For as long as I can remember there has been an ongoing public debate for how to teach children to read. The “Reading Wars” asked teachers to take a side – are you pro phonics or whole language? Not even a global pandemic could silence it. If anything, it has only gotten worse. Nowadays it is: are you for the Science of Reading or Balanced Literacy? While that may all be well and good for selling newspapers, or getting “likes” over social media, it does little to elevate teacher knowledge or practice. The best way to do that is to engage in a good conversation rather than rigid one-sided debates.
On August 12, 2021 the #G2Great team hosted a chat to take a closer look at how to keep Phonics in Perspective. Teachers from all over came together to share their knowledge and experiences for phonics instruction. We discussed what we know to be true, we listened with the intent to understand, and aspired to build on our existing knowledge base to grow our instructional practice.
What we know to be true
Phonics learning is a strategy that helps readers to match spoken sounds to letters in an effort to decode. Phonics knowledge also helps readers identify common patterns embedded within syllables, this is helpful for both reading and spelling. Teachers of young children know that phonics instruction is important. When it comes to teaching children to read, nothing should be off the the table. Reading is a very complex process, one that requires teachers to differentiate instruction based on the needs of the students in front of them. This is a basic truth that many commercial programs fail to acknowledge and I think that is why so many programs fall short:
Listening to learn and grow instructional practice
During the chat I found myself reflecting on what others had shared about how to keep phonics in perspective. I returned to the Wakelet and gathered some tweets that really helped to clarify what I learned to grow my instructional practice. One takeaway I had was the importance to make room for transfer of learning to occur. Making room for transfer can happen when students: participate in word sorting, interactive writing, shared reading, or independent reading of decodable or more authentic texts. Then my thoughts turned to how important it is to bend the curriculum in order to make room for lots of component work. Finding ways to integrate interactive writing, shared reading, guided reading, and conferring to phonics learning will give students so much repeated practice for their learning of phonics as well as many other important strategies. I also though about the reading writing connection and how that promotes opportunities for phonics learning during reading and writing workshop. Again, I found my thoughts returning to the need to differentiate because reading is complex and there is no one simple “right” way to teach children how to read.
Teachers already know what side to take when it comes to the “Reading Wars” debate. There is no alternative but to be on the side of students, and that means integrating phonics instruction and honoring student centered decision making. Throughout this post many smart educators discussed how to embed phonics instruction for their students in meaningful ways. I am truly so grateful to be able to learn from so many talented and experienced teachers.
Thursday, April 2, 2020 #G2Great focused on lessons learned on the journey from typical March classroom experiences to environments ranging from “shelter in place” to the distribution of online learning sessions. Each chat participant had their own stories to share. Their own successes. Their own fears. And even their own JOY.
Words matter. Words matter most in times of uncertainty. This is my new favorite word: Ultracrepidarian. An eight syllable word that packs a lot of meaning. According to dictionary.com, it means:
“noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise: The play provides a classic, simplistic portrayal of an ultracrepidarian mother-in-law.” (dictionary.com link)
Recently education has been under attack from many groups. Many of them seem to be ultracrepidarians. We won’t know the full extent or REAL impact of Covid-19 school closures for generations because there are just too many “unknowns” at this time. We can speculate that some immediate changes will occur. But will they be lasting changes? Will it depend on the REASONS for the changes? We need to be aware of the voices and words from ultracrepidarians.
Three key ideas that surfaced in our chat were: a focus on students, daily choice reading and writing, and teachers as a collaborative community of problem solvers and leaders.
Focus on Students
In Kylene Beers’s “Office Hours” session earlier in the day, Kelly Gallagher shared with all the attendees that one true abiding belief that sustains him is that students are at the center circle of all we do. That seems fairly common. But let’s follow his thinking as Kelly explained that the second concentric circle is for teachers and then out beyond that is the curriculum, the standards, and the course content. Inherent within that first circle is all the joy, creativity, curiosity, and independence that radiates from students and requires careful nurturing to flourish and grow in times of trouble. When we begin with a focus on students at the center of learning, it seems easier to ensure that instruction is responsive, matches students needs, and continually challenges students to stretch and grow. Marisa Thompson’s tweet matches those beliefs.
