Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

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.

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Additional Resources:

Micro Mentor Texts: Using Short Passages From Great Books to Teach Writer’s Craft

By Brent Gilson

For a record of this chat, please check out the Wakelet archive here

Last week the #G2Great community had the absolute pleasure of having Penny Kittle join us to share her new book Micro Mentor Texts. To say folks were excited would be an understatement. On a personal note, Penny has been a mentor of mine, and as a past Book Love Grant winner, I always look forward to the opportunity to visit with her virtually.

Today I sat with my students as we looked at a passage from King and the Dragonflies, an example from the early pages of Penny’s book focused on how authors craft settings with the use of sensory details.

As an early teacher, I was introduced to the importance of sensory details in writing and have always focused on it with my students. We use some of the early pages of Nightmares: The Lost Lullaby.

The lesson has always been more powerful with the example in my hand as I read, pause, think aloud, read, and question. The scene comes alive with the beautifully creepy crafting of a swampy setting; students left hanging as the mystery noise is waiting to be revealed. I have always focused on just the use of sensory detail. The conversations were energetic but essentially just an exercise in naming— outside of appreciating craft.

With Micro Mentor Texts, Penny provides a nudge, a blueprint for teachers to begin a more purposeful journey in exploring craft with our students. Using the example Kacen Callender supplies, readers can explore the use of sensory details, experimentation in sentence formation, figurative language, and voice, and how all of these elements interact to provide the reader with a new experience. Today in Room 157, student discussion was rich as we worked through this example. Noting simple things that authors do to elevate a text, the wheels started turning as they began to plan their own writing. This book will certainly enhance my teaching; it will provide little sparks of text that will light fires of wonder as students ask to read the rest as they did today, “dying to find out what happens next” books do that for our students. They provide us with endless opportunities to explore new worlds, and Mirco Mentor Texts, with Penny’s thoughtful guidance, will help teachers guide students to explore in new ways.

As for the chat, it was a lively one, with book suggestions being shared.

A fantastic collection of titles was shared, and TBR lists grew as teachers explored how one might determine what makes an excellent micro mentor text.

The purposeful way in which we decide on the texts is crucial to the success of this practice. The purposeful way teachers plan gets a new layer but one that ultimately provides even more support to our growing writers. What is the saying… There’s a book for that.

As the chat continued to buzz, the topic of balance came up. Much like we see discussion on reading instruction, we also must ask ourselves how much of the study of a text is the “drone view” vs the Micro mentor text level. Penny provides great guidance.

The chat moved to the close as teachers shared different micro mentor texts our students may encounter in the “wild” outside our classrooms. Podcasts, Instagram, and TikTok, were all suggestions. I was delighted to see Penny suggest obituaries, as a past student preparing to graduate spent a Project-Based writing round exploring that form of writing a few years ago. Those same students are now wondering how to write their “Last Will and Testament” for their yearbooks. Perhaps tomorrow we will dig some old ones out and study.

As I mentioned earlier, Micro Mentor Texts will provide students and teachers with new and engaging ways to explore writer’s craft. It will spark interest in more books and serve as a foundational piece to a growing reading community.

This is a great thing!

#G2great is grateful to Penny for joining us for the chat, sharing her work, and being such an incredible example of book love. As many of you know, The Book Love Foundation works to support classroom libraries and awards grants to teachers every year. Check them out. If you have not yet done so, order a copy of Micro Mentor Texts. It is immediately helpful in the classroom. Signed the teacher of room 157.

 #G2Great ANNIVERSARY YEAR 8 Professional Transformation: From Possibility to Action

To go straight to our #G2great schedule change description, you can scroll down

by Mary Howard

On August 29, 2012, my 2nd book was published: Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters(Heinemann). I was thrilled when that book became the source of #G2great twitter chat on 1/8/15, as reflected below and in our Wakelet artifact.

Since this chat launch, our team has changed over the years and now includes fellow founding member, Jenn Hayhurst with co moderators Fran McVeigh and Brent Gilson. We have also been very fortunate to have the supportive guidance and input from Towanda Harris. Across the years our mission statement has guided our thinking.

For seven years, I’ve been honored to write our anniversary blog posts. As always, our anniversary topic will be my reflection centerpiece: Professional Transformation: From Possibility to Action. In this post, I’ll view transformation from a dual perspective:

Transformation from the lens of #G2great twitter chat across the years

Transformation from the lens of those who joined our chat on 1/5/23.


I found two pertinent definitions describing TRANSFORMATION as a noun:

1) a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance

2) an act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed

While transformation can be “thorough” and “dramatic” as shown in the first definition, I lean more heavily on the second one that views transformation as a PROCESS. I consider the most essential feature of transformation step-by-step change that occurs OVER TIME (not OVERnight). In other words, there is no end point as illustrated by key words “transformING and “BEING transformed.” I began my professional journey in 1972 and 51 years later, I continue to reside in a constant state of becoming. My belief in continued professional learning helps me fine tune, confirm and adjust my thinking. Like so many other educators, I’ve traversed along a meandering path on a never-ending transformational journey. Some changes are more time consuming and demanding than others and may be accompanied by the push and pull of comfort and discomfort given the inevitable uncertainty of any transformational process

These related words that accompanied the definitions seemed fitting:

The terms and the definition I’ve chosen to highlight reflect an internal shift with the POTENTIAL to be transformative. I use the word “POTENTIAL” very intentionally since transformation requires responsibility. Simply adding furniture, doing an activity viewed on social media, or joining a questionable facebook group blindly is devoid of transformative potential when those things are based on the popular idea of the moment rather than sound research support. Transformation is an active rather than passive process and is only possible when we explore and awaken research supported beliefs with intent and then transform those beliefs into action where it will have the most impact – with children. Impact assumes that there is benefit to the decision maker as professional (teacher) and recipient as learner (students).

