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!

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

Game Changer! Book Access For All Kids

By Fran McVeigh

On Thursday, February 21, 2019, Donalynn Miller and Colby Sharp, creators of the #NerdyBookClub and successful authors, were first time guest hosts on the #G2Great chat about their book, Game Changer: Book Access for All Kids.

Interest and excitement was off the charts due to our rock star authors and because of the topic: Books and Access for ALL Kids! Many themes surfaced during the chat, but this post is going to focus on three. Three big themes that apply to ALL students at ALL ages and in ALL communities: Access, Choice, and Equity as well as focus reflection questions to guide future actions.

Book Access in ALL Classrooms
In order to be readers, students need access to books in their classrooms. Access in all classrooms – not just English Language Arts classrooms. How many books? Some authors suggest up to 2,000 books. Take inventory. Consider which books students are actually reading. Then gather books from the school media center, public library or inter-library loan systems during particular curricular studies to supplement your library as a bonus for all students.

Reflection Questions: a) What if every classroom in our school had a class library, whether it was ELA, math, science, art, music or PE, provided and provisioned by the school?

b) What if students had access to a reading class at every grade level in school?

Book Access in the Media Center and to a Librarian
Classroom libraries provide immediate access for books for students, but even the best classroom libraries can be supported with rich media centers and full-time librarians. How extensive is the media center collection? How are new books chosen? Displayed? How does the media center support the curricular needs of all content areas? What policies and routines are in place to maximize student access to books? Are students restricted in the number of books they can have checked out at one time? Are students allowed to go to the media center one day per week or cycle?

Reflection Question:  What policies, procedures and practices increase student access to our media center and which ones do we need to STOP because they are counterproductive?

Book Access at the Public Library
School book access can be supplemented with access to book collections at the approximately 9,000 public libraries across the U.S. Variations exist from community to community in the basic requirements for library cards. This may include forms of identification, proof of residency, or references before a card will be issued. The ability to use public transportation to physically access the library may also be a hinderance. Other access issues may include the hours that the library is open – are those outside the school/work day? Is there a limit on the number of books that can be checked out? Another consideration with public libraries may be the school staff’s normalization of the use of the public library. Do school staff routinely use the public library to extend their collections? Do teachers routinely share their use with students? Is public use of the library seamless and easy to access for all patrons?

Reflection Question:  Have we had whole staff conversations about the complementary services of our public library?

Book Access at Home
Access to books cannot be limited to the six or seven hours per day that students are at school. Reading is a habit – for life – not just for school.

“Research suggests that children whose parents have lots of books are nearly 20 percent more likely to finish college. Indeed, as a predictor of college graduation, books in the home trump the education of the parents. Even a child who hails from a home with 25 books will, on average, complete two more years of school than would a child from a home without any books at all. (Evans, M. D., Kelley, J., Sikora, J., & Treiman, D. J. (2010). Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28(2), 171-197.)

Access to books in the summer through books from school or public libraries can help prevent “summer slide” and continue to develop life-time reading habits. Year-round book access is critical.

Reflection Question:  Who is coordinating conversations with families so our message is coherent across all grade levels and buildings and also HELPFUL for families?

Book Access in the Community
Students need access to books everywhere and anytime in the community. Access to rich texts that they want to read, that compel them to read, and that result in conversation with peers and adults is vital. Books need to be visible everywhere in the community as well as available year-round in order to fill in summer, school breaks, and holiday access gaps from schools.

Reflection Question:  How have we initiated conversations with our community stakeholders to increase access?

Students deserve to choose what they are reading.  Force-feeding specific texts day after day, year after year equates reading as a chore. Not fun. Not pleasurable. Not enjoyable. And then, of course, not likely to be sustained outside the school day. Nice collections of engaging, relevant books on shelves may look good, but just admiring books is not enough! Books need to be read in order to be savored and thoughtfully digested. And the best books are the books that students choose to read themselves. You have already read about access, but another feature of choice is time . . . Time to read. Not just reading “when your work is done.” But instead, time that is regularly scheduled when students are reading a book of their own choice.

Reflection Question: How do we ensure that students have choice in their book selection as well as time to read?

Equity means several things. One meaning would be ensuring that all the access issues above are “equitable”.  Not equal. Equitable. A second meaning is beyond students “getting what they need” but that students deserve to see themselves in the books that they have available as reading choices. Teachers and librarians need to know the authors and books that represent their students and families in their community. How does one collect the diverse books that are needed?  #diversebooks is one source.

Reflection Question: What do we as a staff know and believe about equity, what sources do all staff use, and then how are those sources communicated?

Another reliable source is diversebooks.org

What was the purpose behind Game Changer?

Meaningful and consistent access to books.

Reading . . .
What is it good for?
Absolutely everything!

You may remember this video from Ocoee Middle School in 2009 that has had 883,395 views: Gotta Keep Reading.
How do we keep that passion for reading?
How do we encourage a love of reading?
It truly takes ALL of us working together as a literacy community!

Why was this extra special for #G2Great?
This chat was extra special because you can find both Dr. Mary Howard and our newest team member, Valinda Kimmel, in Game Changer! This book needs to be physically present and discussed in every school building across the country.

Where will you begin?
How will you change the system?

Resources to Explore
Many, many ideas from the chat are available in the Wakelet:

From Scholastic a recap of some highlights from the chat on EDU, Scholastic’s blog about books and the joy of reading: http://edublog.scholastic.com/post/twitter-chat-recap-g2great-donalyn-miller-and-colby-sharp

Video Interview with Rudine Sims Bishop:  http://www.readingrockets.org/teaching/experts/rudine-sims-bishop

Parents:  Why is Reading Important?

