Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

How Education Policy Shapes Literacy Instruction: Understanding the Persistent Problems of Policy and Practice

Access our #G2Great Chat Wakelet HERE

Written by Mary Howard

On 9/7/23, we were honored to welcome first-time guest, Dr. Rachael Gabriel, to our #G2Great chat. Our discussion centered around her MUST-HAVE book: How Education Policy Shapes Literacy Instruction: Understanding the Persistent Problems of Policy and Practice Edited by Rachael Gabriel (1st Ed 2022, Palgrave Macmillan). Rachael Gabriel not only edited this book, but she also wrote or co-wrote four of the eight chapters.

If you’re professionally active and research-informed, you know Dr. Rachael Gabriel. A Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Connecticut, faithful educators across the world do a deep dive into her research articles and social media wisdom. Given that Rachael has long topped my MUST-READ list, I ordered How Education Policy Shapes Literacy Instruction immediately. It quickly became my trusted daily reference.

In an age where we watch the tremendous impact of ‘persistent problems of policy and practice’ unfolding in our educational landscape at every turn, I cannot imagine a research reference more desperately needed in these challenging times. Rachael’s book highlights key aspects that we see playing out now and offers insight into the history as well as the impact these issues are having in current times.

In the preface on p. ix, Rachael identifies SIX CATEGORIES explored in the book which I condensed below:

1) Retention

2) Remediation

3) Early Literacy

4) Reading Difficulties

5) Language Learners

6) Teacher Quality

Rachael follows the identification of these six categories by explaining:

“These topics are among the most important topics in local, state, and national policy. Understanding the foundations and trajectories of such issues and arguments is vital in the study and design of future research, advocacy, and policymaking efforts to produce substantive, positive change.” (p. ix)

I rarely read professional books front to back, but rather use a personal path that makes sense to me. When my copy arrived, the preface and introduction set the stage but I then moved to Chapter 4 on Early Reading Instruction: Politics and Myths About Materials and Methods (pages 89-120). Authors Natalia Ward, Nora Vines, and Rachael Gabriel wrote the quote below shared early in the chat. This illustrates why I began by reading an issue that’s rapidly escalating:

If we don’t understand where we have been and draw from that knowledge in ways that will help us to maneuver where we currently reside in history, then how do we approach past issues that rear their ugly head again in thoughtful ways? How can we possibly hope to understand them from all sides so that we may address them in reasoned ways? I do that with a firm grasp on this book while also seeking extensions of the book for added meaning.

One of those extensions is Jennifer Serravallo’s podcast, To the Classroom: Conversations with Researchers and Educators. Jennifer spotlighted this book in two podcasts before it was published. I happily listened to both:

Session 8 on 4/10/23 highlights Chapter 2: Retention in Grade and Third-Grade “Trigger” Laws: History, Politics, and Pitfalls with Dr. Gabriel P. Della Vecchia


When Jennifer asked Dr. Della Vecchia about the social-emotional impact of retention, he emphasized a direct and lingering negative impact:

8:17 “One of the most striking things in the research about retention is how infrequently student voice appears. People don’t bother to ask kids how they feel about it. It’s always about the economic health of the nation or some gigantic thing and we forget to say that this is a child’s life; this is their one time through their schooling. How do they feel about this?”

In Session 9 on 4/17/23, Jennifer discussed How Education Policy Shapes Literacy Instruction with Rachael Gabriel


18:57 “…what we really need to be asking teachers to do is learn their students well and respond effectively. That was always the name of the game. That is always going to be the name of the game.”

Jennifer posed a pertinent question at marker 19:39 “If you were to design a classroom for early literacy, what would it look like?”

19:56 “So, the easiest place for me to start is like non-negotiables. They’ve got to read write and talk about reading and writing every day. And I don’t want to hear the whole, ‘but they don’t know how to read or write yet’ because everybody is literate one way or another and we need to see the way that they’re using literacy in their everyday lives or even in their school lives. Notice it, name it as what it is and build on exactly what they’ve got going on.”

I found myself returning to these essential discussions as I read the book. I was able to merge these varied sources which elevated my book understandings.

Because these sources can be rich informants for reading, let’s shift our focus from the book to our #G2Great chat celebration of How Education Policy Shapes Literacy Instruction. To do that, I’ll share Rachael’s Twitter-style words of wisdom in the form of tweets. The thinking that was inspired by the chat experience can also support and extend our thinking inspired by the book.


Below are five questions with Rachael’s tweet/s followed by my thoughts.

Q1 Let’s start with the subtitle: “Understanding the Persistent Problems of Policy and Practice.” Why do we need to intentionally seek these understandings? What is one persistent problem of policy and practice you are facing in your professional life?

NOTE: Rachael shared the link to Allington’s article mentioned above HERE:

Rachael makes it clear across the book that research can both inform and enrich our WHY which can also support our future choices. She beautifully responded to this with two points that set our chat discussion up from the start (The 2nd part of the question is reflected by the Six categories listed in the preface on p. ix and in my opening words in this post.)

It’s worth reposting a quote I shared earlier here (p. ix)

“Understanding the foundations and trajectories of such issues and arguments is vital in the study and design of future research, advocacy, and policymaking efforts to produce substantive, positive change.”

Q2 If not reading laws, then what? What are other ways that states (or federal government) can thoughtfully address concerns about improving literacy achievement?

Rachael wisely shifts our attention back to students by asking us to consider conditions that will nurture and support our efforts for “ambitious, responsive instruction.” This is a critical point at a time when the political push and pull seems to be singularly focused on robbing teachers of agency while putting trust in programs that don’t even know the recipients of questionable dictates. When buying STUFF becomes our go-to knee-jerk reaction and diverts us from the impact teachers as decision-makers can have, we go against the grain of what we should be holding dear.

Q3 If early literacy development can take a variety of trajectories in terms of pace and focus based on individual differences among learners, how can a new generation of curricular tools take such complexity into consideration?

I was grateful that Rachael highlighted the powerful impact of “child watching + informed noticings.” Critical practices that inform and support our decision-making are too often supplanted for data-fied technological dictators that further remove teachers from more meaningful sources of understanding – understandings that could lead to in-the-moment professional actions our children deserve and need. In other words, putting our faith in pre-packaged nonsense demeans the impact knowledgeable teachers bring to bear on a day-to-day basis.

Q4 Globally, developing literacy in multiple languages in school is considered part of the norm.  Why is this not the case in the US and what would it take to adjust this in the future?

This is beautifully addressed in Chapter 6 by Amber N. Warren and Natalia Ward: A Language for Literacy Learning: Language Policy, Bi/Multilingual Students and Literacy Instruction in these words:

“Language policy and literacy instruction in the United States need to reflect the cultural and linguistic reality of their students.” (p 159).

Rachael’s message about honoring all languaging is key but the words that gave me readerly chills were that this honoring would “then extend and connect like a flower that has found the sun.” Sadly the question remains although the response is as yet uncertain: “Will we bring those words to life or continue to ignore them?

Q5 What would be different if standardized testing was abolished?  If a national curriculum was created? 

Standardized testing is indelibly tattooed into the very fiber of educational systems, so Rachael’s response was a breath of fresh air. It’s hard to envision a time in education when we have engaged communities and design pathways to support suggested priorities. Some days it feels like an impossible quest, and yet it also gives me hope for the future. As this two-way tweet with Yvette Rosario-Perez suggests, imagine if the issues in education were removed from those who know little about teaching and put in the hands of those who have both knowledge and experience and thus can contribute most to this discussion.


In Chapter 8 of Influence and Evidence in Reading-Related Policy, Rachael Gabriel and Shannon Kelley write on page 195:

“Growing in excellence as we grow in size requires expanding our frame of reference: for reading, its measurement, and teaching; for who is accountable for ensuring excellent reading instruction; and for what counts as excellent reading instruction for every child, every day. It requires quelling panic around persistent questions and instead engaging with the full complexity of providing opportunities to learn across contexts and cultures in a large and changing country. That this is difficult should not be cause for alarm or evidence of crisis.”

