SLOW CHAT: Fueled by Collective Curiosity and Collaborative Conversation

by Mary Howard

You can read the Wakelet artifact HERE

#G2Great chat celebrates 7 years on 1/6/22. Your chat co-moderators often contemplate new chat designs for twitter style dialogue. This week, we decided to draw inspiration from the continuing challenges of this pandemic and its impact on our shared love for attending National Literacy Conferences. If COVID-19 had not thwarted our plans, #G2Great chat would have taken a break this week to attend the International Literacy Conference in Indianapolis, IN. Unfortunately, ILA shifted from an in-person conference to varied virtual opportunities. We know that this decision was not taken lightly and we are grateful that ILA chose to put our safety first.

Since we had already planned to take this week off, we decided this afforded us a wonderful opportunity to try something new. We had discussed using a SLOW CHAT format in the past, so we thought that this was the perfect time.

WHAT IS A SLOW CHAT?

For those of you who have never participated in a SLOW CHAT on Twitter before, some background information would be helpful:

In a typical chat, we gather at our #G2great hashtag on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. and share 7 to 8 questions across the night that are answered in real time. If you have ever taken part in our chat, then you know that this format makes for a fast-paced process of reading and responding to questions while engaging in conversations around those ideas.

By contrast, a SLOW CHAT is literally meant to slow down this pace using many variations that may span across one or several days. A few questions are asked at key points during the designated time and educators respond to questions at their own pace rather than during a live chat hour. Our one-day SLOW CHAT began in the morning with initial thoughts from your co moderators I share at the end of this post followed by five questions we posted every ninety-minutes during the day as we checked in across the day. Since we plan to do this again, putting our first SLOW CHAT into action was a wonderful learning venture that we can draw from in the future.

And so, in the spirit of our first SLOW CHAT I give you our first SLOW BLOG with five twitter takeaways that captivated my professional heart.

SLOW BLOG TWITTER TAKEAWAYS

Our deep desire to embrace curious learning in our lives has a much broader purpose. We cannot expect that our children will engage in and beyond our schools as curious learners unless we are willing to model a curious spirit each and every day. Our actions (or lack of) speak volumes.

Engaging in collaborative dialogue with other professionals on a regular basis gives us a lifeline to collegial support. These inspired interactions help us to fine tune, adjust and add to our thinking from both sides as we learn in the company of trusted others.

We make our own learning a priority not just for the sake of learning but in honor of the children that learning is dedicated to. The tipping point is when we carry our learning with us and make professional decisions that will lift learning to the highest heights in their name.

It is admirable for each of us to value professional collaboration, but the goal is to create a culture of collective collaboration that spreads across a school. Every child deserves to experience professional joy in action no matter where that learning takes place or with whom.

We all need a safe space where others support and fuel our learning. While we hope that this comes from within a school, it can also span across great distances. Used thoughtfully, social media can offer a safe haven where ideas, passions and curiosities can flourish.

Last Thoughts

COVID-19 pandemic has altered the landscape of our professional and personal lives in many challenging ways. Yet, there were also many blessings as we have traveled along a meandering path of uncertainty. Conference cancellations have been difficult for those of us who thrive on professional gatherings, but it also nudged us to explore options for learning together. These new learning doors have compounded our unwavering thirst for professional learning in any capacity. Yes, the pandemic altered where, when and in what way our learning happens. But our determination to hold tight to the WHY of professional learning has strengthened our commitment to celebrate our learning through this new lens. Fueled by Collective Curiosity and Collaborative Conversation was the perfect title for our first SLOW CHAT since it reflects a way of life that we are proud to lead on a daily basis.

We want to thank those of you who joined our first #G2Great SLOW CHAT. We believe deeply in collaborative professional JOY and we know that invitational discourse is possible in any form. Here’s to more SLOW CHAT in the future!

SLOW CHAT reflections from your #G2Great co moderators

Guided Practice for Reading Growth:  Texts and Lessons to Improve Fluency, Comprehension and Vocabulary

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet LINK

Laura Robb is no stranger to #G2Great. She frequently participates in our weekly chats and has been a guest host with principal son and coauthor, Evan Robb, for Schools Full of Readers: Tools for Teachers, Coaches and Leaders to Support Students. This link gives you access to the blog post and wakelet for that book. Laura and Evan Robb coauthored this blog post in 2020, “Breaking the Cycle of Professional Compliance: Teachers as Decision-Makers.” (Link) It was truly a pleasure to welcome Laura and her coauthor David Harrison to his first chat this week.

Routines. Habits. As I drove, I hit my turn signal. It was automatic. I had driven this route for years. More years than I can count (or remember). But I had to reach down and turn that signal off because that’s not the route anymore. Change. It requires thought and a conscious effort. Changing habits and routines is hard. What will make this travel change MORE automatic? More practice!

Teaching.

Teaching also requires thought and conscious effort. Teaching requires so many decisions that teachers need to consciously make. Gravity Goldberg and  Renee Houser tell us that teachers make 1500 decisions per day (Edutopia link). It’s exhausting and yet equally stimulating to make decisions that matter for students. We must TRUST teachers to make decisions that will increase student joy AND student learning.

What is the end goal? Here is Laura Robb’s response. 

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

Teach the children in front of you. Get to know them. Watch. Listen. Have conversations with them. Read their notebooks. Increase their reading stamina with daily independent reading of self-selected books. Respond to their needs by knowing and building on their strengths. Become a responsive teacher who can adapt instruction and interventions to students, knowing that their needs change throughout the school year. Remember, that volume in reading is the best intervention and can develop students’ joy in reading, positive reading identities, and create lifelong readers!

Laura Robb, email.

I wrote this book blurb for Corwin Press after the first time I read Guided Practice for Reading Growth and now after the third reading I believe it to be even more true. 

Book Blurb: Guided Practice for Reading Growth

“What is essential for reading growth?  David Harrison and Laura Robb provide guidelines and tips for schedules, routines, instructional practices and lessons that improve students’ reading skill and self-confidence with proven sustained growth by real students in real classrooms. The authors use the research and their classroom work to provide evidence that students working below their grade level do not need pre-made programs or one-size basals but do need knowledgeable teachers who know their students and align and craft guided practice that encourages students to work hard to meet their goals. This book details how guided practice reinforces and enhances independent reading, interactive read-alouds, vocabulary building and writing about texts in a reader’s notebook. The implementation of the ideas in this book will help teachers develop effective and efficient targeted instruction that capitalizes on teacher knowledge and relationships with the students in their classrooms.”

