Every Kid A Writer: Strategies That Get Everyone Writing by Kelly Boswell

by Fran McVeigh

The Twitter chat is available in its entirety at this Wakelet link.

On Thursday, June 24th, Kelly Boswell joined the #G2Great chat to discuss her book, Every Kid a Writer: Strategies That Get Everyone Writing. Other books by Kelly include: Crafting Nonfiction Intermediate and Solutions for Reading Comprehension coauthored with Linda Hoyt and these two by herself, Write This Way: How Modeling Transforms the Writing Classroom and Write This Way From the Start.

This is one of those blog posts that I began early in order to process the information and to do justice to the topic amidst a busy summer. I reread Kelly’s book. I listened to her podcasts. I reviewed her quotes and then fresh off four days of writing institute, I wrote three or four possible hooks. As the chat ended, I raced to my draft “possibilities” document full of joy. The chat had been exhilarating. Joyful. Respectful. Packed with ideas. And so student-centered. But I couldn’t find a way to begin this post. Or more accurately, I couldn’t find a way that I liked well enough to begin this post. I chalked it up to being tired and waited to reread the Wakelet Friday morning to save some tweets to use. But I was stuck without an appropriate introduction.

Saturday started out with a fantastic Text, Talk, and Tea Zoom with Clare, Franki, Laura and Lynsey. After they shared their text set, I kept returning to several ideas from Colleen Cruz’s keynote closing for the #TCRWP writing institute. Colleen talked about the trust that students place in their teachers and how we need to celebrate that trust and learning in order to appreciate, amplify and pass the mic. Here’s her slide:

Colleen Cruz #TCRWP Keynote, 06.25.2021

Appreciate. Amplify. Pass the mic.

We can do that because we find JOY and LOVE in students’ writing when we remove barriers and focus on providing the instruction that supports them in writing. This joy and love was what I saw as the vision behind Kelly’s book and the reason that her writing strategies DO get everyone writing. There’s no blaming students. There’s no shaming students. There is an expectation and a vision that everyone can write . . . once the environment and instruction is prepped for them. We can do that because we are ALSO writers and we value both process and product. We value writing… and writing… and writing!

After finding my own connections to Kelly’s book, I wanted to honor her purpose in writing this book because I, too, have heard these questions.

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

This book is a response to the question I hear the most from the teachers with whom I work – “What about those kids who don’t like to write?” 

Many of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves in the company of a few (or perhaps more than a few) students who shrug when asked about their writing. They slump in their chairs instead of jumping into writing with energy and vigor. They sharpen pencils or ask for the bathroom pass or decide it’s a good time to organize and reorganize their desk. They groan when you announce that it’s time or write or they barrage you with questions along the lines of “How long does this have to be?” 

Many teachers mistakenly think that the problem lies with the reluctant student. I had a hunch that, like most things, teachers and classroom environments created either reluctance or engagement. 

In this book, I set out to explore this topic – why do the writers in some classrooms seem so reluctant while students in a different classroom dig into writing with enthusiasm and joy? Could we, as teachers, create classrooms and writing experiences that could increase engagement? As I spoke to students and teachers and taught lessons of my own,  my hunch was confirmed: The environment and community we create in the classroom, along with some specific, yet simple, teaching strategies, have an enormous impact on how students engage with writing. 

And that vision led us to our second question.

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

One of the biggest takeaways that I hope teachers embrace is that the problem of reluctant writers is NOT the kids. As teachers, we have the power to embrace and use some simple, practical strategies that support ALL kids to engage in writing with enthusiasm and joy. These six strategies are outlined in the book: 

We can: 

1. Use mentor texts and teacher modeling to fuel engagement

2. Create a safe and daily space for writing

3. Expose writers to real readers.

4. Offer more choice (choice of paper, seating, topic, etc.)

5. Maintain a healthy perspective on conventions.

6. Shape and create a healthy writing identity through assessment

Let’s pull back the curtain and look a little further at some of the six strategies shared by Kelly during the chat.

1. Use mentor texts and teacher modeling to fuel engagement.

2. Create a safe and daily space for writing.

3. Expose writers to real readers.

4. Offer more choice. (choice of paper, seating, topic, etc.)

5. Maintain a healthy perspective on conventions.

6. Shape and create a healthy writing identity through assessment.

In conclusion, I return to the final question for our author and just a few additional thoughts.

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

As teachers, the goal of all of our planning and teaching and conferring and assessing is, simply this: 

  • We want kids to fall in love with writing. 
  • We want kids to find words that they love and never let them go. 
  • We want kids to see writing as a way to connect with others, share ideas and engage in civil discourse. 
  • We want kids to know that writing is a powerful tool that they can use to think, reflect, remember and influence others.  
  • We want kids to discover that the act of writing is its own reward. 
  • We want them to know, deep in their bones, that writing has so much to give and so much to teach. 
  • We want kids to live joyfully literate lives. 

It starts with us.

When we provide time for students to joyfully tell their stories, we must Appreciate. Amplify. And pass the mic! This mutual respect and trust between writers and teachers of writing results in classrooms filled with joy, purpose and energy. To conclude, a repeat of the closing quote from the chat, in Kelly’s own words:

Let’s get started!

Additional Links:

Blog Posts (Heinemann):  https://blog.heinemann.com/conferring-with-kids-remotely-tips-for-remote-writing-conferences-from-kelly-boswell

https://blog.heinemann.com/positive-practices-for-you-and-your-students

Podcasts: https://blog.heinemann.com/podcast-demystifying-the-writing-process-with-kelly-boswell?hsCtaTracking=ee7df32b-f50a-49f2-adf8-67e9076b7157%7Cdc1d2e0c-2715-48ff-ab7f-4b640204da9e

Books: https://www.amazon.com/Kelly-Boswell/e/B00E59W45Q?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3&qid=1620140304&sr=8-3

Article: https://www.languagemagazine.com/2020/02/19/harnessing-the-power-of-a-teachers-pen-2/

Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach? Vicki Vinton & Aeriale Johnson

By Fran McVeigh

Thursday, August 27th, #G2Great welcomed back familiar guest hosts Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson. It was a night eagerly anticipated by the #G2Great team as we celebrated a blog post written by Vicki on February 23, 2020, that included learning examples from Aeriale’s second grade classroom. That post, “Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach?” can be found here.

But more importantly, I was personally eagerly anticipating this conversation with Vicki and Aeriale as a toast to the end of summer 2020, this neverending summer that desperately needed a finale. Vicki Vinton has been a part of my summers in New York City as a group of us typically connect and catch up on life dating back to our first #WRRD chat. I also met Aeriale in NYC at a #TCRWP summer institute while she was a teacher in Alaska and her stories fascinated me. I have also been one of Aeriale’s admirers asking about her “book” as she has so much to say about student learning.

And yet this blog writing task seemed like a mountain to scale after the chat. For the first round of quotes, I pulled 11 pages of tweets from the full Wakelet (here) that I felt would illustrate the brilliance of the chat. If you missed the chat, you really will want to read through the Wakelet as it was impossible to capture all the brilliance of our one hour chat in one mere blog post and 10 tweets.

So let me begin at the beginning.

Do you know Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson?

It’s sincerely my pleasure to introduce my friends, Vicki and Aeriale. (See if you learn something new about either of them.) Vicki is a writer. She is co-author of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); author of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language, (with Mary Ehrenworth); and a novel, The Jungle Law as well as a blogger at “To Make a Prairie.” Aeriale is an avid learner. This quote about Ellin Keene’s Engaging Children personifies my view of Aeriale: “I finished the book on a Tuesday; I integrated the four pillars of engagement she illustrates into my instruction on Wednesday.” Aeriale is a third grade teacher in San Jose, CA. in San Jose, CA, a 2016-18 Heinemann Fellow who blogs at Heinemann.com with posts such as “To Tiana, With Love,” as well as Kinderbender.com, the site of “Kinderbender: Drinking daily from the glass of tiny human giggles, hugs, innocence, brilliance, awe, and passion for life.” Both Vicki and Aeriale write extensively about all the brilliant learning that occurs when teachers are knowledgeable, build community and have high expectations.