Sadly, a quick fix educational culture further escalated by COVID-19 and efforts to use this to justify the battle cry of “learning loss” has compromised how we view change. Transformation has nothing to do with performing like mindless puppets according to the mandates of others (often with little or no benefit of experience or knowledge of literacy and children). Transformation takes time, dedication, an ongoing quest for professional knowledge, and an unwavering belief that no one-size-fits-all script can dictate the direction lifelong learners of literacy committed to individual children can understand.

I’d like to begin this discussion from the perspective of our #G2Great eight-year labor of love and then close this post by sharing some twitter thinking from our anniversary chat discussion on 1/5/23.


#G2Great chat has actively engaged in a transformational process across the years. We have made a wide range of concrete shifts on behalf of our chat and those who grace us with conversational wisdom via twitter. This “collective community of invitational conversations” and transformational opportunities those conversations have afforded us have motivated our team to make these shifts on your behalf and thus keep #G2Great alive and fresh.


The conversations that have taken place week after week on #G2Great chat have become our transformational drive since we opened our twitter doors. The first part of that change process began in mere weeks when we made the decision to transform our initial vision of a book study that would end after ten weeks into a long-term chat that continues seven years later. But we didn’t stop there. My book was initially the focus, but we shifted to topics beyond my book on 3/19/15 with Engaging Stakeholders in Deeper and More Meaningful Ways. On 7/16/15 we explored an amazing TedX talk with Kimberly Davis: What it Means to be Brave.

We soon recognized that we had an incredible platform to spotlight wonderful books and engage in twitter style conversation with a virtual Who’s Who of authors. Our first book spotlight was with Lisa Eickholdt in a two-part book study on 9/3/15 and 9/10/15: Learning From Classmates: Using Students’ Writing as Mentor Texts.

Since that time, professional books have remained a major chat feature and we’re honored that many remarkable authors have shared their gift with us. This motivated us to adjust the number and source of chat questions as we invited our authors to craft their own questions in honor of their book and the wonderings that they wanted to invite.


Once we made these initial shifts in our ongoing transformational process, we continuously explored and applied other shifts over time:


• Wakelet Artifacts: We’ve collected each chat since our 2015 launch so that educators can revisit previous chats. Our Wakelet collection offers a home for inspired thinking.

• Literacy Lenses Blog: We knew that a blog would add a new layer of reflection so on our first anniversary on 1/7/16 we launched Literacy Lenses . Since then every chat is accompanied by a reflection in our blog.


We initiated the first of nine series on 2/4/16 to highlight a common topic with related areas of focus over 4 to 5 weeks: Holding Tight to Practices that Matter: read aloudshared readingconferringsmall groupsindependent reading.  


Our belief that students have great wisdom to share led to inviting our first student guest was Sam Fremin: Shifting Our Perspective: Viewing Our Teaching from a Students Lens followed by several #BowTieBoy chats: Exploring Instruction from Our Students’ Eyes, Paul Sinanis: Instilling a Life-Long Love of Reading from a Student Lens, and Olivia Van Ledtje based on her book, Spark Change: Making Your Mark in a Digital World


We added alternate texts we knew would inspire conversations with a few firsts:

• Article study with Alfie Kohn: Is Learning “Lost” When Kids Are Out of School?  

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

• Blog Study with Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson: Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach?


We stepped outside of an education box so that we could connect with authors who lived in the business world but made connections to literacy including Kimberly Davis: Learning Our Way to Professional Excellence; Drew Dudley: This is Day One and Jody Carrington: Kids These Days.


Over the years we’ve included many administrators including a 2016 Leadership series including Dennis Schug, Natalie Miller, Tony Sinanis, and Matt Renwick and Seth Berg. We also created a chat from a schoolwide focus with Mike Oliver, principal of Zaharis Elementary with Beyond Borders: A Journey to Becoming


We’ve been fortunate that remarkable authors have widened our perspectives, understandings and commitment to continued learning and growth such as:

• Gholdy Muhammad: Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy

• Sonja Cherry-Paul: Stamped for Kids: Racism, Antiracism and You

• Matthew R. Kay: Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom

• Lorena Germán: Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices

• Liz Kleinrock: Start Here, Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community

• Kim Parker: Literacy is Liberation: Working Toward Justice Through Culturally Relevant Teaching

• Afrika Afeni Mills: Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Anti-Racist Pro-Human Students



We recognized that many educators had not written a book we could spotlight but were doing amazing things worth celebrating. In this spirit we added our Educator Spotlight chats to honor their contributions to literacy with Nawal Qarooni: Our Collective Strength: Children As Curriculum; Paul Hankins: Everything’s a Remix and Islah Tauheed: Teaching as a Radical Act


We explored a slower chat format for discussion across a day. A SLOW CHAT allowed educators to respond to questions at their leisure such as Professional Reflection as a Stepping stone to Decision Making and Fueled by Collective Curiosity and Collaborative Conversation. Since change may also require us to LET GO of our choices, we alleviated this format since it did not invite the active discussions we knew teachers needed.


After 7 years of weekly twitter chats, we knew it was important to revisit past chats that with new eyes and fresh questions including What It Means to be BRAVE with Kimberly Davis Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-8 Classroom by Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke and Maximizing Student Engagement in Literacy Across the School Day (Topic)


We began to notice common topics and themes across books and created book pairings that would offer two back-to-back weeks of books with a related topic:

1) TALK: Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Teaching Purposeful Talk by Maria Nichols and Hands Down, Speak Out: Literacy and Talking Across Literacy and Math by Kassia Wedekind and Christy Thompson (this was our first book connecting math and literacy with later addition of Allison Hintz and Antony T. Smith: Mathematizing Children’s Literature: Sparking Connections, Joy and Wonder.)