Fran McVeigh, email.

Three big ideas form the focus of my thinking and understanding about this book based on Laura and David’s ideas, my previous work with middle school students, and the nature of curriculum/intervention plans and resources for middle school students. Let’s explore.

Instruction that meets the needs of students must be carefully crafted and implemented

No one lock-step, one-size-fits-all curriculum works. I see students in middle school and high school who are “not proficient” in reading. I am over-generalizing, but basically that means they missed a cut-off score on some skill area. Some argue that they must ALL need phonemic awareness or phonological awareness if they are struggling in reading. But what of students who have been a part of explicit phonics instruction who year after year are given another NEW phonics program because the last one was not successful and they are now down to literally TIER 6 in phonics programs and have very little time READING but spend much of their time in drills and isolated word work? Students are frustrated, disheartened and tired of “work that makes them feel stupid.”

Instruction can be so much more for students. The lessons Laura and David provide in Guided Practice for Reading Growth can be used “just in time” for student practice that they need NOW. Not after a data team meeting, but NOW to allow students to make accelerated growth without waiting for the roulette wheel to spin up their name at a pre-designated review.

David’s stories and poems are an excellent catalyst for instruction. The lessons Laura crafted are easily replicable by teachers. There are two sets that teachers are encouraged to make their own. Trusting that teachers know the students best, there is a set for partner discussion and a set for shared reading which lead to student writing. Talk. Writing. Part of the reciprocal action cycle of reading.

And then the finale. Part III in the text is “Next Steps for Guided Practice and Growth in Reading.”  The beauty of adding in fluency practice that is self-selected and performed by students is tantalizing. Maximizing efficiency and effectiveness with teacher data-based decisions about how to structure time and resources to meet student resources is teacher autonomy at its best!

Choice and agency are necessary for students to grow as readers.

Independent reading is a daily expectation in this structure. Students are allowed to choose texts that align with their interests. Teachers are encouraged to choose texts that students will find engaging.

Fluency practice as presented in this text is never reduced to reading rate, but instead, is all about the interpretation and the love of language. Empowering teachers. Empowering students. Empowering student learning. Empowering student progress. Empowering students as leaders. And again, providing practice opportunities for students to do the work themselves and choose their own reading materials!

Student reading identities matter.

Students have to find both the joy and belief in their own ability to read. By middle school and high school this is not easy. Some students have already fake read the same book three or four years in a row. Other students are quite good at shrugging off the “I’m too busy to read. Check out my activities” excuses. We’ve known about the importance of reading and writing identities but often not had the time, energy, resources or support necessary to grow identities. Successful and powerful reading and writing identities that respect their age, emotional maturity, and are worthy of both student and teacher time and attention. Choice and scaffolded instructional times provide opportunities for student identities to grow and mature.

This is further emphasized in the authors’ responses to the remaining questions.

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

The first big takeaway is to use formative assessments and relentless kid watching to identify students’ strengths and build on these strengths with guided practice lessons. Guided practice lessons are short, focus on what students need, and invite them to do the thinking and work that can improve their reading and enlarge vocabulary. The next big takeaway is that volume in reading is an intervention that can bring students reading below grade level into the reading life and develop their reading identities.

Laura and David, email.

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

My work with fifth grade students entering school reading at a kindergarten to early second grade reading level pushed me to rethink reading instruction and intervention.  Besides having them read self-selected books every day for about 20-minutes, I began developing guided practice lessons using short texts to engage them in deep thinking, meaningful discussions, and writing about reading. Another goal was to enlarge their vocabulary and background knowledge, and watching short videos prior to reading worked well. Students loved them, but if a few needed to revisit the video, it was easy for them to watch it a second or third time on their own or with a small group. With award-winning poet, David Harrison, writing the poems and short texts for the guided practice lessons, students can read culturally relevant texts on topics they suggested through surveys conducted in grades five to eight 

         David and I hope that teachers of grades 4 to 8 will integrate guided practice lessons into their instructional reading. Once teachers try the lessons, there are guidelines in the appendix for developing their own guided practice lessons. To support teachers as they get started with developing lessons, David Harrison wrote extra poems and short texts that are in the appendix; there’s also a list of magazines teachers can mine for short tests and lists of poetry collections to investigate. The goal is for teachers to intervene as soon as they observe students require extra practice and gradually release responsibility for learning to students.

Laura Robb, email.

In conclusion, just as students need carefully crafted instruction, with choice and agency as well as support for reader and writer identities – so do teachers! Guided practice is a simple, yet practical way to provide students with opportunities to joyfully develop into lifelong readers who can and do read.

The Last Word: What would you like teachers to know?  David’s response


Five Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books by Melissa Stewart and Marlene Correia

You can access our chat Wakelet artifact HERE

By Brent Gilson

“I know lots of writers who love to create characters and invent imaginary worlds. But for me, the real world is so amazing, so fascinating, that I just want to learn as much as I can about it and share it with other people. That’s why I write nonfiction.” -Melissa Stewart

When I was a kid I did not spend a lot of time reading novels. The occasional Choose Your Own Adventure would be thrown into the backpack to read at home but generally, I was a reader of nonfiction. My grandpa was an avid bird watcher. I remember going to visit and just thumbing through his collection of books learning about the species of birds that would frequent his yard. I have the clearest memory of my other grandparents giving me these little binders full of fact files on different animals, I toted that around with me everywhere. The Komodo Dragon file was my favourite. My earliest Scholastic Book Fair memory is buying this sweet dinosaur book and giving out the stickers to my friends. Spending time learning about ecosystems in this giant book full of beautiful art and fold-out pages is another memory that I can picture as clear as it was yesterday.

The librarian at my school often had to remind me to return the Arms and Armour (Canadian not a spelling mistake) book. I think I checked it out more than any other book in elementary school. I would study the different swords of different areas and their armour. I would imagine what the battles could be like. I was not limited to facts; nonfiction books were the passport to imagination for me in those early years. I wrote stories of knights battling dragons, I studied their swords. These nonfiction texts jump started my fiction reading. They were more accessible, more engaging to the young reader than just pages of text. Beyond that, I learned. I built background knowledge of history and the world. In a time when disinformation is at an all-time high arming our kids with knowledge as they enter the world should be a top priority of teaching and utilizing nonfiction text provides a structure that is both engaging and informative.

As a middle school and high school teacher, I have noticed a decline in the drive to consume nonfiction that my elementary students had. I imagine it is a combination of the “I know it all” attitude the teenagers often proudly display and the fact that with academically heavier courses they no longer see non-fiction as an escape. Either way I want to get back into nonfiction in my classroom and after last Thursday’s chat, I know Five Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books by Melissa Stewart and Marlene Correia provides a wonderful structure to get teachers started.

