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

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

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. 


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.


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


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:


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!


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 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  

Re-Examining and Revising Our Thinking To Transform Our Practices: Formative Assessment

by Brent Gilson

To check out the archive of this chat head over the the Wakelet here.

My Journey With Assessment

I have been teaching now for 11 years. I think back to my days in University and having taken courses on assessment; the idea of Assessment of Learning vs Assessment for Learning was drilled into me. It was the most basic understanding I had of summative versus formative assessment. I remember excitedly beginning my career thinking about all the potential. Potential locked behind kids who were worried about those summative assessments, how through formative assessment, reteaching and preparing them those tests would be less scary, less binding. They would be ready. Little did I know that so many teachers in my early days were not clear on the idea of formative assessment. We had grade books FILLED with marks for every spelling, math, grammar, science, social, writing exercise you could imagine. Assessment did not look like it was for more than anything than points and students were already in 3rd grade becoming excellent point collectors. Our division brought in all the PD in the world but practice rarely changed. Over time I started looking for things I could do myself, to just move the needle on assessment in my own room. Exit slips, hinge point questions, I worked with a local assessment consortium to learn about ways we can write questions better to explore what our students were missing. I learned to resist the call to bludgeon our students with an avalanche of data in a grade book and focused on what mattered…them.


Last spring the pandemic took a lot from us, our physical classrooms, the ability to have face to face conversations, sit shoulder to shoulder with our students safely. It also gave me something though and that was time. Time to research and look at my practice and one thing I really wanted to move towards was a feedback system that was less about grades and more about growth. I stumbled on to a book by Dr. Sarah M Zerwin titled Point-Less (the wakelet can be found here). Her work really helped me to frame what it was I wanted to do in my classroom. I shifted more towards students setting and assessing their own goals while I did the same. The conversations we have been able to have shifted in my classroom as well. Students are asking less “How many pages does this need to be?” Or “how much is this worth on the report card” and have started accepting statements like “Quality over Quantity” and understanding that all assignments are data to guide learning and completing their own goals. We are all engaged in work to inform how we are doing as both students and teachers. I am not certain I will ever be done learning how to assess because I keep moving the goal posts trying to be better. Looking at my practice and how I can grow. Imagining the freedom of a class no longer concerned about summative exams because there are no surprises they know where they are… learning.

The Chat

This whole reflection takes us to the chat. Teachers gathering to share their thoughts on formative assessment. We all recognize there are challenges, cracks that some of our students are being left to trip on because we either don’t know better or have not taken the time to ask what is better for them. I think the pandemic has pushed some questions to the surface, many on equity. Another is just the topic of how students learn best. I have had students thrive when online. A self-guided approach where they are in the comfort of their home, working at their pace and time has been what they needed. Other students who thrived in the systems pre-covid, struggled when left to manage themselves.

Is this observation not just another point of formative assessment? How can we adjust our practices to meet all students?

Looking through the tweets from Thursday I am struck by the fact that we do know the issues, also by the fact that largely they are the same problems we have been dealing with since assessment became a money maker. Standardized Tests and the companies that make them are big business and they are working overtime to shift our focus back to these programs and tests that forget the child and focus on data.

Not from the chat but thought it fit perfectly

When we look at the myth of learning loss because of Covid it is being pushed by companies, not by classroom teachers. When I assessed my students at the start of this year, early in the pandemic, certainly there were gaps I had not identified previously. But we are in a pandemic. When looking at the whole learner I see incredible growth. Students are learning time management, critical thinking, empathy and compassion. They are also learning all the things that a standardized test measures but the environment has changed. The assessment, to remain valid, must follow.

There was a lot of great thinking in the chat and I would recommend spending some time with the linked wakelet. In my own reflection I am continually going back to my students. If my assessment practices are driving them away from joyful learning then I am doing it wrong. Strong formative assessment takes work, it takes trust and it takes relationships. When our students know that they no longer need to be afraid of falling because we will catch them, they will take that learning leap. We just need to be there.

You can revisit the other chats in the series using the links below.

TITLE#G2Great Blog Links
4/8/21Fidelity: to What and to Whom? 
4/15/21Reading Levels: Maintaining a Flexible Stance 
4/22/21Small Groups: Broadening Our Perspectives 
4/28/21Interventions: Collective Collaboration 
5/6/21Formative Assessment: Instructional Informants

Re-examining and Revising Our Thinking Series Part Four Intervention: Collective Collaboration

View the chat in its entirety on Wakelet

by Valinda Kimmel

Part Four of #g2great Re-Examining and Revising Our Thinking Series was focused on intervention this week: Intervention: Collective Collaboration

As always, the discussion was lively and inspiring. When writing this post, I usually depend on the various tweets from peers who join the #g2great team. I’d like to take a departure from the typical format for this week’s blog post here. I’ll be sharing a blog post I wrote a few years ago about a staff member I worked with who is an intervention master teacher. I believe once you’ve read, you’ll agree.