2) TRANSLANGUAGING: Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers by Cecelia Espinosa and Laura Ascenzi-Moreno and En Comunidad: Lessons for Centering Voices and Experiences of Bilingual Latinx Students by Carla España and Luz Yadira Herrera

As you can see, our #G2Great chat has been in a state of transformational change across the seven years our chat has been in existence. This year, we believe it’s time for a step in our transformation as we look ahead to year 8.


The shift that we’re making this year was not taken lightly; based on thoughtful observation, conversation and contemplation as a team with careful thought across two years. For seven years, we’ve held weekly twitter chats. As you can imagine, this has required constant planning and commitment across 357 chats to date and counting. We know that this also makes it more difficult for our chat family to attend weekly, especially in challenging times. Yet, we also know that in challenging times, we need a safe space for conversation and collaboration. This year, we will adjust our calendar for the first time in our 7-year history:


Effective on our first twitter chat on 1/5/23, we are making these changes:

  • MONTHLY chat on the 1st Thursday of each month
  • Same time slot will apply from 8:30-9:30 EST
  • Occasional 2nd Thursday slot for paired books/topics
  • Continued references including Wakelets and blog posts
  • The addition of a new monthly twitter chat (see below)


Brent Gilson is one of our #G2great moderators. If you follow him on Twitter, Lifting Literacy Facebook Group or his blog, “Things Mr. G Says”, you know the amazing things that Brent is doing with his students and his gift for engaging educators in thoughtful conversations. Brent’s new twitter chat will be called “Lifting Literacy” and it will occur on the last Thursday of each month at the same 8:30-9:30 EST time slot. His first chat launch is on 1/26/23 with a book study on Angela Stockman’s new book, The Writing Workshop Teacher’s Guide to Multimodal Composition (grades 6-12) as shown below. Brent will also maintain a chat blog on his Lifting Literacy Website.

To help you keep up with both of these chats as well as reminders of off weeks, we have added a COMING SOON section on our chat blog. Upcoming chats will be added here so that you can plan accordingly (see the top right corner) and we will also continue to advertise new chats on twitter at #G2Great.


With our transformational process in mind, Seth Godin’s words seem fitting.

Over the course of our seven-year history and counting, we have added, deleted modified and questioned many things as a team. The one thing that never changed, however, was our weekly schedule. We feel certain that our EIGHTH anniversary is the right time for this shift to a monthly chat. We are still very committed to our #G2Great chat and to the wonderful educators who join our twitter conversations. We are are not going away but simply continuing one more phase in our ongoing transformational process. We will consistently keep an eye on our #G2great page and respond whether we are holding a chat that week or not. We hope that you’ll continue to share your thinking with us and join future chats in the coming year.

We are so grateful to those of you who have attended our chat and engaged in the conversational twitter style dialogue that has inspired us to continue our #G2Great labor of love. Each chat is created in your honor and we always gain new insight through your eyes. We are excited to explore the 2023 year with each of you who make your way back to our chat and invite your input. We look forward to learning through new conversations in the coming year.

In closing, let’s look at a few tweets shared on our 8th Anniversary chat:

1-5-23 ANNIVERSARY CHAT TWITTER WISDOM LAUNCHING 2023 Professional Transformation: From Possibility to Action

John Schu and The Gift of Story

Wakelet Link of all Tweets

Guest Author: Kitty Donohoe

On Thursday, November 10, 2022, the #G2Great Chat enjoyed a memorable conversation with Mr. John Schu regarding his book THE GIFT OF STORY.

In John Schu’s GIFT OF STORY, Katherine Applegate offers a fitting quote showing just how timely John’s book is.

“When you feel lost in the black hole of test scores and Zoom meetings, in crises big and small, in challenged titles and tight budgets, this book will be your touchstone. For every teacher and librarian and parent who’s placed the right book in the right hands at the right time, THE GIFT OF STORY is a reminder that you are not just molding minds, you are nurturing souls.”

And many of us know what that is like, and yet when we stick our heads out of the mire of all the “yuck” we experience, magic can happen. When we remember that story truly is a gift, when we remember the little ones who benefit from those stories, we are reminded of what is important.  When I taught on Zoom school for a year, I forgot there was a pandemic whenever I saw the dear faces of my second grade students reflected on the screen.  And in Grace Lin’s book WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER, there is a wonderful quote about stories.  A stonecutter and a storyteller are imprisoned by the villain of the story.  However, this is what the stonecutter says: “For to be in prison with the Storyteller is to not be in prison at all.” Stories set us free, wherever we are physically, we are in the story mentally. Grace Lin got me and my second graders through lockdown, and that is a gift indeed.

The Good to Great Twitter Chat featuring John Schu offered educators, librarians, and parents, a chance to join in and celebrate the joy of stories.  We shared our stories with each other and in the process exchanged book ideas, and came out a little fuller, a little happier, because that is what happens when you share stories. That is what humans have been doing since before there was even the written word.  We shared stories, we felt joy, and we drew closer to each other in the exchange.  That is how community is formed.

While I have never met John in person, I have met him on Zoom and through social media. This quote from the book and the experience of those who know him well is so true. John Schu is infectious with joy.  This was so evident in the chat.  And we all know that this love of books he so avidly shares with others has created a worldwide pandemic of joyful reading for young readers. And isn’t that the kind of pandemic we all want to happen?