Imagine the powerful possibilities of discussions framed on the quote above rather than what we could do, buy, or force feed on teachers. Our conversations will always center on what we prioritize and this is grounded in the questions we pose and respond to. The time has come to recognize that we cannot have rich conversations by prioritizing the wrong things. Sadly,it is teachers and ultimately children who pay that price.

The authors gave me the perfect lead into Every Child Every Day” so I happily followed. Given a solid research foundation decades in the making, Richard Allington and Rachael Gabriel detail six research-based elements that every child should have in place every day. We all too often seek solutions that move as far away from research-based elements as they can get. Rather we look for quick-fix solutions in favor of OTHER-ING, or trusting WHO or WHAT that removes us from these non-negotiables our children so richly deserve. 

I shared a photo tweet from my #G2great chat chair in Honolulu near the end of the chat that is fitting closing. When Matt Renwick asked me about a book I’d recommend to administrators, I didn’t hesitate to share “How Education Policy Shapes Literacy Instruction.” To be honest, he could have substituted any group and my answer would have been the same. Having followed Rachael Gabriel’s work faithfully, I have read and dipped back into her book repeatedly since it was published and check her social media feed regularly. I believe that this book should be in the hands of anyone making decisions for our schools.

Rachael’s wisdom warrants giving her the final words in chat question 6:

Q6 Our #G2Great discussion with Rachael Gabriel can inspire new discussions, explorations, considerations and directions. What is one thing that you learned tonight you want to pursue more deeply through personal research or professional dialogue?

We are indebted to Rachael Gabriel for generously sharing her wisdom on a #G2great chat we will long be discussing and revisiting. Thank you, Rachael!


Rachael Gabriel is Professor of Literacy Education at University of Connecticut USA. She studies the intersection of education policy and classroom practice, prepares literacy specialists and doctoral students, and supports teachers and schools to build systems that create equitable opportunities to develop literacy.


How Education Policy Shapes Literacy Instruction: Understanding the Persistent Problems of Policy and Practice Edited by Rachael Gabriel (1st Ed 2022, Palgrave Macmillan)

To the Classroom podcast with Jennifer Serravallo: Chapter 2: Retention in Grade and Third-Grade “Trigger Laws: History, Politics, and Pitfalls Dr. Gabriel P. Della Vecchia

To the Classroom podcast with Jennifer Serravallo: Book discussion with Rachael Gabriel: How Education Policy Shapes Literacy Instruction: Understanding the Persistent Problems of Policy and Practice

Every Child, Every Day by Richard Allington and Rachael Gabriel (ASCD March 1, 2012, Vol 69, No. 6)  

Read-Alouds with Heart: Literacy Lessons That Build Community, Comprehension, and Cultural Competency.

BY: Brent Gilson

One of my favourite parts of being on the #G2Great team is the opportunity to reflect on the topic and write a blog post inspired by the discussions around the featured book. This week we looked at a topic that has always been near and dear to me as a teacher, the Read-Aloud. When I started teaching, I was in a 3rd-grade classroom. At the time, fresh out of University, I did not think about the books I chose to read. Most of the time, it was to inspire writing in my students; I did not in that first year understand the power of a read-aloud.

I remember the first time I really recognized the power of a read-aloud as a community builder. I was teaching fourth grade, and a student in that class was neurodivergent. When I started at the school, the class and the student struggled greatly. The combination of a lack of empathy shown by the class community and regular outbursts and class disruptions damaged the community. One day we gathered as a class to read Peter Reynolds I’m Here.

As we read the text, students started to look around for their classmate. He was not present that day and then connections and thoughts started pouring out of the kids. They asked if their classmate was like the boy in the story, and they began to understand him better in that very brief moment. This simple little story, read aloud, and the conversation that followed helped my students explore thinking they previously had not entertained, resulting in a closer class community. This book, like many others, helped my students approach a concept that seemed out of reach. The beauty of the read-aloud and the community we form is in the way our young learners can approach complex ideas.

As I moved from 3rd grade to 4th, then 6th, and then transitioned to Junior and yes even Senior High, the power and effectiveness of Read-Aloud with picture books continued to hold true. We discussed structures of thinking and ways we can build comprehension and then we would dive in to read and experience great texts. Reading aloud a story like I am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Gillian Newland

opened opportunities for us to look at Residential Schools (I think referred to as Indian Boarding Schools in the USA). The conversations in my High School classroom may look different than in a Grade 3 room but the text remains the same. We would be able to dive not only into the powerful text and story but also the imagery, and how visual literacy skills help to convey tone. I find teachers who neglect the practice of reading aloud are leaving a lot of learning opportunities on the table, and I hope my High School colleagues will pick up a book like Read-Alouds with Heart to help build their practice.

In my own professional practice, I have witnessed the power of Read-Alouds as not just an instructional tool but as a community builder. The discussions that come after reading a book like Ibtihaj Muhammad’s The Proudest Blue, illustrated by Hatem Aly

in my rural 99% white classroom, are always focused on learning. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop famously coined. Books can serve as Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors for all our students. I find the Read-Aloud serves as a way teachers can help provide those mirrors and open those windows and doors; we just need to be willing and ready to.

Being able to help facilitate these discussions requires educators to be ready themselves. We can not lead or even provide a safe place for this powerful learning without doing the self-work required.

There is an authenticity in this work that is required to do it well. Without interrogating ourselves and doing that learning, we will be ill equipt to lead in our classroom communities. We can read all the books, we can share them with our students, and feature them on our Instagram feeds to show how “dedicated” to the work of anti-racism or SEL or any other focus in education, but until we are looking at our role in these systems, we will not be effective in helping our students learn and grow with Read-Alouds or any other practices within our classrooms.

I love the opportunity to write the chat blog because it helps me to think. It helps me to interrogate the practices I have in place in my classroom and look at how I can apply new learning found in great professional resources like Read-Alouds with Heart and in the discussions from the chat. We are better together as a community. Over the last few years, we have learned that more than ever. Read-Alouds with heart AND purpose, which this text provides, present us with the opportunity to build those communities.

Thank you to the authors of Read-Alouds with Heart, Dana Clark, Keisha Smith-Carrington, and Jigisha Vyas for joining the #G2Great chat this week.

If you are looking to pick up a copy it can be found here

Read-Alouds with Heart: Literacy Lessons That Build Community, Comprehension, and Cultural Competency (Grades K-2)

You can access our #G2Great Chat Wakelet artifact HERE

By Mary Howard

On 8/3/23, we welcomed #G2great chat guests, Dana Clark, Keisha Smith-Carrington and Jigisha Vyas to discuss the grade K-2 edition of their wonderful new book: Read-Alouds with HEART: Literacy Lessons That Build Community, Comprehension, and Cultural Competency (2023, Scholastic). We are excited about their return visit to our chat on 8/10/23 to discuss the grade 3-5 edition.

As I began reading, I was immediately struck by their collective commitment on page 5 of Dear Reader (You can read this beautiful letter in full at the end of my post). The authors explain that their collaboration began with “a seed of hope and a conversation.” I was inspired and very aware that their commitment can inspire ours. We too can plant seeds of hope by engaging in conversation that can become a rich springboard to change. If we are very wise, we will open this door to professional dialogue to come together for our children. Through our shared contemplation we can determine how to expend precious limited minutes in ways that will honor all of the beauty and brilliance that is within them.

Before our #G2Great chat began, we shared our first book quote below. This quote is a reminder that rising to the challenge of collective conversations is not limited to teachers. We must in turn extend conversational invitations to our children as we make them active participants in their own learning through rich inquiry centered on varied identities of book characters real-life people, self and others as we value the conversations they bring to the experience.

When we afford opportunities to contemplate real issues in their individual and shared corner of the world and beyond, we offer a precious gift. The renewed hyperfocus on scripted read-aloud dishonors the “RIGHT” described below. There is a vast difference between a read-aloud ball and chain vs. actively immersing children in exploratory thinking as they pose and contemplate their own questions in a safe invitational environment. We plant seeds of hope FOR and WITH children by giving them a seat of honor at the decision-making and discussion table.

