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/

Writing Unbound: How Fiction Transforms Student Writers

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet transcript of our #G2Great Chat here


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

I think that we have made writing in schools a task, heavy labor. We need to connect writing with play, with improvisation, pleasure, and friendship.

Tom Newkirk, email.

Tom Newkirk’s response hurts my heart. My teacher heart. My writing heart. My parent heart. My grandmother heart. My literacy being just hurts.

It hurts my heart because I also know it to be true. Writing has become a “chore” in many classrooms, whether it is the kindergarten classroom where students COPY sentences from the board daily, the fourth grade classroom where students respond to daily writing prompts from the teacher, or the middle school classroom where students are engaged in formulaic argument writing day after day. Of course, not all classrooms have reduced writing to tasks and heavy labor. But many classrooms in middle schools and high schools across this country teach “how to write a sentence”, “how to write a five sentence paragraph”, and “how to write a five paragraph essay”. Disheartening. Disillusioning. Deadly for a writer’s heart.

Necessary?

Appropriate?

Well-intentioned?

Expected?

Required?

Where do your writing experiences fit? Consider the stories in this blog post. Do they parallel your experiences? You will see stories of writing from writers, teachers of writing, and wisdom from some writing experts!

And now, back to our regular format. Typical posts begin with our title slide and some background on our author or topic. So let’s resume our regular program!

Our #G2Great chat on Thursday, May 27, 2021 with Thomas Newkirk tackled a variety of issues about writing that all writing teachers need to consider. We were discussing his newest beautiful book, Writing Unbound: How Fiction Transforms Student Writers, which is student-centered, qualitative research. Research carefully and respectfully gathered from students and teachers! This was a return visit to #G2Great for Tom who hosted in January of 2018 to discuss Embarrassment and the Emotional Underlife of Learning. His previous books, Minds Made For Stories and Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones continue to grow our thinking about current fads as well as what we need to hold tightly to in order to realign and reignite our actions, visions, and beliefs about writing instruction.

I love to write. I write best when I have choice in topic/content and organization. I know that’s not always possible. I’m not comfortable writing fiction and stories are still hard. Not fun. Not pleasurable. But in recent years I know that stories cultivate friendships as I have learned through Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life. I have searched for the source of my failure feelings with fiction. One factor: I came from the era when we were taught that our writing should never include “I” or “you”. I and you were consistently “red-inked” by multiple teachers. Consequently it became easier to avoid situations where an “I” or “you” story felt more natural. Avoidance seemed to work. A second factor from my own school days – I don’t remember ever feeling that my teachers were WRITERS so there was little encouragement. And thirdly, writing was often a task or assignment to be completed only by students. Fiction . . . It was never presented as a choice in junior high or high school.

So here are two quick stories from my writing life.

My obsession with improving writing instruction began with a course on writing with Sue Meadows after I had been teaching for a decade or two. Sue was a local district administrator with ELA Curriculum responsibilities. And then I was hooked. Atwell, Graves, Harwayne, Hansen, Murray and Spandel were just a few of the writers that I was studying. I became a sponge. I went to additional training on the “6 Traits” and thoroughly absorbed the notion of aligning instruction with the rubrics used in assessment. Through assessment academies, I also went on to co-lead district-wide writing assessment. Each opportunity led to increased understanding and typical me, I never waited for “someone else to bring the learning to me”. Instead, I continued to search for more information about writing processes and the different genres of writing. My goal: Continue to grow my own understanding of “Quality Writing”!

In November of 2014, I attended and presented at NCTE in Baltimore. One speaker in a panel presentation stood out: Tom Newkirk. I was fortunate to have a seat in the packed room. I chuckled with conference attendees when Tom said that a “hamburger” organizer was an “even bigger insult to a hamburger” besides it often resulted in boring, dull, tired writing. I appreciated his emphasis on student choice writing even as I knew that would be a tough sale for some of the high school teachers in my region. Since that date, my collection of Tom Newkirk’s books has risen exponentially.

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

I felt that there were several “disconnects.” Students are immersed in fictional narratives–movies, video games, books, TV. But they are rarely given the chance to write in these forms. That’s one disconnect. Another is the profusion of fictional writing outside of school (e.g. fanfiction) and its absence in school. I think schools are still operating on an outmoded idea that reading is the dominant form of literacy, and that writing, particularly fiction writing is for the talented few. That’s no longer the case Finally, we praise the benefits of fiction reading as creating empathy and self-understanding. Why can’t the same be said for writing fiction–creating characters? So my goal is to open space for a kind of writing that students are eager to explore.

Tom Newkirk, email

Opening space. I wouldn’t have written about video games until my grandson introduced me to Mario Brothers. But I still don’t know enough to write about it. Fiction reading is my absolute favorite. Fiction writing is my absolute least favorite writing. I don’t know the expectations. I haven’t written enough fiction to write it even “passably” well.

What do you know about fanfiction? Here’s an excerpt from fanfiction.net under “Books”.

1,237,100 fanfiction pieces about these 5 books. WOW!

What is the role of fiction in our students’ lives. Are students being asked to READ fiction but NOT write fiction? Isn’t that ironic?

This leads me to the final question that we ask our authors.