Four days a week I witness first-hand the magic of learning to read. Mrs. O is an interventionist on our  K-6 campus and I share office space with her in Room 18. When I’m not in a classroom working with teachers and kids, I sit at my desk and learn from the master teacher of learning to love to read.

Mrs. O is in compliance with our district model of RtI, but she also knows that it takes more to become a lover of books. More than phonics instruction. More than repeated reading of leveled texts. More than picture walks or front-loaded vocabulary, or comprehension questions.

A typical small group reading session with Mrs. O includes:

  •                Phonics/Word Work
  •                Quick re-read of a familiar text
  •                Introduction of a new text
  •                Students read independently while teacher listens
  •                New strategy lesson on comprehension skills
  •                Questions to facilitate critical thinking within/beyond/about the text
  •                Engaging teacher read-aloud and written response

Look familiar? It should.

Did you, however, spot the outlier? Mrs. O chooses high-interest, children’s books to read aloud to her small group of students.

Magic. Pure magic.

Here’s what the read-aloud looks like:

Mrs. O asks students to quickly recap what they’ve read to that point. Sometimes students are asked to listen for a specific event, character reaction, or an element of author’s craft before she starts the new chapter or short selection from the text. Sometimes they just listen to Mrs. O read. At the close of the read-aloud, students write. Always. With lots of support from Mrs. O (who, BTW, is writing while the students write). Everyone shares their written response.

Students in Mrs. O’s group are reading books (or hearing books read aloud) that are a direct match to the content they are learning in their Tier I instruction. So often our kids who require additional support miss out on the “meaty” bits of reading content in their whole class instruction. Not on Mrs. O’s watch.

For example, several weeks ago third grade students were engaged in an inquiry unit about the Civil Rights Movement. Mrs. O’s intervention session included a read-aloud or a leveled reader about that pivotal time in our nation’s history. There were books about Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron, Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King along with other great black heroes. The students asked so many questions about the civil rights movement that Mrs. O determined they needed a little more background information so they read The Drinking Gourd to understand the immense need for people in America to work together to create freedom for all its citizens.

Every day they wrote about what they’d read. I watched as the students struggled to articulate the heart of each text. Mrs. O exhorted and modeled and supported and listened. Every day they read their writing to an audience.

The mysterious allure of Mrs. O’s reading small group protocol is something that can’t be bought in a kit or mass-produced.

Mrs. O loves to read.

Maybe I should say she lives to read. She once told me that she can still remember the smell of the library she visited often as a child. She shares with me about the books she’s currently reading. She gives the absolute best impromptu book talks.

The love affair Mrs. O has with books is unmistakable. This book love wraps its arms around those burgeoning readers, drawing them into the text and, almost as important, drawing them into a supernatural binding of hearts with their beloved bibliophile of an intervention teacher.

That is true intervention. Taking a child who thinks they can’t or don’t want to read and knitting their hearts together through the shared experience of reading captivating texts is what ultimately makes a life-long reader.

A few days before our holiday break began, Mrs. O and her 3rd grade group finished reading A Mouse Called Wolf. So many miraculous things had happened to that small band of readers in a few short days. One child in the group is an ELL student who rarely shares openly in the discussions. A particular part of the story resonated with her and she and Mrs. O bantered back and forth giggling and making silly comments in reference to that event. Another student burst forth with an impromptu solo of the Beatles hit song, Help! (yet another great moment from the book.)

The laughter and the shared experience in that merry company  in Mrs. O’s group as a result of their most recent read-aloud spoke volumes about their growth as readers. Small group reading instruction for our most fragile readers is absolutely critical.

But so is an inexorable love of books.

You can see that Mrs. O has perfected the combination of the art and science of intervention. She knows the specific skills needed to accurately read and come to full understand of a text, but she also knows that intervention instruction is about leading her table full of kids to love reading in their community of peers.

That’s precisely what kids need.

This was the 4th chat in our 5-part series so we hope you’ll join us this week.

Re-examining and Revising Our Thinking Series Small Groups: Broadening Our Perspective (Third of 5 Parts)

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet artifact from April 22, 2021 #G2Great chat can be found here.