In his book, THE GIFT OF STORY, John includes quotes from authors regarding their experiences with story.  This quote from Dav Pilkey really speaks to so many young readers who can relate to the challenges that one of their favorite authors had.

This is so pertinent. How often have we as educators, teachers, or librarians, seen joy light the face of a child who sees themself reflected in the pages of a book.  For books are magic, they can say: I see you, I hear you, I know you.  And everyone needs this!

These are words of wisdom from Fran McVeigh, making room for reading both physically and mentally. And choice, choice, choice!

Dr. Mary Howard points out basically how we have a choice in education.  What are we going to choose?  Are we making time for stories for children? Or are we NOT? It is up to us.  

Often when I get overwhelmed with all the mandates imposed upon teachers I find myself unable to concentrate and focus.  My planned day wavers before my eyes as more and more is expected of educators and children.  But then suddenly, I spy the pile of read aloud books I have on my desk and they shout out to me, “Remember us? Your old friends? Your new friends?” And then, the calm comes, the antidote for all the chaos – a good story.  John reminds us of the importance of story. And the books truly do call out to me and the students. When the classroom reading life is in order, everything else magically falls into place.

Wow, click on that link readers and discover wonderful books to add to your read aloud pile, or your classroom library!  We all need new ideas for books to share with kids.

Click on this link to see the list of even MORE books Mr. Schu suggests!  What a treasure trove!

And another great book idea resource!  Click on the link to see the article!

This chat was a joyous exchange of a shared love of BOOKS and STUDENTS READING! 

In his book, John has organized and curated tremendous resources. This is done in an innovative and helpful way.  

One thing he does is to have short book reviews of myriads of books throughout THE GIFT OF STORY.  It is so user friendly. Busy educators and librarians can thumb through it at-a-glance when looking for resources.

A very clever and creative device Mr. Schu uses throughout his book is his use of hearts to tie it all together. One of my favorites is the embedded QR codes in hearts.  One section of his book has book trailer links in the hearts like this:


Another lovely way he incorporates heart embedded QR codes includes links to articles like this one by Dr. Sayantani DasGupta, pediatrician and children’s author:

“Stories Are Good Medicine: Literacy, Health, and Representation”

There are so many other wonderful resources in Mr. Schu’s book THE GIFT OF STORY. I would have to copy and paste the whole book in here in order to mention them all. But you can get them in this marvelous book that is a true friend to all who love books and want to pass this love around, just like Mr. John Schu!

Thank you Mr. Schu for being a light for children and book lovers all over the world. Thank you #G2Great Chat for making a space each Thursday evening for like-minded people to come and share their stories.  We all see you and appreciate you.  We are a community!

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

About Kitty Donohoe, this week’s guest blogger:

Kitty Donohoe teaches second grade just a gull’s cry from the Pacific Ocean at Roosevelt Elementary in Santa Monica, CA. Her debut picture book, HOW TO RIDE A DRAGONFLY, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf, comes out May 23, 2023. Publisher: Penguin Random House/Anne Schwartz Books

Don Vu and Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Link to the Wakelet collection of all tweets from the chat

By Fran McVeigh

On Thursday, November 3rd, 2022, Dr. Don Vu was a guest moderator with #g2great to discuss his amazing new book, Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Supporting Our Immigrant and Refugee Children Through The Power of Reading. This book is unique because of its focus on the reading culture of a school (and its elements) and the needs of immigrant and refugee children and their families.

Dr. Don Vu shares stories of his childhood experiences as an immigrant. Those stories bring his ideas and beliefs about supportive communities to life and include his views as a teacher and administrator. Check out this tweet pinned to his Twitter feed.

Because his family fled Vietnam in 1975, he has first-hand knowledge of what “real life” is like for immigrant students.

That unique perspective struck me as I read the book and read back through the Wakelet archive. I have some experience with a few immigrant students. A tiny bit. I wonder “What if a teacher experienced their own classroom through the eyes and ears of an immigrant or refugee child?” What seems to be working? What might they consider doing differently? What might they stop doing?

I will circle back to those questions later in this post as I want to continue with some of Don Vu’s wisdom from the chat. Remember that the text title is Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Think about the source of that phrase. Think about the individual words and their meanings. Think about the cumulative effect of that phrase. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness doesn’t happen in isolation. Success will be found in communities with support systems that surround the students. Features of community that Dr. Vu focused on in the book are Commitment, Collection, Clock, Conversation, Connection, and Celebration so I searched for some supporting tweets.

Commitment: Meet Students Where They Are and Passion



Connection and Celebration

What works for immigrant and refugee students and families? What should education include? What should support include?

During our chat and in the book, we heard many stories. We know students have stories that we need to hear. We also know that we need to think about the assets that students have when they arrive at school. We know students have to be met where they are. This means thinking about translanguaging from previous chats around Rooted in Strength here and En Comunidad here. Supporting students in their first language is critical before students begin to learn additional languages – whether speaking, reading or writing. We know students need a lot of talk. Talk provides practice. Talk enables teachers and community members to understand needs and wants as well as levels of support. Students and families need to see themselves in the resources in the classrooms – books, pictures and videos. Setting up quality learning environments where learning flourishes requires a great deal of attention and care in the form of accepting students’ assets, increasing the use of translanguaging, more talk, more practice, and more resources for success for all.

What seems to be working? What might they consider doing differently? What might they stop doing?

Educators, schools and communities need to take stock of their own resources and conduct a bit of data analysis within cycles of action research. For students with x, y, and z as assets, we have found success with ______. Can we repeat that success with multiple groups of students over time? If we are not finding success, what might we also try? Could we add or change one variable at a time so we can try to connect the instruction, the change, and the results? What does the research in the field say? Are some of our instructional practices aligned with the research? What data suggest that students would be best served by dropping ineffective practices like requiring all schoolwork to be in English (as one example)?