PONDERING POINT: How are you keeping the promise of that “right: alive?

Since this identity work is central to Read-Aloud with HEART, I wanted to draw from some tweets that Keisha, Dana and Jigisha shared in our chat.

Words of wisdom from Keisha Smith-Carrington

Words of wisdom from Jigisha Vyas

Words of wisdom from Dana Clark

In Dana’s last tweet above, she kindly shared TYPES OF CIRCLES added below

When authors grace our #G2great chat, we ask them three questions that offer insight into their book. Let’s look at their response to our first question focused on their BOOK WHY beautifully co-written by Dana, Keisha and Jigisha:

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

We have spent the last few years supporting students and teachers through unprecedented stress and uncertainty, in school, at home, and in communities. We’ve all been there–been through it, many of us hope we are on the other side of it. But it raises the question: What is ”it”? The pandemic? No, not so easy. To wildly varying degrees, we’ve experienced the trauma of watching our society come unglued in the midst of the pandemic. As our screens lit up with images of a black man lying on the ground begging for breath, the very best and very worst of humankind showed up. George Floyd’s three words– “I can’t breathe,”–became an echo in our heads and hearts, and a voice heard round the world, igniting a call for social justice. People in every corner of the world began marching in protests, pushing for legislative action, and propelling us towards justice reform on a scale not seen in decades.  

But the worst was unleashed too, in chat rooms and on city streets, and in the heads of those who want to wall themselves off from diversity and equity. And children see and sense it all. The best and the worst. 

 For many students, the trauma of the last few years has been compounded by the fact that the so-called breaking news of violence is not new at all, but old and systemic. They know firsthand the way particular groups have been marginalized. 

As educators, we have to help students process this tumultuous world. It’s hard to believe that a 32-page picture book has the power to heal or solve anything. But it does.

That’s what our book is about. As educators, the time is now to create more socially and emotionally conscious schools. We are standing at a critical junction right now, with the possibilities of more inclusive schools on the horizon if only we commit to that path.

Read-Aloud with HEART is more than a book about reading aloud. The authors ask us to view both choosing and using books as a vehicle to experiences grounded in hope, humanity and humility so that we may touch and thus impact the lives of the kids in front of us . On page 26, they write:

“If they are to thrive, every one of our students needs to feel they belong and have worth in the fullness of any identities they hold.”

Soak that as you acknowledge that this won’t happen by chance…

They ask us to take accountability and responsibility not only to know our children but ourselves as well and understand how our identities can carry biases, misconceptions and assumptions that can become blinders to the realities of others. Read-Aloud with HEART lessons are not one-size-fits-all book recipes that narrow our view but rather book inspirations that offer open-ended invitations with unwavering belief for worth in the fullness of any identities they hold. Their respect for teachers and students is evident across every page as they show us possibilities book offers so that we can choose the right book at the right moment for children who need that book and those conversations that book inspires as we celebrate child-centered opportunities.

The book quote below also speaks volumes. Sadly, our humanity is in question as book banning intensifies across the country and in schools where books are literally being pulled from classroom shelves. Most of these are the very books that a child could connect to the characters and the stories that make them feel SEEN! We must hold tight to an opportunity to push back against anything that robs any child of book experiences that could be a pathway to acknowledging and celebrating who they are not just as learners but as humans.

PONDERING POINT How do you identify and use books that hold our humanity?

Now let’s look as they respond to our 2nd question on their BOOK HOPES:

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

     Before teachers get to bringing any of the books or lessons forward in their classrooms, we hope teachers understand that the journey of understanding our own identities and biases is essential and is ongoing. We hope teachers see the urgency around self-discovery and the importance of studying the intersection of their own identities and the identities of the students in their care. It is this understanding that influences their everyday interactions and can help them to avoid harm and love their students.

Read-Alouds with Heart springs from the premise that teachers are ready to open up their classrooms to diverse texts and conversations, and ready to cultivate social-emotional learning and students’ understanding of social justice, but they naturally want to do it “right.” With developmental appropriateness, nuance, authenticity, and not at the expense of developing reading skills. Picture books are a vehicle for achieving all these goals, of course, but the text itself is just the beginning. It’s for this reason that we provide specific lenses for reflection and conversation around each of the featured books, so that teachers feel confident and expert, every instructional minute. It is our hope that teachers will embrace and internalize this framework designed to help them select strategies and conversational prompts to bring to critical thinking and community to their classrooms.

The authors gave permission to add Table 1: Reading Lenses on page 9

In addition to the framework, we hope teachers can use our book to consider how our intentions for the experiences we bring to students inform more than the skill being taught; they also inform the structure we choose for the lesson. Our books’ lessons include multiple ways of engaging with students. We want teachers to know that if the goal is for students to share a pathway for thinking, or strategy, they might choose to frame a lesson with the step-by-step strategies offered. However, if their goal is to allow the voices and perspectives in the room to help students see each other’s ideas and be moved by each other, circles are the way to go. 


As I come to a close, I’d like to share a lovely gift from the authors. When we asked them what was a message from the heart they wanted teachers to keep in mind, they generously gave us permission to share an inspirational two-page “DEAR READER.” I fell so in love with these opening pages that I shared a quote at the beginning of this post. Please read their message from the heart slowly because you will then understand the very heart and soul of this book that they eloquently bring to life across the pages that follow.

We are so grateful to Jigisha, Keisha, and Dana for writing Read-Aloud with HEART. It’s a testament to teachers who will choose to open themselves up to someone else’s truth and to the children who will see a change in the world and inspire their own change because of these conversations from the HEART.

Pondering Point: How do you open yourself up to someone else’s truth?

We hope you’ll join us when our wise and wonderful friends return to the #G2Great guest seat as we turn our attention to Read-Alouds with HEART grade 3-5 edition. This is a wonderful opportunity to extend our discussion and widen your read-aloud view further (or explore it from their eyes for the first time.)

Learning to Be Literate: More Than a Single Story

You can read our #G2Great Wakelet Artifact HERE

Written by Mary Howard

On 7/13/23, we had the great pleasure to welcome guest hosts, Patricia Paugh and Deborah MacPhee to #G2great chat. We were all eager to engage in a lively discussion about their new book, “Learning to be Literate: More Than a Single Story” (2023, WW Norton Professional Books). We weren’t surprised that a passionate discussion ensued.

This was the 2nd half of a two-part book pairing including Paul Thomas:

Embracing Reading Science in the “Science of Reading” Era (see my post HERE)

I first met Deborah at the 2019 International Reading Association Annual Conference. After an early morning session with P David Pearson and Nell Duke: What Research Really Say About Teaching Reading and Why it Still Matters, I ran with Fran McVeigh to Deborah’s session with Sherry Sanden: Disrupting the Science of Reading Frenzy. See my notes HERE.

I felt such gratitude to be in that room and I feel the same gratitude for this brilliant collaboration that brought Pat and Deborah together! It seems like a full-circle moment.

Before the chat, we shared a quote reflecting a timely and relevant BOOK WHY:

They extend that view on p. x adding: “The children are our inspiration.” Their shared emphasis that rises from every page is about honoring children. These five words are imprinted in my mind with the overarching imperative that we cannot honor our children unless we refuse to narrow the realm of possibilities as media-driven messages have expected us to do. We are not motivated to do this by engaging in a “reading war” but by showing that our dedication is to put the needs of children and the research that guides those decisions FIRST.