Small group instruction is ubiquitous in classrooms across the world. John Hattie found small group instruction has an effect size of .47. (Hattie source) Because that is above the .40 linch pin for effect size,  small group instruction is often automatically on a teacher’s list of research-based activities. But . . . What if the teacher (or students) are engaged in an activity during the small group work that has an even higher effect size?  Will the learning increase even farther?  This post is going to bring some clarity to the purpose and rationale for small group instruction as well as explore some of the main issues with small groups before ending with some tips for re-examining and revising your small group practices to broaden your perspective.

As we begin, it is important to note that “grouping for instruction” has been discussed multiple times on #G2Great that can be found in the many resources listed at the end of this post. But one of the most important books dealing with small group instruction is Barry Hoonan and Julie Wright’s book, What Are You Grouping For? How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers – Not the Book. This book dug even deeper into some of the issues raised in earlier books by Burkins and Yaris in Who’s Doing the Work and Moses and Ogden in What are the Rest of My Kids Doing?. So let’s get started.

Who forms the small groups? Does it matter?

Is a small group formed by a teacher typically for the purpose of instruction, assessment, collaborating, conferencing or learning?

The initial organization of the group will often set the tone and culture of the group. Sometimes groups are “assigned” or formed by the teacher. There may be a variety of reasons for teacher assigned grouping especially for short-term, flexible groupings. Some of those were included in the question:  instruction, assessment, collaborating, conferencing. Other reasons might include re-teaching, teaching lead students who will teach other students, an opportunity to double check student knowledge, or even forming an activist group. Laura and Nadine added further considerations during our chat.

Is a small group formed by students for the purpose of instruction, assessment, collaborating, conferencing or learning?

If the students form the small group it may also be a flexible group that varies to match its purpose. It could also include instruction (teaching you what I just learned), assessment, collaborating or conferencing. But other possibilities abound.  It could be a student initiated book club, peer revision partnerships, or editing conference group. Check out how Yvette and Mary see student-formed groups progressing.

So before we go any farther, let’s check some common critical understandings about small groups so that we are all talking about the same thing.

What is a small group?Is it a label? Is it a grouping? If yes, how many students does it take for a small group? Two students? Three students? Three or more students? Is there a maximum size for a small group? It depends! Typically more than two. Purpose dictates the size but having partners within the group allows for more talk and practice.
Who decides whether instruction or practice is a small group or whole class?The teacher? The students? Data?  Doug Fisher reminds us that:  “Assessment data helps us plan instruction, especially in small groups so that specific needs are addressed.” One rule of thumb is that if more than half the class needs the information, then whole class instruction is more expedient, efficient and effective.
 What might I provide?Strategic, just-in-time instruction:  this may be pre-teaching, re-teaching or extended teaching from the lesson just taught. It all depends on student needs.
 WHY might I use small groups? Everyone does NOT need the same thing. 
 What might students need from small group instruction?To Differentiate:  To follow up on instruction or assessment data in order to answer the question – Who needs more time?
To Intensify: Quick, yet intense reinforcement, continued practice to move closer to automaticity 
For Independence:  So students can practice and the teacher can observe and answer questions about process or observe competence, confidence and habits of mind. 

Regie Routman who has been a part of #G2Great and is highly respected for her practical and knowledgeable approach to education defined four issues with small groups: equity, professional learning, reading, and management. (link) She talks about these in terms of guided reading but they also apply for many small group settings.

  1. Equity

“No teacher deliberately sets out to disadvantage students and, yet, we unintentionally do so all the time.

Students do not become self-directed, joyful readers because teachers and administrators prioritize daily, guided reading groups. Students become readers, in every positive sense of that word, when most of their reading time is dedicated to uninterrupted, voluminous reading of texts they can and want to read.”

Mary and Yvette were again in tune on the issue of equity and small groups.

  1. Professional learning 

Lucy Calkin’s quote used in our chat says so much. How does this vision become a part of professional learning, what we determine as our learning goals, and a part of classroom actions every day? How much professional learning is needed? It depends on how close the desired outcomes are to current instructional practices.

  1. Reading

Our focus has to be on “teaching readers not teaching reading.” This shift in language is both critical and deliberate. Being responsive to the reader maximizes resource. Small groups that focus on skill and drill minimize resources and often reduces the time that the student has to read. The result is what Richard Allington called the “slow it down curriculum” because the emphasis is on every single skill and quantities of isolated practice that are not helpful for student growth or agency. Susan, Jill, Rhonda and Gen add to our understanding!