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

I hope that they will open their practice to allow fiction writing–not even necessarily requiring it, but making a space for it. I hope that they will listen to students–about what they want to write, and their experiences writing. I hope that teachers themselves try out fictional writing. I hope that teacher prep will make a place for fictional writing as prospective teachers move toward their career. And I hope that our instruction will avoid formulas and instead look inductively to how writers actually write.

Tom Newkirk, email.

Many hopes: allowing fiction writing, listening to students, trying it themselves, teacher prep, avoiding formulas and examining real writing.

Now that we have looked at Tom’s goals for his book and heard two of my stories about writing, let’s get to the heart. What are students saying about their writing? These two quotes were part of the #G2Great chat.

Writing Unbound, Thomas Newkirk

Some people don’t get the “What if?” Some people like the easier what ifs of what if this happened to so-and-so, in modern day. Other people can’t stand that kind of stuff and that is what fantasy is for.

Helen, quoted in Reading Unbound

I can relate to Caroline’s “flow of ideas” as drafting is a messy spot in my head with ideas ping ponging everywhere. As for Ernest’s ideas, I think I would pass on the writing a story and the analysis. Helen speaks of the freedom of “What if?” in fantasy writing. Maybe my niche in writing would be to verify more informational text/ideas that could be added?

What I take away from all three students and Tom’s tweets is that writing stems from many sources and that we must trust students because 1) they do know a lot and

2) there is no one way for writing to go!

And they, the students, know it!

But I don’t see that flexibility for students or even for teachers of writing in many of our schools.

The wakelet contains so much wisdom from Tom Newkirk and the many teachers and #G2Great friends who join us weekly. The remainder of this post is going to focus on just this one question.

Why has fiction writing diminished in the upper grades?

  1. Call for college prep writing and Common Core Standards

College and Career Ready

I call this bias, the cattle-chute vision of preparation. This is why a creative writing elective is often viewed as a kind of indulgence, unrelated to the main mission of high school writing. I think of the advice that the young Dav Pilkey received: that he would never make a living drawing silly cartoons about a principal who thinks he is Captain Underpants. That, of course, was several million book sales ago.

Tom Newkirk, Writing Unbound

Some folks do not believe that fiction writing has a place in academia; fiction writing is for beginning writers. That leads us to reason two.

2. Fiction is too easy and not rigorous enough.

… narrative is not a discrete type of writing—it is our primary mode of understanding, and it underlies all writing.

(Newkirk 2014)

It simply makes no sense to deny students the opportunity to write in the genres they choose to read.

3. Lack of personal perception of competence and conviction that fiction fits into daily writing instruction

Fiction writing can also offer an experience that I feel is crucial to enjoying writing: the feeling that writing generates writing—that a word suggests the next word or phrase, that we can listen to writing and sense what it suggests. And even for teachers committed to fiction writing, it’s a tough fit in the curriculum. Stories take time and are often far longer than more contained forms of writing—an editorial, for example, which can be held to a few paragraphs.

Tom Newkirk, Writing Unbound

Not all writing is equal. Writing-like activities are available that may or may not parallel reading activities. Tom calls these peripherals. It may surface in writing prompts, vocabulary or comprehension work.

In Conclusion . . .

As I searched for a way to conclude this post I was drawn back to these questions that Tom Newkirk used to close chapter 2 of Writing Unbound. What are your answers? How would your students answer them? They might be a source of reflection on past instruction or planning for next year’s instruction!

So we need to ask: Can we inhabit the dizzying worlds that Ernest and his friends create? Can we experience with them the dangers and narrow escapes? Can we even help them think through their plots, imagine their characters? Can we play their game? It’s a challenge worth taking up.

Tom Newkirk, Writing Unbound

LInks for Additional Resources:

On the Podcast: Writing Unbound Link

Sample chapter from Writing Unbound Link

A Confession from Tom Newkirk about Writing Unbound Link

Bridging the Divide between Creative Writing and Literary Analysis Link

Added 06.07.2021: “The Power of Writing Collaborative Fiction” by David Lee Finkle LInk

Risk. Fail. Rise. A Teacher’s Guide to Learning From Mistakes

by Fran McVeigh

Wakelet link of chat artifacts here

Neither the weather or the continuing pandemic was able to dampen spirits and pull folks away from the #G2Great chat with Colleen Cruz on Thursday, February 11, 2021. As we began planning for this chat, I worried about being able to write about both the book and chat in a credible fashion that would do justice to the brilliance shared. As the chat ensued, I realized that I was right to worry with so much greatness packed into a 60 minute chat!

I first met Colleen almost eight years ago when she was my staff developer at my initial Writing Institute at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Eye opening. Jaw dropping. Work. Writing. Learning. And in the interest of full disclosure I have learned from Colleen, live and in person or virtually, every year since as I continue to grow my own literacy knowledge and skills.

Colleen is a teacher, a staff developer, an author, and an editor. She’s witty, fun, and avowedly “pessimistic” as she intertwines stories and research in her work and to help you envision possibilities. Previous #G2Great chats have been discussed in these blog posts: The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom, Writers Read Better: 50+ Paired Lessons That Turn Writing Craft Work into Powerful Genre Reading, and Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice Podcast with Nell Duke and Colleen Cruz.

So where to really start with this mutual adoration of Colleen Cruz and her brilliance, this book and the chat? I reread all of my notes about Colleen’s books and presentations. I perused the Wakelet artifact from this chat and liked or retweeted almost a hundred tweets that included every single one from Colleen. How to organize? How to find a manageable set of tasks to meet my purpose: What to share in this post?

A Mistake. Two paired tweets from Colleen from the last question in the chat.

The initial tweet: research, current connection, a link (https://news.emory.edu/stories/2020/04/esc_covid_19_family_stories/campus.html), and a mistake. How did Colleen respond? Did she ignore her mistake? Did she deny it? Did she embrace it? Did she offer a bit of humor? How we respond to mistakes matters.

Let’s back up. What are mistakes?

The following tweets offer a glimpse into definitions of mistakes. You can learn more from the text excerpt, the audio book or the Heinemann blog listed below in the resources. Mistakes are hard to define unless you spend some time thinking about what they are and what they are not as #g2great team member Val Kimmel offers in the second tweet. Stacey and Nadine add on to the learning properties of mistakes.

What are the different types of mistakes?

Getting beyond mistakes are “good” or “bad” takes some work or study. Not all mistakes are equal. Four kinds of mistakes include: stretch mistakes, aha moment mistakes, sloppy mistakes, and high-stakes mistakes. You can read more about those at Heineman here, “Not All Mistakes are Good”, check out the Facebook Live series here, or read from Eduardo Briceno at either Mind/Shift here or his Ted Talk here.

The goal: to be aware of the types of mistakes, when they happen, why they happen, your response to mistakes, and the effects of those mistakes. This will take study, thoughtful reflection and a bit of self-awareness. The danger is in continuing on the path of sloppy and high-stakes mistakes after knowing that these are harmful. Many sloppy and high-stakes mistakes are avoidable with careful attention to our words and actions. I wondered about characterizing Colleen’s Tweet mistake above as one of the four types . . . and yet, without an edit button in Twitter, mistakes can easily happen from nimble fingers on less than responsive keyboards. I didn’t see the mistake when I first saw the second tweet as I read the word “msitake” as I expected it to be – during the fast pace of the chat – rather than the word as presented on the screen.

My past week and two mistakes …

1. Missed a webinar. I signed in on the last five minutes. Yes, sloppy mistake on the time zone recording on my calendar. I emailed and apologized for missing and will take greater care in recording/checking the times on my calendar. (Self care? Definitely a tired mistake!)

2. Fabric rows on my quilt did not match. Border and final two rows were more than an inch longer than the above 7 rows. At the time, I thought it was a high-stakes mistake, but it was really a stretch mistake as this was my first “pieced” quilt and I had never even thought about the difference in the rows. Future: check and double check connecting rows as the pieces are assembled.

Fran’s notes

Are all mistakes equal? When do we give grace? And to whom?

Jill’s tweet above is the bridge between reflecting and learning and offering ourselves grace. Mistakes are not a cause for self-flagellation. Mistakes vary according to the type as to intent and impact. Even more, our responses vary. Do we automatically offer grace to some students? Do we like to share our magnanimity with the entire class when we bestow grace? Which students have to earn grace? All of these are questions just about grace that stem from Colleen’s tweet below. The most “telling” factor may be “Who do we withhold it (grace) from?”

So now what?

Think of a recent mistake of your own. Which of the types was it? What was your response? What is your plan for next time?

Now think of a recent student mistake. What happened? What type was it? What was your response? What might you say or do differently? Do you know enough? Consider which of the resources below will be helpful?

As Colleen Cruz says in Risk. Fail. Rise. and Val and Mary emphasize above, the value in studying our mistakes is so we “can learn to separate our ego and form a mistake-welcoming culture.” Mistakes as learning experiences. Mistakes as a sign of growth and a source of data to use to ascertain growth.

Where will you begin? And when?

Links and Resources for Further Exploration:

https://blog.heinemann.com/topic/risk-fail-rise – the Heinemann Blog with access to the podcast, audiobook sample, blogposts and FB live events

www.colleencruz.com – my website for upcoming events and to contact me

@colleen_cruz Follow Colleen’s Twitter handle

BLog: Not All Mistakes are Good: Identifying the Types of Mistakes Teachers Make https://blog.heinemann.com/not-all-mistakes-are-good?utm_campaign=Cruz&utm_content=144005030&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&hss_channel=fbp-96011276891

Is Learning “Lost” When Kids Are Out of School? (Alfie Kohn)

by Fran McVeigh

Wow! The Twittersphere was on fire on 10/22/2020 when the #G2Great chat discussed Alfie Kohn’s article from the Boston Globe, “Is Learning ‘Lost’ When Kids Are Out of School?” You can check out the article here and the Wakelet for the chat here.

I trust that you will want to check out the article as Alfie Kohn succinctly answers his own question. But that also causes a few more questions for readers which is why the discussion was scheduled with the #G2Great audience. What’s important? What matters?

Here are a few tweets illustrating that point.

Where do we begin? Many government officials and capitalists would have us begin with assessments but if you espouse “student-centered” education then you already know that we must begin at the very beginning. Are there really gaps? How would those be assessed? And how would we really assess learning? And that circles back to student-centered learning. We begin with student assets as identified in the tweets below.

In the Boston Globe article, Alfie Kohn pulls no punches with his beliefs about standardized tests. Do they REALLY measure learning? Well, that then requires us to think about learning. Is learning merely the regurgitation of factoids, examples, and curriculum that could be answered by a Google search? Or is “learning” something else? What do educators believe? How would students respond?

Here are some thoughts on “What is learning?” from the #G2Great community.

So if we are not going to use standardized assessments to measure “Learning”, what can the education community STOP doing now? How can we help “Learning” be the sustained focus and not just the “flavor” for a chat response or a newsletter? How can we make LEARNING the focus of all our future conversations?

In order for instruction to provide opportunities for learning as well as choice, and adding in “student-centered”, what will educators need to be working on expanding? What about: Student agency? Empowerment? Choice?

These four tweets will jump start your thinking about additional actions for your school community.

Is learning lost? There may be some summer slide, but as previously mentioned, students have shared powerful learning from their at-home work that has longer lasting life-time implications for their communities. Where will change come from? What will it look like? It will begin with a belief in the need for change. We can no longer afford to prepare our children for the 20th century. Change has been needed for decades and is evident that we are now in the THIRD decade of the 21st century. The pandemic just made the need for change more visible when schools were shuttered across the U.S. (and Canada) last March.

Where will YOU begin? Who else needs to read and discuss this article with you? When? The time for action is NOW! The students are depending on YOU!

Additional resources:

Alfie Kohn (Books, Blogs, Resources) Link

Alfie Kohn – Standards and Testing – Link

Alfie Kohn – How to Create Nonreaders (Yes, 2010, but read all 7) Link

Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, & John Hattie: The Distance Learning Playbook

by Fran McVeigh

On Thursday, September 24, 2020, #G2Great welcomed authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey to chat about their current book (which is one of the titles in this series, Link). The Wakelet from the chat is available for your perusal here.

Doug and Nancy are not new to #g2great. Previous chats include: This is Balanced Literacy, December 12, 2019; and All Learning is Social and Emotional: Helping Students Develop Essential Skills for the Classroom and Beyond, August 29, 2019.

This review of their book by Jackie Acree Walsh said so much that I actually thought my work was done as far as this blog post.

Echoing through the pages of this timely book is the message: Effective teaching is effective teaching, no matter where it occurs. Teacher voices and classroom examples animate core principles of research-based teaching and learning, enabling the reader to visualize practices in both face-to-face and online learning environments. Multiple self-assessments and templates for reflection support reader interaction with the content. The authors connect Visible Learning and informed teacher decision-making to all facets of effective lesson design and delivery, and address the important issues of equity and inclusiveness; learner self-regulation and driving of their own learning; and use of formative evaluation and feedback to move learning forward. A must-read book!
Jackie Acree Walsh, Book Flyer Link (Corwin site)

What a great book that builds on our existing knowledge and pedagogy as well as our values and best intentions! But never let it be said that I didn’t share my own ideas and thinking! Let’s get started with Doug and Nancy’s thoughts about a message from the heart!

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

Taking care of oneself is essential. Teachers are so giving, sometimes to the point where they sacrifice their own physical and mental well being for the sake of the students and communities they serve. Self-care isn’t selfish. It gives you the emotional muscles needed to serve others effectively.

So what does self-care entail? What do teachers and school staff need to be thinking about? Module 1 in The Distance Learning Playbook addresses this topic. Individual teachers and teams can work through this module to consider actions that will engage and impact students. An excerpt is available from Corwin at (Link) to explore a work / life balance.

One example: If you are considering a “standing desk” to avoid sitting all day every day, think about how you could “try this out” without spending money on a new desk.

HOW? Try a paper box . . . those sturdy boxes that reams of copy paper come in. Do you have one on hand? Or a crate? Set your computer on that box or crate to “raise” the eye level camera for distance learning. Find materials in your home that could be used to raise the work level of your desk in order to create your own DIY standing desk with $0 cost. WIN/WIN!

Do you want to increase the likelihood that you will carry through with actions to increase engagement and impact? Find a commitment partner and agree on what and when you need assistance from your partner in order to be successful.

All of this is possible because Doug and Nancy are quite specific about their success criteria and share those criteria as well as ways to think about rating the criteria and determining the importance of each factor. Link to an example.

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

The big takeaway is that we realized that as a field we know a lot about teaching and learning, and we didn’t forget it when we needed to engage in distance learning. We hope teachers will regain their confidence as they link what they know to new implementation practices.

This book is titled: The Distance Learning Playbook with a subtitle “Teaching for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting.” That “any setting” means that the basic principles apply across all settings. Yes, distance learning may be one setting but it does not wipe out all other teacher knowledge around pedagogy and curriculum. We don’t reset at zero when the delivery models change; instead, we sort and sift to ensure that we are choosing the BEST strategies and tools for engaging and impacting learning. This information is included in Module 9: “Learning, Distance or Otherwise”.

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

Like educators everywhere, we had to rapidly shift to remote learning this spring. But going forward, we knew that we couldn’t remain in a state of crisis teaching. John Hattie’s Visible Learning scholarship has transformed education worldwide. Dozens of educators opened their virtual classrooms to us to create a new visual lexicon for how those evidenced practices are enacted in distance learning. Weaving the two together has transformed the conversation. We hope that it sparks action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever.  