We ask our authors to reflect on three questions that will offer readers insight for their thinking. Melissa and Marlene respond to our first question:

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

MS: As a children’s book writer, I developed the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system for myself. I hoped that if I could get a stronger sense of the breadth of the nonfiction market, I might have better luck crafting the kind of writing publishers were looking for.

When I shared the system on my blog in 2017, the response was tremendous. To date, that post has received more than 500,000 hits.

At first, I was surprised that the system resonated with so many people, but then I began to see its broader uses in a school setting. The table below from p. 49 of 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books, highlights that different categories can be used in specific ways during literacy and content-area instruction:

So that’s one of the book’s main messages. When students are familiar with the characteristics of the five categories, they can predict the kind of information they’re likely to find in a book and how that information will be presented. And that understanding can help them identify the best books for a particular purpose as well as the kind(s) of nonfiction they enjoy reading most.

MC: For me it was a realization over 15 years ago during a professional development workshop, where I was asked to list all the texts I had read recently. I quickly came to the realization that most of what I read and used was nonfiction (news articles, professional journals, recipes, etc.) That’s when I first began thinking about my own classroom collection of books and how few nonfiction titles were available. But, at first, I didn’t think my students would really want to read nonfiction. I was convinced, as many educators are, that they preferred fiction and stories.

I conducted a small-scale action research study that proved my assumptions wrong. I had students in my class choosing nonfiction over fiction at the library every week. From then on, I took a more deliberate approach, and my own interest and love for nonfiction expanded. I met Melissa, was impressed by her work as a researcher and author, and the rest is history.

My hope is that other educators and librarians will use more nonfiction, from all 5 kinds, in their instruction and in their book collections.

Melissa and Marlene give us more insight with the second question:

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

MS & MC: Many educators have a natural love of stories and storytelling. They fill their classroom libraries with fiction and focus their literacy instruction on stories because they assume that kids feel the same way.

But as these charts show, many children think differently. They prefer expository nonfiction—writing that explains, describes, or informs in a straightforward way.

How can you transform these info-loving kids into passionate, motivated readers? Hand them an expository nonfiction book on a topic they find fascinating. Marlene created this terrific Book Match Survey to help teachers, librarians, and parents do just that.

To show students that your honor and respect all books and all reading, be sure to include all 5 kinds of nonfiction as well as fiction in literacy and content-area instruction. Read nonfiction aloud. Feature it in book talks, book clubs, and whole-school activities. 5 Kinds of Nonfiction provides tips, tools, and strategies to help you share and celebrate nonfiction with students.

In our final question, Melissa and Marlene give us a sense of direction:

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

MS: It’s so important to meet students where they are in terms of their natural reading preferences. Once they have a solid foundation, they’ll develop the confidence to stretch and grow and blossom as readers. They’ll begin to explore new topics, new formats, new writing styles, new genres. It’s exciting to support students on this journey.

MC: Nonfiction has the potential to deepen student learning, fuel their interests, and cultivate their curiosity about the world. All students can LOVE reading! It takes getting the right book, in the right hands at the right time.

Nonfiction on Display: Melissa Stewart Dishes on the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction

Thanks to Melissa and Marlene for sharing their thinking about 5 Kinds of Nonfiction. Check it out as you consider what kinds of texts you are reading. You may surprise yourself.

Spotlight on Nawal Qarooni Casiano – Our Collective Strength: Children As Curriculum

Read Nawal’s beautiful #31daysIBPOC piece HERE and revisit our chat Wakelet here

Written by Educator Spotlight Guest, Nawal Qarooni Casiano

If I close my eyes, I might picture us all sitting on the ground, kneeled or cross-legged, poised and ready with the materials needed to weave. 

Together, as a group of educators committed to children and supporting their success in the world, we include our contributions over the next hour, one by one in rapid fire online answers, all to generate a substantial whole. 

That whole might be considered here, in the Wakelet, and if you’re like me, you might imagine the result as a green and grey kilim, patterned and wonky with charm.

That’s how the #G2Great chat felt for me. I was honored to be asked and humbled to be highlighted. And I was thrilled that folks had another chance to read the piece I wrote for #31DaysIBPOC, an incredible blog initiative hosted by Dr. Kim Parker and Tricia Ebarvia in a May movement to feature voices of Indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. 

But perhaps more than anything, the experience of the chat reminded me of what I’ve always known- that strength lies in community. That each of our unique experiences and ideas affect one another. That we learn from those around us. And that this too, is true for our students and classrooms.

While I couldn’t keep up in live time with all the brilliant tweets that came through, I grabbed several I loved below. For example, I initially appreciated a pivot to thinking about caregivers and what they would want to learn and know about their students. I adored the idea of ensuring positives from the pandemic’s remote learning could be integrated into this year’s endeavors. And I wanted to underscore this little list about centering students and their identities while being flexible with how they share learning. 

And then, I lost myself in the phrasing of ‘raw materials’ here, where I thought yet again about students as the curriculum. It requires a shift in thinking – that educators are facilitators of student learning and growth – as opposed to the sole contributors of new knowledge. 

Halfway through the chat, we discussed names and identities. I have written widely about my experience with the whitewashing of my name, and appreciated so much this tweet about ensuring our brown students don’t solely ‘find themselves’ in adulthood, followed by another about asking unapologetically about name pronunciation despite potential embarrassment. 

I adored these responses about authenticity for the audiences of our work – not just due to a teacher assignment- and no single ‘right’ answer, which ultimately lead to spaces where students feel they can be truly free to make mistakes, learn, and grow.

And lastly, I felt incredible pride and excitement when all of our colleagues talked about encouraging translanguaging and including audio recording as part of the writing process to ensure accessibility, and the amazing gift of hearing the author’s voice. I loved the book recommendations, from En Comunidad and Rooted in Strength to Life, Literacy and the Pursuit of Happiness, from Octopus Stew to We Got This – all very important additions to my understanding of teaching and learning.

But what I felt more than anything by the end of the hour was a validation for what I already knew. Throughout this incredible chat with dozens of educators all across the country, this is what I confirmed:

We are stronger together. Our collectivism matters. We are what we are seeking. 