Where do we begin?

“We must start their stories and identities with their excellence.” – Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

This quote came from Cultivating Genius and our June 18, 2020 chat (Literacy Lenses blog post here) just a little over two months ago. This book was also the #BookLove professional development book for elementary and secondary teachers this summer with two weeks spent on studying, reflecting, and listening to Dr. Muhammad twice.

How does this connect to the topic of “Underestimating Our Students?

Education is complicated. How we measure its effects is quite controversial and often very limiting. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on values, beliefs, expectations, intellectualism, instruction, assessment and listening. I had to have some criteria in mind as I narrowed down tweets to use in this blog. The tweets that I immediately moved to the MUST use page were those that included statements about those topics and also matched my own beliefs and values.

Hmmm. Confirmation bias at work.

How do we focus on students without underestimating them and yet include their stories, their identities and their excellence?

Expectations … “the act or state of looking forward or anticipating” (dictionary.com)

John Hattie has teacher expectations at the top of his list of factors that impact student achievement with an effect size of 1.62. Other researchers have long documented the fact that a growth mindset allows teachers to focus on student assets instead of deficiencies. Research has shown that teachers may have lower expectations for students from low income families and/or for persons of color. It is a tragedy to set low bars of expectation for any students! As Vicki and Aeriale explain in the following tweets, “expectations” in the classroom need to be linked with learning opportunities.

To Think About: What are your expections? How do you communicate your expectations to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Intellectualism … “the exercise of the intellect” (dictionary.com)

This emphasis on intellectualism builds an even higher target for students and their excellence. This is the call to thinking, to making thinking visible, and to applying learning as evidence of those higher pursuits by students. Students who are going to meet their potential are going to be challenged to grow every day. Low level tasks, worksheets, and activities will simply not exist in classrooms where intellectualism is the standard. Teachers in these classrooms will always be amazed by the challenging work that students do.

To Think About: How do you define intellectualism in your classroom and then communicate that value to students, caregivers, families, and the community? (Or are your children stuck being “students”?)

Instruction … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Instruction that values student stories, identities and excellence is rooted in a culture of belief that students can construct knowledge as they read and write. Right answers are not the norm. Inquiry is a focus and questioning is a routine expectation for students and not an inquisition by the teacher. Students need time and space to be curious and to build the relevance that matches their lives and leads to deeper curiosity and wonder.

To Think About: How do our basic beliefs about instruction emphasize curiosity and inquiry as well as nurturing genius?

Assessment … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Assessment, a word derived from the Latin word assidere, means to sit beside.  If we truly value meaningful assessments then we will consider the ones that allow us to sit beside students. We can share assessment results that are qualitative and rich in descriptions of all that students “can do” instead of lists of skills that may not YET be under the reader’s/writer’s control.

To Think About: How do you communicate what you value about assessments to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Listening … “paying attention; heeding, obeying” (dictionary.com)

One of the most powerful tools in a teacher’s toolbox is the power of listening which is often underestimated. Wait time is seldom mentioned in new educational research but it still is a free attached, accessible resource. Time and how we allocate it is critical. It’s also an observable way of checking for alignment of values, beliefs and resources when matched with the priorities in the daily lesson plan/schedule.

To Think About: How do we ensure that students have enough time to make sure their invisible thinking is deeply understood?

In conclusion . . .

We all have different but yet equally challenging roles in education. Whether we are beginning to plan for school or we have already planned and executed the first week(s) of school, how will we continue to reflect on our expectations for our students? How will we be responsive to the students in front of us? What will show up in our time allocations? Our reflective blog posts? Our Twitter conversations? How will we use what we know to make this the best learning year possible for our students? Your values and beliefs will show in many visible ways as the year progresses. Prioritize based on intellectualism, instruction, assessment, and listening to your students and your families.

What are your expectations for your students? How will we know?

Classroom Management: Strategies for Achievement, Cooperation, and Engagement

by Mary Howard

On 8/13/20, we welcomed first time #G2Great guest host Nancy Steineke to our chat to discuss her incredible new book: Classroom Management: Strategies for Achievement, Cooperation, and Engagement (Heinemann). We explored this topic on 2/6/20 in Weeding Misguided and Harmful Practices: Behavior Management and 10/16/16 in Classroom Management with Heart: Facilitating Intrinsic Motivation but it was a distinct honor to have Nancy share her wisdom as an author and educator who brought this topic to life.

I first heard about Classroom Management when Heinemann Publishing shared Nancy’s podcast: Building a Collaborative Classroom. Listening to her words, I was so mesmerized by the message that I immediately began to capture her thinking on my notes I could share. There was so much wisdom but it was these words that lingered with me long after the podcast ended:

“When teachers try to control their students, it makes you a sheriff in the town and everyone else then becomes a potential criminal. That’s not a way for a teacher to teach and it offers kids very little reason to buy into what the sheriff is proposing.” 

This is a stark reality of how classroom management is too often perceived. This disconnect is evidenced by the continued fascination with suspect yet very popular management ploys such as Clip Up/Down Charts and varied tools that elicits the image of an instructional “sheriff” publicly labeling students according to a level of behavioral compliance. This is far removed from the collaborative process Nancy describes in her book and it sets us all up for failure and may have serious consequences for our students. Nancy clearly explains this mismatch on page 5 of Classroom Management:

Through a system of numerous sticks with possibly a few carrots (the most common carrot being “Behave and I, the teacher, will leave you alone”) might induce student compliance in the moment, it does damage in the long run. Our students might learn to be quiet and follow our directions without a question, but do these students’ behaviors prepare them to be independent learners beyond your classroom? Do they reflect deep content learning? No. They simply teach students how to survive in your classroom? 

We asked Nancy to respond to three questions around her book that I’ll share across this post. As we dig deeper into classroom management, it seems as if contemplating her writerly BOOK WHY is a good starting point: 

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

Classroom management is challenging, often a burden we wrestle with silently because admitting management problems feels like admitting weakness. Compounding the problem, many of us entered our work without positive role models to emulate. When I was a student, my teachers relied on the twin weapons of compliance and punishment in their quest for class control. In moments of desperation early in my career, I fell back on those tools as well. Through trial and error I stumbled along, gradually refining my work with students until finally reaching this conclusion: For students and teachers to thrive, we have to develop and nurture positive relationships with students and between students.

But, fostering a supportive classroom community is easier said than done. Depending on grade level, teachers manage 30 to 175 co-workers (students) every day. Plus, we teachers have to cover our content as well! Because of the ever present pressures of limited time for content coverage combined with looming high stakes assessments, it’s easy for teachers to slip back into that rut of compliance and punishment because it seems expedient. Unfortunately, neither students nor teachers thrive under these conditions. Expecting unquestioning compliance often creates a “teacher versus students” atmosphere and the result is untold stress and dissatisfaction for everyone.

So what motivated me to write this book? My hope is that the lessons and insights offered will guide teachers to move towards a more collaborative approach to classroom management that enables teachers and students to work together. Also, this “roadmap” will give teachers direction and help them avoid the time wasting, relationship wasting “trial and error” classroom management learning curve so many of us struggle with.

I suspect that every educator reading her words can relate to how our own experiences can shape how we view and approach classroom management – for better or worse. I’d like to highlight words that are especially relevant at a time in our history where we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic induced challenge the likes of which none of us have experienced before:

“For students and teachers to thrive, we have to develop and nurture positive relationships with students and between students.”

Nancy acknowledges that there are inherent challenges associated with this lofty goal. Luckily for all of us, she addresses that challenge across the pages of her book as well as within our #G2great chat. And so with her book in my mind, I carefully revisited her twitter inspired wisdom and noticed several important points that can support educators as they begin to maneuver this inevitable shifting view challenge. I’m so grateful for Nancy’s generous chat wisdom that formed the basis of these eight BIG IDEAS:

BIG IDEA #1: Maintain your sights on the ultimate goal  

I open with this tweet since how we approach classroom management can serve as a roadblock or an invitation to “joy, engagement, and investment from students” that surfaces based our guiding purpose. As Nancy reminds us, the contradictory message that accompanies the triplet terms of control, coercion and compliance is likely to have a negative impact on students and can also blur how we interact with students in ways that could make that impact linger for the long haul. 

