Every Kid A Writer: Strategies That Get Everyone Writing by Kelly Boswell

by Fran McVeigh

The Twitter chat is available in its entirety at this Wakelet link.

On Thursday, June 24th, Kelly Boswell joined the #G2Great chat to discuss her book, Every Kid a Writer: Strategies That Get Everyone Writing. Other books by Kelly include: Crafting Nonfiction Intermediate and Solutions for Reading Comprehension coauthored with Linda Hoyt and these two by herself, Write This Way: How Modeling Transforms the Writing Classroom and Write This Way From the Start.

This is one of those blog posts that I began early in order to process the information and to do justice to the topic amidst a busy summer. I reread Kelly’s book. I listened to her podcasts. I reviewed her quotes and then fresh off four days of writing institute, I wrote three or four possible hooks. As the chat ended, I raced to my draft “possibilities” document full of joy. The chat had been exhilarating. Joyful. Respectful. Packed with ideas. And so student-centered. But I couldn’t find a way to begin this post. Or more accurately, I couldn’t find a way that I liked well enough to begin this post. I chalked it up to being tired and waited to reread the Wakelet Friday morning to save some tweets to use. But I was stuck without an appropriate introduction.

Saturday started out with a fantastic Text, Talk, and Tea Zoom with Clare, Franki, Laura and Lynsey. After they shared their text set, I kept returning to several ideas from Colleen Cruz’s keynote closing for the #TCRWP writing institute. Colleen talked about the trust that students place in their teachers and how we need to celebrate that trust and learning in order to appreciate, amplify and pass the mic. Here’s her slide:

Colleen Cruz #TCRWP Keynote, 06.25.2021

Appreciate. Amplify. Pass the mic.

We can do that because we find JOY and LOVE in students’ writing when we remove barriers and focus on providing the instruction that supports them in writing. This joy and love was what I saw as the vision behind Kelly’s book and the reason that her writing strategies DO get everyone writing. There’s no blaming students. There’s no shaming students. There is an expectation and a vision that everyone can write . . . once the environment and instruction is prepped for them. We can do that because we are ALSO writers and we value both process and product. We value writing… and writing… and writing!

After finding my own connections to Kelly’s book, I wanted to honor her purpose in writing this book because I, too, have heard these questions.

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

This book is a response to the question I hear the most from the teachers with whom I work – “What about those kids who don’t like to write?” 

Many of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves in the company of a few (or perhaps more than a few) students who shrug when asked about their writing. They slump in their chairs instead of jumping into writing with energy and vigor. They sharpen pencils or ask for the bathroom pass or decide it’s a good time to organize and reorganize their desk. They groan when you announce that it’s time or write or they barrage you with questions along the lines of “How long does this have to be?” 

Many teachers mistakenly think that the problem lies with the reluctant student. I had a hunch that, like most things, teachers and classroom environments created either reluctance or engagement. 

In this book, I set out to explore this topic – why do the writers in some classrooms seem so reluctant while students in a different classroom dig into writing with enthusiasm and joy? Could we, as teachers, create classrooms and writing experiences that could increase engagement? As I spoke to students and teachers and taught lessons of my own,  my hunch was confirmed: The environment and community we create in the classroom, along with some specific, yet simple, teaching strategies, have an enormous impact on how students engage with writing. 

And that vision led us to our second question.

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

One of the biggest takeaways that I hope teachers embrace is that the problem of reluctant writers is NOT the kids. As teachers, we have the power to embrace and use some simple, practical strategies that support ALL kids to engage in writing with enthusiasm and joy. These six strategies are outlined in the book: 

We can: 

1. Use mentor texts and teacher modeling to fuel engagement

2. Create a safe and daily space for writing

3. Expose writers to real readers.

4. Offer more choice (choice of paper, seating, topic, etc.)

5. Maintain a healthy perspective on conventions.

6. Shape and create a healthy writing identity through assessment

Let’s pull back the curtain and look a little further at some of the six strategies shared by Kelly during the chat.

1. Use mentor texts and teacher modeling to fuel engagement.

2. Create a safe and daily space for writing.

3. Expose writers to real readers.

4. Offer more choice. (choice of paper, seating, topic, etc.)

5. Maintain a healthy perspective on conventions.

6. Shape and create a healthy writing identity through assessment.

In conclusion, I return to the final question for our author and just a few additional thoughts.

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

As teachers, the goal of all of our planning and teaching and conferring and assessing is, simply this: 

  • We want kids to fall in love with writing. 
  • We want kids to find words that they love and never let them go. 
  • We want kids to see writing as a way to connect with others, share ideas and engage in civil discourse. 
  • We want kids to know that writing is a powerful tool that they can use to think, reflect, remember and influence others.  
  • We want kids to discover that the act of writing is its own reward. 
  • We want them to know, deep in their bones, that writing has so much to give and so much to teach. 
  • We want kids to live joyfully literate lives. 

