Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

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:

BOOK TRAILER FOR MEET LIFT

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

Collection

Conversations

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

@drdonvu

website – link

webinar – https://drdonvu.com/2022/07/10/finding-the-audacity-of-equality-in-the-stories-of-immigrants-and-refugees/

“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

Breaking Down the Walls of Mandates, Manipulations & Misconceptions

by Jenn Hayhurst

To read the archive of this chat please click here.

Steam is rising fast from my “back to the grind” coffee cup. It is early morning, I wanted a fresh head to write my reflection for our #G2Great chat Breaking Down the Walls of Mandates, Manipulations, and Misconceptions (Thursday, September 9, 2022). The words, Mandates, Manipulations, and Misconceptions are fixed in my brain and are truly at odds with this beautiful Saturday morning here in Northport, New York.

Today is one of those golden Long Island end-of-summer days; sunny, blue skies, and a cool 67 degrees. The landscape is still a lush green with only hints of orange and brown in some fringe trees that are determined to turn early. Now we are leaning heavily towards autumn, and I am taken aback by how much I am looking forward to the change. My head wanders back to Mandates, Manipulations, and Misconceptions and I am struck by a question, one that I needed to ask others:

These are the words that came back to describe the natural qualities great teachers possess:

This is a great website to make word clouds with your students: Word Art.com

As I wrote the answers into this word cloud, it felt like all of these descriptors were refining my own inventory of personal qualities. Then it occurred to me the qualities that so many educators are saying they share are really ways to define what we value most in our teaching. If we are all of these things, and then we juxtapose the words: Mandates Manipulations, and Misconceptions… it is no wonder there is so much tumult in education today.

Exposing Mandates

If you are looking outside of education, it would seem that mandates are based on research that is designed to generate positive educational reform. However, more often than not, mandates are underfunded and misinformed because they are not rooted in reality. It is no wonder at all as to why so many teachers find the word “mandate” repellent. It is an interfering word, imposed by people who do not actually work in schools. How in the world do you take a group of teachers who naturally possess qualities like “flexibility” “curiosity” and “empathy” and try to force feed a disconnected uninformed mandate? The answer is simple you cannot, teachers will resist:

Revealing Manipulations

It’s easy to suss out the underlying manipulation that beats at a mandate’s heart. It is a fixed definition of success based on (you guessed it) test scores. Mandates often rely on on a narrow intepretation of test scores, and a limited view of what “certain” (insert your label of choice here) students will achieve. Yes, students are switfly labeled, then negated, absolving teachers of any responsiblity. This sends an extremely harmful message to teachers: you cannot fix, what you’re not responsible for. As part of the manipulation, mandates push this notion that some children are pre-destined to fail. This is the deficit lens, and it shouts to all who will listen: “The system is broken! This is the reason why! Now it is time to buy this (product) so it (but the subtext is really they) can be fixed:

Dispelling Misconceptions

The debate always goes public and is always fueled by misconceptions, as each side tries to take hold of the narrative. This is how reading wars are born into public discourse. Each person takes a side when really there are no sides to this. There are only children and teachers and we all want the same thing – we want kids to be successful:

Being the Change

I encourage you to get connected. Find your people who help you “think up”. What I mean by this is find that group of people who challenges you to keep learning, to read more, to be brave and say more, and to keep pushing our profession forward. Find your community at work, and push yourself to find it on a bigger scale. If are already reading this, chances are good that you are a member of the #G2Great PLN. If not, come join us on Twitter, #G2Great Thursday nights at 8:30 pm est (a shameless plug). But, there are other communities to keep the conversation going. Here are three other great chats I can recommend:

  1. #Satchat Saturday Mornings 8:00 AM EST
  2. #TCRWP Wednesday Evenings 7:30 PM EST
  3. #CrazyPLN Saturday Morning 10:00 AM EST

Affording Ourselves Professional Grace & Space In Challenging Times

This post is dedicated to all the losers out there. Those of us who listen to interior voices that whisper,

“not good enough”

by Jenn Hayhurst

August 11, 2022 was my  #G2Great homecoming marking return after an extended absence from Twitter. Mary, who is extremely kind and wise, suggested that I write this blog post since our topic was: Affording Ourselves Professional Grace & Space In Challenging Times. Maybe it was fate, a topic that was heavy on my mind, as schools reopen across the country happened to be the one that would welcome my return to #G2Great. Seneca once said, “Fate leads the willing and drags along the unwilling.” If this is true, then call me a happy follower.