A FINAL WORD FROM MARY

August 26, 2021 was a very special day on our #G2Great chat since it was the initial launching of our Educator Spotlight with our first guest, Nawal Qarooni Casiano. I can’t think of a better person for a new beginning that we plan to continue in to the new year between author visits and varied topics. Anyone who has the great honor to know Nawal knows the passion, dedication and joy that she bring to all she does so it seemed fitting to celebrate her on our chat first. Nawal took over every aspect of our #G2Great chat including choosing a reference, writing questions that would guide the discussion, leading the chat, and writing the beautiful words that you read in this post.

Those of us who know Nawal also know that she is humble so while she included nine tweets from our chat, she did not include include any of her own beautiful responses to each of our questions. I’d like to take that role by including her tweets below.

Thank you Nawal for sharing your gifts with our #G2Great family.

LINKS

Culturally Nourishing read aloud list – family stories about food (while learning about other cultures too)

Names resource list (community building) 

Phenomenal Teaching PEBC podcast: Planning for Culturally Nourishing Learning

Jasmine Warga’s The Shape of Thunder is About Difficult, Beautiful Things

Catch my piece in #31DaysIBPOC, a project Celebrating Educator Voices of Indigenous, Black, and People of Color 

Recording, Revision, Repetition: Empowering Multilingual Writers

Reading Between the Brushstrokes: Cultivating Curious Thinkers Through Curious Conversations About Art, my piece in the Reading Recovery blog

(she | her | hers)

t: @NQCLiteracy

p: 347.225.5637

w: nqcliteracy.com

Start Here Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community.

By Brent Gilson

For a record of this amazing chat you can check out the Wakelet archive here

This week the #G2Great team had the honour of welcoming Liz Kleinrock (@teachandtransform on IG and @teachntransform on Twitter) to come and chat with us about her work and new book Start Here Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community. It was a fantastic chat filled with a ton of great conversations around these important concepts. As I took time to look back over the chat the idea of the importance of two things really stood out to me as we consider teaching with an Antibias Antiracist lens. These concepts were recognizing and honouring identity and building a community. Before we dive in here are some words directly from Liz.

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

“There were a number of motivators for this book! The biggest one was connecting with teachers all over the world who were struggling to get started with shifting their classroom practice to center antibias and antiracism. I also noticed that there are many books and resources that exist in the theoretical space, but fail to connect with how the ideas show up in daily classroom practice. Teachers constantly hear what they’re not supposed to do, but need examples of concrete actions to try in the classroom.”

As we started the chat the first question really caused me to pause. How did that fit with my own teaching? I have made identity a real focus over the last few years. I remember being in an IREL session last year when either Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul or Tricia Ebarvia mentioned that Identity needs to be more than a unit, it is more than a one and done. Identity is such an important part of who we are, who our students are, that we must give it the time it deserves.

Looking back on my own years in school I don’t really recall ever being asked about my identity. I don’t recall doing any webs or sharing around what made us unique. This was not a unique experience I came to find out as answers to that first chat question rolled in.

Other responses mentioned not fitting in because they were “band kids” or only the jocks were recognized because academic success was not seen as valuable. More reported just kind of existing, “no one really paid attention to me, I was quiet.” As I reflected more personally I remember how much my identity was tied to being my father’s son. And I was the kid who wore shorts in the winter. But as to my identity we did no work to address and honour that. Now I look at my classroom and the work I am doing and others do to honour identity and build community and I have hope that more students in more classrooms will be seen and honoured for what they bring to their individual communities.

As we do this work we often are prompted to look at our practices in the classroom. Which ones affirm and which ones erase?

It can be uncomfortable to unlearn practices that are proven to harm and even halt student progress and our ability to form community. We need to embrace that discomfort. We cannot let discomfort allow us to ignore harmful practices. Taking steps to improve to better support our students is important and also can been seen as a task “too large”. Liz reflects on this in our prechat questions.

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

  1. ABAR doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. 
  2. Implementing an ABAR lens doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch.
  3. Students are ready and willing to do this work.

“Students are ready for this work”

Liz Kleinrock

So we have started to build a community, now what? I think one of the great things about Start Here Start Now is that it is full of manageable steps and work that we can do at whatever point we are at in our ABAR journey as educators. Like the title suggests we just need to start. As teachers reflected on this question the focus around their students became clear.

As teachers we advocate for all kids and doing so with both Antibias and Antiracist lenses we can also address the systems that so often tries to have all kids conform to one shared identity erasing their individual characteristics.

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

There is an access point for EVERYONE when it comes to antibias and antiracism work. The journey looks different for everyone. How this work will manifest itself in your classroom will and should look different from other classrooms, because you need to be responsive to the needs of YOUR students.

Again Liz brings us back to our focus needing to be our students. Start Here Start Now is a great place to… start. If you have already been doing Antiracist Antibiased work there is more to learn. If this work is new to you there are communities supporting each other in the learning. You must take the first step.

I often tie in my own thinking in the classroom to working out. When you add a new exercise it is often uncomfortable, you don’t always do it right and you might be a bit more sore than anticipated the next day. However, you keep it up and it becomes more familiar, you get better at it, and you become stronger. Too often when doing Antibias and Antiracist work teachers, especially white ones, struggle with the discomfort and the struggle proves to be too much. Don’t take the easy way out.

Start Here Start Now A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community provides the reader with the support to work through the discomfort. It includes strategies and tips to make this new work less intimidating.

As I wrap up I think back to the beginning of the chat as we discussed identity. Adults sharing how little of themselves was really present at school. I can’t help but think if our teachers really knew how little we felt seen they would be devastated. The world has changed since I was a kid but the problems of racism, bullying and indifference to the suffering of others still exists. Liz has provided us a place to start. A path to help us to better see our students as the whole humans they are and how to course correct when we or our students make mistakes.

I am so grateful that Liz brought this book into our professional libraries. As a team we are so grateful she joined us for the chat and we are grateful for the community of learners that join us each week. There is important work to do. Find people to support your learning. If you want to learn more from Liz and support her work please be sure to check out the links below.

Book: https://www.heinemann.com/products/e11864.aspx 

IG: https://www.instagram.com/teachandtransform/ 

Website: https://www.teachandtransform.org 

Article: https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/antiracist-work-in-schools-are-you-in-it-for-the-long-haul 

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/teachandtransform

Intentional From the Start: Guiding Emergent Readers in Small Groups

by Mary Howard

You can access the full Wakelet chat artifact here

On 8/5/21, we were honored to be joined by first-time #G2Great guest hosts Carolyn Helmers and Susan Vincent. The twitter style dialogue that quickly turned into joyful engagement was a clear sign that educators are as excited about their remarkable new book as we were as soon as we read Intentional from the Start: Guiding Emergent Readers in Small Groups (Stenhouse, 2021). 