Students have to spend time reading in order to improve their reading. This applies to small groups as well. A small group session that does not ever have students reading would be counter productive. One goal of small group sessions would always be to increase the volume of student reading.

  1. Management –  

Regie Routman also says this:

“As well, even though it may be unintentional, managing the management system often winds up taking priority over effective instruction and time for reading, not to mention the enormous amount of time teachers spend planning for management. Sometimes, when teachers are not sufficiently knowledgeable, the management system even becomes the reading curriculum.”

Time at school is finite. There isn’t a second to waste. Not a minute. Time needs to be allocated for those instructional and assessment practices that will not only promote learning but will also fuel student engagement. That means that the most effective and efficient practices need to be sorted out for the student. It’s not about a school-wide adoption of “these top three strategies”.  It’s about choosing some strategic strategies and practices, teaching them to students and then allowing the students to choose the one(s) that work best for each individual. 

And in the area of management, I have to give a shout out to the late Kathleen Tolan from TCRWP. My jaw hit the floor when I saw Kathleen effectively manage three small groups simultaneously. Yes, SIMULTANEOUSLY. Exquisite Management! Clear planning of two to three days cycles of possibilities that were responsive to students but yet also meant that students were actively engaged in the planning and delivery of the instruction. They all knew their expectations and goals, they came to the group session completely prepared, with the tools and resources that they needed, and they did the work. The. Students. Did. The. Work. Teacher voice did not dominate.

How can we improve the effectiveness of small group instruction?  

Andrew Miller in an Edutopia article (link) says that the key strategies for improving small group instruction are:

  • Using small group time to listen and learn from students,’
  • Making them invitational rather than required,
  • Extending learning, 
  • Providing choices in method and 
  • Encouraging student-driven lessons. (Edutopia)

Andrew Miller in his closing goes on to say,

“Ultimately, small group instruction, like instruction in general, is reciprocal—a two-way street: “What can I help my students learn?” and “What can I learn from my students?” In our rush to help students, we may miss the opportunity to learn from them to do our jobs as teachers in an even more effective way. In addition to addressing gaps in learning, it’s about looking for opportunities to empower students to take agency in their learning and celebrate their funds of knowledge.”

Where to begin?  

Check your purposes for small groups. Where have small groups been effective? What issues have been seen as barriers to effectiveness?  How can the issues be minimized? Where can small groups use some re-visioning to improve? Find a “thinking partner” to share your thinking and ideas.

Think about these two final pieces of wisdom from Val and Hannah . . .

What is our goal? Is it to increase student learning? Is it to empower students so they can and will be lifelong learners? Does our use of small groups reflect our vision of equitable, quality instruction for ALL students? How will you maximize the power of small groups?

Learning Lenses posts

What Are You Grouping For? How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers – Not the Book (grades 3-8)  August 25, 2018

Breathing New Life into the Power Potential of Small Group Instruction February 28, 2016 

What are the Rest of My Kids Doing by Lindsey Moses and Meredith Ogden August 8, 2017

What’s Our Response? Creating Systems and Structures to Support ALL Learners March 20, 2021

Hands Down, Speak Out: Listening and Talking Across Literacy and Math October 10, 2020

Reflecting on My Beliefs: Values + Promises for the Future June 14, 2020 

This is Balanced Literacy December 16, 2019 


Debbie Diller  2007

Regie Routman

Re-examining and Revising Our Thinking to Transform Our Practices: Reading Levels Maintaining a Flexible Stance (Second of a 5-Part Series)

By, Jenn Hayhurst

You can revisit the Wakelet by clicking here.

#G2Great delved into the second of a five-part series on April 15th: Re-examining and Revising Our Thinking to Transform Our Practices, Reading Levels Maintaining a Flexible Stance. I have grown to regard our series as a professional lifeline. These conversations continue to have a big influence on how I define teaching and my day-to-day practice. After years of learning alongside so many teachers who join in these chats, I have grown to believe that teaching comes down to two important questions: How responsive are we to students’ needs? How do we best promote a sense of agency for ALL students? I believe that leveled texts play a significant role in finding the answers to those questions.