During my time away from social media, I learned three important lessons that I have to share with others who find themselves in need of both “grace” and “space”  during these challenging times:

#1 Value Friendships

This may seem like an obvious one, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s easy to take even your closest friends for granted. Another thing to consider; sometimes, when we are stressed, we surround ourselves with “friends” who may not be the best choices. So take stock in your friendships by asking: “What support are my friends giving me? How are they helping?” And then, “Am I being a good friend in return?”

I put out a call inviting friends prior to the chat. I wanted to touch base with my friends who spread positivity and brilliance:

It is my happiness to share and promote all the good work these remarkable humans are contributing to the world right now:

Click here to read @NadineRuzzier’s blog
Click here to read @carolynhelmers Stenhouse Blog post

@juliewright4444’s beautiful new @BenchmarkEdu book

#2 Be Present

When times get rough, it is so easy to start chasing worrisome thoughts.  Then, inevitably, a myriad of distractions set in causing us to lose focus. Aimlessly scrolling online looking for solutions for what to teach tomorrow. When really, the answers we seek are being revealed to us every day by the children we teach.

Whatever, you are doing: teaching a lesson, serving in a committee, or joining a Twitter Chat, be present:


@dubioseducator is a master for showing us how to be more fully present.. read her post, When Slow and Steady Comes into Play
Check our this review on Good Reads. Did you know you can rent audio books from your public library? Check out Libby

This one goes out to our newest teachers, if you are feeling “off balance” during instruction, leaning in means you are learning something. Keep going, reflect and focus on what is happening in the present:

#3  Take Action

So long as we live, there is always a choice. Our actions matter, and either contribute towards positivity or negativity. Sometimes it is a kind gesture:

Sometimes it working towards a vital cause:

During challenging times, do something to contribute towards the “good” because every action matters. Leave a generous invitation to everyone you work with that you are there to help, leave every door open:

In the end, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how we decide to play this game of life. It’s not a spin of a dial, it’s the actions we take, once we consider our options. What example will you set? We are what we do, and what do we think. Really, there is only you and what you believe. What will you decide to let in this school year?  This school year, I am opening the door to: being thoughtful about my friends; making a practice of being present by honing my ability to focus; and taking actions that lead towards positive solutions.  Let’s get to work, and have a wonderful school year. Never forget you were always enough.

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

by Fran McVeigh

Wakelet archive of chat tweets here

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

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

Why Community?

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

Ideas for building community from Lisa and Patty:

Why Collaborate?

Pre-chat Quote

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

Why Choice?

Choice.

Do students really have choice?

What’s the reality?

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

Consider this . . .

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

Why does choice matter? Carolyn succintly says it here.

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

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

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

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

Teacher question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

This quote …

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

___________________________________

Additional Resources:

Writing Clubs Study Guide Link

Lisa Eickholdt Link

Patty Vitale-Reilly Link

Tapping Into Teacher Empowerment

by Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to view the Wakelet

How do we tap into teacher empowerment? This is a question that I have thought about for a long time. It has been my experience that empowered teachers draw on knowing the curriculum, having an understanding for child development, and a knack for setting attainable goals with students that help their students recognize their own inner stores of power, but I wondered what other teachers had to say on the matter. On September 16, 2021 #G2Great began a conversation about tapping into teacher empowerment, and after reading through the Wakelet it became clear to me that GROWING A CULTURE around empowerment is really the next frontier. 

What if we actively created a culture that was built around teacher empowerment in school?  I imagine that it might be like this, teachers come to school believing that their thoughts and decisions will make a positive impact on the collective good. Every faculty member would know that their expertise would be held in the highest esteem.  From where I stand, teaching is already the best career there is and if it were possible to work in a culture that tapped into teacher empowerment, it would be life changing for our profession and our students.  That is something worth fighting for, and here are some ways we can begin to make a shift towards tapping into (a culture) of teacher empowerment.

Listen to Teachers

Building a school wide belief system stems from an ongoing conversation about how students learn best. Once we have that vision, we can begin to align our beliefs and we can promote a shared voice in the materials that we put into the classroom. One way to promote ownership is to let teachers decide what kinds of materials reflect the shared vision.  Teacher autonomy would stem from having a voice and choice about classroom libraries, based on the needs of their classrooms.