Let’s take this BOOK WHY deeper. When we celebrate our #G2great authors, we ask them to respond to three questions. Question #1 extends their point above:

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

Deborah: “I was motivated to write this book after reflecting on my own educational experiences as a student, teacher, coach, and teacher educator and realizing how at every turn I was influenced by the reading wars – or the politics surrounding teaching children to read. It’s difficult to be in the field of literacy education and not get caught up in the war metaphor/discourse. Becoming aware of how this discourse shaped and influenced my thinking opened space for me to recognize when I was responding to an idea, a curriculum, a practice from an ideological position rather than an informed one. It allowed me to see that at any given time I was not considering the full spectrum of knowledge around the learning and teaching of literacy. I hope that this book supports other educators in exploring multiple dimensions of knowledge that must inform practice if we are to serve all children well. We don’t have to choose a side. We can put children at the center and use the best knowledge available across multiple dimensions to be responsive educators.”

Pat: “Our book is an opus for me in seeking to provide a full range of understanding, what Deborah and I call a knowledge map, based in the literature on literacy education and with attention to the diversity of learners who populate our classrooms. In the introduction I talk about my own history as a reader and a literacy teacher. I was a first grade teacher and reading specialist for almost two decades. My education grounded me about the benefits of phonics instruction and also about the importance of providing an instructional environment that builds a sense of competence and agency in young readers. The ongoing debate known as the ‘reading wars” has never been productive. Every classroom in the city where I am now a teacher educator is full of learners who bring cultural, linguistic, ability, and social resources that must be attended to and tapped to develop a full learning program including strong skills AND attention to those learning resources. Teaching literacy is not a single story but instead requires all of us invested in quality literacy education to transcend the debate and access the range of knowledge available to move learning forward.” 

These reflections are all important, but two key ideas below linger in my mind:

Deborah MacPhee: “We can put children at the center and use the best knowledge available across multiple dimensions to be responsive educators.”

Patricia Paugh: “Teaching literacy is not a single story but instead requires all of us invested in quality literacy education to transcend the debate and access the range of knowledge available to move learning forward.” 

Their words are a reminder that a single story asks us to wear blinders to whatever doesn’t fit within the story that EACH child brings to the learning table. While the desire these days seems to be for a simple view of literacy, we recognize that ‘Learning to be Literate’ is complex and simplicity ignores that complexity. I’m inspired by the authors’ literary gift that focuses on what our uniquely diverse learners deserve based on the depth and breadth of knowledge about all that they bring to learning!

In keeping with that thought, I’d like to begin by sharing a few #G2Great Twitter-style reflections during our chat using our first question:


Note that you can see all #G2Great Twitter responses HERE

Early in the chat we also shared this quote from the authors.

Since I selected tweets for our opening question (Q1), I’d like to do the same for our closing question (Q6) that relates to this quote and to the message of paying attention to “More Than a Single Story”:


Note that you can see all of the #G2Great Twitter responses HERE

This a good time to pause again to see how Patricia and Deborah responded to our second book reflection question:

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

Deborah: “There are many things that I hope teachers embrace from this book, but most importantly I hope that the teachers who read it understand that they are the most important factor in educating children. With that, I hope it gives them confidence to continue to seek out knowledge across cognitive, socio-cultural, affective, and critical dimensions and courage to trust themselves as they apply that knowledge in practice, keeping children at the center.”  

Pat “In the course of writing this book, we spoke with teachers and adult family members and asked what questions they had about how the children in their care learned to read. One common comment was that there was a need by the family members to know what to ask when in dialogue with their child’s teacher. In the final chapter we provide some guiding questions for both teachers and family members to use for those meetings. A second comment was from teachers who wanted information to support a responsive way to navigate the school curriculum to teach and assess their students. A third was to provide a frame for evaluating current instruction in a school setting to ensure that students were receiving the skills and also the dispositions necessary to become independent and effective users of their literacies. Our ALL framework (Active Literacy Learning) provides set of criteria based on the best in the field to ask what are we doing and what else needs doing in a classroom as well as in a school.”


Having read this beautifully crafted co-collaboration from Pat Paugh and Deborah MacPhee, it is my hope that every primary educator will hold this book close and refer to it often. Our primary responsibility to our children is an act of KNOWING and Pat and Deborah ensure they provide this support across their pages for their book:

Know the Research.

Know the Child.

KNOW research-informed instructional practices.

KNOW how to engage in professional decision-making that is responsive to the needs of children based not on mandates but on our critical KNOWINGS.

 On page xvii, Pat and Deborah said what feels like the perfect closing:

“We are unabashedly on the side of every child who is striving to become literate.”

I believe that this is the very heart & soul of Learning to be Literate and our ability to honor MORE THAN A SINGLE STORY. Pat and Deborah remind us that we cannot allow taking “SIDES” to block our view of this beautiful perspective. This essential book supports us as we focus on what matters most: CHILDREN

I’d like to end this post with the inspired thinking of Pat and Deborah as we turn back to our author reflections in our third question

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

Deborah: “You are in a position to make a positive difference for every child (and family) who enters your classroom. Keep learning, trust yourself, and always reflect on your practice in the light of new knowledge.”

Pat: “One of my favorite children’s books is about Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress. The title is Shirley Chisholm is a Verb (by Veronica Chambers). My rif on that is Literacy is a Verb! All our young learners should “do” things with their literacy to participate in their world – just like Shirley Chisholm.” 

On behalf of our #G2Great Twitter Chat team, I would like to express our deep gratitude to Pat Paugh and Deborah MacPhee for giving us so much rich food for thought and the wonderful ideas to put that thinking into glorious action. They have encouraged us to hold tight to the idea that our choices must reflect MORE THAN A SINGLE STORY and always in the name of ‘children as our collective inspiration.’ Thank you for giving us all the support we need to make that a reality Pat and Deborah!


Patricia Paugh is a professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she teaches literacy methods courses and is graduate program director for elementary education. Pat’s scholarship is centered on issues of critical and disciplinary literacy in early childhood and elementary education primarily through collaborative research with teachers in urban classrooms. Her work has been published in academic and professional journals including: Language Arts, Journal of Literacy Research, Reading Research Quarterly, Literacy Researcher: Theory, Method, Practice, and Teaching Education. She has also published three co-edited volumes focused on literacy learning: Teaching toward democracy with post-modern and popular culture textsA classroom teacher’s guide to struggling writers, and A classroom teacher’s guide to struggling readers. Pat brings an extensive background as a first-grade teacher and elementary reading specialist to her current practice as a teacher educator in a public university and as an advocate for teachers’ professionalism. She also currently serves as co-editor for Talking Points, a journal of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Deborah MacPhee is a professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, where she teaches literacy methods courses for undergraduates and directs the Mary and Jean Borg Center for Reading and Literacy. Deborah’s research critically examines discourses of literacy coaching and professional development school interactions and metaphors used in media portrayals of the science of reading. Her work has been published in several academic and professional journals, including Reading Research Quarterly, The Reading Teacher, The International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, School-University Partnerships, and The New Educator. Deborah is a former first and second grade teacher who currently assesses and tutors students who experience difficulty learning to read.

Interview by the NCTE Standing Committee on Assessment by Bobbie Kabuto from Queens College.

TITLE: Literacy Assessment as Advocacy: Learning to Be Literate: More than a Single Story

Part I: 

 Part II: 

How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students: A Primer for Parents, Policy Makers, and People Who Care (2nd Edition)

You can access the Wakelet for this chat HERE

Written by Mary Howard

On 7/6/23, we were honored to welcome #G2Great chat guest host, Paul Thomas to discuss his book, How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students (2nd Edition): A Primer for Parents, Policy Makers, and People Who Care (2022, IAP Information Age Publishing). This was the first chat in a two-part BOOK PAIRING that continues next week with Patricia Paugh and Deborah MacPhee.

Dr. P.L. Thomas, EdD is a Professor of Education at Furman University, in Greenville SC. I’ve enthusiastically followed his work since “The Science of Reading” first appeared on the educational landscape. His blogs on the topic at Radical Scholarship are read widely and he is a much sought-after speaker at conferences, webinars and podcasts. I attended a wonderful recent Zoom podcast with principal Matt Renwick: The Science of Reading Movement and the Never-Ending Debate: A Conversation with Paul Thomas.