From the moment I opened the cover and began reading, the word “INTENTIONAL” loomed large across the pages. In their introduction, Carolyn and Susan describe their early efforts as “step-followers” of the small group WHAT with limited results. It was only when they embraced the WHY and HOW of small groups that these experiences were transformed into the in-the-moment decision making that was responsive to the children sitting in front of them. This is reflected in a quote we shared on #G2Great

Since your #G2Great co moderators believe that there is great power in seeing a book through the eyes of the author/s, we ask three questions. Let’s start with question one: 

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

In our work with teachers, we recognized a need to better understand what children should learn in the earliest levels and how to teach those skills most effectively. We hoped to bring greater clarity to issues such as: 

  • how to understand what to look for in early-level books and appreciate the fine gradient between levels.  Do teachers really know the difference between an A and a B? Do they know why a child might need a C rather than a B?
  • how to evaluate books using multiple criteria.  Do teachers know how to evaluate a book’s support of early print concepts?  Do they really know what to look for in terms of font, spacing, print placement, word choice, etc… for each of the early levels? Are they selective about choosing books that have engaging topics, characters, and stories? Do they evaluate their guided reading books in early levels with a critical eye for representation, just as they do their read alouds? Are diverse characters and families represented?

What struck me personally as I read Intentional from the Start was several reasons that this book represents a much-needed missing professional resource:

First, although there are many books on small group reading, few address the unique needs of emergent readers as Intentional does so passionately. Their thoughtful attention to student-centered decision making will support early learners and those who teach them as we begin to see powerful shifts in small group instruction that our youngest readers do indeed deserve.

A second reason is also illustrated in one of the book quotes we shared during the chat. There has been much criticism about the use of leveled texts, particularly at the early stages. Carolyn and Susan wisely move our thinking beyond the surface level features that motivate these criticisms and refocus our attention on the sophisticated text crafting designed to promote a complex reading experience.

The third critical reason this book is needed is illustrated in a book quote that opened our chat. The often contentious banter around phonics in recent years has led to unfounded criticism of small group instruction in general. There has been a growing push for isolated phonics as meaning has taken a back seat. Carolyn and Susan show us how meaning and decoding can work in support of each other. They back up this thinking by giving us countless ways to merge meaning and decoding into a rich process of emergent reading in action. 

During the chat, Susan and Carolyn helped us to understand two supportive but also distinct ways that we address phonics within and beyond small groups as we consider our purpose. I love the way they reinforced the same idea in different ways while they also emphasized the importance of being responsive to the unique needs of those children in the small group. While we may follow a scope and sequence in whole class learning, our small group instruction allows us to zoom in on the learning they need at that time so that we may reinforce whole class learning while we offer opportunities to apply learning that is most applicable within the context of meaningful print.

Inspired by these tweets, I’d like to linger in more Susan and Carolyn combined twitter insight across our #G2Great chat. These tweets further illustrate the vast wisdom of Intentional from the Start while offering another layer to their messages, ideas, and cautions. I’d like to start with a three-way conversation inspired by #G2great regulars and past guest hosts, Jennifer Scoggin and Hannah Schneewind:

A common criticism of twitter is that it’s impossible to have “deep conversations” in 280 characters. I would argue that twitter isn’t designed for deep conversations but to offer thinking points that could invite this dialogue in other settings. Jen and Hannah shared a thinking point reflecting a common misconception that was then extended by Susan and Carolyn . Considering lack of knowledge or personal bias can often drive tweets, I would hope this could motivate discourse to move us beyond misconceptions that fuel shallow finger pointing as Jen, Hannah, Carolyn and Susan model for us here.

There was so much thinking point twitter wisdom from Susan and Carolyn that I wanted to share some here, with more at the end of my post. It is my hope that you will share this wisdom and use them to deepen your dialogue with colleagues.

Twitter Chat Wisdom to Inspire Deep Conversations

Let’s listen to Carolyn and Susan reflect on the second question we asked them: 

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

  • Although guided reading is our focus, it’s important to note that small-group reading instruction is a smaller piece of a much larger literacy puzzle for the emergent readers you teach. Exposing students to a wide variety of print in a wide variety of ways is crucial.  
  • Quality leveled books in the earliest levels are written purposefully to scaffold emergent readers’ skills in print. Teachers must understand the fine gradient of increasing difficulty in these early books and must know exactly what their readers need to learn when selecting books for readers. Marching through levels will not benefit young readers.
  • Effective readers hold onto meaning as they decode. Young readers need opportunities to practice this in early books. 
  • Writing is a key to early literacy acquisition. Writing allows work on phonics skills in a meaningful context. Carefully constructed “stories” in writing provide opportunities to work on phonemic awareness, phonics skills, letter learning, word learning, concepts of print, and, of course, reading. 

My Closing Thoughts

Since I began this post by looking at the early challenges that Carolyn and Susan felt as “step followers” of the WHAT of small groups, I’d like to return to their introduction:

The ideas we present in this book are grounded in theory and we want you to have an understanding of that theory to help you move beyond doing the steps of guided reading and toward making expert decisions about what the earliest readers need during that critical small group time.” 

It is so important for us all to recognize that we cannot give our children the small group opportunities they deserve unless we take the time to seek and honor this theory. When we understand the research supported theory that supports our small group efforts, we then recognize that our emergent readers come to us with a wide range of experiences and understandings across a continuum. As we draw from the theory, we acknowledge that the instructional decisions we make keep those unique needs in mind in honor of our children and our deep belief in responsive professional decision-making.

That is the heart and soul of the small group instruction Carolyn and Susan describe in their quote below and across Intentional from the Start:

I’d like to close this post by giving the last words back to our very wise friends, Carolyn and Susan. So, let’s begin by looking at their response to our last question, followed by more twitter nuggets of wisdom:

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

  • Guided reading respects teachers as professionals. Teaching with guided reading allows teachers to use their professional knowledge of how children become literate, knowledge of each child’s literacy development, and skills in selecting teaching strategies.  And although the teaching is complex, the learning is fun, creating joyful readers and writers.
  • People often misunderstand the level of teaching expertise needed to teach children in the earliest stages of literacy. Scaffolding children as they learn the early concepts of print, how words work, and how to maintain meaning in text requires complex teaching moves. Guided reading allows teachers to use all their professional knowledge and allows children to become skillful, joyful readers and writers. 