Daniel Pennac:  10 Rights of a Reader

ILA:  Children’s Rights to Read

NCTE: A Book is a Precious Thing

Tanny McGregor sketchnote:  “The Secret Power of Children’s Picture Books

Fifty Top Literacy Statistics

these 6 things: How to Focus Your Teaching on What Matters Most

By Fran McVeigh


My eyes were devouring the text. Everything about the author. Everything. It’s been my pleasure to know Dave Stuart professionally, online as a blogger and in person, for several years. He is a teacher, author, speaker and thought-leader. Dave’s work impacted my practices and thinking as an educator when he encouraged teachers (and me) to “not freak out” over the Common Core. Many authors have written books about focus. A search for “focus” at Corwin Press had 827 results. A search of Amazon Books for “focus” resulted in 101 pages with a range of 18-19 entries per page. Focus has been a pretty popular topic.

So what’s different?  “Focus on What Matters Most” is the conundrum. Who decides what matters the most? Each teacher? Each grade level? Each building? Each department? Each district? Each state?  Do you see the problem? Dave proposes that we “focus on what we already know” as we work “Smarter, not Harder” and he gives us “permission to simplify.” No fancy language. No slick new strategy. No magic silver bullet. We learn from and with a trusted colleague, as literally, Dave shares how to streamline literacy instruction while increasing student achievement.

There’s a no-nonsense attitude. A bit of a “git-r-done” response. Time spent, yes. Time wasted, no. And that was the core of the #G2Great chat with first-time guest, Dave Stuart, Jr. on Thursday, October 25, 2018, as folks gathered around the #G2Great hashtag to converse and share ways to focus teaching.

But let me give you one last piece of advice . . . this book will not solve all your problems.  This book will not help you work eight hour days or less. If that’s what you are looking for, please stop reading now.  Instead, this book will help you use a decision-making framework that focuses your values, your goals for your students, and some key content areas to work on improving.  YES, improving.  Growing your skills in a few key areas to maximize learning for students. A laser-like focus that will help your students grow into the life-long learners that you know they can be. Your reward will be in knowing that you have done the best that you can! Let’s get started!This was our opening quote. I’m going to invite you to take about 30 seconds now to pause and reflect. Pauses will be inserted at several points for some brief processing time. Pauses like speed bumps. Slow down, pause and think.

What are your thoughts about this opening quote?

What would it change for students in your district?


Mt. Everest

Dave argues that teachers need coherence of purpose, or an “Everest Statement” that encapsulates all that they hope to accomplish in a given year. What is the range of expectations for students? Academic? Life-long? Work-related? How broadly do folks think? During our chat, discussion of “Everest Statements” ranged from readers, writers, thinkers, talkers to building relationships with students and teachers and moving striving students to more successful behaviors and habits.

What is your “Everest Statement”?

Did you co-create it with your students?


Relationships with Students Matter

Students need to do the work of learning. In order to do quality work, students must see some value in that work in order to complete it with “care, attention, effort and focus.” Otherwise, the work remains undone or of such poor quality that it is difficult to ascertain if students are learning. Teachers don’t have to be master entertainers with cute gimmicks and gadgets for students to learn.  Instead, students need to know that teachers care and that teachers are asking them to do relevant work.


How do you connect with students? 

How do the students know that you are credible?


Knowledge Required 

Learning does not happen in a vacuum. So many facts can be googled but there is still a basic layer of knowledge that precedes talk about a topic. This aligns with Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. The key is not staying in the low recall level very long. What’s the implication for focus? Reading, writing, speaking and listening have to move to higher levels routinely and often. Analysis and synthesis require students to participate and think. Classroom routines and procedures need to nurture and lift up the complexity of student responses.


How often are students moving beyond recall?

What structures do you have in place for discussion?



Being able to disagree with someone without being disagreeable is a learned skill that takes practice and involves both listening and speaking. An argument can be as simple as rehearsing two sides to a question to determine the next course of action or as involved and complicated as a formal debate. Arguments in content area classes can be about which examples best define a vocabulary term or which traits represent historical figures or about which tool has the best consumer product rating in an applied science course. Dave uses “pop-up debates” to practice arguments. This is another example of a way to begin with some basic knowledge through reading, writing, or other media and then build up to evidence of the use of critical thinking.


What role does argument play in your classroom?

How might you use oral practice (pop-up debates) to build student skills before writing?


Public Speaking

Public Speaking. One of the biggest fears of most adults. If the speaking and listening standards at your school still resemble the Common Core standards, then speech is no longer relegated to a one semester high school course.  Speaking and listening are required of every grade level and every content area PK – 12. That’s not just wishful thinking. Speaking or discussing is an easy formative assessment. Speaking is a quick check for understanding after reading. It’s an important rehearsal skill. And it’s also complex because spoken responses also run the gamut of Bloom’s or DOK skills. There’s also a delicate balance between the level of comfort in sharing ideas and disagreements that is dependent on the level of respect, trust and community in the classroom.


What are my expectations of myself for public speaking?

What are the expectations for my students?


Does this apply to me?

An elementary teacher friend texted, “Should I check out the chat? Dave’s a high school teacher.” And of course, I said, “YES!  You must!” I believe this is a book that will frame conversations so all teachers can figure out what matters most. It will be incredibly helpful for content area teachers in all secondary classrooms. But I also believe that it’s helpful from the winter holiday on for teachers in second grade and all teachers in grades 3-6 (or any teachers on a PK-12 vertical team) who have ever asked any of these questions:

“How do I focus when planning curricula?”

“How do I focus when planning instruction?”

“How do I focus when preparing school or building wide policies and procedures?”

“How do I focus when feeling stressed or defeated?”

The role of focus in a teacher’s life is undeniable. Being as productive as possible during the teaching day frees up time for families and life outside of school. Time that is necessary to be the best teacher possible for every minute of the school day. Dave’s book won’t make all the decisions for you, but it will give you a framework for self-reflection and conversations with co-workers. That will put you on the path to a focus on WHAT REALLY MATTERS!