It starts with us.

When we provide time for students to joyfully tell their stories, we must Appreciate. Amplify. And pass the mic! This mutual respect and trust between writers and teachers of writing results in classrooms filled with joy, purpose and energy. To conclude, a repeat of the closing quote from the chat, in Kelly’s own words:

Let’s get started!

Additional Links:

Blog Posts (Heinemann):  https://blog.heinemann.com/conferring-with-kids-remotely-tips-for-remote-writing-conferences-from-kelly-boswell

https://blog.heinemann.com/positive-practices-for-you-and-your-students

Podcasts: https://blog.heinemann.com/podcast-demystifying-the-writing-process-with-kelly-boswell?hsCtaTracking=ee7df32b-f50a-49f2-adf8-67e9076b7157%7Cdc1d2e0c-2715-48ff-ab7f-4b640204da9e

Books: https://www.amazon.com/Kelly-Boswell/e/B00E59W45Q?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3&qid=1620140304&sr=8-3

Article: https://www.languagemagazine.com/2020/02/19/harnessing-the-power-of-a-teachers-pen-2/

Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach? Vicki Vinton & Aeriale Johnson

By Fran McVeigh

Thursday, August 27th, #G2Great welcomed back familiar guest hosts Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson. It was a night eagerly anticipated by the #G2Great team as we celebrated a blog post written by Vicki on February 23, 2020, that included learning examples from Aeriale’s second grade classroom. That post, “Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach?” can be found here.

But more importantly, I was personally eagerly anticipating this conversation with Vicki and Aeriale as a toast to the end of summer 2020, this neverending summer that desperately needed a finale. Vicki Vinton has been a part of my summers in New York City as a group of us typically connect and catch up on life dating back to our first #WRRD chat. I also met Aeriale in NYC at a #TCRWP summer institute while she was a teacher in Alaska and her stories fascinated me. I have also been one of Aeriale’s admirers asking about her “book” as she has so much to say about student learning.

And yet this blog writing task seemed like a mountain to scale after the chat. For the first round of quotes, I pulled 11 pages of tweets from the full Wakelet (here) that I felt would illustrate the brilliance of the chat. If you missed the chat, you really will want to read through the Wakelet as it was impossible to capture all the brilliance of our one hour chat in one mere blog post and 10 tweets.

So let me begin at the beginning.

Do you know Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson?

It’s sincerely my pleasure to introduce my friends, Vicki and Aeriale. (See if you learn something new about either of them.) Vicki is a writer. She is co-author of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); author of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language, (with Mary Ehrenworth); and a novel, The Jungle Law as well as a blogger at “To Make a Prairie.” Aeriale is an avid learner. This quote about Ellin Keene’s Engaging Children personifies my view of Aeriale: “I finished the book on a Tuesday; I integrated the four pillars of engagement she illustrates into my instruction on Wednesday.” Aeriale is a third grade teacher in San Jose, CA. in San Jose, CA, a 2016-18 Heinemann Fellow who blogs at Heinemann.com with posts such as “To Tiana, With Love,” as well as Kinderbender.com, the site of “Kinderbender: Drinking daily from the glass of tiny human giggles, hugs, innocence, brilliance, awe, and passion for life.” Both Vicki and Aeriale write extensively about all the brilliant learning that occurs when teachers are knowledgeable, build community and have high expectations.

Where do we begin?

“We must start their stories and identities with their excellence.” – Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

This quote came from Cultivating Genius and our June 18, 2020 chat (Literacy Lenses blog post here) just a little over two months ago. This book was also the #BookLove professional development book for elementary and secondary teachers this summer with two weeks spent on studying, reflecting, and listening to Dr. Muhammad twice.

How does this connect to the topic of “Underestimating Our Students?

Education is complicated. How we measure its effects is quite controversial and often very limiting. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on values, beliefs, expectations, intellectualism, instruction, assessment and listening. I had to have some criteria in mind as I narrowed down tweets to use in this blog. The tweets that I immediately moved to the MUST use page were those that included statements about those topics and also matched my own beliefs and values.

Hmmm. Confirmation bias at work.

How do we focus on students without underestimating them and yet include their stories, their identities and their excellence?

Expectations … “the act or state of looking forward or anticipating” (dictionary.com)

John Hattie has teacher expectations at the top of his list of factors that impact student achievement with an effect size of 1.62. Other researchers have long documented the fact that a growth mindset allows teachers to focus on student assets instead of deficiencies. Research has shown that teachers may have lower expectations for students from low income families and/or for persons of color. It is a tragedy to set low bars of expectation for any students! As Vicki and Aeriale explain in the following tweets, “expectations” in the classroom need to be linked with learning opportunities.