BIG IDEA #2: Define the term “Classroom Management”

Early in the chat, Nancy distinguished between two opposing meanings of “classroom management.” This is an essential reminder that it’s not the term that is problematic but how we define and interpret that term in the company of children. The key word is “transformational” as it applies to the reach our definition in action can have on its recipients. Control is short lived but often has unwanted consequences. Transformational implies that this reach will change students in positive ways for the long-term.  

BIG IDEA #3: Embrace community as your foundation

Nancy’s point about building community even in the best of times and what that could look like in the worst of times is important. As many schools are transitioning to the new year in a virtual space, we must cannot lose sight that those personal connections are more critical than ever. Relationships, community and connections put us on solid ground regardless of the topic, grade or setting. This should be our first consideration no matter where or what learning takes place.

BIG IDEA #4: Offer clear and explicit instruction

We must acknowledge that the positive classroom learning environment our children need to thrive will not happen by chance. This requires us to explicitly and consistently support these understandings through teacher modeling, teacher and peer supported practice and ongoing independent application. This is not something that can merely be scheduled into the calendar. Rather, it must become integral to what we do across the learning year to ensure student success over time. 

BIG IDEA #5: Create visible paper trail references

To support students as they move from explicit instruction and in-progress learning over time, it is helpful to create concrete visual paper trails. These can offer supportive tools that students can refer to and watch grow along with their growing understandings and shifting perspectives. When these tools are co-created, students take ownership of those written ideas as they engage in problem solving behaviors with peers that will then lead them to increasing collective independence.

BIG IDEA #6: Look beyond your own lens of understanding

It’s human nature to approach our lives by gazing through a personal reflective mirror as a measure for everything around us. Unfortunately this can promote an “all about me” perspective. But when we are willing to turn that reflective lens based on the perspective of students, it will allow us to honor what we do from their viewpoint. In the process, we understand that their behaviors tell us a great deal about who they are and even suggest how we may be inadvertently contributing to those behaviors.

BIG IDEA #7: Celebrate your role as decision-maker

Nancy’s story illustrates the power of choice and how those choices can provoke or empower students. Our day–to-day observations inform those decisions. Thus if we recognize our choices are flawed we can open our minds to use those choices as a springboard to new thinking based on the needs of students. It takes courageous commitment to recognize a mismatch between what we do and the reality of how what we do impacts students. This can be a professional nudge to adjust our choices on their behalf.

BIG IDEA #8: Invite negotiation leading to meaningful shifts

Nancy helps us to understand classroom management based on a spirit of collaboration between teachers and students. Collaborative negotiation invites student voices as we create a partnership in an ongoing process that celebrates shared ownership of the learning process. I see this as the heart and soul of the “classroom management” Nancy so eloquently describes in her book. Her words inspire us to redefine classroom management so that we might redesign what that could look like in action.

With these big ideas in mind, I’d like to turn back to Nancy’s words of wisdom in our next reflective question. Her hopeful takeaways support and extend the eight BIG IDEAS that Nancy inspired:

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

  • The most productive approach for managing a classroom is to do it with our students, collaborating with them to build a classroom community.
  • Expanding responsibility to your students in a thoughtful and scaffolded way isn’t losing control: it is freeing to everyone.
  • A teacher should never try to “go it alone.” When problems occur, it is an opportunity to collaborate and problem solve with the class.
  • Strong relationships are based on mutual respect. True respect comes when teachers deliberately build a bridge between their own perspectives and the realities of their students.

My final thoughts…

As an extension to my BIG IDEAS and Nancy’s takeaways, I’d like to add two final tweets. In these additions, Nancy beautifully integrates our current reality as many educators face a new school year within a virtual space. This is wise advice as the 2020-2021 school year begins anew:

On behalf of our #G2great team, I would like to express deep gratitude to Nancy Steineke. The knowledge she so generously shares in her book and on our #G2great chat is relevant to us all no matter what or where we may teach. Her words renew my hope that educators everywhere can begin to re-envision how they will approach classroom management in the future. I find it comforting to know students will become the fortunate benefactors of this renewed spirit for a familiar term. This is Nancy’s gift to each of us.

And so I close this post with Nancy’s sage advice in our final question:

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

When working with students, do your best to see their perspective and put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you received the feedback you’re tempted to share with a student? Would it make you feel happy and appreciated or resentful, hurt, sad, or angry? No one enjoys humiliation and it is natural for a student to make an effort to save face at the teacher’s expense, escalating a conflict. Instead of offering students negative feedback, be attentive to all the positive contributions students bring to your classroom every day. Celebrate each student by telling them what you’ve noticed, showing that each and every one of them is an appreciated, important member of your class.

Thank you, Nancy!

LINKS

Classroom Management: Strategies for Achievement, Cooperation, and Engagement by Nancy Steineke (Heinemann, 2020)

Heinemann Podcast with Nancy Steineke: Building a Collaborative Classroom

My notes on Nancy’s Podcast  

Positive Notes from Nancy Steineke

Creating Safe Spaces in a Virtual Community How to Develop Online Classroom Norms from Nancy Steineke

Every Child Can Write

by Fran McVeigh

The #G2Great team exuberantly welcomed Melanie Meehan to the October 3, 2019 chat two days after Every Child Can Write: Entry Points, Bridges, and Pathways for Striving Writers entered the world. As I pondered both entry points and organization for this post, I decided to begin with Melanie’s words in response to our three basic author questions.

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

Every day I get to work with writers across all grades and across all levels. Because of my work, I have seen the impact of increasing access and entry points for writers that has led to growth for these students, regardless of functioning levels. 

Very few people enjoy a struggle when they don’t believe they will overcome it, so we have to figure out ways to make the learning and growth seem possible to everyone in the community– especially to the writer. There really is a big difference between thinking about students as struggling or thinking about them as striving, and I hope that people who read this book come away re-examining their beliefs about students.

So often our beliefs become our truths. I want everyone– including and especially our children– to believe that every child can write, and then I want teachers to have practical strategies and resources to help make that happen.

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

Not everyone is ready for the same curriculum and instruction on the same day, but it’s overwhelming to deliver an entirely separate lesson for students who aren’t getting it. That being said, the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development as described by Lev Vygotsky is a game changer for me. We can’t keep asking students to try out tasks and strategies that are way beyond their reach and ability, and it’s exhausting to create scaffold after scaffold that helps writers create a product without understanding the process. When we do that, we’re sending messages over and over that they can’t do it without us or the scaffolds we create. With those consistent messages, it’s human nature to stop trying and avoid the task or situation all together. So how do we change it up in ways that empower students, but is within the realm of possibility for teachers? That’s where reconsidering entry points may welcome students into the learning process. Or maybe it’s constructing bridges so that students have different ways to join the process. That’s where those metaphors that make up the title come it. I hope that teachers see practical and possible ways to teach all students to write. 

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

Our job is to find the entry points and provide the access so that students are challenged and moving forward without being overwhelmed and over-scaffolded. We live in a world where being able to write is a critically important and empowering skill. We can all teach them to write when we believe they can and we have the tools and understandings.

So many times even when students look like they are paying attention, they have no idea of what the lesson is really about. Engagement, interest, caring about something– those have to be in place for not only behavior, but also for academic growth. I feel like I keep repeating myself, but the message of the book is that all children can write.

Why this book?

I am a bibliophile. I probably need a 12 step program because I am addicted to books. I love to explore the ideas in a book through multiple readings. I also love to meet authors and hear about the books in their own voices. So when an author that I admire professionally writes a book, I study it pretty carefully. I was waiting for this book for months. I asked Melanie about it in March over coffee. We put the chat on the schedule in June, and Melanie submitted the quotes and questions in record time.