Daily Choice REAL Reading and Writing
Stories sustain us in times of trouble. Stories provide an escape from reality and allow us to dig into deeper meaning in our lives. Writing stories also allow us to reveal our thinking, explore ideas, and process the events occurring in our lives. Using “stories” literally does not mean short stories only. It also doesn’t mean books only. Reading and writing need to include short and long term projects and sources to keep volume, interest and engagement high as communication needs shift. Time for REAL choice reading and writing may also mean “going slow to go fast” and/or reducing the number of teacher-directed units. As teachers plan to “finish out the year,” those plans will require flexibility so students have equitable access, opportunities to learn, and the needed structures to ensure motivation and engagement remain high as Julie Wright describes below in her tweet.
Teachers as a Collaborative Community of Problem Solvers and Leaders
Teachers are being challenged to move from 0 to 60 miles per hour immediately to find ways to provide supportive, safe environments for students to flourish. Some had the benefit of time to organize and study together before plans were finalized. Some had the benefit of opportunities to gain input from parents and caregivers before brick and mortar schools closed their doors. Some pressure is self-induced as teachers have high expectations for student learning. But not all expectations are the same and local, state and federal administrators will be wise to ascertain local needs and expectations before mandates become edicts.
Why does it matter? Teachers as the leaders and the decision-makers are entrusted with the care of students’ emotional, social, physical and intellectual growth. That is why teachers begin with students and their needs as the focus. Technology-based learning may be a concern, but it is only ONE way of approaching student learning. If students have no devices, technology is not the answer. If students have no bandwidth, technology is not the answer. If parents/caregivers, and multiple students need to be online learners within the same environment, flexible schedules will be necessary with fewer synchronous learning requirements. All of those components will require teachers to generate thoughtful plans and choices. Similarly a “packet” of papers is not the answer either. Learning expectations need to be purposeful and clearly designed to meet student needs. This is not the time to revert to practices that are not in the best interests of students. A community of teachers collaborating together can problem solve and generate learning ideas to maximize time and space to lead to a higher degree of success. This is after all why so many people are teachers as Kitty Donohoe shares in her tweet and also framed in Justin Reich’s quote shared prior to our chat.
So why does it matter? Everyone is scrambling. Everyone has ideas. Everyone has personal preference. But everyone also has to remember the WHY of instruction that matches their community values. Basic needs have had to be prioritized as folks have lost jobs and endured weeks of lockdown in close proximity of family members who are struggling with the loss of food and fiscal resources, fear of the unknown and the stress of rapid changes. During times of trouble, time becomes an even more precious commodity.
What do you value? How do we know?
The final question, question 8 from our chat, is one you all need to discuss and come to consensus on in your buildings and districts so that your actions will be based on your beliefs.
And here is a quick summary of the eleven items that #G2Great chat members listed more than once when responding to Q8 according to the Wakelet.
2 mentions: See learning differently, Joy, Laugh, Love, Rest, Go Outside
3 mentions: Create, Listen, Talk
4 mentions: Play
6 mentions: Write
8 mentions: Read
In conclusion, there are no WRONG answers in the current uncharted Covid-19 Survival World. There are “better” answers. Slow down and be thoughtful in your responses. Commit to strengthening relationships. Commit to doing the best you can. Commit to being the best you can. Commit to being the kind of person that you will be proud of. Commit to finding a group of folks to bounce ideas off of and to share the load of the work ahead.
And above all, give yourself grace to make mistakes, to make missteps, to ask for help, to grieve, and to take care of yourself, your family AND your school communities! Be safe! Be careful! Use soap and water!