What actions will move you forward?

Where will you begin?



This post reflects some of the ideas from the #G2Great chat with a little background from the book.  You will need to check out the book to get the full picture.

You can simplify your teaching, teach all the standards and have a life. Dave Stuart Jr and these 6 things will start you on that journey. Grab a couple friends, read the free first chapter online, and get the learning started!

Links for Additional Exploration:

Corwin Book

Dave’s Blog

Check out the #NCTE18 program for sessions with Dave Stuart Jr.

Dave Stuart Jr. book signing at NCTE Saturday, November 17, 2018 at 4:15 in the Corwin Booth!

#G2Great chat Wakelet

Reclaiming Independent Reading as a Professional Imperative

By Fran McVeigh

On September 6, 2018, the stars aligned, the chorus appeared from heaven, and the #G2Great chat was literally almost trending from the first minute because Independent Reading is huge, hot, and hard to say “no” to. It would have been easy for teachers and edu-friends to say, “I’m busy. I will catch this  topic later.” For many attendees, it was the first week with students back in school. For others, school has been in session for two, three or even four weeks. But our crowd was splendiferous and the learning was off the charts.  It was inevitable. The quotes for this chat included words of wisdom from such literacy greats as: Donalyn Miller, Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Ellin Keene, Nancy Atwell, and Richard Allington.

But just as I was narrowing down my final selection of tweets for this blog post, ILA issued their “Children’s Rights to Read” (link) and I was captivated. 

Ten rights. Ten simple rights. Ten rights that highlight the need for access and equity. Ten rights that don’t use the word “Independent” but wouldn’t that just be a redundancy? The “Children’s Rights to Read” are, in truth, aimed at the 750 million people across the world that cannot read and write at a basic level. This notion of “Rights” inspired me to think about whether these ten rights are in place in ALL schools in the U.S. and I am saddened by the knowledge that we have no evidence that they are firmly established in every school building.

The positives in our chat were that I found the following concepts:  value, access, love, ubiquitous, equity and sustenance. In the explanations for each concept, please note the crosswalk for the match to the “Children’s Rights to Read” as well.


When we value something, in our personal or professional lives, we make time for it. It gets priority scheduling. It’s not left to chance.  It’s never, “Well, if there is time left, we will do independent reading.”  Or my most hated because it also speaks to access, “When you get your work done, you can read independently.”  (GRRR!) The old Mathew Principle:  The rich keep getting richer while the poor continue to get poorer!  When independent reading is a priority, I often see it as a “settling in routine” where students enter the classroom and are expected to have their book out and be reading when the bell rings.  When independent reading is valued, it’s woven into the schedules and routines so tightly that students will beg for “just two more minutes so I can finish this chapter, PLEEEEASE!”

Value = establishing priorities for what matters

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


Access is so multi-faceted that is difficult to pick a starting point.  The number one criteria for access is often touted as time. Is it perceived as a necessity for all students or a luxury?  That depends on the value of that time. Would any teacher say that Independent Reading was not important? Then schedule it first. In ink. Boldly. Confidently. After time, the next issue is texts (physical books, magazines, and digital resources including video and art).  Where does a teacher develop that classroom library? What about the new teacher with an empty room?  But broader than that: is there a classroom library in the science lab, math classroom, economics classroom, and more importantly in the office waiting area? Location of texts could be access, value or equity. Other aspects of access to consider may be more subtle. Access to time to talk about books. Access to a knowledgeable adult/teacher to conference with. Access to that next book on the To Be Read (TBR) stack or that long awaited book that just arrived from the publisher when there are NINE names ahead of yours on the waiting list. Access to books about people like you, your community, and your background. Access to books that interest you.  Access to new books that have recently been published. Access to conversations about the books with other kids in your class, your school, your state, or your country.

Access = choice of the right texts at the right time!

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


A love or passion for reading begins at an early age. It is supported when we read aloud, read along with children, and listen to them read. That takes time and texts. It may begin at home or at school. How do we continually grow and nurture book love in our students? As parents, teachers, librarians, or administrators – those many roles that we have – what is our end goal for students?  Will their score on a summative state assessment be what the student takes away from their time in the classroom?  Or will it be the fact that you helped them fall into love with reading? You helped them explore their interests. You helped them find books and authors that opened whole new worlds. They grew. They changed. They lived their lives differently because of that new found love or passion for reading.

Love = an opportunity to change lives

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 3, 4, 5, 8


When something is ubiquitous, it is pervasive, worldwide or universal. The belief that Independent Reading is a mainstay of reading instruction is ubiquitous for teachers who have a goal of helping students get lost in that “just right” book.  Teachers who are readers. Teachers who love books. Teachers who know which titles are being published.  Those are the teachers who can connect students with books that will change their lives and put them on a path to continued reading.

Ubiquitous = a need to build lifelong, independent reading habits

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


Equity in reading means that all students have the opportunity for Independent Reading.  It’s not “what you do when your work is done” because some students never do get their work done. It’s not “pull-out intervention” time. It’s not “pull-out for special education service minutes.”  Equity also means that everyone has access to texts at school and at home. Lack of wifi does not limit access to  digital texts. Students and parents are not expected to personally buy the books on the summer reading lists. Students who are primary caregivers in their homes are not judged when reading logs or notes to parents working multiple jobs simply forget! When equity and Independent Reading are both priorities, then it is a part of Tier 1 for every student. All students. Every Student!

Equity = zip codes do not determine learning

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


How important is reading?  That seems to go back to the value of reading. Is your view of reading that it is necessary for life?  Does reading nourish your mind, thinking and soul? Do you agree with Rudine Sims Bishop that texts are mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors? If yes, than having a reading life is a part of your required sustenance plan. Not a luxury.  Something that must be prioritized into a daily routine or schedule.