And then I finally had a copy to read. Every Child Can Write had me hooked from the first reading of the Table of Contents – written in complete sentences. Thorough. Thoughtful. Timely. With provocative yet practical ideas. Well organized – so well organized that I read it from cover to cover, TWICE, before I drafted my first blog post. I reread some parts, read the Blog Tour posts, revised my draft, and studied the blog posts again. I was worried about capturing the essence TWICE and doing justice to this gorgeous addition to the professional world.

This book is based on these beliefs:

1. All children can learn to write. 2. It is a fundamental imperative that we do everything in our power to teach the students in our care how to express themselves through words and through writing. – Meehan, M. Every Child Can Write. xviii.

Who has to have those beliefs?

Students and teachers alike have to believe that all students can write and that is fundamental to every chapter in Melanie’s book. It’s also fundamental to the literacy instruction in classrooms around the world. All students. All teachers.

What are obstacles that interfere with student writing?

Beliefs are the beginning. Then instruction has to match those beliefs. Sometimes the instruction does not meet the students’ needs. What obstacles might interfere with learning? Check out a sampling of responses from our twitter chat. Have you heard these from your students or teachers?

Knowing “potential obstacles” can help you address obstacles confronting writers in your classroom. Do the students need practice? Do they need choice? Do they need confidence? Crowd sourcing these possibilities from a #G2Great Twitter Chat is one way teachers can step outside their current practices, sharpen their focus, turn their gaze back to their students, and study them anew. (The responses to “perfectionism” as an obstacle can be found in the Wakelet link.) You may also have collaborative conversations with your grade level team to explore improvements in environment, routines, practices and usage of charts through a book study. Every Child Can Write provides support for instruction and problem solving with entry points, bridges and pathways to help striving writers gain independence.

What do you need? Entry points? Bridges? Pathways?

Where will you begin?

Additional Resources:

Blog Tour Stop 1 with Clare Landrigan – Link

Blog Tour Stop 2 with Kathleen Sokolowski – Link

Blog Tour Stop 3 with Paula Bourque – Link

Blog Tour Stop 4 with Lynne Dorfman – Link

Blog Tour Stop 5 with Fran McVeigh – Resourceful Link

FYI:  I reviewed an advance prepublication copy of “Every Child Can Write” that was available for the #G2Great team.

Breathing New Life Into Book Clubs

By Brent Gilson with Guest Blogger Travis Crowder

#g2great 8/8/19

This week we had the awesome pleasure of chatting with Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen about their new book Breathing New Life into Book Clubs The Wakelet of the chat can be found here.

Travis Crowder has written a great blog response to the book that we would like to share with you. Travis is a passionate advocate for literacy work and is the co-author of the fantastic book Sparks in the Dark which had its own chat and the Wakelet for that is available here and the Literacy Lens post here. The G2Great team is so grateful that Travis was willing to share his words with us.

Travis Crowder response to Breathing New Life into Book Clubs

A Friday afternoon. I watched them grab their books and notebooks and gather on the rug around the coffee table. Conversations from other groups created lively streams of energy around the classroom, but in this group, something was different. When they were settled and facing one another, they opened their notebooks, almost in unison, and began writing. Curiosity got the best of me. What were these students up to? I walked to the edge of their group, trying to catch a glimpse of what they were writing, careful not to disrupt the flow of whatever was happening. I didn’t know, but clearly, they did. And that was all that mattered. I squinted to catch a line in Keila’s notebook, and that’s when I realized the significance of their writing. In their book club book, the mother of a character had died, and they were capturing emotional reactions inside their notebooks. Without any prompting, they had decided that spilling their emotions on the page first would help them make sense of their thinking. Discussions migrated from groups across the room, pressing against the quietude of this group, yet their activity was unimpeded. After several minutes, when everyone had finished writing, Karina looked around the group and said, “Who wants to read theirs first?” The book club was now ready for discussion.

Book clubs possess the power to transform readers and to elevate students’ thinking, reading, and writing. The story above captures a beautiful moment in my classroom, one that we dream of as teachers, yet one that may not happen as often as we’d like. For several years, I was hesitant to include any book clubs in my classes for fear that students wouldn’t read, conversations would flatline, and several weeks of valuable time would be sacrificed because of poor management— mine and theirs. At first, the attempts were wobbly, and often, I felt lost in despair. With time and quite a few mistakes, though, I created routines with my students that helped us develop effective book clubs. Looking back, I wish there had been a comprehensive professional text to help me understand the nuts and bolts of managing book clubs, while providing strategies for holding students accountable for reading and discussions. Now, that text exists. And it is nothing short of brilliant.

Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers, by Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen, is a gift to our profession. It’s as though both Sonja and Dana are standing at the threshold of the book, asking readers to join them on a breathtaking journey of thought. They take us through systems and routines that make book clubs manageable and inviting, and ultimately, a way to help students fall in love with reading. Both writers denounce superficial assignments and activities that demean literacy and provide ideas that nudge kids to develop authentic reading habits. Philosophy is threaded into the tapestry of Chapter 1, letting us know that their thinking is grounded in creating a culture of reading and assuring us that this work is possible. But it goes beyond that.

I love the types of clubs— genre, identity, goal, theme, and series— that they delineate for us. Prior to reading this text, I hadn’t given much thought to the type of books students were reading, other than attempting to focus clubs around a big idea, such as war or relationships. This delineation breathed new life into my thinking. Identifying the type of club we feel is most beneficial for kids will determine their energy, engagement, and success, all of which nudge us to provide book clubs again and again for our students.

In addition to helping us understand the different types of book clubs, a curated list— of wide and varied titles— is available to help us select the books we want to offer our students. They give us ideas and mini-lessons to create book clubs beside students, coach them into effective conversations about texts, and lead them into a life of living with books. If you’re worried that clubs will lose their focus and energy, set your heart at rest— they have you covered. Writing, sketching, creating bookmarks, and recording videos are just a few of the strategies to help students lean in to deeper conversation. And what’s more? Sonja and Dana walk beside you through each mini-lesson, offering ideas that will lift your book clubs from where they are to an even higher plane. Kids aren’t reading with no direction. They’re reading to think, to learn, and to grow alongside their fellow club members and classmates. And fall in love with books.

I want you to listen to this gorgeous section from the first chapter:


Book clubs are where students fall in love with reading, but we value book clubs because it is in these spaces that we witness humanity at its best. Through the process of reading and responding to texts, students come to understand each other better. They reflect on who they are, where they hope to be, and the ties that bind them together. The attitudes, traditions, values, and goals established in book clubs often become the principles that guide the way students live their lives. As such, we can invite students to record the story of their book club in a journal or on a blog— the laughs, the struggles, the triumphs, and the lessons learned that will stay with them (pg. 8).

So often, joy and community seem to be a missing pieces of language arts classrooms.  Book clubs, which can be full of life, love, and joy, can help kids prepare for a lifetime of reading, especially when created with teachers who want to see them develop into readers who can sustain volume and independence. The emphasis on understanding each other is a beautiful ode to empathy, and something we need more of in our world. When I work with kids to establish books clubs this school year, I will look for those places where students are maturing into better human beings. Book clubs help create that story— for us and for our kids.

Sonja’s and Dana’s incredible humanity glimmers on each page. Children are at the heart of this work, and with their brilliant thinking, both writers show us how we can move kids to engage with books and their world. Democracy demands a literate populace. It’s teachers like you and me, ones who are committed to this critical literacy work, who will shape the minds of tomorrow. We live in a world of uncertainty and pain, and each day, hateful rhetoric pierces the heart of humanity, eroding the integrity and decency we try to uphold. Sonja and Dana have given us a book that does not waver in its devotion to students, teachers, and books. With them, we can go into our classrooms and create a literate atmosphere based on empathy and respect. Let us not forget that we are fierce educators. And we have the capacity to show kids the indomitable power of story. 