Promote Intellectual Curiosity

It is a goal of many to take a student centered approach to teaching and learning. It is also important  to extend that same stance for professional learning for teachers. Having choice in the kind of professional learning that is received is very empowering.  We need to follow the teacher lead when it comes to learning because each teacher has a different need. Peer facilitated coaching is another way to promote empowerment because having the freedom to visit a colleague and learn collectively is the kind of on the job training that promotes professional growth while tapping into teacher expertise.

Take Action Through Agency

The culture of school does not always jive with the concept of agency. There are so many tasks teachers are asked to complete at school that suck up time and effort. Our focus becomes a checklist of “have to’s” rather than time spent cultivating the craft of teaching. It is hard to feel inspired to take action when obligatory duties take over.  We can strive to make this better. Everyone has to submit lesson plans, but rather than  submitting lesson plans prior to the lesson, submit them after with teacher reflections written in the margins. This encourages deeper reflection while giving administration a better view of what is happening in the classroom.  What went well? What failed? What did you learn? Innovative solutions are out there, let’s devote time and energy to making it happen.

Begin Good Conversations

One tenant of #G2Great is that we believe we move from “good work” to “great work”  in the classroom  (Howard 2012) when we continue to read and act on professional learning. A school culture that embraces a teacher’s desire to learn and try something new is one that is made to tap into teacher empowerment.  Every week, I learn so much from the teachers I work with and the teachers I know through social media. Risk would be a badge of honor, a marker of courageous learners who are trying to outgrow themselves. This would be a culture that would be worthy of the students we teach everyday. 

Never Lose Sight of What is Possible

The culture we live in school is in some part a reflection of ourselves. What if? Two common words that have an uncommon ability to power real change. If you find yourself wanting more, and dream of tapping into your own sense of empowerment; don’t wait, you can make the difference.

“Time to Rethink Standardized Assessment” (Ravitch, Zhao, and McDiarmid)

By Fran McVeigh

Blog Link for the post used in this chat. – Wakelet link for archival of tweets

Thursday, September 2, 2021 found #G2Great fans gathered around the Twitterverse to discuss Diane Ravitch’s blog from April 2021 where Yong Zhao and William McDiarmid shared their thinking on Standardized Testing. This was the first of a two part chat series that concludes next week with a media study of a topic currently under debate: “Learning Loss” so tune in again next week as well.

Let’s consider the “setting” for this blog post. April of this year. 14 months into the pandemic. A world-wide pandemic. Hopes. Fears. Vaccines becoming available although not yet available to all. And yet, simultaneous pushes for “a return to normal” and “a time to create a new normal.” Definitely a time of uncertainty, perhaps ripe for change. Perhaps ready to return to the known, the familiar.

Words matter. I’ve used that succinct phrase here and on my own blog as post titles here and here. Words matter because the meaning and power come from the words authors choose to use. Or even from words they deliberately choose NOT to use. With the Six Traits +1 of Writing (Voice, Ideas, Presentation, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, and Sentence Fluency), word choice seems to be just one of seven factors, but in reality it impacts all the other traits to some degree. The words authors use are often equated to be a sign of level of education or intelligence.

I am venturing to guess that there is little doubt about my feelings about this topic. Consequently my choice with this article was to view the frequency of words in the post by Zhao and McDiarmid as a starting point of my personal study. Which words did they repeat? So how did I do a frequency study? I used technology to copy and paste the entire post into worditout.com, and this word cloud was automatically generated. As with any word cloud, the largest words appeared most frequently. This cloud uses five different colors of ink in varying sizes to show levels of frequency for words.

I literally breathed a sigh of relief to see that “students” was the largest word as I admired its placement in the center of the cloud, and then “testing” was second and “standardized” was third. Because those two words were in the title that actually confirmed the content of the post. The biggest yellow words stood out next: “educators,” “learning,” and “high-stakes.” The descending order quickly became trickier. Red words that next stood out were “skills”, then “knowledge,” “Zhao,” “families,” and “many.” I’m not going to go through all the words but I did list out about thirty of my favorite words that I found in the cloud. Before I continue on, I invite you to think about this question: “What words in the word cloud seem interesting to you?”

Did you choose nouns? If yes, “educators, families, tests, talents, opportunities, counterparts” might be some on your list.