To Think About: What are your expections? How do you communicate your expectations to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Intellectualism … “the exercise of the intellect” (dictionary.com)

This emphasis on intellectualism builds an even higher target for students and their excellence. This is the call to thinking, to making thinking visible, and to applying learning as evidence of those higher pursuits by students. Students who are going to meet their potential are going to be challenged to grow every day. Low level tasks, worksheets, and activities will simply not exist in classrooms where intellectualism is the standard. Teachers in these classrooms will always be amazed by the challenging work that students do.

To Think About: How do you define intellectualism in your classroom and then communicate that value to students, caregivers, families, and the community? (Or are your children stuck being “students”?)

Instruction … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Instruction that values student stories, identities and excellence is rooted in a culture of belief that students can construct knowledge as they read and write. Right answers are not the norm. Inquiry is a focus and questioning is a routine expectation for students and not an inquisition by the teacher. Students need time and space to be curious and to build the relevance that matches their lives and leads to deeper curiosity and wonder.

To Think About: How do our basic beliefs about instruction emphasize curiosity and inquiry as well as nurturing genius?

Assessment … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Assessment, a word derived from the Latin word assidere, means to sit beside.  If we truly value meaningful assessments then we will consider the ones that allow us to sit beside students. We can share assessment results that are qualitative and rich in descriptions of all that students “can do” instead of lists of skills that may not YET be under the reader’s/writer’s control.

To Think About: How do you communicate what you value about assessments to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Listening … “paying attention; heeding, obeying” (dictionary.com)

One of the most powerful tools in a teacher’s toolbox is the power of listening which is often underestimated. Wait time is seldom mentioned in new educational research but it still is a free attached, accessible resource. Time and how we allocate it is critical. It’s also an observable way of checking for alignment of values, beliefs and resources when matched with the priorities in the daily lesson plan/schedule.

To Think About: How do we ensure that students have enough time to make sure their invisible thinking is deeply understood?

In conclusion . . .

We all have different but yet equally challenging roles in education. Whether we are beginning to plan for school or we have already planned and executed the first week(s) of school, how will we continue to reflect on our expectations for our students? How will we be responsive to the students in front of us? What will show up in our time allocations? Our reflective blog posts? Our Twitter conversations? How will we use what we know to make this the best learning year possible for our students? Your values and beliefs will show in many visible ways as the year progresses. Prioritize based on intellectualism, instruction, assessment, and listening to your students and your families.

What are your expectations for your students? How will we know?

Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk

By Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to access the Wakelet

Chances are good that if you become a teacher, you love to talk. Teachers know it in their bones that talk is important. It’s important for so many reasons: building strong relationships, the transference of learning, articulating one’s values and point of view within a pluralistic society, We are so grateful that authors, Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow joined our #G2Great community for a powerful conversation. Their new book, Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk published by Heinemann belongs in your stack! Reading this book, and viewing its resources is like having master coaches in your corner helping you along the way.

Joyful Teaching

We asked Shana and Katy, what are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices? 

Talk is a powerful vehicle for learning AND a great way to bring joy into every subject.  There are predictable cycles and purposes in conversation that, if we learn them and keep them in mind, will help us be more powerful thinkers.

Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow

Joyful teaching experiences begin with strong relationships built on talk. Once students truly believe that we honor their talk, we can teach them how to honor each other’s talk. This foundation of intentional talk forms a caring learning community. One where deep thinking will flourish.

Engaged Learning

Making the choice to author a book is a huge commitment. We asked, What impact did you hope that your book would have in the professional world?  Shana and Katy shared their WHY:

We wanted to help answer the questions we get from teachers all the time about how to make classroom conversations more engaging and meaningful. We wanted to keep talk front and center as we all wrestle with how to help all kids find purpose and passion in their schoolwork and lives. 

Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow

There is a lot of pressure to keep instruction moving along at a high level of productivity. Sometimes it may be tempting to limit students’ talk. Don’t do it – talk is the very thing that will ignite their learning process. They need to find the words.

Creating Identity Through Talk

Shana and Katy’s message from the heart for every teacher to keep in mind… 

We want teachers to remember that the heart of being a good teacher is knowing your students well. When talk is centered across the curriculum, students have abundant opportunities to reveal themselves as readers and writers, researchers and activists.

Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow

A student-centered approach to teaching rests on knowing who they are and being fully present when you are with them.


Thank you, Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow for authoring this beautiful book, Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk.