaboration, and community. When she shared this idea in sessions she and Lisa were leading, the participants wanted to know how they could implement writing clubs.  After seeing the teacher’s excitement, the idea for the book was born. 

We have seen the impact writing clubs can have on students’ writing. Providing students with time to collaborate with their peers on self-selected writing projects and studies, can reignite the workshop classroom. We hope teachers will take the idea of writing clubs and run with it. We give examples of six types of clubs teachers might implement, but we’d love to see what new clubs teachers come up with on their own. 

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

The title of the book really says it all. In particular, the words after the colon: Choice, Collaboration, and Community. We believe these three C’s are the key to excellent writing instruction. Our book puts forth methods and ways to promote each of these concepts. Our hope is that teachers will incorporate these ideas into their instructional practice as we believe they make a world of difference in kids’ writing. 

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

As writers, we have witnessed firsthand the power of collaboration and feedback. Lisa belongs to a critique group that meets once a month to discuss each member’s current picture book. Patty has her own writing posse who she meets with to flesh out writing and professional development ideas. We have learned that writing well is a lifelong pursuit and receiving peer feedback along the way is invaluable. In addition, it’s fun! Our meetings often include food, wine, and books (some of our favorite things). Teachers are expert at taking something adult authors do, and finding a way to put these ideas into practice with students. Writing clubs are a great way to bring the idea of critique groups into our writing work (keep the wine for the adults though :)).

Concluding Thoughts

This quote …

plus a bit of “Joy Writing” or “Greenbelt Writing” (Hat Tip to Ralph Fletcher) needs to inform our educational practices. How, when and where we incorporate low-stakes writing, more choice, collaboration and increased community is literally up to us. This book, Writing Clubs, gives us the tools and the best advice from two author-practitioners who have worked successfully with writing clubs!

___________________________________

Additional Resources:

Writing Clubs Study Guide Link

Lisa Eickholdt Link

Patty Vitale-Reilly Link