Sustenance = the power of “flow” to hook readers for life

Match to Children’s Rights to Read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

So if you remember how an acronym works, these characteristics detailed above, Value, Access, Love, Ubiquitous, Equity and Sustenance spell out


Yes, it was a bit cheesy to use “Value” as the first concept.  But it’s important, critical, imperative! It all comes down to our professional values. What do we hold near and dear? What do we know is vital for our students? What does it take to create readers?  What does it take to create literate beings who continue to grow and learn once they leave our school halls?

If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, it will be a priority every day in every classroom. If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, time and money will be allocated to support it. If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, resources from discontinuing old antiquated bribes like AR can be re-purposed to support it (Thanks, Brent for that idea!). If we value Independent Reading and make it a professional imperative, students will love to read, will be able to read and will choose to be readers all their lives.

Just a quick reprise for “Children’s Rights to Read.”  Those 10 Rights above are huge.  Note that Value, Access, Ubiquitous, Equity and Sustenance connected to all 10. ALL 10! And there were a total of 55 connections out of a possible 60! 92%  means Independent Reading as a way to support Children’s Rights to Read is a Professional Imperative!

Curated Tweets:



































































































Additional Resources:

Wakelet – Link

Donalyn Miller – “I’ve Got Research, Yes, I do.  I’ve Got Research. How About You?”

ILA – “Making Independent Reading Work”

Scholastic – “The Joy and Power of Reading”

Kari Yates – Heinemann – “Five Ways to Reclaim Time for Independent Reading”

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell  – “On Why We Need Libraries and Librarians”

“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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Taking a Fresh Look at Our Practices: Shining a Spotlight on Push In/Pull Out

By Fran McVeigh

The fact that we were trending in the opening moments of our #G2Great chat “Shining a Spotlight on Push In/Pull Out”, on June 28, 2018, was not a surprise.  Services for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) have been a hot topic since the first federal law, PL 94-142 (1975) which guaranteed: a free, appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Every reauthorization since that initial law has involved change, but the requirement for educating students in the least restrictive environment remains a topic that requires ongoing discussion in every school across the country.

A walk down memory lane in special education would also shine some light on “mainstreaming” and “inclusion” as other terms used to describe student services. Mainstreaming brought special-needs students who were being served in separate classrooms back into general education classes. It was assumed that these students would be able to find success once mainstreamed, but access alone was not the issue. Many students still struggled because specialized assistance within the regular education classes was not provided. To remedy this, inclusion was the next wave of reform. Students with special needs were placed in general education classes but were also supported by specialists in those classes. Co-teaching became one form of support that still exists because IDEA continues to require students to be educated in the least restrictive placement.

As a former special education teacher who has taught in both push in and pull out programs, I eagerly anticipated this chat about services for ALL students including those who are striving, whether they have an IEP or they are Gifted and Talented. In reality this topic has huge implications because it can also include any student ever pulled out for any services:  a Tier 2 or 3 Intervention, English Learner instruction, band lessons or even speech services.

Let’s begin with what was revealed in our conversations during the #G2Great chat. This quote of Johnny Downey’s sums up much of the thinking and also matched Amy’s quote about many factors being involved. It’s complicated!

When is the location or the content of instruction an equity issue?  

The presumption is that each child will first receive quality core or Tier 1 instruction in the same classroom as their peers. Removal to another location through a Pull Out program during core instruction would be an equity issue because those students could be denied basic instruction.  It depends what they would be “missing” in the classroom. However, this could also happen with Push In instruction if the student had small group instruction during a whole class Read Aloud time. The very elements of literacy instruction that are most needed by students, especially independent reading time, are often assigned as time for additional instruction. This does become an equity issue because the student may actually have access to less time for reading than his or her peers.

What is the primary focus for decision-making?

The student must be at the heart of all decisions made about where and when extra instruction will be provided. This seems simpler for students with IEPs because federal legislation, IDEA, guarantees parental rights:  

each public agency must ensure that the parents of each child with a disability are members of any group that makes decisions on the educational placement of their child.” Source Link

But this is also true for all students whether they are missing class for an intervention, speech instruction, or any of the other myriad of reasons that students are pulled out of classrooms. Parents should be part of the decision-making process.  No parent of a fifth grader should be blindsided by this statement, “Well, she is not doing well in social studies because she missed it for the last two years because of her intervention time.

What issues must be considered?

Quality Tier 1 instruction is critical and must be provided by expert teachers.

Neither push in or pull out is ever perfect for all children.
We must consider effectiveness of instruction and collect results to see if our students are really “learning” and if the support is increasing student success and joyfulness.

Decisions cannot EVER be about time, the schedule or the adults.  It’s not their education on the line.

Sometimes, pull out instruction can be more efficient and more effective.
Thoughtful discussions should always be a part of the process for EACH and EVERY student.

And FINALLY, the biggest concern with Push In or Pull Out is the feelings and perceptions of the students involved. When do we include students in the decision-making process and what do they tell us?

Access to quality instruction is the right of all students. Access in the least restrictive environment is also a legal mandate for many students as parents consider just where that instruction should take place. An arbitrary requirement for ONLY “Pull Out” or “Push In” services must be rejected because the needs of the students should be a central focus of all decision-making. Student responses to their education, as well as their attitudes and perceptions, need to be considered as the focus of staff must be to accelerate learning in order to decrease learning gaps and develop a love of learning. Team Teaching or Co-Teaching is one current popular way of meeting students’ needs in a less intrusive setting and you can read more about that in the Wakelet archive. Data on the successes of Push In / Pull Out settings is inconclusive but more students are successful in life after learning in Push In settings. Other positive benefits from Push In settings include: more positive interactions with peers, improvement on standardized tests, and increased social and communication skills. Decisions about instruction must occur on a student by student basis in order for ALL students to have access to the highest quality education available in the least restrictive environment.  