Did you choose verbs? If yes, “marginalized, reduced, nurture, mastered, disrupted” might be words that catch your eye.

Or were there words that just created a sense of wonder? Maybe these caught your attention: “especially, consequently, perhaps, although, more, significantly, some.”

High-stakes standardized testing

Standardized Assessments . . . What do you think of when you hear that phrase? I immediately think of the old, old, old, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, #2 pencils, and ovals that are to be “completely filled in.” That led to my vote for this visual to be a part of our slides for the chat. I see the broken pencil as frustration. Over the administration. Over the time spent assessing. Over the delays in assessment results. Over the inappropriate uses of the results.

Because this was an article study, this blog post is perhaps a bit different from other posts and significantly different from posts featuring books and authors. However, my study of the words brought me to the conclusion that there were three key ideas in the blog that also surfaced in the chat.

  1. Impact students
  2. Has failed educators
  3. Has disrupted learning for families and communities

Dear Reader,

Although those words are displayed above, they may not have been the words that you felt were emphasized. Thank you for sticking with me through this post as I demonstrate the examples that happened to show me these results. Please continue reading to follow my thinking as I share my processing of the words above and the tweets from the chat that impacted my thinking (and see exactly how many words I also use from the word cloud.)


High-stakes standardized testing impacts students.

If I begin with the littlest students, kindergartners entering school this year may have attended pre-school in the lowest numbers in the last decade. Many missed out on play dates, family events and interaction in their neighborhood and community.

First graders may be more fortunate. Some had a kindergarten year in a classroom with masks and social distancing. Some had hybrid classrooms with some instruction online and some face to face. Some others had a year of online instruction. What will first grade bring? It’s impossible to predict but bumpy rides are ahead and no one solution is possible because of the complexities of the previous year.

And second graders . . . those children who left school in March of 2019 for “a couple of weeks” who never returned for the final days of kindergarten. What were those final days like? What was first grade like? And now how will second grade look? Students who have and will now have three consecutive years greatly impacted by the pandemic.

And then students in grades three and up . . . They too have now known three years of disruption and three years of different learning. Soon we will hear from testing companies about their view of learning during the pandemic. But I want to take this opportunity to remind you of two important words: achievement and learning. Achievement tests give us comparisons of grade levels and stanines and percentiles that are often used to sort out students into categories of students dependent on the rate of growth in skills that are progressing on a scale. Learning, and in particular life-long learning often encompasses: curiosity, creativity, communication, leadership, critical thinking, adaptability, and listening.

How are students impacted?

High-stakes standardized testing has failed educators.

High-stakes assessments have promised to be the “end-all” in education reform. Unfortunately, I believe that they have done the opposite. They’ve sent us down rabbit-hole after rabbit-hole of broken promises, tired rhetoric, and trust-breaking programs as “Everyone” tries out their own experiments in improving school. But what if we take a step back and consider those who have been successful? What if we reread Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s work to study histories of success? (Cultivating Genius chat here)

As a “Mid-Westerner”, I love New York City. This statue and its nature as a gift from our friends in France fascinates me. And these words are mesmerizing.

Many teachers whose classes began in August are already tired and poor. They are “yearning to breathe free”; free of the tyranny of standardized test requirements. Free of a six foot stack of test-prep materials. Free of local, state and federal requirements that feel counterproductive to learning. Outdated measures of learning. Disruption is needed.

High-stakes standardized testing has disrupted learning for families and communities.

When media touts the failure of schools and students by reporting FAILING data such as NAEP reports of students not meeting proficiency, it’s hard not to believe the 100th presentation of said data. However, NAEP in particular never talks about “proficiency” in any of their descriptions of their performance levels. That one sneaky little word added in makes it easy to be derailed and question the efficacy of schools in general. And then what happens? Check out the following tweets.

In conclusion with a challenge . . .

Thank you for indulging me in my wandering and wondering about words in this post, “Time to Rethink Standardized Testing.” In 2012, EdWeek stated the cost of testing to be at $1.7 billion per year. (link) Five years later Penn State reported that the same dollar figure was used for primary assessments. (link) Unfortunately, the EdWeek article was their quoted source even five years later. Testing/ Assessments are expensive.