As our chat opened, a quote from Paul’s book set the stage for our discussion:

With fingers resting on the keyboard, I reflect on our timely Twitter-style discussion with Paul and ponder the direction of my post on a chat that will long stay with me. I’m suddenly drawn full circle to my deep appreciation for Paul’s tireless efforts to inform and inspire us in challenging times.

My timeline below reflects key events with Paul that have fueled my thinking:

September 10, 2018: Hard Words: Why Aren’t Kids Being Taught to Read (Emily Hanford APM REPORTS). This important early introduction is what Paul refers to as “ground zero” of the Science of Reading Movement.

June 1, 2020: The 1st edition of Paul’s book was published. I am fortunate to be in an online group with Paul, so we had the advantage of a pre-publication read. It was instantly clear that his book was a rich contribution to this discussion.

August 1, 2022: The 2nd edition of Paul’s book was published with essential updates with ‘new developments around the “science of reading,” increasing impact on state policy and legislation, and an expanded research base’. Once again, it was what we needed.

November 21, 2019: I met Paul face-to-face for the first time at the ILA Annual Conference in New Orleans: Misreading the Science of Reading. It was the 1st time any major conference had broached this topic. The sense of desperation for guidance was evident when ILA had to find a larger room and we moved into a standing-room-only space. I shared my after session notes HERE. Looking back, I recall the atmosphere in that space of learning and I knew that this is what HOPE looks in a room where gratitude and relief filled the air.

Going back to “ground Zero, here is a quote we shared during the chat;

It is my hope that every educator will read How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students (2nd Edition): A Primer for Parents, Policy Makers, and People Who Care (2022, IAP Information Age Publishing) and be a regular reader of Paul’s extensive The Science of Reading blogs at Radical Scholarship.

For additional inspiration, it’s helpful to hear from the author. We asked Paul to share insight on his book including what motivated him to write the book, what impact he hopes it will have and any key takeaways. Here is what Paul said:

After blogging for a couple years, starting in 2018, on the growing SOR movement grounded in the media, specifically the work of Hanford, I realized I had enough material for a book.

The blog posts were important (and still are) but I felt a book would help raise the credibility of the work even though I am primarily concerned about impacting the public and political narratives around education and reading, ultimately seeking ways to curtail really misguided reading policy and legislation.

The grounding of the book, I think, is to put today’s reading “story” in historical context so that we can step away from the crisis/miracle dichotomy found in media and political discourse and ultimately policy.

The book, I hope, can better focus on the realities of the challenges children and teachers face when learning/teaching reading (poverty, inequity, class size, etc.) so that we may find opportunities to recommend complex and different policies and practices that will support students learning and teacher effectiveness.

My work in literacy is at the core of my 40 years as an educator, and I am grounded in Paulo Freire’s belief that literacy is liberatory; it is our work to help children read and re-read the world, to help children write and re-write the world.

In a recent article in The Journal of Reading Recovery: The Science of Reading Era: Seeking the “Science” in Yet Another Anti-Teacher Movement (Spring 2023, Volume 22, No 20, pages 5-18), Paul writes:

“Education crisis, teacher bashing, public school criticism, and school-based culture wars have a very long and tired history, but this version is certainly one of the most intense– likely because of the power of social media. The SOR movement, however, exposes once again that narratives and myths have far more influence in the U.S than data and evidence.” (p. 13)

To extend this influence, I’ll highlight our #G2great chat discussion with Paul to broaden the potential for social media to offer a useful counter narrative to what is all too commonly shared by The Science of Reading. To that end, I’ll spotlight some of the wonderful Twitter messages shared during the chat. (You can revisit our full chat discussion on Wakelet HERE.)

#G2Great Tweet Examples


In his book under the heading, “The Big Lie About the “Science of Reading” Paul writes

“Social media can also be a powerful window into how we think about and discuss education. The current reading war has been fueled significantly by social media, in fact, empowering parents and advocates for students with dyslexia armed with a compelling refrain, the “science of reading.” In many ways, the reading war fits perfectly into Twitter and Facebook, even though it has its roots many, many decades before either were created. (p. 25)

For too long, social media has taken an alarming dark path into a virtual battleground where speaking up comes with great risk. For many of us, this unfortunate and unexpected shift is now commonplace. As I think about this new digital atmosphere, I’m drawn to the chat tweets below. Just as I felt in that room the day I met Paul Thomas for the first time, our chat discussion with Paul gave us all a sense of hope and we are ready to meet the call and speak up on behalf of this profession, the teachers who work tirelessly to put kids first and above all the children who have always been at the center of our efforts. We can reclaim this space for respectful conversations that are needed. Find an inroad where such dialogue is welcomed while also being hypervigilent to avoid the quicksand of name-calling that too often rises to the surface and walk away.

These tweets below express what many of us are feeling:

We are grateful to Paul Thomas and so many others who are helping us to face these waves of uncertainty mixed with hope and possibility. Paul’s support will help us maneuver those Twitter Waters with a fresh new outlook.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your research-informed beliefs. Because if we don’t, then our voices will be silenced by the noise and chaos hiding in waiting behind unexpected corners.

And when in doubt remember Paul’s words in the heading of his amazing blog


P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a former column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and author of Teaching Writing as Journey, Not Destination: Essays Exploring What ‘Teaching Writing’ Means (IAP, 2019) and How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students: A Primer for Parents, Policy Makers, and People Who Care 2nd ed. (IAP, 2022). NCTE named Thomas the 2013 George Orwell Award winner. He co-edited the award-winning (Divergent Book Award for Excellence in 21st Century Literacies Research) volume Critical Media Literacy and Fake News in Post-Truth America (Brill, 2018). Follow his work @plthomasEdD and his blog (


Teachers Are Leaders (Podcast): Dr. Paul Thomas on the Multiverse that is the Science of Teaching Reading, June 2023 Schoolutions podcast, December 20, 2022 (recording); January 9, 2023 (release): S2 E18: How to End the Reading War: A Critical Conversation with Dr. P. L. Thomas

Teaching Fiercely: Spreading Joy and Justice in Our Schools

Wakelet archive is available here.

By Fran McVeigh

The #G2Great chat on June 1st with Kass Minor about Teaching Fiercely: Spreading Joy and Justice in Our Schools was amazing and so reflective of Kass’s work in school settings. There is so much wisdom in Kass Minor’s text. The title has super words: fiercely, joy, justice. These are words that embody so much of what we want for our students and our communities, but how do we get there?

As I started to write this blog post, I was pulled in several directions. But it was different to peruse the chat through TweetDeck scrolls rather than Wakelet. Basically, it has also been a pain. But being uncomfortable with the format has provided me with more thoughts about the ways that school is uncomfortable for some students 100% of the time. We must notice and study that “uncomfortableness.”(More on that in a different post as that was totally “Unjoyful”.)

The weekend after the chat, I spent a few hours at a dance recital. At one point, the costumes, the music, and the dance really changed. I said, “Oh, wow!” and my nephew said, “Cultural appropriation.” Two different perspectives of the same visual and auditory sequences. And that’s the reality of life right now. At least two, if not more, perspectives of ALL events. The key is acquiring knowledge, listening, and growing together as we break cycles of behavior that harm others.

This conversation took me back to Kass Minor’s book. Rereading. Thinking. Studying.

“This book is multifaceted. It calls upon educators to ask, to study, and to develop a practice in response to essential questions I’ve sought to answer, name and apply throughout my entire career in education: ________________________________________________

What is the pedagogy of justice? How is joy implicated in that pursuit? What does it mean to teach with our whole selves, fiercely?”


page xxv

As educators, we need to reflect, question, and study. But that’s not enough. If we stop there, we have missed the opportunity to continue to grow through our actions. And our missed actions. Two steps forward and one step back. Our journey will have twists and turns, will double back, and even have some dead ends. But the journey to joy and justice will be worth every tired and aching muscle.

What is teaching fiercely?