Responsive: Leveled Texts a Teacher’s Tool

I attended a conference by Irene Fountas and she said, “A leveled text is the teacher’s tool.” That one statement shaped my whole approach to reading instruction because it rang true. Good books make children want to read. Leveled texts are built on a continuum of reading development. They offer growing complexity for reading behaviors in word study, syntax, and comprehension. It just made perfect sense to me. Then years later I heard Lester Laminack speak, and he said, “The first read of a book is a gift. Let the author do his job.” Those words touched me deeply and shaded the nuance of what reading instruction ought to be. You see, before books can be used as tools, they need to be loved by children. Teaching children how to read is a sacred act, one that requires deference and skill. For these reasons teachers had a lot to share about why leveled texts are responsive tools while also drawing attention to the dangers of their misuse:

A Sense of Agency: Living Readerly Lives

There are so many reasons why my friend Mary inspires teachers all over the country and the world. She is the constant advocate for a child-centered approach. One of her many attributes that I admire is her unflappable adoration for children. She is truly one of our better angels. Giving children access to literacy is essential, and in this quote, she is reminding us that it is our responsibility to see the whole child in that pursuit. To do less would be to undermine who they are. Teaching children how to read is to show them that they have a place in the literate world. Peter Johnston said, “If nothing else, children should leave school with a sense that if they act, and act strategically, they can accomplish their goals” (Johnston, 2004, p. 29). Using leveled texts is one part of how we teach children how to read with growing confidence. Literacy grants students access to an agentive life. In other words, agency and literacy go hand-in-hand:

As I close my post, I want to leave you with this: the goal is not just to teach children how to read, it is to honor who they are as literate beings. Grade level expectations are one thing, labeling a child is quite another. Above all else, we cannot allow anything to interfere with a child’s love for reading, or a teacher’s craft. Believe in your kids, believe in yourself. A skilled teacher, a classroom library, and a room full of readers is the ultimate goal.

Re-examining and Revising Our Thinking to Transform Our Practices: Fidelity: To WHAT and to WHOM? (First of a 5-Part Series)

by Mary Howard

You can revisit our Wakelet chat artifact here

#G2Great launched a five-part series on 4/8/21: Re-examining and Revising Our Thinking to Transform Our Practices. We dedicated our first chat in the series to a topic that is sorely in need of new thinking: Fidelity to WHAT and to WHOM? We also explored fidelity in a series in year 1 of #G2great: Reclaiming Our Professional Language: Spotlight on Fidelity. This was prior to starting a blog on our 2nd anniversary 1/5/16: Looking Back On Our Good to Great Journey.

In order to engage in a discussion about fidelity, it makes sense to begin with a definition:

Synonyms that are associated with “fidelity” are shown in the visual

You may be wondering why the above references suggest the need to re-examine and revise “fidelity” in order to transform our practices. Shouldn’t we want to approach our teaching with dependability, reliability, constancy and such? While these descriptors appear to be desirable qualities, it’s more complicated than a simple yes or no. Rather, it depends on who or what is asking for our fidelity and the degree and form of allegiance expected. It’s actually far less about the qualities and far more about the intent of what we find beneath the surface of those qualities. 

To make this distinction clear, I want to turn to our chat subtitle written in the form of a question we should all be asking: Fidelity to WHAT and to WHOM? Our response to this question should uncover where the fidelity path diverges into widely varying perspectives. The path we choose to take directly impacts our students and has the potential to either make our children the sacrificial lambs or the fortunate benefactors of our directional decision-making.

So let’s take a look at two wide-ranging fidelity paths:

The Dark Side of Fidelity: Rigid Misplaced Trust

Unfortunately, fidelity has morphed into an undesirable stance, largely fueled by our continuing quest to raise standardized test scores. This is driving many schools to seek out quick fixes that are readily available from companies eagerly awaiting a chance to tout their wares for a price. This open sales opportunity door has created an educational marketing frenzy riddled with suspect publishers peddling equally suspect physical or digital products. In many cases, these products are created by individuals with little or no background in education, so they often pay an expert to make them look legitimate. The program is generally connected to assessment used to magically transform the resulting rigid data into rigid preconceived solutions. Schools may also pay consultants to promote the program, warning teachers that success requires following this fail-proof program “with fidelity.” This translates to blind faith in a program destined to reduce students and teachers to instructional sameness even with one-size-fits-all features under the guise of differentiation. Sadly, school or district mandates may offer teachers no option.

The Responsible Side of Fidelity: Fidelity with Flexibility (aka Flexi-delity)

On the other side of the diverging fidelity path are excellent research-based models designed and supported by highly knowledgeable educators and researchers. Two examples are Reading Recovery and Comprehensive Intervention Model. In both cases, research guides all aspects of the model including student-centered assessments that inform instruction. In stark contrast to the above description, these models embrace professional responsibility to the child and the informed moment to moment decisions of highly knowledgeable teachers. In each example, teachers draw from a specific instructional design but their professional agency and informed choices made in the context of teaching are honored and even encouraged rather than vilified. There are no scripts to follow or student activity forms to duplicate because professional learning is at the center of an instructional process where authentic reading and writing are the focal point of all learning experiences. Fidelity in these models are viewed from a lens of flexibility.