“Action about how schooling in any setting can be better than ever” is the goal. Time, learning opportunities and resources like this text have provided examples of increased learning for students. With a “can do” growth mindset and a toolbelt of best ideas and resources, we can and MUST improve learning. And as a part of self-care and informed, reflective decision-making, our days do not have to be filled with doom and drudgery. We can and MUST build in time for laughter and relationships with our students, parents and communities in order to sustain our lives in these challenging times. Additional ideas on this line can be found in “Module 3: Teacher—Student Relationships From a Distance.”

How are you handling your self-care needs?

What impact are you designing in your lesson planning?

Additional resources: The Distance Learning Playbook – Corwin link Free resources – Corwin link Introduction to Visible Learning – Corwin link 3 part Webinar – Teaching Channel and Distance Learning Playbook registration – link Free Webinar: Going Deeper With Distance Learning, Tuesday Sept 29 @ 12pm PDT/ 3pm EDT – Registration on Corwin site

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.

The Right Tools, Towanda Harris #G2Great

By, Jenn Hayhurst

Access to Wakelet by clicking here.

Disclaimer Alert: I Love Tools!

It’s true, I have a soft spot for tools. From my earliest memories, I have loved working with tools. My father would invite me into his garage and would marvel at the hooks and draws and bins full of useful devices that could help a person get any job done. My love for tools has remained constant, just the other day I inventoried my kitchen tools to assess which ones were most useful. I love tools because they help us to perform at higher levels, to be more independent, and to feel empowered to make a change. Tools make my teacher’s heart sing.

Needless to say, when Towanda Harris agreed to join our #G2Great community… I was VERY enthusiastic! On August 15, 2019, Towanda Harris initiated a discussion stemming from her beautiful new book, so aptly named, The Right Tools, that I believe, will be a book teachers will use and love.

Instructional tools offer a pathway towards active learning and aides for assessment for our students. They are mediators engender high levels of engagement and support. So, why aren’t we all using tools on a regular basis? Towanda, spoken like the true teacher puts it simply,

Today, we often find ourselves facing a dizzying array of materials and resources, whether they be a box of dusty skills cards handed down from a retiring teacher a professional book passed on by a colleague, a unit plan saved from a previous year, a teacher’s manual found in the back of a storage cabinet, a procedure recommended by a supervisor, a program required by a district, a book reviewed on a blog, a set of activi- ties discussed on Twitter, a chart found on Pinterest, a unit downloaded from a website, or a strategy highlighted in a brochure or an email. But how do we know which of these will help the children in our classrooms? How do we find helpful new resources without squandering funding or instructional time?

Towanda Harris, The Right Tools, xii Introduction

How do we begin? This post is dedicated to beginning the process.

I feel so privileged to share the voices of the #G2Great community. Thank you for sharing your expertise so that we may grow our understandings of this important topic.

Having well-defined criteria for what tools are brought into the classroom is an important first step. When developing a criterion, we begin as Towanda suggests, with clarity for the tool’s “purpose” so they may meet students where they are. While Travis reminds us to consider the appeal of tools, is they “kid-centric” if kids don’t like them they won’t use them. Mollie brings us back to basics as she reminds us to keep tools grounded in authentic opportunities for use. Sonja comes at tools from another perspective, when she tweeted that the best tools are flexible ones that “bend.” So true!

Tools offer teachers opportunities to be responsive to students needs. Faige, adds her voice to the conversation as she explains that criteria for tools cannot be set unless teachers have time to observe the students who are in the room, she invites us to consider students’ “interests, needs, and strengths”. Towanda echos this truth as she perks our attention to knowing “learning styles” so we may avoid that “one size fits all” mentality that becomes a roadblock for a successful transfer to independent use. As always, Mary brings the discussion back home, as she implores us to be “honest” in our estimation of tried and true tools we love as educators. We have to always be reflective to make sure we really do have the right tool for the job. Laura, says it best I think when it comes down to the underpinning for criteria for tools, “Students are criteria” Know your students first, then develop or offer the tools they need to be successful.

This post offers just a snapshot of the conversation we had about tools. I do encourage you to go to the archive if you missed the chat. It is a treasure trove of ideas that could spark a meaningful discourse for any Professional Learning Community, (PLC).

On behalf of my #G2Great team, I’d like to thank Dr. Towanda Harris for joining us for this meaningful discussion. Teachers everywhere are organizing and getting their resources together to kick off the school year. With books like, “The Right Tools” in hand they will get closer to “great practice”, and that is what teaching from a learning stance is really all about.

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.

Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination

by Mary Howard

On 6/20/19, #G2Great culminated our 5-part intervention series as we highlighted a central feature of this process: Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination. I took great pleasure in writing this post since I also had the honor to write the first post in the series on 5/23/19: Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense. My writerly bookends status seemed fitting considering these features reflect two essential factors that hold the entire intervention process together and can ultimately become what will enrich or diminish this process. 

As I reflected back on our #G2Great chat and perused inspired tweets, I wavered in my quest to find a hook for this post. But the more I thought about the five descriptors in our title, the more I realized that intervention success is dependent upon our ability to understand each of those words individually. With this depth of understanding, we can then merge those words in a thoughtfully responsive way. Suddenly I knew it made sense to deconstruct the title word by word: Design, Flexible, BridgeCollaborativeCoordination. After all, how can we create a thoughtfully responsive intervention merger if we don’t understand the critical role each descriptor plays within that merger?

With this in mind and in celebration of the conclusion of our five-part intervention series, I’m going to depart from my usual #G2great post by discussing these five words individually in order to emphasize the importance of each within the intervention process and then reflect on how those words will work in tandem to create that thoughtfully responsive merger of collective commitment. 