And finally, how can you discuss the present culture in your classrooms, buildings, schools, and community? Are life, literacy, and pursuit of happiness a part of your goals?


Additional Resources


website – link

webinar –

“Using Story to Promote Equity for Our Immigrant and Refugee Children” link

Mathematizing Children’s Literature: Sparking Connections, Joy, and Wonder Through Read-Alouds and Discussion

by, Jenn Hayhurst


Click Here for the Wakelete

Have you ever gone to a national conference? If you are a teacher, going to a national conference gives you more than just information. It bonds you to all of these wonderfully generous people who are at their truest selves, gifted teachers. They help us to learn through their wit and insight. They are genuine, and at times even poignant.  I once attended an NCTE conference where Tom Newkirk – wait, I could geek out here and go on about how much I admire this man, but I digress… shared a deeply personal story about his wife’s cancer.  He recalled how when they were reading about potential treatments, they were reading it as part of a story they were telling themselves. Their purpose for reading was vastly different than the author’s intent for writing. His message to us? It was to enlighten but also to remind us that learning through story is powerful because we are wired for story from the start.

 “Stories are how we understand the interrelationship of events. Stories are at the heart of how we learn because they create memories and provide details we want to know. Stories grab us in a way no list of facts could ever do.”

Jim McElhaney review of Newkirk’s Minds Made for Stories

On Thursday, #G2Great welcomed Allison Hintz, and Antony T. Smith to #G2Great, to lead a discussion around their book, Mathematizing Children’s Literature: Sparking Connections, Joy, and Wonder Through Read-Alouds and Discussion. Mary asked me if I would write the blog post and I was excited to write about this important concept. What would happen if we viewed real children’s literature through a math lens rather than viewing literacy and math as separate aspects of the curriculum? This idea of mathematizing children’s literature would extend an intriguing open invitation for math learning in a whole new way. I was hooked! I love the idea of giving learners space to ask their own questions because it rings true. Teaching through the art of a well-constructed question; one that generates more questions is a deeply held personal belief for my own teaching.

We Read Professional Books to Learn From Others

Allison and Antony have real expertise in mathematizing children’s literature.  During a pre-chat interview they said: 

“Our collaboration integrating math and literacy within the context of children’s literature is joyful! In working for eight years with teachers, students, children’s librarians, and families, we have learned a great deal about children’s thinking and how to nurture their mathematical identities. We also have seen the powerful ways stories provide a creative and engaging context for exploring our world as mathematical sense-makers.”

I was a kid who was labeled as a strong reader and writer, but not necessarily a mathematician. Teachers know (or should know) that the labels we use to describe children will stick, and I am not an exception. How could I add to a child’s mathematical identity when I don’t feel up to that challenge? The answer was immediate. I would need more professional development and then experience in how to ask open-ended mathematical questions. For my first attempt at generating an open-ended math question, I used the book, Last Stop on Market Street. It felt like a lame first attempt when I wondered how much the bus fare was but it also gave me insight into what children might ask in the early stages of learning.  Then I read what Nadine and Mollie had to say:

Ok, their wonderings felt superior to mine, but I was not deterred to try again.  This time, I asked the experts what they thought about my favorite (new) picture book, Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away.

Look at what Antony suggested…

Three Big Takeaways

●  Almost any story can provide a meaningful context for mathematical thinking and discussion.

●  When we ask children what they notice and wonder about we are providing an opportunity for young mathematicians to be curious as they explore and share their questions and ideas.

●  Math and literacy work powerfully together! Mathematicians reason, analyze, predict, and construct meaning; readers ask questions and identify and solve problems.

As I consider this, and everything else Allison and Antony shared during the chat, I can’t help but think about how mathematizing children’s literature may even generate deeper connections to characters children love. Maybe by having those deeper math conversations we will be contextualizing these characters in a way we have never done before as we make the characters children love even more present in their lives. Maybe, when they leave school they might wonder about how many bricks are in their own houses. I am going to work on my own issues about feeling inadequacies as a mathematical thinker to extend this invitation to my students too. I invite you to read this wonderful book because there is so much potential for these math conversations to make learning even more nuanced in ways that are novel and connected to their lives. That is a recipe for learning and transfer, but Allison and Antony really said this best:

“How children see themselves–and are seen by others–as mathematicians is significantly shaped by their experiences in classrooms and school communities. Through mathematizing children’s literature, we have the opportunity to affirm a child’s mathematical identity and agency while also nurturing them as readers.”

We are so grateful to Allison Hintz and Antony T Smith for sharing their expertise and teaching us all about Mathematizing Children’s Literature.

To learn more about how to link math and literacy you may also search our website to read Mary’s post: Hands Down, Speak Out: Listening and Talking Across Literacy and Math, and please visit Stenhouse Publishing to view videos and accessible resources for Mathematizing Children’s Literature Sparking Connections and Joy Through Read Alouds and Discussions

Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners

See the 1/11/18 chat HERE • See the 10/20/22 chat HERE

Written by Mary Howard

On 10/20/22, we had the great pleasure to welcome Regie Routman back to our #G2great chat for a renewed look at her incredible book, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (2018, Stenhouse). We first celebrated Regie Routman and Literacy Essentials on a #G2great chat 1/11/18.