On Thursday, September 27, 2018, the #G2Great PLN had a brilliant conversation regarding the importance of student-centered learning. After all, students (and their needs) are what teaching is all about. That sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? It would be a perfect world if that were easily done; although, the reality is that teachers are pulled in many directions throughout the school day. There are pacing guides with curriculum goals. There are standards and grade level expectations. There are report cards, progress reports, and parent meetings. There are so many meetings: RTI, faculty, and data meetings just to name the top three. All of which have a purpose and are designed to keep students and their needs at the forefront. However, it is the day-to-day work that is the grease for that machine. It is the softer formative assessments in the hands of a highly skilled teacher that help children to learn and grow.
When I think of learning and growth the word steady comes to mind. Yet, we are living in a world marked by change: technology, politics, or global demographics are all shifting beneath our feet. For these reasons, now more than ever, we need to have the conversation as to HOW we can become more student-centered because learning and relevance are two sides to the same coin.
Defining Purpose: A Passionate Pursuit
I think the reason Twitter is so important to teachers is that it gives us a platform to clarify what we value within a plurality. It connects us to other professionals who push us to think more deeply and to reflect daily. I know that is what it does for me. As I read these tweets I feel a fire in my heart and I want to call out to anyone who will listen, “Learning and passion are inextricably linked!” Student-centered learning means that children are wide awake and are learning because they are connected to the process:
Authentic Learning: A Serious Shift
Teachers who dare to create authentic learning experiences for children have to believe in themselves. In a world so full of doubt and criticism it can be daunting to be an agent of change. It can be hard to take that first step away from a scripted lesson plan. After all, we are just teachers. No. It is because we are teachers that we must take an informed look at the lesson plan, curriculum goals, and grade level expectations. Then we can consider who are students are and how we can build momentum. When it comes to learning, experiencing success is essential! When we see ourselves as the “facilitator”, when we understand how to use “formative assessment, when we focus on ways for students to “engage in the work,” we are shifting the focus to student-centered learning:
Deconstructing Norms: A Shared Structure
The days of reading from a scripted program really need to be over. Our students are coming into our classrooms with a wide range of life experiences, access to languages, and world knowledge. We cannot assume that what they bring will be familiar to us. In many ways, this new normal is a gift. We have so much to learn from one another. Educators who practice student centered teaching share the responsiblity for learning with their students. These teachers are keenly aware which studens are ready be more independent. Teachers who embrace student centered learning are open to their own learning process knowing that there is always room to grow.
We are teachers, who value our students and all that they bring into our classrooms. A student-centered classroom is marked by a community voice. It is not about me and what I have to teach you. It is about us and what we have to learn. Thank you, for learning with me.
I am filled with complete gratitude because as @TeachWriteEDU put it, “there is so much goodness here…” this chat spurred me to think about some questions we all can ask ourselves.
How does feedback influence our writing identities?
Formative feedback and identity are essential to growing as a writer. Feedback is like a continuous story that we tell our students to extend meaning making. Feedback maximizes a learning stance from a position of strength. Feedback is an invitation for students to know that we hear them, we see them, and that together we are authoring their unique writing identities. This is big work. This may be how students decide what writing will mean to them. How will it will fit into their lives? Through feedback we strive and to help each student to find an original voice and influence:
With Patty in the lead, we all focused on how specific feedback builds a writer’s identity with our students:
In Patty’s book she recounts an experience she had during a workshop with the incredible Ralph Fletcher: “In a writing workshop by the inspiring Ralph Fletcher a few years back, Ralph asked the audience of hundreds of teachers to raise their hands if they considered themselves readers. Most hands went up. Including my own. He then asked, ‘How many of you consider yourselves writers, or even like to write?’ I looked around, oddly comforted by the fact that I was not the only teacher who seemed to be doing their best to fake the love of writing for students.” (p 5)
What experiences formed your writer’s identity?
As I thought about these question, my thoughts turned back to the story of my childhood that had a lasting impact on my own writing identity…
Yellow sunlight streamed in through giant panes of glass, warming us as we sat around the kitchen table. Coffee cups steamed darkly in contrast to the brightly painted porcelain cow creamer. Her mouth, forever frozen, in an open circle of surprise. There I was drinking actual coffee with my father! No longer just a gawky twelve year old girl. No, now I am a writer. I am one of two writers, drinking coffee, and thinking deeply. My dad leaned over my paper, loosely holding pencil in hand and laughing at the funny parts. A swell of emotion filled me and I became light headed. I don’t know if came from the caffeine or the pure elation at his response to my writing. That experience marked the beginning of a lifelong love with writing… and coffee.