Design

The word “design” brings to mind an active process of creating something that could support and enhance our vision for what we want to accomplish. One of the struggles that we have had in creating a powerful intervention process is that too many schools have been weighted down by a design based on flawed mandates and dictates that restrict our efforts rather than to afford us the freedom to create a design based on a wider vision unfettered by limitations. This design must begin with a clear understanding of our vision at a deeper level as we then to consider how we can bring a shared vision to life within a supportive foundation in that spirit. To do this we may need to get out of our own way by breaking down the ties that bind as we refuse to allow marketeers and warped ideas to blind us. What is possible in this design process will come into view only if we don’t let anything stand in the way of a design that would breathe life into possible. 

Flexibility

But creating a design that would bring a shared vision to life is only the beginning. No matter how good our design may be, that design will be compromised by the flawed belief that any one-size-fits-all intervention view will ever be adequate. The choices that we make within our design must maintain flexibility of purpose as we identify intervention opportunities that are student-centered rather than other-centered. If interventions are not based on the unique needs of that child at that time, we miss the point. Our design is the foundation but it is flexibility that affords us an instructional playground with room to make the richest possible professional decisions on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment and child-to-child basis. There is an inherent danger of losing flexibility if we are more concerned about what is easy, cheap or fast rather than what is in the best interest of the child. 

Bridge

I love the idea of a bridge that will maximize our design and elevate our ability to hold tight to instructional flexibility since it’s how we get from where we are to where we need to be. But a bridge assumes a two-way entry point from either end with ample room to meet in the middle and all points in between. Too often, schools create a design with a flexible view but then seem to believe that they have “arrived” and thus see no room for growth and change. The flexible decisions that we make within our design playground are always changing and growing as our children change and grow because our bridge allows for continued movement in any direction. Our success is dependent on our willingness to invest both the time and financial resources that supports long-term professional learning that will thus transform that learning into worthy instructional practices. But as teacher maneuver their way along our bridge, they need ongoing support, preferably through high quality coaching with respectful and timely feedback. Without this, our view along a pathway to a child-centered focus will always be blurred.

Collaboration

But even when we have managed to breathe life into a flexible design bridge centered on the child with the ongoing learning that leads us to professional empowerment, we’ll still fall short until we can invite respectful conversational dialogue to the thinking table. The collective impact of our intervention efforts can’t live in a professional vacuum so dialogue that revolves around the needs of our learners is essential. Interventions viewed from a lens of collaboration has the potential to transform our professional conversations into collective commitment for the greater good of our school, our teachers and the children we support, whether they are in interventions or not. Our combined professional wisdom requires us to embrace this shared learning as we grow into our best selves within a never-ending learning process. Our unwavering dedication to children is a reminder that we can find our way to excellence in the company of others. And as we grow as professionals, so our flexible design bridge grows with us. There is no end point of arrival for achieving this lofty goal. Rather we choose to courageously embark on a shared journey that is oft times riddled in the uncertainty that inspires even more passion-driven collaborations.    

Coordination

That brings us to our final descriptor that could further enhance our efforts. We can have the most instructionally powerful flexible collaboration design bridge, but this is irrelevant until we consistently coordinate our intervention efforts within and across tiers. The first four descriptors will offer a common professional lens that makes it possible for every educator who is supporting this child to coordinate their efforts. But success is dependent upon cumulative knowledge of literacy research and our knowledge of the child in front of us. This child-fueled understanding has nothing to do with narrow data points but the daily informants that support our shared decision-making. To know the child assumes that we know the same child and not the one we purport to know individually. Our responsibility to this child will require our efforts to be inseparably intertwined so that we can use that cumulative knowledge to offer interventions based on intensive “in addition to” coordinated support. The minute we create a divide and conquer mentality, we are doomed since our professional choices must be mutually supportive and not at cross purposes. Through this coordinated effort along our collaborative flexible design bridge, our interventions will lead to the accelerated progress our students need.

THE INTERVENTION MERGER

And so, we come full circle as we bring our descriptors together in order to initiate the thoughtfully responsive merger our children deserve. Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination is but an empty promise based on isolated words until we bring each descriptor to life in joyful integrated harmony in the company of children. This is the turning point where we are able to elevate our intervention impact within and beyond the intervention process. For too long we have celebrated narrow ideas based on the shallow terminology that gives us nowhere to go. No matter how grand that terminology may be, those words are meaningless until they come together in celebration of student learning. And we owe that level of dedicated commitment to each and every child.

But now we need to blend the key components of the intervention process one step further. My two writerly bookends reflect only the first and last chats in our series, but the term “series” implies that one topic cannot stand alone. This is certainly true in this case and thus the reason we have three other topics that are all equally critical. If we look to our umbrella title in the series: Rethinking Our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative and then reflect on each of the five topics in combination, we can again see how each of our parts work in combination for the greater good of the whole:

Intervention Series

5/23/19 (#1): Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense written by Mary Howard 

 5/30/19 (#2): Embracing Books as our Strategic Intervention Heart and Soul written by Jenn Hayhurst

6/6/19 (#3) : Framing Increasing VOLUME as Our Central Intervention Goal written by Fran McVeigh

 6/13/19 (#4) : Creating a Common Lens Across Tiers for Explicit Instructional Interventions written by Valinda Kimmel

6/20/19 (#5): Designing a Flexible Bridge for Collaborative Intervention Coordination written by Mary Howard

All five of these important topics are key considerations within any thoughtfully responsive merger that has the potential to translate into intervention excellence. I believe that this spirit of excellence is the only option we have and one that is worth fighting for in our schools.