Thank you, Sonja and Dana, for an unwavering allegiance to our profession and for helping me better understand the qualities and virtues of effective book clubs. I salute you and am honored to work beside you in literacy education.

Q and A with Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen

1.  What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world? As educators, we’ve yearned for a book that pulls together the research and best practices that could help us have the “best book clubs ever.” And although we found pieces of the puzzle, in various places, we couldn’t help but notice an important gap: There simply wasn’t a book that exclusively addressed the nuts and bolts of book clubs- how to create, maintain, and sustain them. We decided to create this resource for ourselves and other educators. 

2.  What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices? We must be unyielding in the goal of cultivating lifelong readers. This can be accomplished by staying true to three mantras: 1) Be Brave! Let Go! Pull Back! Students must have choice and ownership over their reading and their clubs. 2) Embrace Authentic Discussions! Students’ discussions will ebb and flow; trust that they will become stronger over time. 3) Joy! Joy! Joy! Build joyful reading communities by providing high-interest texts, helping clubs form strong identities, and encouraging students to read together. 

3.  What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind? We have the power to provide pathways that nurture a love of reading in our students. We hope educators will take part in a reading revolution that makes joyful reading and book clubs central.

We at G2Great would like to thank Sonja and Dana for their beautiful book and for joining us to discuss it. We would also like to thank Travis Crowder for providing the blog post for this week. If you are looking for more discussion around the book please check out Clare Landrigan’s post and video on her blog which is linked here .

Additional Links

Facebook Group: Breathing New Life Into Book Clubs facebook.com/groups/7707352…

Instagram: LitLearnAct

Most Recent Blog Post: medium.com/@heinemann/wha…

Most Recent Podcast: blog.heinemann.com/on-the-podcast…


Learning Celebrations Showcasing Reflection on Process & Product

By, Jenn Hayhurst

On June 27, 2019 #G2Great hosted the chat, Learning Celebrations Showcasing Reflection on Process and Product. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about celebrations, and I think there is more to this topic than meets the eye. I mean on the surface, a celebration is a good time and that is certainly a motivator. Dig a little deeper, examine what is being celebrated, and we get a sense of collective identity, what is believed, what is valued within a community.

What if schools cultivated a day-to-day celebratory spirit when it comes to learning? That would mean, celebrations that were not just reserved for special occasions, but were present in students’ learning every day.

Imagine how joyful it would be to embrace a celebratory culture! A whole faculty dedicated to finding the “good” and putting their collective energy towards student growth and learning in a very public and meaningful way. As I read through #G2Great PLN members’ comments, I could get a sense of what that would be:

These tweets were so revealing, and I found myself feeling completely inspired. These teachers are all celebrating their students in profound ways. Each tweet honors and celebrates students’ efforts by elevating their participation, their work, and their process. Each time students are celebrated, their identity as learners becomes a little more formed. With each acknowledgment, the message is sent, “Yes, you belong here. You are worthy of attention and praise.”

Once students believe that they are valued, that they are seen and understood; then, they can begin to learn with a sense of agency. Part of this work is to teach children the language of reflection so they may set meaningful goals. When students are setting their own goals, and are motivated to achieve them, learning in and of itself becomes the main event:

If celebrations reveal beliefs, I have to wonder, how do my beliefs promote a celebratory culture? I believe in kids. Not just some kids, or those kids, but all kids. I vow to celebrate that belief in the upcoming school year. I will celebrate each student’s brilliance, and this will be my number one priority. Every day I am with my students I will be a celebration – of them.

Welcome to Writing Workshop with Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman

By Fran McVeigh

The #G2Great chat on Thursday, April 4, 2019 welcomed writing workshop aficionados near and far as a powerful duo, Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman, joined us to chat about Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works. It was an hour of celebration as well as an hour of learning and affirmation of basic principles of writing workshop practices.

Welcome to Writing Workshop was lovingly written by expert writers, expert writing teachers, and expert writing coaches. As you enter the book, whether you are a novice to writing workshop or an experienced teacher, you will find that Stacey and Lynne’s words linger in your brain and you will return to pictures, pages, and charts to consider your own alignment with the expectations outlined. Kelsey Corter said it well on TWT:

Welcome to Writing Workshop is not the kind of book to read and shelve. It needs an accessible home, perhaps at a favorite writing spot, or perhaps in the classroom, alongside a conferring toolkit. Keeping Welcome to Writing Workshop nearby means never being in it alone. Stacey and Lynne are there, every step of the way.” TWT Blog

In this blog post, you are first going to see Stacey and Lynne’s responses to three questions about their goals and messages for Welcome to Writing Workshop. And then you will view some curated tweets that are representative of just a small portion of the  tweets generated during the #G2Great chat, followed by some additional resources available to support your learning.
Stacey: Write alongside your students no matter how uncomfortable it feels at first. Keep doing it. Day after day, it will become easier. If you’re writing, then you’re part of the classroom community of writers and that is the secret to being a great teacher of writing.

Lynne: Make time for writing every day. Writing is the most valuable tool we have for thinking aloud on paper. Writing instruction and time to write daily is absolutely essential. When our thinking is there, we can organize it, layer it, and revise it. We can let other people’s thinking in because we are not worried about forgetting what we wanted to say. After we listen to others, we can revise our thinking. Expressing our opinions, sharing information, and telling our stories. Human beings are storytellers. Every day is a new page to write on. The stories of our lives are important!Stacey: We hope teachers will listen to children’s ideas when they confer and help them create pieces of writing — across the genres — that hold meaning and value to them. Most of all, it’s my hope that teachers will treat kids like real writers. Kate and Maggie said it well in the foreword, “The promise of writing workshop is that if we help every child become a writer, they will write and think well. This book shows us ways we can thread that needle—how we can reach for high standards yet not at the expense of the heart and soul of our classrooms.”

Lynne: Of course, that a teacher of writers has to be a teacher who writes. Writing is not a spectator sport – you have to jump in and play the game! Modeling with your own writing and thinking aloud so you can make your process visible to your students. So, an understanding of the importance of writing process. Also, we talk about the importance of the physical and the socio-emotional environment. Our workshop should look like, sound like, and feel like it is student-centered where our young writers have a voice and lots of choice. Another big takeaway is daily time for writing which involves good planning so we can move through a literature hook, modeling, active engagement, and on to writing. Closing with reflection is also essential.Stacey: There were two motivations for writing this book. First, we were both adjuncting and noticed there hadn’t been a new, stand-alone book on the fundamentals of writing workshop in quite some time. I was teaching online and had grad students in my classes from across the USA and around the world (e.g., India, Peru). Many times my international students were unable to get print copies of books and wished there was an ebook they could purchase on writing workshop. Therefore, we thought it would help if there were a new book, that would also be an ebook, about writing workshop. Second, through the consulting work we do, we noticed that many teachers are given a curriculum to teach writing, but they are unfamiliar with the guiding principles that make writing workshop work. Therefore, we wanted to write a book for people who were new to teaching writing workshop so that they would have a solid foundation on which to implement the curriculum they were given.

Lynne: I have wanted to write this book for years and years!  My interest in writing began in elementary school. I was inspired by my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Steinberg and even tried to write songs. I loved playing folk guitar. Later, I became an NWP fellow through the PA Writing & Literature Project. As I began teaching graduate courses on writing and presented at conferences, I realized how many teachers were uncomfortable with their own writing and with teaching writing. When Stacey and I got together to talk about the possibility of writing a book about writing workshop, we realized that the last book that discussed workshop essentials was a book by Ralph Fletcher – Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide. Ralph’s book was not available as on online publication. It was a 2001 copyright, so we thought there was room for our book. Our goal was to provide video clips as well so teachers could have a glimpse into writing workshop classrooms.

Curated Tweets

In Welcome to Writing Workshop, teachers will find tips to enhance their writing instruction including how to manage time, choice, environments and the socio-emotional supports to engage ALL learners. A teacher who is interested in “re-invigorating” or making their workshop more joyful will find the essential information in this text and supporting materials and videos. The pause at the end of each chapter in the “When You’re Ready” section provides the time and space for the reader to reflect and consider how to best use their new learning. Check it out! You won’t be disappointed!