Perusing our chat Wakelet, it’s clear that our #G2great friends are as passionate as we are about the topic of fidelity since the twitter style chat conversation proceeded at passion-fueled warp speed. Thankfully I can revisit and capture their wise words so that I can sprinkle twitter wisdom across this post. Fran McVeigh’s opening tweet nicely distinguishes my two diverging paths:

Given my two varying fidelity paths, I hope that I have made it clear that I am not opposed to fidelity but to whom and to what our fidelity is offered. To support this distinction, I use three questions to consider if fidelity fits the dark side, the responsible side or somewhere in between:

  1. Is the program created by highly KNOWLEDGEABLE professionals (vs marketers) who draw from the current research available? 
  2. Does the program encourage educators to use it as a RESOURCE and thus invite their own professional judgment?
  3. Is the program based on AUTHENTIC practices that actively engage students in meaningful, purposeful and responsive reading, writing, talking and thinking?  

Dr. Rachel Gabriel helps us to think about the flaw of fidelity to scripted programs in an incredible ILA webinar with Kate Roberts: The Research-Practice Conversation: Understanding and Bridging the Divide. (Bold print is mine for emphasis)

“You can have the same program and same script but get very different results. Everything is the same except that you are still there and how you express it to kids is different. My art is expressing that information using my own energy and experience and passion.” 

I would be remiss if I didn’t take some liberty in this post by suggesting a third form of fidelity often ignored: Fidelity to our own desires. In some cases, there is no program involved but teachers nevertheless make decisions that are not informed by literacy research. There can be many reasons for this such as the failure of schools to ensure high quality professional learning across the year, preservice teaching assigned to a classroom where limited research practices are evident, lack of mentor support for new teachers, partnerships where less than effective practices are perpetuated and spread, lack of interest in personal professional curiosity that fuels ongoing study, the use of “fun” and “cute” to justify practices or even a lingering appreciation for whatever might be easy and expedient. How can we follow a path leading to research-informed flexible understandings if these things are driving the decision-making bus?

Regardless of whether fidelity plays a role in any instructional experience, I would argue that showing fidelity to a program, practice approach or even personal belief while turning our back on our responsibility to children is not a virtue at all.

I’d like to close with the words of my very wise friend, Susan Vincent, in an interview that Dr. Sam Bommarito shared as I was writing this post: A former reading recovery teacher, trainer and current university professor talks about reading recovery. Susan’s words seem appropriate here since resolving the fidelity issue is inseparably linked to the quality of learning opportunities we are afforded and how we use them to enrich, elevate and extend our understandings in ways that can leave us forever changed. In explaining the life-changing impact of Reading Recovery, Susan says,

“It changed me as a person. It changed me as a risk taker. I learned how to open myself and my teaching up to my colleagues and be vulnerable and say, “Come and watch me teach. Here’s my teaching, help me get better.” When you do that regularly, it just changes you as a person. You become a risk-taker. You become a person who says, “I want to get better all the time.” You become a better learner. After I was trained in Reading Recovery, I knew that I would always be a learner for the rest of my career. I would always want to know the latest research…. It’s not just about learning reading techniques. It’s about becoming a true literacy professional.”


As I close this post, I am wondering if we simply perpetuate the status quote as educators or are willing to do the hard work necessary to experience a life-changing professional transformation Susan describes. If research informs practices and dedicated study is seen as a professional commitment, just imagine the impact on our day-to-day teaching. Growing understandings can help us to modify programs, whether mandated or not, or even give us the confidence to move away from them in the future. Most important, this would shift out focus from meeting the needs of some children based on grade level obligations to unwavering responsiveness to the needs of unique learners based on that knowledge. I suspect that you’d all agree that we did not enter this profession to become compliant disseminators. Rather, we were motivated to be professionally responsible decision-makers in schools where professional learning over time is deemed our first priority. If this were the case, then our ever deepening understandings about students would be the catalyst for the responsive professional decisions we make in the name of children. 

The truth is, that this would be a substantially less costly investment of time, money and energy as well as the extensive loss of student learning than we invest in uninformed snake oil salesmen.

Please join us for other chats in our #G2great series shown below