A Call To Action – A #G2Great Community of Writers: What’s your story?
We invite you to reflect on the experiences that have shaped your writing identity. Blog about it, so that we may leave each other feedback that elevates our practice. If you leave your links in our Comment Boxes we can continue to examine who we are as writers and practice giving feedback that pushes writers forward. We can generate writing experiences for ourselves so we may lift the level of writing for our students.
Jill and I believe deeply in the impact of partnerships because the key to empowerment begins when teachers work together. Through these collaborations, we can inspire, support, and challenge each other to grow as professionals. Partnerships help us to feel safe as we embrace the notion that it is good to step out of our comfort zones. In doing so we yield greater rewards for ourselves and our students. Every Thursday night we gather with our #G2Great PLN to learn together. This community is devoted to helping each other find our brave and push ourselves to be more responsive to the needs of our students.
Gravity and Renee joined the #G2Great community and began with a question most of us can relate to:
Decision-fatigue, the challenge teachers face in making a multitude of daily decisions, plagues us all so this question ignited a dynamic discussion! It turns out that making small tweaks can generate a big instructional impact within this process for teachers and students alike. This is just what so many of us needed to hear and what followed were some brilliant tweets! As we read through the tweets, we realized that many of us shared common beliefs – the seedlings for every great partnership! So we partnered your voices and through our G2Great collaboration we formed a supportive community where we could all appreciate advice that can empower what we teach tomorrow. You see, we are no longer separated by distance because we have a social media partnership where we can all lend our voices. We realized that these tweets were like the expert advice from colleagues. Using this expert advice, we generated A Top Ten Tips and Tweaks.
TOP TEN TIPS and TWEAKS
If you are reading this blog, then you are already a teacher who is a learner at heart. We hope that our words bring you strength so you may leave here empowered to teach tomorrow. Success is just one small tweak away. Every day we make a ton of decisions some small, some huge. Our most important job is to help students feel empowered and capable to work on their own. This is true for us as well. Gravity and Renee wrote these books to inspire us. They believe in us and now we have our collective thinking to help us to believe in ourselves as well. Thank you Gravity & Renee!
This date is forever imprinted on my heart because it literally changed my life by filling a professional and personal void I never even knew existed. Although the original plan was to discuss my book for several weeks, it didn’t take long before Jenn, Amy and I realized that #G2Great had magically morphed into something we could not possibly have anticipated – a transformation that continues with each chat.
Shouting Our Deepest Literacy Beliefs from the Mountaintop
The mountain analogy has been a recurring #G2Great theme since our entry into Twitter. From the beginning, Amy, Jenn and I envisioned a place where we could stand side-by-side with dedicated educators shouting our deepest beliefs from the highest professional peaks in joyful harmony within a never-ending discovery process that would lead us to our best selves.
This vision has inspired us to continue our shared labor of love, but we are well aware that #G2Great is only a hashtag without each of you. You appear on my twitter screen week after week as you raise glorious collective voices in honor of this wonderful work we are so blessed to do. You reflect an inspiring array of grade levels including teachers, principals, college students, professors, authors, presenters, parents and yes, even high school students (special shout out to our amazing #BowTieBoys). You breathe new life into #G2Great every week with unwavering commitment to education and we are eternally grateful for your dedication.
You see, the truth is that we need you standing at the top of that mountain alongside us because you are the gift that awakened the #G2Great spirit we continue in your honor. As we celebrate our anniversary, we also celebrate the central role each of you play. And so, I’d like to share Six Gifts of YOU that have kept #G2Great alive and strong for the past two years and counting:
Gift #1: YOU acknowledge that change begins by showing up
Twitter has come with a hefty dose of discomfort for many of us. I happen to have first hand knowledge of the sheer terror of entry into this strange new world. Yet you do it because you know that change is impossible behind closed doors. In spite of that, you made a choice to swing the Twitter door wide open with reckless abandon until scary unfamiliar begins to slowly dissipate from view. I can’t tell you how often educators have proudly announced their ‘lurker status’ before bravely sending out a white-knuckle tweet here and there until the words start to pour into a verbal frenzy with the rest of us. It’s a gift you give #G2Great in the name of kids.