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
#G2Great Wakelet Link
Stenhouse Book preview Link
Kelsey Corter’s Review on Two Writing Teachers Link

“Sparks in the Dark”

By Fran McVeigh

The Sparks in the Dark chat with authors Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney was trending on August 16, 2018 by the second question. No doubt about it. A chat based on a book with a foreword by Penny Kittle captured many minds and hearts and then exploded across the Twitterverse for one hour. The wakelet was collected. I was carefully perusing the conversations, seeking out tweets to curate while capturing additional sparks. What tweets would garner my attention and showcase the chat? What ideas would continue to fan the sparks and create a blaze across the #G2Great community? I kept returning to the book subtitle. Book subtitles say so much about a book. “Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us.” What to collect? What to display? What to hold tightly to? How to write a blog post to capture the chat and the text, the words and ideas of the authors, the passion of Sparks in the Dark?

In order to rise to this challenge, I resorted to the dictionary for guidance in understanding the subtitle. Definitions are a common beginning for me. So what does “illuminate” mean? “To light up” And what about “ALL”? From my own reading: Teachers, Administrators, Students, Families, and Communities … Everyone. Wow! Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in ALL of Us. What an important goal!

How could this text be used?
A study group could use this book to assess their current status in literacy. Personally.  Collectively. Each of the chapters offers “Things to Think About and Tweet” that include #SparksInTheDark so the conversations could be out in the world on Twitter. Internal and external conversations could spark additional applications.

No, this book does not offer fancy surveys to give you data that makes you feel good and affirms that “Yes, you are doing the right thing.” Instead, Sparks in the Dark will provide you with conversation starting points to grow the strength and fortitude of all readers and writers in your building. Rich conversations that will encourage you to dig into personal and collective values, attitudes, beliefs and habits. Or after conversations you might develop your own questions that you want to answer with a survey or some other form of data collection. Administrators will grow as they explore Todd’s leadership stories across multiple campuses and teachers will grow as they unravel the threads in Travis’s path to creating lifelong readers and writers. It’s not a book for the faint of heart.

Do you read on a regular basis? Do you write on a regular basis? If you don’t like to read or write, stop right now. This book is not for you. But if you don’t like to read or write, I would encourage you to examine why you are teaching students. Why are you working with our most precious resource, the children of our world, if you don’t have a passion for reading and writing? (Chapter 2 Disturbing the Universe and/or Chapter 7 Critical Conversations)

Why did Travis and Todd write this book?

“In writing this book, we sought to encourage, challenge, inspire, question and shift your thinking when it comes to reading and writing and instruction overall. We hope we have shown you glimpses of our hearts and our classrooms and schools as examples of what is truly possible when you start to believe in what was once thought as improbable.” Sparks in the Dark, 2018

Conversations, tweets, and quotes from the book fell under several important concepts: Personal, Priority, Powerful, Persistence, Patience, Perspective and Pedagogy.

Personal
What is one book that you have read recently that touched you deeply in some way? That opening question was answered in many ways that you can see for yourself in the wakelet.  “Touched you deeply” means not just a book to complete a task, or to record on a log, but a book that evoked a powerful personal response. Is that a priority for you? How would we know? What would be the evidence? Todd posted this example of public posts in a school building for students or teachers.

Priority

Books need to be present in every classroom, in every hallway, in every nook and cranny. Free up the space and the resources to make ALL books easily accessible and important-not just the books in the ELA classrooms or the library. Building staff might decide on a long-range goal and plan to increase classroom libraries and access for students and families.

Powerful

Readers and Writers change because of their literacy responses. Those “personal” responses above can become even more powerful when we collaboratively celebrate by sharing the initial difficulties, the continuing struggle, the messiness and back and forth nature of seeking meaning that ends in the ultimate joy of our reading and writing. Building staff might choose to study their own reading and writing journeys.

Persistence

Time will be both your friend and your enemy. Staff meetings need to include literacy work that moves teacher understanding forward. Whether you try Todd’s “choose a read aloud with another staff member” or you deepen your work with students and make sure they are all included in the texts in the classrooms! Naysayers will need more positive interactions in order to see the necessity for change, but your persistence will eventually pay off. Similarly, students are not all necessarily going to be overjoyed to take on more work that is required of them when they learn and think deeply about topics that that they choose. Change takes time at all levels.

Patience

Find others in your building to join your literacy group or seek out like-minded individuals on Twitter, Voxer, or Facebook to continue to grow collaboratively. Enlist the aid of your students. Advocate for student needs. Give students voice and choice so they are empowered to think and advocate for themselves as well.  Building staff might identify and discuss the “beacons of light” that illuminate and sustain your learning.

Perspective

Opening our minds and our hearts to new situations in books and in the world brings us closer together and increases our own understanding. This also helps us more easily grapple with change and find similarities in current work and desired states. Change is not easy but it’s within our grasp if we build a solid base. Honoring beginning steps with “I used to …, but now I …” can be a rich faculty discussion.

Pedagogy

Teachers improve their craft by reading and exploring new resources. You might want to review some titles under A2 in the wakelet to see what others are reading. But a deep understanding of reading and writing comes from those who work to improve their knowledge and skills in order to outgrow their own reader and writer selves. This means lifelong learning for all as a professional responsibility. A common building expectation to constantly share faculty reader and/or writer notebooks. That’s more than just one tiny spark. That should be a blaze visible from miles away without Google Earth!

What begins as a spark, fueled by passion becomes a flame. Perhaps a beacon. Reading is important. Writing is important. Education is important.  Many other factors can and are part of those flames as previously included: Personal, Priority, Powerful, Persistence, Patience, Perspective and Pedagogy. In Sparks in the Dark, Travis and Todd say

“…my role as an educator – no matter my subject specialty – is to use the tools of reading and writing to develop all of my students and staff.” (Sparks in the Dark, 2018)

Travis also says that “Quality reading instruction does not begin with literature, it begins with students.” Students, not standards, assessments, or programs. Students, books, and the subsequent reading and writing that calls them to be better human beings.

How do you begin with students to fuel your sparks and continuously fan your own flames?

What other resources do you employ – books, professional resources, or communities of learners?

How do you prevent “book deserts” on your campuses?

Additional Resources:
Wakelet   Link
Podcast    Link
Book         Link
Blogs – Travis Crowder link           Todd Nesloney link

#BowTieBoys: Exploring Instruction through Students’ Eyes – Creating a Positive Environment

By Fran McVeigh

There was an air of excitement and electricity that led up to the #G2Great chat with the #BowTieBoys on March 8th.  The boys, ranging from 7th graders to 11th graders, craft their own questions, greet folks to the chat and carry on conversations as veterans. I’ve been lucky to “know” the #BowTieBoys for three years but I didn’t fully understand their depth of knowledge and commitment to improving education until #NCTE17.  In St. Louis, I saw them individually and as groups multiple times across the days, as they were quite literally the first people I saw at the conference hotel and in four sessions over the course of the conference.

What is their story?

The #BowTieBoys are some very gifted literate secondary students who have literally banded together to study how education could be improved.  Their future plans and interests are as varied as they are. Meeting their parents at some of the sessions added another dimension to my understanding.  What if students were encouraged to study the work of some of the best and brightest? And who would that be? They were on panels and in pictures with Lester Laminack, Linda Rief, Dr. Mary Howard, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. They read and study professional education texts.  Who wouldn’t grow and learn from those #Edu-heroes?

What are the Keys to Creating a Positive Environment?