We are filled with gratitude for your generous sharing Susan and Carolyn. I know that I am just one of many educators who will return often to your sage advice in the pages of Intentional from the Start.

More Twitter Chat Wisdom to Inspire Deep Conversations

WIRE FOR AGENCY: Four Simple Moves that Transfer Learning

by Mary Howard

 You can revisit our #G2Great chat Wakelet artifact HERE

On 6/17/21, we welcomed first-time authors Jenn Hayhurst and Jill DeRosa to our #G2Great chat to discuss their new book; WIRE FOR AGENCY: Four Simple Moves that Transfer Learning (2021, Benchmark PD Essentials). This week was a unique chat experience since Jenn Hayhurst has an added connection as one of three co-creators who launched #G2Great on 1/8/15 as well as our team os dedicated co-moderators who show up every Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. ET to engage in twitter style dialogue. 

Given that Jenn and Jill write about agency in their book, they wisely begin chapter 1 by spotlighting agency. On page 7, they beautifully open their book by reflecting on the chapter title question: “What is Student Agency?” with these first words: 

“There is something wonderful going on in schools. When given the opportunity, students are taking greater ownership of their work. Students are talking, thinking, collaborating, and making change happen.”

This thoughtful opening views agency from a lens of our professional responsibility that acknowledges the combined role of opportunity and ownership. The factors of agency that Jenn and Jill emphasize invite children to actively engage in the very things that real life readers and writers do when engrossed in talking, thinking and collaborating in purposeful and meaningful ways. They illustrate agency as a process that embraces learning experiences that are not narrowly defined in the context of instruction alone but within a spirit of internal and external engagement that moves children to action designed for making change happen beyond those experiences. 

This visual was created using www.wordclouds.com

Using agency as a platform for action-driven change both for our learners and as professionals, Jenn and Jill offer us a front row seat to see “something wonderful” in action using images, quotes, descriptions, mini lessons, reflective questions and thoughtful advice for supporting and nurturing agency. They generously give us a peek into their learning spaces so that we may translate those experiences into our own. Through these thingswe learn to question, inquire, invite, and advocate for children. We do this by giving them freedom and choice with time and space to follow their passions just as we do naturally without questioning our right to do so. In our opening chat quote, Jenn and Jill remind us why this commitment is imperative:

Of course, it’s worth emphasizing that students’ conviction that their work matters will not happen by chance. Rather it happens when we in turn possess the conviction that our work matters when our knowledge of literacy research and the children in front of us becomes our guide. This dual knowledge inspires and motivates us to make the best possible day-to-day decisions for children as we create a two-way bridge that will keep conviction alive from our side and from theirs.

We invite guest authors to respond to three reflective questions that offer insight into their book and the thinking that led to it. Jenn and Jill reflect on our first question:

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

Peter Johnston’s book, Choice Words, was a seminal book for us. It named the practices we were using in the classroom that made teaching so much more powerful. We had rebelled against heavily scripted programs, giving kids busy work like worksheets, and one-size fits all teaching. We were not interested in compliant students, we wanted a more authentic approach for teaching and learning. A way of teaching that would bring a sense of agency into the classroom every day. We want to empower teachers and students so they can take ownership over their teaching and learning and feel a sense of agency and control over their own destiny. We want learning to be joyful and celebrated by all involved.

Since our first quote from Jenn and Jill compelled me to connect to key ideas in visual form, I was again drawn to ideas in their reflection and motivated to create a second visual representation of key words: Powerful. Authentic. Empower. Ownership. Joyful. Celebrated. When we keep these features in our sight, we are able to lean into the instructional choices that are most likely to promote agency on a daily basis.

This visual was created using www.wordclouds.com

Across the pages of their book, Jenn and Jill use the acronym W. I. R. E. to reflect four components: Watch. Intend. Reflect. Engage. This supportive guidepost comes with their reminder that all children are wired for agency, but it is our beliefs that inspire us to make crucial day-to-day choices that lead to increasing agency. To encourage us to maintain a student-centered stance, they highlight accesslanguage and choice while asking us to step outside of our comfort zones as we create a spirit of agency in the name of kids. Across their book, they show us what agency looks, sounds and feels both from our eyes as professionals and from the eyes of our learners so that we may build a foundation for learning that honors a ‘wired for agency’ perspective. 

With these ideas above in mind, I turned to our #G2Great chat to peruse additional agency insight from Jenn and Jill. Their collective Twitter words of wisdom from the chat speak volumes and helps us to contemplate how we can create our own learning spaces driven by a sense of agency:

Before I share some final words, let’s pause for a moment to see how Jenn and Jill responded to our second author reflection question:

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

  1. Naming the learning process (WATCH, INTEND, REFLECT, ENGAGE) so that students and their teachers could have a shared language about learning.
  2. The importance of understanding yourself and your students as learners first and empowering students through the understanding of the WIRE framework.
  3. Being responsive requires flexibility from both teachers and learners.
  4. It is so important to advocate for a student centered approach that is open-minded and supportive of students’ goals and interests first and not as an afterthought. 
  5. Looking at what students do well, and sharing that with them, changes everything. It lifts them up and raises their efforts to a new level. Agency stems from a positive belief system about what students can do. 

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

AS I come to the end of this chat post, I was drawn to another quote we shared during the chat. This quote further illustrates my earlier point that agency happens when we create a two-way bridge to ensure that conviction is alive and well from both the sides (ours and theirs). Jenn and Jill remind us that when our instruction is compelling, our children are able to see the fruits of their labor as we use this to inform our next steps.

I began this post with the opening words of Jenn and Jill, so I’d like to add their closing words on page 155 that reflect their trust in teachers for the decisions they make and how strong currents of trust, thinking and content impact students:

“This is the pulse students carry with them to live a life of purpose, action, and joy. An agentic life.” 

It seems fitting to end with final insight from Jenn and Jill in our third question: 

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

You have everything you need to make schooling a powerful and positive experience for your kids. An agentic learning experience begins with the word, “Yes.” Yes, you can follow your interests, yes you can have this book, yes you can write that story. When students understand that their teachers believe in them, and when teachers believe in themselves agency is within reach.  We believe in the talents and perseverance of teachers and students. We hope you will take the time to watch, intend, reflect and engage fully so agency can flourish.

Thank you Jenn Hayhurst and Jill DeRosa for showing us how to make that a reality!