MY FINAL REFLECTIONS

Before the chat began, we shared one of my favorite Seth Godin quotes that seems like a perfect closing to this post. Our intervention efforts have resided on shaky ground since IDEA 2004 made RTI our intervention reality. Given the research on our lack of success within this process, we need a new reality – a vastly improved reality. We have focused our intervention attention thus far too heavily on the chocolate and as a result have ignored the oxygen that would put us back on terra firma. The oxygen we need will only come when we can refocus our attention on the intervention process from a broader lens. Bringing our new intervention reality to life will require us to know our WHY from a much deeper level so that we can use this to translate our WHAT and HOW in the most purposeful and yes, thoughtfully responsive merger. It is my deepest hope that we will be able to make this reality transformation in our schools in the name of our children. 

In the end, that’s the only intervention outcome that matters!

Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense

by Mary Howard

On 5/23/19, we launched the first of a five-week #G2Great chat series: Rethinking Our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative. We knew that our first exploratory venture of the series should highlight the central intervention feature so we set our sights on Positioning Tier 1 as Our First Line of Intervention Defense. Considering the critical nature of this topic, the passionate twitter dialogue that grew to a fever pitch followed by early twitter trending did not surprise us.

From the first inspired tweet, I felt a sense of gratitude that I was bestowed the honor of writing this post on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I have been quite vocal about my hopes and fears for Response to Intervention since IDEA 2004 made RTI a reality in our schools. In fact, it was my perpetual two-pronged hope-fear conflict that first prompted me to write RTI from All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know (2009 Heinemann) and since then write extensively about this topic on my Facebook page.  

After the chat, I excitedly dug into the inspired tweets as renewed hope quickly rose to the surface along with pride and gratitude for our #G2Great family. That joy was soon clouded by feeling lost in a sea of twitter goodness. After all, making Tier 1 our central intervention feature feels like an overwhelming prospect and yet irrefutably is the most crucial professional imperative of all. I didn’t want to just replicate the not-to-be-messed-with-twitter-wisdom since that’s what our Wakelet artifact is for. While I was utterly inspired by this wisdom, the sense of direction I’d hoped to find was fading.

When my writerly worries rise to the surface as they often do, my coping mechanism usually pushes me to take a side trip to my favorite thinking playground (aka Google). Realizing that accomplishing this lofty Tier 1 as the first line of intervention defense requires us to establish non-negotiables that would transform our imperative into reality, I hopefully tossed the word “non-negotiable” at my google friend. Lo and behold, my new favorite word came instantly into view:

The word sacrosanct felt like it oozed a sense of intervention urgency.  I suddenly realized that the best way to approach this post was to narrow my thoughts to a few critical factors we must regard as too important or valuable to be interfered with. Problem solved. Sense of direction back in view.

And so I give you my six “Sacrosanct Priorities” that I hope will offer a thoughtful nudge to ensure that Tier 1 does not continue to get lost in the intervention shuffle, but rather will regain a much deserved role at the very center of our efforts:

Sacrosanct Priority #1: BELIEFS

I can’t imagine how we can ever achieve Tier 1 as the central intervention feature without naming and highlighting the innermost beliefs that we hold professionally dear. I often visit schools and as I enter the building I’m usually greeted by a framed vision statement. While the calligraphy lettering and glowing language are visually impressive on the surface, too often I find a glaring mismatch between what is alluded to in that frame and the reality of Tier 1 on a day-to-day basis. The truth is that these framed papers merely represent shallow words until we are able to verbalize our values so vividly that we can show our commitment to them in the company of children where they matter most. Our beliefs are the promise that we make to our children but they mean nothing until we are able to bring them to life in our classrooms. Making our beliefs public becomes a visible reminder that anything less is simply unacceptable – not in theory but in practice. 

Sacrosanct Priority #2: CULTURE

But breathing life into our beliefs does not mean that any teacher can opt out. We do not identify our beliefs so that those who want to embrace them can do so and those who don’t can do whatever they choose even if in direct conflict with those beliefs. We must create a culture of excellence that stretches from from one side of the building to the other so that our children are not relegated to the luck of the draw. Wishing and hoping on every professional star in the belief universe will never turn those beliefs into a culture until we have collective commitment. This means that every teacher must embrace those beliefs so that we can carry them in our back pockets every day we walk into that building no matter who we are. But to do that, we must transform our beliefs into actionable experiences so that those things we value will become the beating heart of the entire building so that we will all be in professional sync. This is especially important at Tier 1 since this is where interventions students will spend the bulk of the day. Why would we make excellence optional?