Find out how much assessments cost your district. Actual cost. And then look for the hidden costs. How much instructional time is lost to test prep, test administration, and assemblies with promises of rewards for student improvement? What is the cost of stress for students, teachers, administrators, family and community? How much time is lost in item analysis to find out there was only one item for that skill so it may not even have been a lower performing skill, but just an inattention to detail? And then honestly answer these question: What is the cost benefit for students? How do these assessments help the students become more effective citizens? What have the teachers learned from the assessment that they did not already know?

And then take your answers to your administrators and folks in charge.

It’s time for change.

And testing/assessment needs to be at the top of the list.

Phonics In Perspective: Taking a Closer Look

by, Jenn Hayhurst

To access the archive of the chat please click here.

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

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

What we know to be true

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

Listening to learn and grow instructional practice

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

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

Trusting Readers: Powerful Practices for Independent Readers

by Mary Howard

On 6/10/21, we welcomed first-time #G2Great guests Dr. Jennifer Scoggin and Hannah Schneewind to engage in twitter-style dialogue around their book, Trusting Readers: Powerful Practices for Independent Reading (2021 Heinemann). Their shared belief in ‘trusting readers’ is not simply two colorful words on the cover and lovingly described in chapter after chapter. Trusting Readers and how we might bring those words to life is the very heart and soul of an amazing trust-filled collaboration. 

Jen and Hannah emphasize this central trust theme in a quote we shared in our chat:

As I began to reflect on this post and the book that inspired it, I found myself pausing to ponder their heart and soul using the word “TRUST”. As I often do, I turned to the dictionary where I found two meanings that worked beautifully in concert along with several descriptors.

These ‘trust’ references made perfect sense in the context of Trusting Readers. After all, we can’t claim that we truly trust readers unless we can demonstrate unwavering belief that children deserve and need our trust and the freedom to put that trust into action as we create a relationship of mutual ‘trust and respect’. We willingly embrace our responsibility to demonstrate trust for our children by offering opportunities that matter where it matters most – in the company of the very readers we claim to trust. 

Although these dictionary references seemed fitting, the heart and soul I felt as I read Trusting Readers from cover to cover was missing. I quickly turned back to Jen and Hannah for that missing connection. It didn’t take long to find the heart and soul that the dictionary didn’t quite do justice. In their introduction on page xv, Jen and Hannah write an opening invitation to teachers:

Notice that Jen and Hannah are speaking directly to educators here. While every word is essential, the word POSSIBILITY looms large. They ask us to see the POSSIBILITY that surrounds us when we trust our readers as we also trust ourselves to make trust-worthy day-to-day decisions in the name of kids. The word POSSIBILITY appeared in varied forms across the book, lifting its impact even higher. Their gentle words of flexible advice with powerful practices for independent reading oozed POSSIBILITY for trusting readers and ourselves as we seek to design learning experiences that will celebrate us both. 

Already knowing the deep trust Jen and Hannah demonstrate for us across their book, the tweet below caught my attention two weeks before our chat. After Fran McVeigh complimented their Classroom Indicators for Engagement they describe “as clearly visible and observable” on pages 54-55 of Trusting Readers, they wrote:

We always ask our #G2Great authors to reflect on three questions to gain insight into their thinking. Their reflections on our first question offered a wonderful peek into their shifting purpose during writing informed by student stories: 

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

Our original intention in writing this book was to make conferring with readers easier.  During our time in schools, we noticed that conferring is often a missing piece of classroom practice.  Our goal was to come up with a framework that would simplify it while also making it impactful.  After delving deeply into the research and studying our own conferring, we realized the truth: Conferring is hard, especially when as a teacher you are trying to do and say everything “right.”  

Instead of making it “easier,” we let go of preconceived notions of what conferring should be and opened ourselves up to listen closely to students tell the stories of themselves as readers.  Instead of having conferring be about waiting for the student to make a mistake so we can teach them a strategy to correct it, we emphasize the power of starting with strengths, honoring student identity and constructing relevant instructional pathways alongside students. We hope teachers implement the Cycle of Conferring and see conferring with fresh eyes.

Jen and Hannah open Trusting Readers by reflecting on their shared experiences in “supportive, trusting environments” where they were afforded the freedom to make instructional decisions that would enrich the lives of learners. As I read this, I thought about my own experiences in schools where I was a trusted professional and in those where I was seen as a compliant disseminator. My memories were a reminder that this trust is sorely missing in too many schools. While most teachers model trust for their children in spite of this sad reality, we add a level of challenge for designing a learning environment where children are seen as trusted co-creators if the level of professional trust that we know is critical is in short supply. This can become a breeding ground for mistrust and make it harder to draw from the instincts that impact trust in action.

Whenever I sit down to write a blog post based on the books of our guest authors, I seek to merge both the book and chat experience into my reflections. Having read the book before the chat, I keep it close as I revisit the chat wakelet to pull in new wisdom shared during the chat (albeit at a slower pace thanks to our ability to capture their wisdom in a chat artifact). I carefully mine the chat for author tweets that reinforce and extend their book wisdom. And I always manage to find it.

Let’s set the tweet stage first by celebrating the foundation of trust with examples:

As I gathered their tweets, I saw many connections between the book and chat with the sense of POSSIBILITY I felt in Trusting Readers. In honor of these findings, I’d like to share eight POINTS OF POSSIBILITY that were inspired by a combination of our chat and book wisdom with a collection of additional tweets added the end of this post. It is my hope that these twitter references from Jen and Hannah offer a starting point for making trust for our readers and those who teach them a shared reality: 

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #1: Hold Tight to Your Beliefs

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #2: Keep Students at the Center

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #3: Value Meaningful Intent

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #4: Celebrate Unwavering Love

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #5: Learn to Listen to Kids 

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #6: Highlight Strength-Based Data

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #7: Refute the Myth of Perfection

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #8: Embrace the Journey

With these POINTS OF POSSIBILITY in mind, let’s turn back to Jen and Hannah as they reflect on our second question: 

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

We hope that teachers will embrace the invitation to reinvent Independent Reading. Try having your students set up the classroom library. Start the year with a whole class inquiry into reading engagement or identity instead of focusing on routines. (We love good routines– but do we have to start with them?) If you are new to conferring, jump in and do Discovery Conferences. Try the Cycle of Conferring with a handful of students before doing it with the entire class. As Debbie Miller says:  What is the best that can happen?

We also hope that teachers will embrace the challenge to stop using labels and deficit language. We have to retrain our brains to only ever speak about students in terms of strengths and next steps. This is harder than it seems, as it is easy to fall back on the shorthand of “struggler” and “low”. We have to actively resist the norm of labeling. All students deserve to be seen.  When we see them, their strengths, their interests and all the possibilities in front of them, teaching (and learning) is joyful.

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

As I come to the close of this post, I am drawn back to the gift of Trusting Readers. Jen and Hannah don’t just tell us how to trust our readers and ourselves. Rather, they show us in page after glorious page by sharing examples, charts, conversations, and a generous array of research-based advice that invites teachers to trust their readers by trusting themselves in a spirit of two-sided trust that is empowering!

Trusting Readers offers teachers a haven for POSSIBILITY in safe spaces where trust abounds. Grounded in numerous examples that illuminate POSSIBILITY, Jen and Hannah ask us to celebrate all that our children bring to the literacy table and to trust the ever-changing knowledge and understandings that we bring to that table as we ensure that children are at the center of our every effort. This combined sense of trust amplifies POSSIBILITY as trust is viewed as a two-way proposition.

Since I opened this post by borrowing the POSSIBILITY that Jen and Hannah elevate for us all, I want to return full circle to the first quote from their introduction on page xv with the addition of three essential questions worthy of exploration: 

And THAT my friends, is where POSSIBILITY resides. If we are wise, we will take the time to sit very still so that we may notice those glimmers that are sure to beckon us on a moment-to-moment and day-to-day basis. It is within these GLIMMERS OF POSSIBILITY that trusting readers and ourselves can converge into brilliant living color view!

Jen and Hannah highlight this mutual trust in their response to our final question:

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

 Trust yourself and your students. It may require some bravery to disrupt the “but this is how we have always done” thinking in your school.  Hold onto your belief system and be ready to cite research that supports your decisions.  Make all parts of your literacy instruction relevant and joyful, and find like-minded colleagues with whom to collaborate.

Thank you, Jen and Hannah. We are so grateful to you for generously sharing your wisdom in your beautiful book and on our #G2Great chat. We are richer for both and we promise to keep our sights on Trust from our side and theirs in the coming year.

Tweet collection from Jen and Hannah that reinforce our Points of Possibility


LINKS

Identity and Why It Matters
 
Trusting Readers, Trusting Ourselves
 
Reflection and Discovery: The Power of Reading Identity in Independent Reading