Trusting Readers: Powerful Practices for Independent Readers

by Mary Howard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #1: Hold Tight to Your Beliefs

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #2: Keep Students at the Center

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #3: Value Meaningful Intent

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #4: Celebrate Unwavering Love

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #5: Learn to Listen to Kids 

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #6: Highlight Strength-Based Data

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #7: Refute the Myth of Perfection

POINT OF POSSIBILITY #8: Embrace the Journey

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

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

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

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

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LINKS

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

Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success

By Brent Gilson

A record of this powerful chat can be found here

This week the #G2Great chat focused on the new book by Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Maggie Hoddinott and Suzanne Carroll, Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success. I would strongly suggest checking this one out as it provides thoughtful frameworks to increase the volume of reading our students are doing while not missing out on the supports many need. The topic of how “intervention” has been carried out in many schools is one that continues to concern me to this day. This books provides a path forward that keeps all of our students in books, engaged and learning.

When I was teaching elementary school (it seems like ages ago) my school had a walk to intervention approach for our striving readers. We ran a Daily 5 system and students who needed more support would see me for one round and then go to intervention. This interventionist was, at the time, a literacy trained instructor so I saw nothing wrong with this one on one or small group instruction primarily taking place outside my classroom. Over time, however, the intervention assignment shifted to a virtually untrained Educational Assistant that was trying to do her best. In my final year at the school, I asked why it was that our students who needed the most support were both being removed from the trained teacher classroom and also losing out on that reading time. The answer I received was, “This is what works for her” So I pulled my students from that process and kept them with me for our Literacy periods. Students grew considerably because of multiple reasons but primarily I think it was because they had time to read, we found texts that caught their interests and they gained confidence because of their content knowledge. By providing time and texts my students flourished. Now as I work with middle and high school students my philosophy remains the same. Students need time, texts they are interested in and choice of material. With those things as well as lessons to help repair breakdowns in understanding intervention becomes less about deficits and more about growth.

As we began the chat the passion around this topic really came through in the participants responses.

While everyone is in agreement that reading is important there are vocal members of the teaching community that feign concern that by giving students time to read we are neglecting to teach them skills needed to be proficient readers. While this might happen I believe it is far less likely than some would have you believe. Many reflected on that balance throughout the chat.

As the chat continued we discussed different ways in which we can increase the reading volume in class. I start every day with 20 minutes of dedicated time to read. Teaching in High School I follow the lead of educators like Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher and confer with my students at different times throughout their reading time. Checking in to see how the books are going and asking some general questions. This helps identify areas they might need support but also helps to inform me about books they are interested in and what they are reading.

Over the last few years, choice has really become such a pivotal piece in the structure of reading time in my class. Students know that they are free to explore the texts they want and that I will search those books out for them if I do not have them on hand. As this topic came up many teachers reflected on the power choice has in driving reading engagement and helping increase the volume students read. A variety of other suggestions came up as we discussed how we can help our students find their reading identity and fuel that drive to read.

When we are trying to build a community of readers the last thing we need is a big gate with a sign saying, “Only proficient readers may enter here”. By building a reading community we can not only address those areas of concern but we can also bring students together through shared reading experiences. Providing opportunities for students to explore texts together and as a whole class.

I go back to my student who hated being pulled from class, hated everyone knowing he was leaving to get help. The shift in his reading identity and confidence that followed as more time was provided, choice in not just topics but also types of text. Rooting our work in his interests and providing as much reading as possible with support when needed. It was a recipe for success. Intervention Reinvention provides teachers with the blueprints to make these shifts. Away from the exclusionary practice of walking to intervention and inevitably reading less and towards a reading community with a flood of opportunities to work on the skills they need.

For more information on Intervention Reinvention, you can check out the scholastic website here and order a copy for yourself here

Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You

by Mary Howard

Access the full Wakelet from our chat with Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul here

On 5/13/21, we welcomed a familiar face to the #G2Great guest host seat when Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul returned to share her much anticipated new book: Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You (2021, Little, Brown and Company). Sonja and Dana Johansen previously co-hosted on 8/8/19 for Breathing New Life Into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers (2019, Heinemann). We couldn’t wait to soak in Sonja’s wisdom yet again, especially given the critical need for deep discussions about racism, antiracism and actionable steps that each of us could take. 

Stamped (For Kids) joins a family of three incredible books. It is described as an “adaptation” based on the first of this book family by Dr. Ibram X. KendiStamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. This is quite an accomplishment considering Sonja beautifully transforms nearly 600 pages into less than 200. Dr. Jason Reynolds wrote an adaptation for teens in Racism, Antiracism and You while Sonja’s book focuses on ages 7-12, although we are already seeing that it is also having an impact on children beyond and even below this age range. 

My personal copy of Stamped arrived two days before our chat. It’s the first time I recall being so engrossed in a book that I read from cover to cover in one day, barely coming up for air followed by a reread the next day.

Yes, Stamped (For Kids) is that captivating.

With each page, I grew more certain that it would have a lingering impact for years to come. But then, why take my word?

“This book is going to change the world and shake things up in the best possible way.”

Julia Torres quoted above during a Stamped (For Kids) Webinar

Sonja’s final tweet of #G2Great chat shows that Stamped is already shaking things up!

As I read, I was struck by the student-centered design that included twenty-four short chapters divided into historical time frames with reflections expertly scattered across the pages lifted by the exquisite art of Rachelle Baker. Add to this, the text resources with a Timeline of Key Moments in American History, Glossary, and further reading for educators and it’s clear that Sonja’s gift between two covers will most certainly linger long after reading and “change the world” for many years to come.

Through this thoughtful design, I envisioned the amazing BIG conversations Stamped would provoke. I knew it was written for kids, but as an adult reader I realized that this design also offers teachers a gentle conversational nudge. One cannot read Stamped without recognizing that this dialogue will likely be uncomfortable for many educators, particularly white teachers like myself. Sonja wisely avoids a rigid “lesson plan” that may discourage teachers to draw from in-the-moment opportunities that arise in the course of reading. Instead, she adds “Let’s Pause/Let’s Unpause” thinking boxes at just right points across the chapters that feel like an “invitation” while leaving room for teachers to trust their instincts and what students bring to the discussion table. 

In the opening paragraph of Stamped, Sonja talks directly to the “FOR KIDS” of this book, acknowledging that they may wonder what learning about people and events across history has to do with their lives. As a child, this question often crossed my mind, but my thoughts quickly turned to those who still carry reservations about teaching the history of racism even now. After reading Stamped, I am confident that Sonja’s kind and supportive voice will dramatically reduce the reservations of many teachers but know that we have a long way to go to change this perception for ALL.