Wakelet Link  

This Series:

Preventing Summer Slide: Flexing Our Summer Literacy Muscles

By Fran McVeighWhat does summer mean in your community?  Is it about freedom from school routines or is it about supports in place to help families maneuver the tricky days and nights when parents need to work and children have more freedom?  Our #G2Great chat on May 24, 2018 had both questions and answers for “Preventing Summer Slide” but also some cautionary reminders about remembering to meet the whole needs of children. “Summer Slide” is bigger than just literacy. In these days of declining school budgets and increasing demands, this may not seem feasible YET but let’s begin with some of those general considerations for increased collaboration and communication in your community. 

Have you considered these principles?

If your summer work is already planned, take a few minutes to think about the basic needs of the students in your community over the long summer break. Will they have adequate food, shelter and transportation? Will their basic physical needs be met? How do you know? What about their social-emotional needs? How will you know that your planned summer work is effective? What information will you be collecting from the participants and their families?

Preventing Summer Slide:  What will it take?

I found two major goals/processes in this week’s chat.  The first follows the research findings of Allington and McGill-Franzen. They found that providing books for students to read at home over the summer was both cheaper and more effective than summer school programs. (link) Ways to do that include:

  • Giving students books
  • Having school libraries open
  • Teachers who continue to have book conversations during the summer
  • Teachers loaning books
  • Groups that give books

Any and all of these actions allow students to continue reading, flexing their literacy muscles. With high levels of practice, just like in sports, students maintain their current levels of confidence and competence. Students who read, write, and talk about their passionate and/or pleasurable literacy work increase the likelihood of counteracting “summer slide”. If any of this work can also involve partnerships formed in the student’s own household, there is an even greater likelihood of maintaining or increasing skills over the summer when one or two hours per week are dedicated to shared literacy actions like a narrated photo book of fun and play during the summer!

A second goal or process advocated for totally changing our approach to summer work is evidenced by this tweet.

Would efforts be more effective if there was a deliberate plan to include the following components: community-based, culturally relevant, strength-based, family-centered and literacy-based in order to LAUNCH SUMMER LEARNING?

What would each of these elements look like?


Capitalize on activities available through county parks and recreation offices, municipal music/arts/museum programs, and even explore “service options” with elderly housing units. Weekly bingo games with senior citizens can be a treat for students and seniors. Plan field trips to locations in the community. Set up a comprehensive schedule that builds on Red Cross swimming lessons or open gym sessions. Evidence of community-based efforts to promote literacy would include this sign posted in Gilmore City, IA and shared via @herz6kids.

Culturally relevant

Build relationships that cultivate strong culturally relevant interests and include teacher-student relationships that empower and motivate students. Check community calendars for meetings and events that provide cultural experiences. Promote peer teaching and learning relationships that may begin in books but further extend to face-to-face interactions.


Allow students to have choices in activities in terms of recreational activities and sports as well as reading, writing, speaking, listening, drama, and math activities. Build on what the students can do, want to do, and mirror the lives they see at home and in their neighborhood.


Build on strengths of the family by asking other members of their household to participate and respond to activities both at home and in the community. Create books of shared family stories and events. Encourage all family members to write about the same events from a different point of view. Collect recipes, songs, or poems to share with others.


What if summer literacy-based work was about choice, wonder, passion, and not the same old routine from the school year?  The use of Wonderopolis or independent choice would be one source of promoting joyful self-exploration that helps develop life long readers and writers.

For further information about a successful summer launch and summer program, check out this tweet from Valinda Kimmel.

“Summer Slide” was first reported in 1906, and folks have been searching for solutions ever since.  There is NO, ONE single solution.  It’s a complicated problem with many solutions that will assist students in maintaining or growing reading, writing, and learning. Collaborative partnerships will be necessary in order to provide optimal learning environments for all students. Considering novel solutions that involve new learning environments and opportunities to explore personal choice and wonder to this century old problem will allow students to thrive and not fall prey to the “summer slide.”

Selected tweets that were the source of ideas for this blog post:

Additional Resources:

Wakelet archive for #G2Great chat – Link

Video – McAuliffe on YouTube (for parents) – Link

Allington- Summer Slide article   Link  

Pernille Ripp – “On Summer Checkouts” 

Valinda Kimmel – “3 Surefire Ways to Avoid the Summer Slide”  

NCTE Middleweb:

NOTES FROM THE NERDY BOOK CLUB Book Floods and Book Deserts

Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, Cindy Minnich, and Katherine Sokolowski

It’s All About the Books

By Fran McVeigh

Make no mistake about it.  This book, It’s All About the Books:  How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries That Inspire Readers, is about making sure that ALL students have access to books.  And our #G2Great chat with guest hosts Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan was trending within seven minutes of the opening tweet on April 5th. The pace was fast, furious, filled with the famous (Kylene Beers, Laura Robb, and Penny Kittle to name a few), and packed with powerful learning. As participants, we were given guidance and flexibility through the talented wisdom of Tammy and Clare (and the experts that they base their work on) that would also allow us to insert our own vision and passion to meet the needs of students in our classrooms across the continent. Neither the chat nor the book is about meeting proficiency levels (although books are the appropriate tool) or choosing a set list of books (your student needs will vary), but were both focused on many critical aspects of developing book collections. This post will focus on just two of them:  Access and Design.

What does access to books mean for classroom libraries and bookroom collections?