1. Relationships and Respect 

Relationships and respect are so intertwined that it is difficult to have one without the other. As a teacher, it’s important to build relationships from day one in the classroom.  That might be the conversations in the hall about the school event the night before, at the door about individual scores and expertise, or in the classroom pulling in specific student interests to engage the students in the learning. Respect is not about assuming it will be bestowed on teachers as a point of privilege. True respect is about caring for students and being able to be human when students do need a bit of extra care, or being able to laugh and joke as teachers and students learn from each other. Respect is a two-way street and students will earn teacher respect and trust as they also work on developing relationships and treating others kindly. Students have strengths that they can use to teach others in the class, perhaps in the area of digital tools but also in those areas of personal interest where they spend time every day.

As Sam Fremin said,

“EVERYONE in the learning community is a learner AND a teacher.”

  1. Transparency

Transparency is often found in communication that builds on the relationships formed under mutual respect. Secondary students also prefer to have their voices heard as well as to have choices in their daily work. Teachers that can admit mistakes and move on not only exemplify transparency but they also model how to continue to grow and persevere in the face of difficulties.  Transparency is necessary for a growth mindset for students and teachers.

Other areas of transparency include:  setting time frames for assignments together, having high expectations for all students and developing the assessment/evaluation criteria together. In a transparent environment, everyone is a learner and everyone makes positive growth. Above all, transparency assumes an openness and an atmosphere of honesty from both teachers and students that builds upon the respect previously mentioned and often includes asking for feedback from students and then acting on that feedback.

  1. Strategies to Engage ALL Learners

Several strategies were mentioned during the chat including:  time, transparency, and trust. Time included allocating enough time so students can work with their peers.  Time to explore topics that students are interested in. Time to work on projects for creation or even problem solving.  In addition to transparency qualities previously mentioned, allowing choice of assignments and opportunities to pursue tasks that allow quiet participation for students who prefer to work alone is important. Variations in groupings for work will  And with trust, strategies that allow a voice in how the task will be evaluated, perhaps the co-creation of rubrics or the negotiation of due dates, are preferred.  Trust can also be built as a part of those teacher-student relationships when teachers attend the co-curricular activities of their students.

  1. Low Student Stress Levels

In the classroom, stress can be reduced by ensuring that time is allocated so that students always begin projects or homework in class, ask questions, and clarify that they know what the learner outcomes are.  Students appreciate teachers who chunk projects into smaller shorter deadlines that enable students to have frequent check in points. Feedback along the way in bigger projects or tasks also allows students to know what they can do to improve learning. Simple conversations with students in terms of whether time frames seem reasonable, how can stress be reduced and how does this fit with other course requirements.  Similarly teachers who communicate with others can be aware in advance of due dates and not have three or four major projects all due on the same date. Stress is a real issue. Learning does not occur and students cannot thrive when a learner is under stress. That also means that tasks and projects should be valuable to students and teachers and not perceived as busy work.

  1. Reasonable Grading Timelines

What are reasonable timelines for grading?  If a task is assigned to be done in one day in one class period, how much time should the teacher have to grade that task?  A typical “It depends” answer may prevail because if this is during class periods 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 and the teacher’s prep period was period 2, the grades will probably not be posted that day.  But is it fair for students if two or three days pass and those grades are still not posted? Grades are an interesting school phenomenon. Grades are after the fact and they close the door to learning. Yes, it would be nice if more focus was on learning and less on grading, but timeliness of grades is an issue that perhaps again relates back to transparency, relationships, and respect.

  1. Cell Phone Usage

Should cellphones be used in classrooms?  Again the answer might be, “it depends.” If students in the building have 1:1 devices, the need for cell phones may be reduced. Sometimes cell phones might be more efficient uses of technology and/or feedback for students and teachers. The learning needs should drive cell phone usage rather than the need to have a fun, cute activity.  This again, could be a source of both transparency and trust if students approach a teacher outside of class time with a new app or extension that would really make learning simpler in that classroom. Showing, explaining, and providing a rationale in a separate setting would also be respectful of student, teacher and class time. It is important for teachers to be consistent in their messages about how, when, and where cell phones can be used.  But if that is not a skill taught at school, where will it be taught? How and when will students learn to manage the distractible portions of cell phone usage?

  1. Student Involvement in Assessment and

                                         Grading

Another feature of a positive classroom environment is student involvement in assessment and grading. This varies from classroom to classroom much to the dismay of students who may see this inconsistency as a lack of transparency. One way to involve students is to have student conferences. Recording the conferences on Flipgrid and sharing with parents would also be an increase in transparency.  Students who help develop the rubrics that are used for assessments would also see this as a characteristic of a positive classroom environment. Teachers who routinely complete the “tests” themselves to check for accuracy and necessity are also respectful of their students and their precious learning time.

  1. Safe and Comfortable Classrooms

How do your classrooms look? Are they inviting?  Are they comfortable? Some considerations include furniture that matches the needs of the students and the various instructional groupings:  space and tables to collaborate in teams, quiet spaces for reading or writing, as well as space for partner work. That might determine the need for tables instead of desks, couches instead of chairs, and a nook or two where students can seek solitude. Flexibility that responds to the needs of the students is important.

As you have read, you noticed the eight components the #BowTieBoys identified for a positive classroom environment were:  Relationships and Respect, Transparency, Strategies to Engage ALL Learners, Low Student Stress Levels, Reasonable Grading Timelines, Cell Phone Usage, Student Involvement in Assessment and Grading, and Safe and Comfortable Classrooms. Others exist but these eight could generate great conversations.

 

Have you checked in with your students lately about your classroom environments?

What would your students say are the keys to creating a positive classroom environment?

Additional Resources:

Storify from March 8, 2018 chat:   https://storify.com/DrMaryHoward/g2great-3-8-18

#BowTieBoys Blogs: thebowtieboys.blogspot.com

4 minute video from 3/9/18 after #G2Great chat: Link

#BowTieBoys YouTube Channel:  Link

Previously on Literacy Lenses:

A Reflection on #NCTE17 with the BowTieBoys – Exploring Choice from Students’ Eyes

BowTieBoys -Exploring Instruction Through Our Students’ Eyes

JV BowTieBoys – Exploring Instruction Through Our Students’ Eyes

Sam Fremin:  Viewing Instruction Through a Student’s Eyes  (storify)

Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom

by Mary Howard

On March 1, 2018, we were thrilled to welcome dynamic duo, Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz, back to the #G2Great chat table for the second time (Revisit their Mindsets for Learning chat on 7/21/16 here). On this much anticipated return visit we collectively celebrated their remarkable new book twitter style, Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom (Heinemann, 2018).

Within minutes after opening this phenomenal book, I realized that I was holding PROFESSIONAL LOVE in my hands. Before I could even finish the introduction, Kristi and Christine beckoned me with words that illuminated their “Kids 1st” vision in an opening quote:

“As we taught we realized that so much (too much) of the profession is focused on the ways teachers can make students successful, but not how we give children the tools to build their own success day after day after day.” (xii)

Just like that, I was utterly smitten and eager to accept their invitation to come along as they shared what they learned when they “sat with their failures and rose to teach again.” Their deep belief in joyful kid-centered learning rose from every page of this magical book that empowers us to sit with our own failures knowing that they hold so many potential successes. I smiled as I turned to the last page, filled with a renewed sense of hope for this profession. I paused to soak in the blessing of gazing into the eyes of their children where the real opportunities have always resided.

This beautiful book is divided into four main sections: Heart Work, Physical and Emotional Environment, and Curriculum. Admittedly, I found myself returning to the Heart Work section to reread descriptions of flourishing, empathetic, playful, flexible, and reflective educators. Each of these rich professional qualities were also thoughtfully infused across each chapter.

As our #G2great chat with Kristi and Christine began, my unquenchable thirst to enter the Kid’s 1st world they describe was my chat GPS. I eagerly searched for tweets that would add to my understandings – and I was not disappointed. My biggest challenge wasn’t finding interrelated tidbits of twitter wisdom but how to narrow those connections down for the purpose of this post. As I began to weave their chat wisdom with their book wisdom, ten big ideas emerged that beautifully illustrate the Kids 1st view described in their book. To combine both, my reflections on their chat messages are interwoven with their book message in italics. While these cannot possibly substitute for a deep read of Kids 1st From Day 1, they complement a shift from making students successful to giving children the tools to build their own success day after day after day.