Sacrosanct Priority #3: TIME

Ah, the great intervention belief killer. I’ve always wondered why most of our interventionists have a healthy respect about our limited time, respect that is not always evident in Tier 1. My theory is that the more we have of something the more we tend to forget just how valuable it is. Wealthy people seem to throw vast money sources away while those without much seem to conserve it. Perhaps this is also true in our schools where those who have thirty precious minutes to spend with children expend that limited time wisely while those who have six hours with children may feel a sense of complacency about some of those minutes. But time is precious no matter how little or how much we may have, especially for students who need more intensive support. Interventions cannot be something that we relegate to any one person. They are owned by all of us and so should happen in the Tier 1 setting. The clock intervention clock is always ticking so we can’t afford to waste a minute no matter how much time we have. The question that begs to be asked at Tier 1 is, “Why are we?” 

Sacrosanct Priority #4: INTENT

Based on my extensive work in schools, this unfortunate wasting of time isn’t always the fault of teachers. As long as we mandate belief-sucking, time-wasting culture-killing nonsense that is in direct conflict with what we purport to value, the promise of Tier 1 at the center of our intervention efforts will remain ever out of view.  If we force-feed teachers (and thus children) one-size-fits all boxes and computerized programs, interventions that could actually make a difference will be out of reach as we send mixed messages and the very practices that would be thoughtfully responsive for meeting the needs of our intervention students would be out of reach. If we set our sights only on the most effective practices then we’d have a full six hour day to intervene across virtually every curriculum area. Intent allows us to make reading, writing, talking and thinking the heart of our learning day. But this will require us to address the myth of a full day of whole class instruction so that we can we return a balance to Tier 1 with I Do, We Do and You Do experiences that include whole class, small group and side by side teaching and learning. Intent, or choosing experiences that enrich the learning lives of all children all day, creates a culture where our beliefs inform where we spend our time collectively.

Sacrosanct Priority #5: RESOURCES

But in order to make balanced literacy a reality in the Tier 1 setting, we must ensure that we make a financial investment in the resources our Tier 1 teachers need. We can’t embrace beliefs, culture, time, or intent until we provide the resources that support those things. This begins by showering teachers with the books that will enrich the entire learning day across the curriculum. Imagine what would happen if we said “NO” to the $500,000 basal program so that we could say “YES” to investing those dollars in the resources that would make a real difference for teachers and children, such as filling our Tier 1 classroom libraries to brimming. We have decades of research to support the role of dramatically increasing the volume of reading, especially for our intervention students. But until we choose to expend available financial resources on those instructional resources designed to increase rather than decrease volume, we will forever be doomed to repeat past mistakes. We don’t have an intervention problem; we have a commonsense problem. We could start to right this wrong by taking the checkbook away from irresponsible others so that our expenditures reflect our beliefs, not what blinds us to those beliefs, and thus culture, time and intent would follow.

Sacrosanct Priority #6: KNOWLEDGE

But none of those five Tier 1 priorities will ever be possible until we make a commitment to ensure that every teacher in our building has the research-informed knowledge that will fuel the entire learning day. This knowledge guides teacher decision-making and the ability to use formative assessment that will support us in using that research in practice. Our Tier 1 teachers are then far more likely to embrace each of our sacrosanct priorities and far less likely to hit Teachers Pay Teachers activity buy buttons, complain that there isn’t time for independent reading or suggest that a scripted read aloud can come even close to the invitational read aloud that can happen only in the hands of a knowledgeable teacher in the company of curious listeners. Unless we are willing to make ongoing professional learning a high priority every day, we cannot blame teachers for making the choices that derail our efforts to elevate the Tier 1 learning day. Our growing knowledge will fuel our efforts and thus become embedded in all we do, buy, say, think and support when we create a wide range of opportunities for respectful professional dialogue across the learning year in support of ongoing learning.

So, let’s play a little Mary style math here. If you add up my six Sacrosanct Priorities of Belief, Culture, Time, Intent, Resources and Knowledge, you get the ultimate Tier 1 magic: 

Child at the Center

And that, my friends, is the Tier 1 united sacrosanct priority at its finest! I believe that the potential for our intervention success rests on our ability to keep Tier 1 at the center. But this requires us to take a long hard look at what has thwarted our path to this point and how we have (or have not) thus far positioned Tier 1 within this process. Our intervention efforts must become a force of good for the children who need them and this resides within Tier 1 where children spend most of their time. The path from 2004 to present has reflected many successes to this end, but that path has also been littered with missteps along the way that are far from the force of good our children deserve. Until we honor those things we regard as too important or valuable to be interfered with, I don’t think Tier 1 will ever be positioned as our first line of intervention defense. And that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.

And so we stand at the crossroads once again…

We are at a crossroads. We can either use response to intervention as an opportunity to rebuild a positive climate or allow it to devolve into something that takes us even farther from the reason most of us became teachers.

Mary Howard, RTI from All Sides, Heinemann, 2009, page 2

Where we go from here is entirely in our hands, but I believe that if we could initiate the same kind of inspired dialogue we all witnessed on Twitter May 23, 2019 from 8:30 to 9:30 EST… well, then we would stand a chance to alter the course of our Tier 1 efforts and ultimately meet the intervention promise that I first saw in 2004. But that will never happen unless Tier 1 is leading the way as we alleviate our view of thirty-minute fix-it rooms and opt to re-envision a full day where Tier 1 can become our intervention superpower. 

As we stand at the intervention crossroads, it is my deepest hope that we choose the Tier 1 priority pathway. Anything less robs children of our best hope – a classroom teacher who should know their intervention needs more than anyone.

And that makes the Tier 1 teachers sacrosanct, doesn’t it?