Gift #2: YOU bring joyful enthusiasm to every conversation:
I consider myself somewhat of an expert when it comes to joy since I couldn’t face a single day without it greeting me at every turn. As a joy expert, I can say with the utmost of confidence that your joy oozes virtually off my twitter screen from the moment the chat begins until the moment it ends. In fact, it’s common for many of us to show up to the #G2Great party early and linger until we can bear to say a reluctant goodnight. We trend on Twitter each week because pure joy flashes across the #G2Great Twittersphere in such warp speed that most of us struggle to catch random tweets here and there to capture your joy. It’s a gift you give #G2Great in the name of kids.
Gift #3: YOU believe in the unlimited potential of every child:
Tweet after tweet reflects your determined dedication to meet the needs of every learner in your care, regardless of the role you play. Yes, the occasional word of discouragement may rise from the screen carefully disguised between the lines, but it is always accompanied by utter commitment to finding a way to unleash that potential. With devotion to your professional responsibility to every learner, your words are never about blaming parents, peers, administrators, life circumstances or kids. Rather, your tweets reflect you steadfast commitment to do whatever it takes to make success for every learner a reality. No excuses or empty promises – just resolute purpose. It’s a gift you give #G2Great in the name of kids.
Gift #4: YOU acknowledge that collaboration maximizes our growth
As a literacy consultant who spends much of my time in lonely airports and hotels, I would be the first to say that we learn best in the company of others. Through #G2Great I am able to take each of you along for the ride and my life is brighter because you are in it. The #G2Great collaborative spirit is an amazing thing to watch each week. I never see one-sided conversations but purposeful interchanges measured by replies, likes, quote tweets and retweets with a multitude of heartfelt questions, ideas, responses, suggestions, photographs, links, titles, compliments or ponderings that always seems to find a listening ear. It’s a gift you give #G2Great in the name of kids.
Gift #5: YOU celebrate the messy professional learning process of YET:
It’s quite obvious that none of you come to #G2Great because you believe you have all the answers (anyone who believes that clearly has a delusional sense of self). By contrast, you come because you know that our growth process is never done and that each of us must embrace our professional and personal quest to deeper understandings. You come each week with a hunger for new knowledge and deep desire to learn more in the company of others. You don’t come seeking perfection but with a growth mindset mentality that allows you to soak in every word as you immerse yourself whole-heartedly in respectful dialogue knowing that our differences have as much to teach us as our similarities: It’s a gift you give #G2Great in the name of kids.
Gift #6: YOU model an unbridled spirit of instructional curiosity
Each week I am struck by the sense of inspired curiosity each of you bring to whatever educational role you play. That curiosity about your learners is the fuel that keeps you committed to teaching and learning. You demonstrate in every tweet a myriad of instructional wonderings that have the potential to enrich your practices and that curiosity drives you to know more and do more. You do this not for financial gain, notoriety or to sell a product but for the sole purpose of enriching the learning lives of students in your care. Your sense of curiosity keeps you coming back week after week knowing that you will walk away better than you were when you came even if your question is still unanswered. It’s a gift you give #G2Great in the name of kids.
And so in closing, I’d like to express deep gratitude to each of you on behalf of my co-moderators, Amy and Jenn. We are so honored that you have stood beside us on the #G2Great mountaintop during the past two years. Here’s to continuing our #G2Great journey together with new discoveries forever in our sights.
Before you go, let’s take a little trip down memory lane with brief glimpses of tweets that inspired us from every week in 2016. Thank you for being the gift that keeps on giving, friends!
2016 Trip Down #G2Great Memory Lane (see all Storify chats here)