Kids 1st Big Idea #1: Our Commitment to Children

Kristi acknowledges that mandates have the potential to thwart our efforts to create a Kids 1st classroom while asking us to remain steadfast in our responsibility to children. In other words, we cannot allow compliance to deter us since success is possible when the factors are right. I love Kristi’s use of the word ‘power’ since I see this as a two-pronged factor in that we are taking back our own power so that we can hand that power over to children. Making room for student choice regardless of outside demands reflects that our commitment to children will always rise above our obligation to those “other” things, real or perceived. We should never feel compelled to make a choice between compliance to mandates over responsibility to kids. 

Kids 1st Big Idea #2: “Re-centering” Our Focal Point

Christine’s tweet beautifully segued from Kristi’s Big Idea 1. She continues this discussion by emphasizing where our first allegiance lives and asks us to make the same shift from a different angle. We are once again reminded to return that power to teachers and children by “re-centering” our decisions so that children rather than school elements remain at the center of our efforts. Her choice of wording that “children lead the way” highlights the idea that we become empowered when we make the very decisions that begin with our children. They are our standard, our curriculum and every other element of school you could possibly mention – not the other way around.

Kids 1st Big Idea #3: Relinquishing Instructional Control

The memory of Kristi reflecting on the child who tore her management chart from the wall amid cheering peers is likely to stay with me for a long time (admittedly, I silently cheered from the sidelines). This Kids 1st illustration from a child’s perspective at its finest illustrates that we do our children a disservice when instructional control is at helm. Kristi asks us to replace control with a renewed emphasis on instructional experiences. We can only be responsive and intentional when we offer faded support that is designed to promote increasing independence. We know that we must ensure that our children will assume their rightful place at the helm and this means that we have the courage to step aside so that they can man their own learning ship.

Kids 1st Big Idea #4: Embracing Our IMPACT

Christine helps us to broaden our Kids 1st scope by moving from a now to next view. This wider lens allows us to look to the future as we make our teaching focus about “life” rather than school. While it is certainly our responsibility to have an impact on our children for whatever time we are blessed to them in our care, a Kids 1st perspective always seeks a higher purpose that will live beyond this time so that our impact will linger long after they leave our care. The only way that we can have a classroom that (mostly) hums with collaboration and camaraderie is if we are willing to increase agency and thus give students ownership of learning.

Kids 1st Big Idea #5: The Gift of Authenticity

When I think back on the five qualities teachers bring to the Kid’s 1st table, authenticity always looms large since it seems to me to be the glue that holds each of those qualities together. By bringing our true and most authentic selves to the experience each tine we are in the company of kids and fellow teachers, those qualities will almost always follow. Kristi wisely reminds us that the ME we purport to be and the ME we demonstrate by virtue of our actions in their company must be one in the same. Authenticity is a tap on the shoulder that we believe we owe it to children to be our best selves – for us and for them. That makes teaching joyful, rewarding, and meaningful.

Kids 1st Big Idea #6: Giving Children Ownership

I smiled when I read Christine’s beautiful line from Lion King, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” I love this vision of classrooms as our kingdom and the idea that everything in our learning kingdom belongs to our children. No matter how beautifully designed our learning spaces may be or how many things we bring into those spaces, they will have little value unless children interact with them in purposeful ways. Christine reminds us to turn the keys of the kingdom over to our children so that everything in it can become a force of good. It is only when our learning space grows with children that we can create those spaces so that they begin with a “blank canvas, not a finished masterpiece.”

Kids 1st Big Idea #7: Design from a Child’s Eyes

Room design has gained renewed educational interest as teachers scramble to enthusiastically change each aspect of room design. Unfortunately, these designs far too often hyper focuses on the design itself over how that design becomes a mirror that reflects the unique needs of the children who reside in those spaces. Kristi reminds us that a Kids 1st design must carefully match that learning needs of our children. For this reason, our learning design will rise from their specific learning needs and this will always varies according to the children within those spaces. We can only do this if those decisions are guided by our design for the flexibility to be spontaneous in how the classroom is arranged…  and that includes children by design.

Kids 1st Big Idea #8: Cultivating and Modeling Empathy

In their book, Kristi and Christine define empathy as the “ability to see the world from another person’s perspective and to understand and feel what that person feels in the moment.” They further distinguish empathy as feeling like rather than for others. Christine shares what every Kids 1st teacher knows – that modeling empathy is not a point of arrival but rather is something that we foster in ourselves and others on a daily basis. I love Christine’s view of empathy as giving ourselves permission to joyfully see the world from a child’s perspective. What a lovely reminder that each of us can re-experience the world from a child’s eye view and appreciate that world all over again. This is a blessing in every sense.

Kids 1st Big Idea #9: Creating a Community of Learners

Kristi and Christine acknowledge that “building a productive, functional, joyful community of unique individuals” is not a simple endeavor by any means. In a Kids 1st classroom, we do not confuse classroom management with building community. We recognize our responsibility to help children become one of many and to develop the skills that will allow them to do so even within a myriad of unexpected events that we may not even be able to anticipate. This does not happen by chance but by intentional and explicit modeling as we support and extend these day to day experiences that will inevitably fill our classrooms with powerful learning opportunities.

Kids 1st Big Idea #10: The Flawed Myth of Perfection

Christine’s words bring to mind a vision of the ball and chain that seems to tether teachers everywhere to an unrealistic view in an elusive search for the “perfect teacher.” In Kids 1st, they remind us “Don’t hope for perfect, plan for growth” (ours and theirs). I chuckled at Christine’s idea to create a “letting go of perfection teacher support group” but that just might be an idea worth pondering. It seems to me that perfection is in our teacher DNA, and yet an unrelenting pursuit of perfection can blind us to the incredible learning opportunities that may be hiding just out of the perfection view. We can instead celebrate hard work that comes from wading joyfully in the mess and realize that we can emerge unscathed and better for the experience. My best learning has always come from my less than stellar teaching trials and tribulations. Let’s not avoid them – let’s celebrate them!

As I look back at this exquisite book and the #G2Great tweets that Kristi and Christine have written in honor of kids and teachers everywhere, I am inspired anew. They share their hope that in writing this book their words may have “tugged on a thread that caught your heart and mind…” and I can wholeheartedly say ‘Mission accomplished!’ Kristi and Christine have challenged us to renew our own vision for what is possible as we re-envision our teaching using a Kids 1st perspective. It is my deepest hope that every educator will accept their challenge to bring their Kids 1st vision to life in honor of incredible children who deserve our best everywhere.

Thank you for showing us what heart work looks like Kristi and Christine!

LINKS

Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom by Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz (Heinemann 2018)

https://www.heinemann.com/products/e09250.aspx

 

A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful Independent Growth

https://www.heinemann.com/products/e06288.aspx

 

Anchor Yourself In Your Beliefs by Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz

https://blog.heinemann.com/kids-first-anchor-beliefs?utm_campaign=Mraz-Hertz&utm_content=67740687&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

Facebook Live Q+A: https://blog.heinemann.com/facebook-live-kids-first-from-day-one

 

KIds First From Day One Podcast:

https://blog.heinemann.com/kids-first-from-day-one-podcast

 

Is Community Building the New Classroom Management? https://blog.heinemann.com/comunity-building-new-behavior-management

 

“But What if No One Listens To Me!?!” https://medium.com/@heinemann/but-what-if-no-one-listens-to-me-c83ce50859ef

 

Kristi and Christine FB Group for Mindset for Learning and Kids First:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/MindsetforLearning/

 

Christine Hertz’ Blog

https://www.christinehertz.com

 

(Don’t miss) Tacking Tricky Moments: Four Steps to Being a More Empathetic Teacher

https://www.christinehertz.com/single-post/2018/02/05/Tackling-tricky-moments-Four-steps-to-being-a-more-empathetic-teacher)

 

Kristi Mraz’ Blog
https://kinderconfidential.wordpress.com/about/