It was a conscious choice to honor Literacy Essentials a second time. At the start of 2022, our chat team added a BLAST FROM THE PAST feature. We’ve held weekly chats since 1/18/15 with year eight coming January 2023. As of writing this post, we’ve supported 351 chats with many professional books. In an educational publishing industry in a constant flow of new books, we know that some are still desperately needed regardless of publication date. Our goal is to put important books back on the radar screen to for teachers who missed it when it was published. When we select a book for BLAST FROM THE PAST, we modify quotes and questions so that even teachers who attended the first time can see the book through fresh eyes and renewed perspective while bringing new research supported understandings they gained since it was published.

One quote we shared in both chats speaks volumes about the very heart and soul of Literacy Essentials and why nearly five years after its publication, it remains at the top of my list of MUST-READ books:

From the publication of her first book, Transitions: From Literature to Literacy in 1988 to Literacy Essentials, Regie Routman’s deep belief in teaching with a sense of urgency and her unwavering respect for how we expend precious minutes has been a central belief in all of her inspired work. Regie writes these words about teaching with a ‘sense of urgency’ in Literacy Essentials:

“Teaching with a sense of urgency means focusing relentlessly on what’s most important throughout every single day, moving at an efficient and effective steady pace, seizing problems and failure as opportunities for growth, and changing course as needed.” Page 55

Regie brings this spirit to life by highlighting three Literacy Essentials including: Engagement, Excellence, Equity. Across the pages of Literacy Essentials, she consistently honors a sense of urgency with every possible detail in repeated sections including, Take Action with ideas for moving forward; Efficiency Tips to fine tune our efforts, and a mesmerizing real-life personal Story at the end of each chapter that inspires and informs our professional lives. (Note: Be sure to check out the links at the bottom. The first two I shared offer free resources for Literacy Essentials. I also suggest perusing the Stenhouse June/July 2019 Literacy Essentials Book Study in an amazing conversation with resources, references and comments from Regie Routman.

Let’s pause for a moment to hear from Regie Routman and her heartwarming response to a question we posed about Literacy Essentials:

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

These are tough and traumatic times to be teaching, although that has always been true to some extent. What’s most important, I believe, is to lead with empathy and a compassionate heart, to collaborate with colleagues because this job is too complex to do by ourselves, and to be responsive to our students’ strengths, interests, and needs. Think about focusing on these 3 R’s first: relationships, relevance, and resilience–and establishing a classroom and school culture of inclusion, respect, and conversations that matter.

Through prioritizing high expectations, meaningful content, and wide choice in the texts students read and write, we can still bring joy to teaching and learning. None of this is easy, but my hope is that reading and discussing Literacy Essentials will make your teaching/learning/living life more satisfying, engaging, excellent, and equitable for you and your students. Use the detailed Table of Contents with sections to decide where to begin or dig in. I am by your side as fellow learner and teacher. Remember this: you can only do the best you can, and that has to be enough. Uplifting even one life is a huge accomplishment. For that learner, it can be lifechanging. Go easy on yourself, take deep breaths, and savor some moments in the day just for you. 

When Regie was on #G2Great on January 11, 2018, I had the great honor to write our post that can be accessed here. Since my focus in that post was on the book, in the remainder of this post I’d like to highlight learning shared on our twitter chat discussion to extend and support my initial blog post and Literacy Essentials

A great place to begin is with Regie Routman’s responses to our #G2Great questions. I’ve included the question followed by her thoughtful response/s:

Q1 Before we begin, let’s reflect on Regie’s challenge to approach our teaching with a “sense of urgency and relentless pursuit of excellence.” How do you make this a daily priority, regardless of roadblocks that may stand in your path?

Q2 In her book, Regie draws our attention to three areas that reflect Literacy Essentials for all learners: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity.Why are these essentials more important than ever?

Q3 Regie has long championed the reading-writing connection. How can the reciprocal role of reading and writing elevate our teaching? What is one way that you celebrate this mutual relationship in practice?

Q4 Regie reminds us that the end goal of teaching reading is to help students ‘BE READERS’ and she emphasizes free choice independent reading as our #1 priority. How do you bring this priority to life within each teaching day?

Q5 Regie writes, “Equity means we provide all students equal access to an excellent education— that is, we ensure they receive what they need and desire to reach their full potential.” How are you making this vision a reality? 

Q6 Regie asks us to focus on “responsible assessment” including formative and self-assessment to ensure that instruction addresses the specific learning needs of children. What are YOUR responsible assessment essentials?

We are very fortunate to have an incredible group of educators who join our weekly chat discussions. These amazing educators added an additional level of thinking for our Literacy Essentials discussion:



I’d like to reach back to 2018, the year that Literacy Essentials was published and Regie joined our #G2Great chat for the first time. On August 18, 2018, Regie shared this wonderful tweet that I’ve referred to on many occasions since it speaks volumes about central messages that appear across Literacy Essentials.

One of the beautiful things about having such an important book on our #G2Great chat twice is that it allows us not only to bring Literacy Essentials back into public attention, but also gives us two conversational references that invited old friends and new into the conversation over time in a collective merging of understanding ranging from 2018 to 2022.

Books like Literacy Essentials need to be on a shelf of honored books within easy reach, referenced so often that the pages are dog-eared with highlighting and pencil jots from cover to cover. I’m a long-time advocate for re-reading one or two books each year that spoke to me in the past. That is the intent of our Blast from the Past chat and I can’t think of a better book to reach for virtually or face-to-face.  

In her introduction, Regie writes a “Letter to my colleagues” and she poses a question that is pertinent to all of us, especially in such a challenging time in our history:

“How do we rise to the challenge of providing an engaging, excellent, equitable education for all learners—including those from high-poverty, underserved schools? In spite of all the obstacles we face—politically, professionally, personally—we teachers matter more than ever.” Page 1

There is no doubt in my mind that the answer to that question is to read Literacy Essentials from cover to cover, refer to it often and keep it lovingly perched on a shelf of honor for easy access.