Other responses in the chat for teaching fiercely included:

Utilizing every moment, paying close attention to the students in front of us, zealously safeguarding instructional time, and listening closely to our students.

What is our end goal? What does “The work is the work” mean?

Both Kass and Cornelius, in the above tweets, remind us that this 1) will be work and 2) that we will have to do the work. WHY? Because JUST “reading the book, attending the conference, having the talk, or participating in the TweetChat ain’t the work…”

Before I compile tweets and responses from the chat, here’s what you need to know NOW!

This book is designed for you the reader to take action. To take action with your community. It’s a “How To” book not a “What to Do” of prescriptive tasks in a tidy list numbered 1-10. You, the reader, and your community will need to make decisions.

One of the first decisions will be about where to begin. Read Sara K Ahmed’s Foreward. DO NOT skip the Introduction. It provides both rationale and direction for your work. The section “How to Traverse This Book” (beginning on xxviii) is critical. This is not necessarily a book that needs to be read from cover to cover in sequential order. A Leadership Team may have an idea about where they want to begin based on previous endeavors.

So What is the Work? Here are some starting points.

1. Joy. Find it. Name it. Celebrate it.

2. Pedagogy

3. Reflect. Consider these pre-chat quotes from Kass:

And reflect on your roles!

In Conclusion . . .

There’s no one path to joy and justice. You and your community will need to determine the path as you set forth on this journey. There are so many influences on our lives. However, there is no time to waste. It’s time to put one foot in front of the other and start down a path. Reach out to Kass. Reach out to your community. The joy of working together will sustain you!


Additional Resources:

The Minor Collective

The Literacy Studio: Redesigning the Workshop for Readers and Writers

By Brent Gilson

For a record of the chat, check out the Wakelet here

I remember my first classroom still—a grade 3 class. I taught half-time. I was assigned to teach “Creative Writing” and Social Studies. The morning teacher was responsible for Math, Science, and Reading. I remember at the time thinking how weird it was that they would split reading and writing, but we did the best we could. When the kids were with me, we wrote and covered more writing-specific lessons. The idea that these two elements of language arts were separate and assigned to different teachers was hard to understand. I vowed that when I had my classroom, I would ensure I taught them together. This was long before I heard about a workshop approach to teaching.

Over the years, I learned. I implemented things like The Daily 5 and Café; we started adding different writing opportunities to our centers. As I moved up in grades I realized that students did not need to have as much structure as I was providing and I shifted to even more choice. In my last years of elementary teaching we had arrived at a literacy block of 90 minutes that was choice driven but I still had some rigid rules like “once you have chosen a task stick to it for 20 minutes” The idea of jumping back and forth was not something I was ready to embrace.

Transitioning to High School and the shorter periods, I have still been unable to totally figure it out but after the discussions from the chat I see myself embracing the idea of Literacy Studio when we return to the classroom in September. Some thoughts that helped renew my commitment to the Literacy Studio.

Further points highlight the reciprocal nature of reading and writing.

When we know that reading and writing compliment each other so well why are so many of use still invested in the separation and teaching of each in isolation?

It can be hard to imagine instruction differently than we were taught. It can be difficult to look at the way things have always been done and not only dream of better but to turn that dream into reality. It can be difficult but it is a challenge we can meet and one our students deserve. Reimagining the way we approach literacy instruction to not only be responsive to student needs but also respectful of student choices. That is what the Literacy Studio provides.

Big thanks to Ellin Keene for this rich text, joining in on the chat, and really helping teachers see different ways they can bring meaningful literacy work to their classrooms. If you have yet to pick up a copy make sure to check out The Literacy Studio here

We (still) Got This: What It Takes to Be Radically Pro-Kid

By Fran McVeigh

I’ve been working on something new to me from the quilting world. It’s paper piecing that is almost the opposite of “regular” quilting because the pieces are actually sewn to foundation paper in order to stabilize the irregularly shaped fabric pieces. It’s only my second attempt at paper piecing and I readily admit that the task is daunting. I have 158 pieces in my pattern. That’s fewer than last year’s big quilt. But with paper piecing each individual quilt piece has a varying number of parts itself labeled alphabetically, a-i, for a possible range of 158 pieces to 1,422. (yikes!) The letters tell me the order of sewing and it only works in alphabetical order but sometimes “a” is at the top, other times at the bottom, or even in the middle. Every piece is unique. Now that I have five of seven sections complete, I’m past the halfway mark. It often seems like I’m sewing upside down because the pattern is on the top where I sew and the right side is on the bottom of the pattern where the seams are magically hidden when I sew it correctly. How do I know? One, the fabric covers the pattern so no paper is “uncovered”; two, the seam is hidden; and three, the fabric is truly “right side up.” How did I learn that? When I had to replace nine pieces that were the wrong color. Three hours of ripping out and replacing taught me several important lessons, but more on that later.

Why did I include this information about paper piecing in this week’s blog? It’s new learning. I’m far from perfect even with five of seven sections completed because I haven’t practiced enough that it’s “easy” and “automatic”. Quitting or tucking this project away might be a solution except it’s a birthday present for someone very special next month.

Thursday night, April 6, 2023, found two dynamic, inspiring education leaders at the #G2Great chat table, and what an amazing conversation around this Schoolutions podcast by Olivia Wahl and Cornelius Minor. Olivia is in her second season hosting Schoolutions podcasting so you will want to check out all of the available podcasts here. The wide range of her podcasts allows listeners to dip in and out of either the podcasts or the transcripts allowing quick access to key points. Our second leader, Cornelius Minor, is no stranger to #g2great as he appeared here when his book, We Got This: Equity, Access and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be, debuted on the educational stage five years ago. Cornelius was also with #g2great and Courtney Kinney here. As thought leaders and change agents, both Olivia and Cornelius are leaving footprints for us to follow.

Wakelet archive of the Twitter chat here

Here’s my thinking based on our chat and the podcast. If you were there, see if it matches your thinking. If you missed the chat, remember you can check out the Wakelet archive of the Tweets and the podcast for yourself. The highlighted sections offer some questions for your reflection and future actions.

Let’s get started! We Got This!

What is our work?

1. Determine Your Commitment

What is your commitment? Is it to the students? The school? The community? What do you value? How do we know? Often the way you spend your time shares your commitments. What takes up the biggest chunk of time? Is that where the time needs to be spent?

Be Radically Pro-Kid

Cornelius Minor’s keynote at CCIRA in February 2023, had the phrase “Radically Pro-Kid” in the title. I hadn’t yet listened to this podcast by Olivia with Cornelius but I was intrigued from the first moment that I read the title in the conference program. Of course, Cornelius’s keynote was brilliant and inspiring.

What does that mean: To be radically pro-kid?

What do you value? How do you share that with others around you?

2. Create Opportunity for ALL Students

ALL means all. Always. Olivia stated that in the tweet above about “engaging all learners.” How and when are we checking to make sure that all students have opportunities for success? That automatically also includes ACCESS. How do we ensure access? What barriers exist? How do we work to identify and dismantle those barriers?

How do you ensure that ALL students have access and opportunities? For those that are striving, how do you ensure that they actually have increased access and opportunities to close gaps without usurping other needed content/time?

3. Listen

Some key points arise in the podcast around the 12-minute mark. Cornelius talks about listening as “a way of being.” He also talks about “heavy presence and light touch.” And …”folks won’t articulate in traditional ways what they need often. But if I’m around, if my presence is heavy and my touch is light, I can be among students.” This idea of presence and listening is critical in relationships as well as in school because we can’t be “radically pro kids” if we aren’t present and listening.

This is super important because adults often feel comfortable in their knowledge and like to give kids a choice of this or that. But even that “forced choice” feels heavy on the TELLING side. Students need opportunities to make decisions and learn from those choices that they make not that are predetermined by the adults in their sphere of influence.

How do we really listen, with our ears, eyes and hearts to make sure that the whole student is considered? How do we strip away the masks (hat tip to Cris Tovani)? How do we stay curious? How do we collect data that continues to drive instruction?