Every student deserves quality books that he or she can read in order to be a reader. Books are the tools of readers. Access to books cannot be left to chance. That means that within a school building every student needs access to a classroom library and probably some form of a collaborative collection in a bookroom in addition to the school library. When access to books is a priority, every first year teacher will walk into a classroom full of chairs, desks, and tables that also has a classroom library that is fully-stocked. The teachers and administrators understand and believe that when students read a lot – both texts they choose and can read – they will become lifelong readers, and that classroom library is an indicator of the strength of their belief. A final element of access will reflect that the collection will “grow and extend” with the students. The books that are the focus at the end of the year may be totally different from the books that were in the library on opening day. Some books will remain constant but many other books will be replaced as students outgrow themselves as readers and demand different topics and types of books as the school year evolves.

What is the benefit for the students?

Books will be celebrated and students will know that one goal is to build a reader’s identity so some books will match the students.  They will see themselves in the books and will also be able to see all the other members of their community. Each student will have access to the number of books that they need at school and at home that is necessary for him/her to be an engaged and inspired reader. Students will talk about their books with peers and adults.  Students will also have a great deal of choice in what they read as well as when and where they read. Their days will be filled with opportunities to spend extended time reading so that being “lost in a book” is a routine habit. Because we also know that book choice is personal, not every student will want to read the exact same book. Opportunities for choice will need to be encouraged on a regular basis in order to develop and strengthen the habits of readers. Many books will be needed. Tammy and Clare tell us:

“Books are our tools to develop lifelong readers. The only way to merge true choice and accessibility is to have options and lots of them!” (Heinemann, It’s All About the Books, p 12)

What is the benefit for the teachers?

Every teacher will have access to books necessary to meet the needs of their students. These books will match the purpose:  whole group, small group (guided or strategy), partner, and independent reading as well as instructional needs:  Read Alouds, writing mentors, science content and/or social studies content. Access to quality books will enhance instruction and engage and inspire students. Access coupled with equity will mean that classroom collections will no longer be dependent upon teachers personally funding their own classroom libraries.

In order to achieve this access, all teachers will be expected to work collaboratively to identify the existing inventory of books available in the building and then strategically plan for the best use.  What does that mean? Perhaps there are six packs of guided reading books that are gathering dust in current guided reading libraries. Maybe they could be better utilized if they were inserted into classroom libraries or set up for book club usage or even independent reading.  Specific gaps in types of books that students like and want to read can be addressed systemically after establishing priorities and developing an organized purchasing plan. Teachers with access to a wide range of books will be able to share their own passion, agency, and that sense of inquiry that exists in their own reading lives without the pressure of being personally responsible for provisioning every book the students read.

Selected Tweets about Access:

Why is design important for classroom libraries and bookroom collections?

In the book, the chapter about design begins with a Steve Jobs quote:

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.  Design is how it works.”

This means that in order for the books to be effective learning tools, there will need to be many books. Tammy and Clare offer suggestions on how to calculate the number of books that must be available for students at each grade level. Do involve the students in decisions because they will be a part of “how it works.” Don’t quit because you are discouraged by the staggering number of books needed because, Tammy and Clare also say:

“When teachers share texts and rotate inventory, stocking a school with authentic literature is a very affordable option. It truly is more bang for your books.” (p. 83)

#1 Design Issue:  What to do with Book Levels

Much has been written about book levels by such literacy giants as Fountas and Pinnell, Donalyn Miller, Kylene Beers, and our own Dr. Mary Howard. I love the phrase “Intent vs. Impact” that Tammy and Clare use in their book and in their podcast. Levels are instructional tools that are intended to be guides – not absolutes and definitely not to limit a student’s access to books. (But wait a minute, access was the last section!) Levels are not going to define a child’s reading so levels will not be the ORGANIZER for books which brings us back to design.  Some questions to be answered are:  How will books be organized?  How will they be displayed? Which books?

What is the benefit for students?

Taking book levels off of shelves and baskets does not meant that “anything goes” just as access doesn’t mean that students can only read a “Level H” for example. Middle ground means that book baskets can be organized by “concepts or ideas” such as “LOL” and the books in the LOL basket on the top shelf may be A-B, while the books in the LOL basket on the second shelf may be C-D, and the books in the LOL basket on the third shelf may be E-F.  Students have access to any of the baskets but when they are choosing books that they can read independently, they can first decide on content: animals, friends, LOL, etc., and then check out the basket on the shelf that they are typically reading from. No one will ever say, “Now, Johnny, what level should you be reading?”  Instead the conversation about books will be around the content and the strategies/skills/habits that the student uses as they tackle the books. Book levels will be inside the front cover or on the back cover, but they will not be the FIRST decision when choosing a book.

What is the benefit for teachers?

Teachers will need to know the qualities of the levels, not to define students but to know just which book will be the next “ladder” for instruction, which will be a challenge or stretch, and which will be “just right”? This actually gives the teacher more flexibility because it is easier to drop a level or two for beginning work with a more difficult skill without causing student or parental panic. With practice students can quickly move through appropriate books for the WORK they are engaging in rather than the “But I’m supposed to be reading H books!” that often currently surfaces.

Students can also be active participants in the book organization and the design of the classroom library so this means less work for the teacher.  The classroom community can work together to create their own categories as they help curate the collection. Their “work” will also enable them to better appreciate the scope of the classroom collection.  I’m always amazed when I’m in a classroom and students from another grade quietly step in, select a book from behind the teacher’s desk, and return to their own classroom. It’s important to know where those “book floods” exist that students actually have access to when they are in search of their next great book.

Shared teacher design is accomplished with the use of a bookroom or collaborative collection that helps provide the volume, range and choice that matches students’ interests. This collection exists to supply access to a world of ideas for students when they need them. Classroom libraries can easily be refreshed or rotated each quarter or each major school break so the teacher has a more ready supply of books available without a run on Amazon, Scholastic or other book sources. Sharing texts and especially series books makes provisioning libraries with authentic literature much more affordable.  A five year purchasing plan, prioritized by gaps, can stretch farther than an individual teacher’s purchases.

Selected Tweets About Design:

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go #BookLove to fund elementary or middle school classroom libraries as explained in the following two tweets:

Books are the mainstay of student learning.  Students gain such a feeling of accomplishment as they name that first book they can read or write.  Literacy identities are important. This book, this chat, and the additional resources posted below literally add to our own passion for books, our “book love”,  Reading is important because it improves our communication skills and enables us to learn about places and people that we may never see. It also helps build vocabulary and writing skills as we communicate better and even become better persons.  Books can help us with all of those skills and this book, It’s All About the Books, by Tammy and Clare can help us inventory, prioritize and develop a plan to further extend our budgets and ultimately our learning! This book gives you a proven process, with a ten year track record, that will help you maximize your resources for increased student and teacher access and design and organize all those resources in your classrooms and bookrooms.

And if you already have Access and Design under control in your classroom libraries and bookrooms, there are many other chapters that deal with: Why a bookroom? Where to find diverse books?  Technology? How are “Texts” defined? What about summer school access? Tammy and Clare will guide you through all the answers!!

Check out these Additional Resources

Events Heinemann Publications Live Facebook with Tammy and Clare

Wakelet/Storify from #G2Great chat April 5

Podcast with Tammy and Clare





On the blog Slice one – “A Reader Reminds Me”

Slice two – “The Power of a Book”

Print Resources It’s All About the Books – Heinemann webpage

Sample Chapter




Purposeful Planning: Relinquishing Instructional Control

by Jenn Hayhurst

Purpose is the spark that moves us to action. Purpose ignites a flame that lights the way for deeper learning. Purpose burns deep within each teacher so we can be leaders who advocate for keeping instruction student-centered, always. This was the conversation that inspired the #G2Great chat, Purposeful Planning: Relinquishing Instructional Control, on February 1, 2018.  

How does working with a sense of purpose change us? Expectations. When we have sense of purpose in our work we also have higher expectations for the outcome of our work. This is true for any learner whether they are a teacher or a student.

Purpose Initiates Freedom & Leadership:

Teachers are the most influential leaders in the world, because we are leading students on a journey of self-discovery. We are teaching students to rely on themselves, and when students learn they can rely on themselves they become leaders too.

Every time teachers model how to take risks we set students free. When we are unafraid to try something, wrestle with a problem, or create complex learning experiences we create an expectation for learning. We are teaching them that the productive struggle is to be expected along the way. Each time teachers come to the classroom with a flexible purposeful plan we welcome student thinking into the mix. When we do that, we create stakeholders for learning!

Purpose Honors Identity & Choice:

Every child offers something totally unique. When teachers look at students’ differences as strengths to be  integrated into a purposeful plan, we create something magical.  We create learning opportunities that emphasize their individual talents.

Student voice and choice is not an extra nicety, it’s a necessity!  Surely, these learning opportunities would not be possible without them. Every time students see their interests, their culture, their preferences represented in their classroom they become vested in purpose. Purpose is entirely the point.

Purpose Grows Learning & Success:

In the end, we have to get real about purposeful planning. It’s purposeful planning, not perfect planning. There is no neat and easy road to growth and success. Every time we plan for new experiences, complex thinking, and something a little unexpected we are helping our students to grow beyond what our curriculums asks us to teach.

Resilience is not always innate it can be learned over time. When we see our struggles as a gift, they become badges of honor that every learner can be proud to wear. This is what purposeful planning anticipates and celebrates for students and for teachers alike.

Purpose is defined as, the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. We believe that teacher’s purpose is inextricably linked to student growth. Growth in all its beauty and complexity and for something so big, we have to come at it with a plan. So, plan wisely, plan with great intention and compassion. Plan with optimism and expectations. As Dr. Mary Howard would advise you, plan with heart

On a personal note, I’d like to wish my friend and mentor, Mary Howard, a very Happy Birthday. You are a gift to me and to so many others. You are the ultimate advocate for students and I thank you for pushing me to live up to your high expectations to be a better teacher than I was the day before. Truly, you inspire me in every way every day. xo


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

by Mary Howard

By the time 1/11/18 rolled around, my enthusiasm for what was about to ensue had already reached a record high. On this momentous day, Regie Routman graced our #G2great stage for the first time as we gathered to celebrate her exquisite new book Twitter style, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (Stenhouse, 2018). This virtual celebration was the perfect way to follow our 3-year anniversary on 1/4/18 since Regie’s presence reignited our collective curiosity for teaching and learning.

I became a devoted Regie Routman fan when Transitions was published in 1988 (Heinemann). From the first reading, Transitions became my professional battle cry for the “child-centered, literature-based reading and writing” I knew that all children deserved. I was elated to learn that another book was on the horizon and grateful for the opportunity to read her new book pre-publication. Before I could finish the first two pages, I knew that I was holding Regie magic in my hands yet again:

Equal opportunity to learn depends on a culture of engagement and equity, which underlies a relentless pursuit of excellence. (p 1)

I believe we have to love our work if we are to expend the necessary effort teaching requires. To love it, we have to savor the teaching process while leading full and encompassing lives. To love it, we have to be passionate and knowledgeable. If you’ve lost that love, this book is for you, to help you reclaim joyful teaching and pass on to your students an enduring desire for curiosity and a love of learning. (2)

In Literacy Essentials, Regie asks us to move from teacher-as-technician dutifully following scripts, programs, and rigid data to teacher as thinker responsibly keeping children at the center of all we do. (p 3-4) As a reader, I can assure you that Regie’s words will support our efforts to reclaim the joyful teaching that rises from every page of this oh so wise book. I believe so strongly that Literacy Essentials is a Professional Must Have.

In celebration of an amazing #G2Great chat with Regie gently nudging our thinking, I perused her tweets to uncover literacy essentials Twitter style. I thought about how each fit into the three categories: Engagement, Excellence and Equity. For the sake of brevity, I narrowed her tweets to five, using two for the post with three additional tweets provided at the end. My reflections rise directly from Regie’s words with the intent to support and extend the chat while illustrating why a thoughtful read of this professional masterpiece from cover to cover is absolutely indispensable.

Engagement Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

One of the first things that struck me as I thought about Regie’s words was her reference to heart and mind celebrations from teachers’ and students’ perspective. This elaborated view from both sides illustrates the dual role of professional and instructional endeavors. This role begins when teachers are offered professional opportunities to build knowledge that will engage their mind and heart. These meaningful experiences then lead teachers to adopt a celebratory view of teaching in action. In other words, emotional engagement increases the potential for intellectual engagement while intellectual engagement increases the potential for heightened emotional engagement. This head-heart intellectual-emotional merger then begins to blossom into a persistent quest for classroom practices that become a springboard for student-centered mind and heart engagement. It seems to me that this again plays a dual role since teacher engagement can have a positive impact on student engagement and vice versa. This happens when we focus on meaningful, purposeful, productive and authentic learning opportunities where choice is a central feature. These learning experiences are not limited to the boundaries of our four walls but extend to real-world engaged learning that happens when our children leave those walls. As Regie reminds us, head-heart celebrations leading to high engagement is unlikely when compliant skill and drill is the driving force of our efforts.

Excellence Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

In order to create the classrooms our children deserve, we must first be willing to broaden our frame of reference. In too many classrooms, literacy is relegated to a ninety-minute reading block where all of our literacy efforts live. An intellectual culture extends beyond the clock so that we are able to see opportunities across the learning day that will maximize our literacy efforts. Reading and writing become the invisible thread that tie our day together and dramatically increase the opportunities afforded us to enrich the literacy lives of children within every content area. When clock time is not viewed as an instructional constraint, we also increase the potential for transfer as we are able to offer multiple exposure in varied contexts across time. Regie highlights the role of meaningful reading opportunities where choice is a key feature. But if we have any hope of creating the life-long, comprehending, inquiring readers Regie describes, we must make an unwavering commitment to voluminous reading and writing opportunities our students need. While there are certainly many time constraints in the learning day, many of those are created by the professional choices we make. Regie eloquently reminds us that guided reading can be one of those constraints when it is emphasized to the exclusion of daily authentic reading opportunities such as independent reading and read aloud. When guided reading, or any instructional context becomes over-emphasized and used in excess, we find that there is an instructional tradeoff  that limits the time students need to apply what they are learning in these instructional contexts so they can begin to assume increasing control of their own reading process. Of course, this elevates the value of providing the meaningful professional learning opportunities that will help teachers avoid this hyper focus on one area of instruction to the detriment of another.

Equity Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

While equity is not always part of the collective conversations we have in schools, Regie emphasizes that it certainly should be. She highlights several key areas that can negatively impact our efforts to address equity and in turn the quality of the very learning opportunities we so readily offer some children and not others. Each time we allow labels and numerical values that are based on flawed assessments to define children, we will inevitably lower our expectations and thus increase the likelihood that we will in turn narrow our practices to their lowest counterparts in an isolated skill and drill mentality. Equity means that we afford all children the same authentic experiences that occur through high quality texts and experiences that could entice our children to willingly participate in the engaged reading that will lift them as readers. This does not mean that we do not teach skills and strategies but that we focus on a whole to part to whole approach so that learning context is always rooted in meaning and purpose. In order to ensure equal access to our best instruction for every child we must alter the viewpoint of children as the haves and have nots and shift that view by seeing each child through a success lens rather than one blurred by perceived deficits. Regie’s reminder to celebrate strengths before needs illustrates this point. Equity requires us to assume a new stance as we see children in terms of what they each bring to the learning table and to use this as a support stepping stone to what they cannot yet do. We do this by creating a culture of respect for what every child brings to the learning experience as we expand our view within and beyond our classrooms by building a bridge between home and school.

In an age where scripts, packages, and mandates beckon educators at every turn, Regie gives us the professional antidote to these distractions in 385 pages of wisdom. Literacy Essentials and Regie’s sage Take Action advice expertly woven across the pages of the book will undoubtedly inspire educators to refocus their efforts. When all we do is squarely centered on ensuring that every child will receive the learning opportunities they so richly deserve – well only then can we truly begin to celebrate the children we are fortunate enough to have in our classrooms.

And so we come full circle. In 1988, Regie wrote these words in Transitions:

Genuine literacy implies using reading, writing, thinking, and speaking daily in the real world, with options, appreciation, and meaningful purposes in various setting and with other people. An actively literate person is constantly thinking, learning, and reflecting, and is assuming the responsibility for continued growth in personal literacy.

As I come to the close of this post, my thoughts turn back to Regie’s remarkable book that was penned thirty years after Transitions was published. Literacy Essentials reflects Regie’s unwavering commitment to this spirit as she poses a question worth answering:

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

Without hesitation, I can answer that question with one imperative. If we put Regie’s book in every school in this country, we could use it to engage teachers in powerful dialogue that has the potential to bring engagement, excellence and equity to life in classrooms everywhere.

Thank you for continuing to inspire us to do this important work Regie!


Engagement Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

Excellence Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

Equity Literacy Essentials (Twitter Style)

Regie’s discusses Literacy Lenses on this Stenhouse podcast: https://www.facebook.com/mary.c.howard.79/posts/10211621099507065

“I wrote this book because celebration and joy is missing and that is part of the work that I do, where teachers are joyful, the kids are joyful. Without that culture of joy and celebration of strengths before needs we’re never going to get our students where they need to be and where they want to be.”

Fran McVeigh writes about Literacy Lenses