On a very personal note, I would like to express my deep gratitude to Regie Routman; for long-time dedication to this profession, teachers everywhere who put her words into action and the children who are at the center of all she does. I will forever hold dear your message and I’m so honored to call you dear friend. With much love and deep appreciation!



Literacy Essentials at (includes book excerpts from each of the 3 sections of the book, a video walk-through of the whole book, a Study Guide, and several podcasts; one “podcast” and Stories, personal and professional, that are woven throughout the book. (Highly recommended) 

Literacy Essentials Stenhouse website (more free resources including hundreds of professional articles and some videos, all related to the book’s content, that are hyperlinked for reading, viewing, and downloading for study and discussion. There is also a comprehensive, extensive lesson plan and downloadable samples of class authored books.

#G2Great chat with Regie Routman on 1/11/18 for Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence and Equity

#G2Great Wakelet artifact from our 1/11/18 #g2great chat with Regie Routman   

ORDER HERE: Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (2018, Stenhouse)

Literacy Essentials Stenhouse Literacy Essentials Book Study (June/July 2019)

A generous list of Podcasts compiled by Regie Routman

Three-part podcast with Jacob Chastain: Equity with Regie Routman

‘Roaming Around the Known’ with an Adult Learner by Regie Routman

Regie Routman on What’s Essential Right Now in Education with Matt Renwick

Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-Human Students

A reflection by Brent Gilson #G2Great Co-moderator

This week the #G2Great chat was honored to have Afrika Afeni Mills join us to discuss ideas from her beautiful book Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-human Students. As I have the opportunity to reflect and share this week I wanted to start with her words.

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

In a previous role, I was the Curriculum and Instruction Director for an organization called Discovering Justice where I had the opportunity to revise the Children Discovering Justice curriculum, and to facilitate professional learning experiences for teachers in the Greater Boston area based on that curriculum. These learning experiences provided participants with opportunities to engage in conversations about race and U.S. history, and in that work, I noticed that while teachers enjoyed the learning experiences, they didn’t have opportunities to engage in this learning in an ongoing way, and that resonated with my experience as a pre-service and in-service teacher. 

From 2015 until earlier this year, I worked with a company called BetterLesson where I served as an Instructional Coach, Senior Manager of Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I was also able to connect with educators around the country through keynote, workshop and master class opportunities at conferences with my good friend and colleague Monica Washington (2014 Texas State Teacher of the Year). In that work, we noticed the same thing. 

In 2019, I published a piece on the Teaching While White blog titled A Letter to White Teachers of My Black Children. That post went viral, and the response told me that this was a topic that educators wanted to explore further. While the focus on Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning is vital, I noticed that there weren’t as many resources to support teachers who were working with students who identify as White to become antiracist and pro-human. 

My hope, especially in our current polarized climate, is that educators will see that we need to engage in our own racial healing, awakening, and development in order to be equipped to offer our students the learning experiences they both need and deserve.

Reading through Afrika’s thoughts above I am struck by her hopes at the end. For educators to take the time for their own racial healing, awakening, and development in order to be better equipped to serve our students in the ways they need and deserve.

I spend a lot of time reflecting on race and the world my students will be heading out into. I have written about this a lot before but in my own experiences, we do not have much diversity regarding race in our area. During the chat, I have the opportunity to reflect on my own childhood and questions about my own experiences with race. I grew up in a setting much like my students. The bulk of my ideas around race came from pop culture. I did not attend school with a Black student until Junior High. Largely my community was white. My first intern teaching experience in a “real city” was eye-opening. Different cultures, identities, and personalities. It was a wonderful and rich learning opportunity. This could not have been more starkly contrasted by my first job in rural southern Alberta. I remember doing Pen Pals with my old school and kids making faces as they read names they had never encountered or learned about traditions and customs different from their own. I knew in those moments it was important to help my students in these communities see the world outside their experience for the beauty there is.

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

The concept of windows and mirrors as introduced by Emily Style and further developed by Rudine Sims Bishop, is an important one for educators. All students deserve learning communities and experiences where their identities are accurately reflected back to them in the content, and ways of being that are implemented in the pedagogy (mirrors). Students also deserve the opportunity to gaze beyond the familiar to learn about identities and experiences that differ from their own (windows). This is how we create and sustain a truly whole and healthy society. Unfortunately, students of color experience far too many windows, and far too few, and often inaccurate mirrors, and White students experience far too few windows, and often distorted mirrors. 

As the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) inventories in 2012, 2015, 2018, and 2020 show us, there is far more representation of White characters than there are of People of Color in children’s books. Even the representation of animals far exceeds the representation of People of Color, which, by the way, is one of the things that makes current book banning efforts and legislation so absurd. The same folks who are pushing against what they’re calling “indoctrination,” “divisive concepts,” “anti-American” books and content don’t seem to realize that they’re supporting what they say they’re against. As educators, we have the ability, opportunity, and in my estimation, moral imperative to provide students with accurate, healthy, windows and mirrors. 

I always love the opportunity to write the weekly reflection when it is my turn and this week is no exception. I try to help my students with the idea of windows in the books we read as a way for them to see beyond themselves. Sometimes they remind me that they could use some mirrors too (if you have any rural white kids who love hockey, hunting, and ripping around on mopeds let me know…maybe I need to write it). We spend time discussing windows and the importance of learning about the world. We also spend time talking about the quality of the windows and mirrors. I was writing a paper for University this summer and focused on Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s work and Graphic Novel representation of indigenous characters. I wrote about how often the mirrors present were more like funhouse distortions. I wonder how often as educators we present students with distorted funhouse mirrors and cracked or broken windows. As Dr. Kim Parker has often mentioned we need books that focus on joy instead of only sharing trauma. We need quality mirrors and windows to not only support our students but also ourselves.

I love this quote from Afrika. It isn’t easy. It is the work of community.

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

You are not alone in this journey. There are many of us who have been, are now, and will be engaging in this important work, and we are here to support one another. There are an increasing number of resources to inform your journey as well as learning communities to fortify you along the way. This work isn’t easy, but as we teach our students, with support and effort, you can do challenging things. As the attack on the capitol on January 6th and racially motivated mass shootings have taught us, there’s far too much at risk if we don’t.

The light of TRUTH…Rebuilding something Better.

The #G2Great team is so grateful to Afrika Afeni Mills for taking the time to share her words and lead our chat this week. We hope everyone will take the time to better learn about themselves so they can best serve their students. If you are looking for more of Afrika’s work and you should there are links below.


Open Windows, Open Minds Newsletter


Facebook: Open Windows, Open Minds

Instagram: Open Windows, Open Minds

LinkedIn: Afrika Afeni Mills

Twitter: @AfeniMills

Blog Posts:

Five to Thrive: Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Middle & High School ELA

Wakelet artifact consisting of all #G2Great tweets here.

By Fran McVeigh

The three authors of Five to Thrive: Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Middle and High School ELA who joined #G2Great on Thursday, October 6th are noted for their ELA knowledge. Matthew Johnson had not previously been here as an author, but his collaborators Matthew R. Kay Not Light, But FIRE: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom, and Dave Stuart Jr. these 6 things: How to Focus Your Teaching on What Matters Most are familiar to many #G2Great followers. If they aren’t typically on your ELA radar, you need to elevate them now!

Also, note that two additional titles in this Corwin Press “Five to Thrive” series were represented on #G2Great previously. Christina Nosek with Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Elementary Reading and Melanie Meehan’s Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Elementary Writing. All of the titles are worthy of your attention!

Because this was part of the series, I am beginning with the authors’ responses to the questions which explain my interest in this book for the #G2Great chat.

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

The last couple years have been really rough for educators. This has led to a large number of new teachers entering the profession due to retirements and led to many teachers feeling exhausted, overextended, and burnt out. We wanted to write this book–which is about what works in the classes of three teachers in three very different locations (rural, suburban, and urban), and schools (small, medium, and large)–to help both those new teachers and those seeking to be new to focus on the areas that matter the most and can help them towards better, more equitable, and more sustainable teaching .  

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

Arguably the biggest takeaway is that community is not a second-tier concern to be focused on once the real work is done. The pandemic helped to show us that building strong and positive classroom communities is essential work that we need to thoughtfully and purposefully engage in daily. Other themes that bubbled up were the importance of constantly listening to and consulting the students in an effort to build a true partnership, the importance of finding community as educators to keep our own lights burning bright, and the importance of revisiting and reflecting on important ideas/skills/topics again and again and again while designing instruction.

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

Few resources are as precious as teacher time or student voices. We need to treat each with the respect that they deserve!

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Key points deal with respect for teachers and the:

Value of community

Value of teacher time

Value of student voices

These key points are exemplified in the quotes and the responses in the chat. (The slides from the chat that include pretweets or quotes during the chat are in gray boxes separate from actual tweets that remain white like Dave Stuart’s below as I play with different format options in this post.)

Value of Community

“What we’re after is the active construction of class cultures that are courageous, curious, and collaborative; social places where students listen to each other, finding themselves both pushed and secure, challenged and inspired. We want a classroom where students measure their strengths and successes based on their own growth.” 

“…it is important to acknowledge that we should consider community building as the work of our curriculum choices and pedagogical moves throughout the entire school year.True community is not built with a couple of initial exercises. (p. 6

Value of Teacher Time

“We authors still believe that teaching is the best job in the world, but we get it when we hear yet another colleague say, I can’t keep doing this.” “On default settings, the secondary ELA teacher’s job isn’t sustainable.” (p. 116)

“What makes feedback effective isn’t how many words the teacher writes in the margins. What makes feedback effective is how much the student reads, understands, and ultimately learns from it.” (p 61)

What do we know now?

Value of Student Voices

“Listening authentically is effortful, after all. It takes significant bandwidth for students – and, frankly, their teachers – to tune out distractions and lock in on any speaker’s ideas for even the shortest amount of time.” (p. 13) 

And then what? So what? 

Perhaps you think this book is designed for beginning teachers. Perhaps you think it might fit into a secondary ELA methods course. Perhaps you think that a MS/HS ELA team could study this book together to build a more “common sense” approach to building a collaborative team. Perhaps an ELA teacher would hand it off to his/her administrator. Perhaps an administrator would hand this book off to a teacher new to the building.  All of these are possibilities.

If you embrace the idea of teacher stewardship in the classroom, you might consider these actions.

Volunteer to be a mentor.

Check in with a new teacher – new to your content, department, building, or district.

Pass this book on to an administrator who does not have an ELA teaching background.

Follow the authors on twitter, social media, or their blogs!

Study your classroom for its safety in sharing, connecting, listening and learning from each other. How will you nurture community for students and teachers? How will you nurture and protect time? How will you nurture your own continuous learning and reflection?

Additional Resources:
Matthew Johnson
Re-Write – Blog – Link
Essay of the Week – Link
Corwin Author Page – Link
Matthew R. Kay
Website – Link
Stenhouse Author Page – Link
Corwin Book Page – Link
Dave Stuart Jr.
Teaching Simplified – Blog – Link
Article of the Week – Link
Corwin Author Page – Link