4. Work Collaboratively

Sometimes we have mentor -teacher relationships or collegial thought partners that help move our thinking and our actions into real life. But for many folks, we live, think, and work in isolation in our own buildings because we are independent beings with commitments and minds of our own. When we are “radically pro kid” we may have a narrower field of friends in our own schools/districts/states. That isolation can be reduced by finding like-minded individuals across the country or continents.

How and when do we co-construct learning opportunities? Who assists us? What other resources do we need?

Full Circle

I’ve always loved crafts and giving handmade gifts but had little time in recent years for big projects. I began quilting during the pandemic and freely admit that it took about a year to really sew straight lines with a 1/4-inch seam. What have I learned from paper piecing this last month? I had to interrogate my commitment to the project (a May birthday gift), create opportunities for myself to learn (face to face and via videos), listen (fabric does speak and pictures of the work reveal glaring errors), and work collaboratively (consult with experts and other learners at varying stages. It has been a learning journey!

Where will you begin your learning journey? Who will you enlist as a learning partner? When will you begin? Cornelius gives you the blueprint for action research in We Got This and Olivia gives you choices of topics/ideas in her Schoolutions podcasts. The list above is not “prioritized” but does include some big ideas for your planning and implementation.

Additional Resources:

Olivia R Wahl

Host: Schoolutions Podcast

Twitter: @OliviaRWahl  @schoolutions 

Instagram: @schoolutionspodcast

Cornelius Minor

Kass & Corn

Twitter: @MisterMinor

Instagram: corneliusminor

Critical Comprehension: Lessons for Guiding Students to Deeper Meaning

Access our Wakelet Artifact of the chat HERE

by Mary Howard

On 3/2/23, we were honored to welcome Katie Kelly and Lester Laminack to #G2great chat to take a closer look at their amazing new book with co author Vivian Vasquez: “Critical Comprehension: Lessons for Guiding Students to Deeper Meaning (2023, Corwin). Katie and Lester were also #G2Great guests on 3/21/19 for Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action (2019, Heinemann). As I thought about both books, I noticed that they merge complementary ideas as Critical Comprehension supports and extends those ideas to an additional layer of understanding.

I am so grateful to write our post this week. Critical Comprehension reflects an essential and timely topic that the authors bring to life with tremendous depth of knowledge and actionable steps that teachers can take to begin or continue their journey toward these rich ideas. Given the current outside push and pull of key learning that resides within the pages of Critical Comprehension, this book is desperately needed in our schools and professional learning will be escalated by the conversations that it will surely inspire.

Before we dig into their book, let’s pause to view the author’s BOOK WHY in their words:

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

Our goal in writing this book is to offer opportunities for children to think beyond what is presented in a single text, as a single truth to seek counternarratives that can help them construct a more nuanced, complicated, and informed, understanding. When we teach children to be critical readers—to question the commonplace, to evaluate text for stereotyping and tokenism, to disrupt biases, and to seek counternarratives—they begin to weave threads to create more complete tapestries of truth. 

In this post, my reflections will be through two Critical Comprehension lens from the authors as I draw both from their book and their twitter messages across our #G2Great chat. To do this, I’ll pull from several questions the authors crafted for the chat as a springboard to thinking and end each question with my thoughts. Then at the close of this post, I’ll share some tweets from those wise educators who attended our chat for yet one more thinking angle.

Let’s begin with two early questions that set the stage for this conversation:

(Q2) What comes to mind when you see the word “comprehension”? 


Often the best way to think about what something is, is to begin by pondering what it IS NOT. Looking at comprehension from this perspective first can give us a pathway to explore the kind of comprehension that will lead to what the authors eloquently and clearly embrace in Critical Comprehension.

We remember reading in school as a task assigned by the teacher rather than meaningful, purposeful, or critical practice. Reading was often fol­lowed by a set of questions to answer, a book report, or some sort of written task. (P. 8)

Of course, knowing what comprehension IS NOT won’t necessarily lead us to think about what comprehension IS. But if we pull directly from the quote above and combine two words in the Critical Comprehension subtitle, then we have a thoughtful view of what comprehension IS: meaningful, purposeful, critical practice” for “Guiding Students to Deeper Meaning.”

The tweet below between Katie and Lester illustrates what comprehension IS NOT followed by what comprehension IS in the next two tweets.



As I look at the double lens IS/IS NOT view above, it occurs to me that we cannot elevate comprehension and the deep meaning that we want students to engage in unless we turn our thoughts INWARD. This requires us to contemplate how to set the stage for depth of thinking. This is not about the “right” answer but a “complex, purposeful, and active meaning making process” Katie describes. Lester reminds us of the impact that comes when we invite students to generate their own questions that inspire and fuel conversations that follow. Beginning by thinking about comprehension makes sense as comprehension and Critical Comprehension are inseparably connected and interrelated.

(Q3) What does critical comprehension mean to you?


Katie, Lester and Vivian beautifully reflect on the heart of Critical Comprehension using their collective WHY stated in their book:

“Our goal in writing this book is to offer opportunities for children to think beyond what is presented in a single text, as a single truth to seek counternarratives that can help them construct a more nuanced, complicated, informed, and accurate truth.” (page 12)

They follow with the words below that gives us a clear from-the-book meaning.

Critical comprehension, then, is an approach to deeper reading that moves beyond the passive acceptance of text and literal levels of meaning to question the word and the world (page 17)



In order to support students in a process that is inherent in those two words combined – Critical + Comprehension, we must also pay close attention to a tipping point of Critical Comprehension. How do we create an atmosphere where deep understanding and active engagement in this deeper thinking process is possible. This is where we ensure that all voices and perspectives are considered but also how we can turn this into social action that will take on a life of its own both within and beyond the text.

With our question starting point that combines comprehension and critical comprehension, let’s extend understanding using the authors’ final questions:

Q4 How does a study of perspective and bias inform critical comprehension? What are the benefits for students and society?


The authors gives us this beautiful explanation of perspective:

We think of perspective as the eyes, ears, heart, mind, and mouth of the story. Whose eyes are we seeing through? Whose ears are we hearing with? Whose heart is feeling and experiencing the emotions? Whose mind is making sense of events and offering us thoughts? Whose mouth is speaking all this to us and other characters? (page 77)

They follow this quote with words that beg for our close attention and are essential to Critical Comprehension:

Perspective is also whose eyes we are not seeing through. Whose ears we are not listening with? Whose feelings are not considered? Whose ideas are not included? Whose voices are silenced?

Although perspective and bias are addressed in two chapters in the book (perspective chapter 2); (Bias chapter 4), the authors expertly merge both in this question with Katie reflection on bias and Lester’s on perspective.



Lester reminds us that perspective is a choice that the writer makes. This is also a reminder that how we view those writerly choices puts a choice in our hands as well. This asks us to do so considering perspective (and yes, bias) that we bring to the reading experience. The authors remind us that “We are all biased (yes, even you)” on page 152. This helps us acknowledge a hard reality that is an essential part of the Critical Comprehension process.

Q5 How do you lead students to question texts or authorities in a time when many adults are pushing for tighter control of access to books? 

I’m going to switch this one up a bit by drawing from the book itself as well as a post about the book shared by Lester and Kelly on their Reading to Make a Difference Facebook page just before Critical Comprehension was published. The two sides together make perfect sense as I reflect on this question.


We shared the quote below in our #G2Great chat that speaks to this question:

The post Lester and Katie share on Facebook is a reminder of the kind of things that we do as we ‘lead students to question texts or authorities’. If you have not joined this page, I highly recommend it Reading to Make a Difference Facebook


Once again, the authors highlight key idea. Book banning has reached an all-time high that we could never have imagined. Katie poses thoughtful questions we can keep at the center as this reality rears its ugly head in our schools. Lester reminds us to model as we make kids privy to our thinking as a platform for engaged discussion. I shared their Facebook sample since I can’t think of a better way to begin these conversations than through real life examples like the Super Bowl. Imagine using images, video, magazines and other references that children connect to personally to initiate these conversations and then moving into texts. This brilliant shift in direction can support and extend their thinking.