When authors host our #G2great chat, we invite them to respond to three questions about their book to provide insight that adds to our understandings from the author’s perspective. So, let’s pause to look at Stamped (For Kids) from Sonja’s wise eyes:

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

I thought about the power and potential that Stamped For Kids could have in the lives of young people who would no longer have to wait for their teachers to get comfortable teaching about race and racism. Students can read SFK and access the information they need to think about the kind of choices they’d like to make in their lives. I hope educators will embrace SFK and will make it a core part of their curriculum. Because students will read this book and will start to show up in their classrooms ready to question text books, curriculums, assignments, and teaching that presents white-washed version of history. Students will show up ready to challenge racist ideas with antiracist ones. 

Why are Sonja’s words above especially relevant? For me, it’s her deep belief in providing a support reference that could remove barriers of discomfort so that our children “no longer have to wait for their teachers to get comfortable teaching about race and racism.” The sense of urgency in Sonja’s words drew me back to a quote on page 3 that we shared early in the chat:

This quote was directly followed by Sonja’s use of “rope” as a metaphor to think about racism and antiracism. I have read this description repeatedly, but it was listening to Ibram X. Kendi read it aloud in a 5/10/21 live webinar as Sonja’s face lit up with joy that I will forever hold in my heart. Listen to Dr. Kendi read at marker 27:00 in this webinar recording by #LBYRExtraCredit Presents: Stamped (For Kids) with Ibram X.Kendi, Sonja Cherry-Paul and Julia Torres (The “rope” metaphor reappears in the book).

In twenty-four chapters, Sonja gives us the history of racism and antiracism spanning from 1415 to the present with events and people including names I was familiar with and many I was not. I learned about people who were both racists, those who were antiracists and even some who purportedly supported antiracist ideals while racist actions were in conflict with their words. I learned about writer’s musicians, authors, performers and artists and as a long-time hip hop lover, I was delighted to discover music I had missed by some of my favorite artists like James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” and Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First” that now have a place of honor on my favorites list.

As I read, I was saddened to realize how few of these events and people are taught in schools today, just as I never learned them in my own schooling that began in 1955. Knowing that professional impact is limited without that knowledge, I thought about our educational obsession for reducing Black History to a mere blip on the school calendar radar screen with a short list of names often used for fill-in-the-blank activities. As I type, I glance at Sonja’s book filled with history at my fingertips. I think about the disservice we do to children and adults who teach and love them if we don’t know that history – history that continues to have a stranglehold on our world. 

This seems like a fitting time to share Sonja’s reflections on our second question:

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

Please keep in mind two powerful lenses to use when teaching about race and racism. 1) Affirmation. Even when teaching about the violent history of racism in the United States it is essential to affirm racial and cultural identities of those who have been most impacted by racism: Black and Brown people. In a country that is filled with anti-Blackness students need educators to affirm Blackness. 2) Awareness. Tell and teach the truth. Help students to identify the ways racism works beyond individual acts of hate; that racism is not isolated, but endemic. Help students see how racism functions systemically in all of the nation’s institutions, so that they can develop tools to identify it in their lives and also to disrupt it. 

Words to Live by from Sonja Cherry-Paul with Truths filling the pages of Stamped for us all to read

During #G2great chat, Sonja told the truth we can use to teach in tweet after tweet:

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

On the morning after a full read of Stamped, I reached for my copy to reread Sonja’s wisdom but then I decided to quickly check my email first. At the top of my emails was a post by Diane Ravitch with the headline: Oklahoma state officials say It’s “Racist” to Teach About “Racism.” I live in Oklahoma, in fact the very city where The Tulsa Race Massacre took place in 1921. Sonja’s words had filled me with renewed hope and possibility. But as I stared at the words of ignorance on my computer screen, I had an overwhelming sense of shame to live in my own state.

After spending several minutes pondering the tragedy of what is all too common in our schools these days and the stark reality of racism everywhere we turn, I found solace for the unrelenting ignorance that won’t let go with Sonja’s words on page 5. My spirits lifted when I thought about how Sonja defined “antiracist” for her young (and yes, much older) readers in such a powerful way: 

I thought about the hope and beauty in these words but also sadness for the love that is sorely missing in the world. I realized that the world cannot change until we are all willing to stand in solidarity and fight this ignorance in any way we can. I wondered if that begins with the introspective courage to admit that we have far to go personally. As I read the history of racism and antiracism from the 1415 “Great Big Lie” to present day, I was disappointed how little I knew. While this realization awakened a desire for change, I couldn’t shake the shame of not knowing. I had built a glass house around my whiteness shielding me from uncomfortable events simply because I had not lived them. But as I wrapped my fingers lovingly around Stamped as I had so many times in recent days, I recalled three words Sonja wrote in large capital letters: 

Those three words did not absolve my lack of awareness, but it did give me renewed hope: hope for myself, hope for others, hope for the world inspired by the knowledge of those who read Sonja’s beautiful book and share it with children they love. Sonja’s book is filled with invitations to change. She kept her promise to take readers on a race journey from then to now so that we may be part of writing the next chapter. She asks us to envision an “Antiracist Future” in her closing letter to kids on page 137. She reminds us that Stamped is “a start, not a finish” and that we can craft our journey to antiracism as we read, learn, talk and act in support of this journey. Above all, Sonja brings her words on page 7 to life on every page across her book. And it is these two words that I return to as I close this post and I will carry with me every day.

We are so grateful that Sonja graced our #G2great chat with her wisdom and gave us a book that will provide the heart fuel we need to engage in this important personal and collective journey. I can’t think of a better way to end this post than by returning to Sonja’s hopes for Stamped as each of us consider our own next steps toward an antiracist future.

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

I hope teachers will read SFK and see a clear pathway for teaching about race, racism, and antiracism. I hope educators will embrace racial literacy as a necessary part of their teaching practices and that SFK is used to support this work. It’s important for teachers to understand that we truly cannot heal as a nation until we air our wounds and face the truth. And I hope that they see this work as urgent, necessary work as they teach young people in order for us to realize an antiracist future. 

Thank you, Sonja!

LINKS

Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul: Using ‘Stamped (For Kids)’ to Have Age-Appropriate Discussions About Race

Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul Letter to Young Readers: Stamped (For Kids) — Our Story

#LBYRExtraCredit Presents: Stamped (For Kids) webinar with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul and Julia Torres

From diversebooks.org: Read an Excerpt From Stamped (For Kids) By Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi by Alaina Lavoie 

Teaching Guide for the first two Stamped in the series with Sonja assuming the role of curriculum developer. NOTE: A Stamped (For Kids) guide will be out this summer