Q6 How might you create spaces for critical comprehension in your setting/classroom?


This final author question is a perfect way to close our chat and this reflection. Katie, Lester and Vivian explain in their introduction how they create spaces (and I would argue professional inspiration) for critical conversations using “CRITICAL QUESTIONS For Thinking Beyond a Single Text:

“Engaging in conversations based on questions like these results in a shift away from the passive acceptance of, and search for, “the” correct mean­ing and is the basis of what we refer to as critical comprehension. (p.13)



Simply knowing what our students need does not necessarily translate to establishing priorities that will afford us the time, energy and space we need to put those things into action where it matters most. Katie, Lester and Vivian have graciously written a book that responds directly to this question. Critical Conversations offers a professional playground with chapters that provide a myriad of lessons so that teachers can take action immediately as you can see below. This is further supported in “Reading for Action” at the end of each chapter with ideas and suggestions to use after reading a collection of texts.

In the conclusion to their book called YOUR TURN, they give us wise advice with a call to action (pages 247-257).

Before I share my closing thoughts, let’s turn back to our authors as they reflect on another question:

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

We hope teachers will push themselves to think more critically as readers, so they can help students shift from passive acceptance of information towards deeper meaning through critical comprehension. 

One way teachers can do this work is by engaging students in critical conversations using discussion questions such as: 

How does this text position the reader? 

Who is included or excluded in the text? 

What are potential counter-narratives for the text?


As I come to the end of this post, I’m draw to Critical Comprehension and the gift the authors have given us. It would be hard for anyone to argue that what we say we value is reflected by our willingness to put those values into action. If we are unwilling to do that, then it is our values that maybe be in question.

Across the pages of Critical Comprehension, the authors leave nothing to chance to ensure that teachers will not just read this book and walk away but follow the reading by bringing it to life in glorious living color action in the company of children. I believe that this book and the support they have so generously given us in the book as well through our #G2Great twitter chat makes it impossible not to breathe life into the book and bring that learning into our classrooms.

This book has never been more needed as we stand at the precipice of change from all sides that are closing doors to the critical conversations described in this book and replacing them with obligatory by-the-book and the laws of the district and even state Katie, Lester and Vivian speak to so eloquently. We are given the information we need, but we are also given also a vision for what this could look like in a classroom with examples at varied grades to draw from including downloadable examples. As professional they offer the support we ned so that we will “read with the text as well as critically against the text (p. 26)

In closing, Katie, Lester, and Vivian write in their introduction the words that I carried with me across this book and into the chat.

We are currently a part of history, and we have the power to shape it. (p. 7)

We are so grateful to Katie, Lester and Vivian for writing this remarkable book and giving us what we need to use our power to shape history. The question then begs us to ask a question in closing:


I’ll give the author’s the final word with their reflection to our final question:

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

Our message to educators is a call to action.  If we plan to leave a  better world for the next generation, it is our responsibility to take action. The decisions we make every day about what we include (and exclude), whose voices and stories are centered (and silenced or ignored), and the way we create space for critical awareness and curiosity can be transformative. Reading for critical comprehension positions us with the power to make informed decisions.  Only then can we advocate for equity and justice. We need information to take action and be part of the change. This work begins with each of us as teachers and our students.



Critical Comprehension: Lessons for Guiding Students to Deeper Meaning written by Katie Kelly, Lester Laminack, and Vivian Vasquez (2023, Corwin)

Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action written by Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly (2019) Heinemann

A Teacher’s Guide to Mentor Texts (K-5)

Link to Wakelet Artifact of all tweets in the #G2Great chat

On Thursday, February 9, 2023, Carl Anderson joined the #G2Great chat to discuss his new book, A Teacher’s Guide to Mentor Texts Grades K-5. Carl is no stranger to #G2Great. Carl was with #G2Great in 2017 for How’s It Going? and 2018 for another Classroom Essentials text, A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Conferences K-8. This chat was also paired with last week’s chat with Penny Kittle’s Micro Mentor Text book for a two week focus on Mentor Texts. Check out Brent’s blog here for a recap of that chat.

Mentor texts.

I didn’t hear about them in undergrad or graduate school. My courses were pretty traditional as workshop type reading, writing, or play were not ever mentioned. So that first time I tried to write a review for a book in Amazon, I read several reviews. Probably close to a hundred. I then focused on five or six that I liked and tried to determine what I thought “worked”. That was then my goal. To write a review that would entice a reader (without boring them) and yet be both an invitation as well as a strong endorsement of the content, craft, and organization of the text. I’m still in the novice stage but I’ve leaned on a “process” for locating and using “mentor texts” in a variety of formats including that initial foray into Amazon reviews.

As I worked on this blog and tried out several drafts, I struggled with finding a focus or story that would carry me through. I kept going back to this book’s Table of Content in Heinemann’s series of Classroom Essentials. That framework became my mentor for this blog. It felt like cheating since that Table of Contents was written before I started the blog and that’s so NOT me. I’m not an outline writer BEFORE I write. I prefer to complete my outline at the conclusion of my writing so I can follow the path where my writing led. See if this makes sense to you, the reader, as you follow along this journey through Carl’s tweets, the Table of Contents, and additional writing resources.

What is a Mentor Text?

We began our chat by tweeting out our own definitions of mentor texts as well as looking at Carl’s definition. You can find even more details if you choose to preview the book through this sample chapter 1 available free at the Heinemann website here.

Here is what Carl said:

Reading Like a Writer

Carl’s thoughts about mentor texts and reading like a writer are succint.

Reading and Writing are interconnected. Some view them as intertwined processes. Others view them as complementary pathways. It’s important that authors write like readers and that readers read like writers as further explained by the Braintrust Tutors here. NCTE also cites research on the connectedness of reading and writing in Lisa Fink’s blog here. And Colleen Cruz lists the following reciprocal moves in this edweek article that encourages us to consider the power of writing in order to strengthen reading.

  • “Show-not-tell in writing helps readers to infer in reading.
  • Plotting in writing helps readers to make predictions in reading.
  • Developing objects as symbols in writing helps readers interpret symbols in reading.
  • Defining a word in writing helps readers to understand the meaning of an unknown word.”
C. Cruz, Edweek, 2020.

And of course, mentor texts provide inspiring models that are the “keys to the kingdom” as Carl’s first tweet in this section said! Have you ever said to yourself, “I wish I had said that” or “I wish I had written that”? That’s the role of fabulous mentor texts.

Steps to Using Mentor Texts Well

This graphic from Melanie Meehan and The Responsive Writing Teacher with Kelsey Sorum is a favorite of mine.

It’s a favorite for me because I can use it with teachers as they identify craft moves in text, and I can also use it with students as they identify craft moves that they want to explore in their own writing. What a win/win for multiple audience use. Carl’s five steps are very similar.

Step 1: Find Your Own Mentor Texts

Who are your mentor authors? What texts do you use? Where do you find mentor texts? Encourage students to find their mentor texts.

Step 2: Get to Know Your Mentor Texts

Study Them. Identify the craft moves. Mark them up. Collaborate with peers. Encourage students and teachers to find published mentors as well as personal mentor texts.

Step 3: Immerse Students in Mentor Texts

Provide choices. Let students choose the mentor texts that spark their own ideas and connections. Make sure students do the work!

Step 4: Lead Whole-Class Text Study

Check out these resources. Teach students how to “mine text” for mentors.

Step 5: Teach with Mentor Texts

Choose examples that are familiar to students. Encourage students to “spread their wings and soar!

In conclusion, mentor texts are valuable for both readers and writers. Capitalize on the power of mentor text as your read like authors to explore the many mentor texts available whether you choose micro texts like the examples from Penny Kittle or some of the examples listed in the wakelet from our chat with Carl Anderson. Your readers AND writers will benefit from their study and use of mentor texts.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Additional Resources: