#G2Great: Reflective Readers with Travis Crowder

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet Link for All Tweets

On Thursday, January 23, 2020, Travis Crowder shared his wisdom with the #G2Great community around his new book, Reflective Readers: The Power of Reader’s Notebooks. The Wakelet link above will yield hours of clarity, direction and awareness of reading selves which are at the center of reflection. Because being REFLECTIVE is the heart of this book, this post begins with Travis and his reflections.

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

Since I began teaching, reflective thinking has been at the heart of what I do with students. As my instructional practice moved from traditional to a workshop approach, I found myself asking students often to look back at their reading and their reading lives and write what they noticed— new understandings, beliefs, feelings, and the changes they saw in themselves as readers and thinkers. Without even recognizing it, these ideas became the foundation for action research I was doing in my classroom.

I wrote this book to share my thinking with colleagues who are intrigued by the critical literacy work we do, as well as educators who are wanting to see shifts in students’ reading lives. I stand on mighty shoulders. My work with readers is heavily influenced by other educators who have learned alongside their students. I hope that teachers will take my ideas and place them beside their own. I don’t see my work as a replacement of the work teachers are already doing, or a program; instead, it’s a model of thought, one that has helped me move my readers forward. It has deepened their thinking, helping them see how they’ve grown in their personal reading lives. I hope that it will help the professional world look at reflection differently, and hopefully, engage us in a discourse that will ultimately make our students grow into confident and more capable readers. 

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

First, it’s important to know that response and reflection are not synonymous. They serve different purposes in the life of a reader. Second, it’s important to have a balance of them in the classroom. When I started writing about reflection several years ago, I noticed a beautiful dance between response and reflection— the ebb and flow, how one naturally moves into the other. So often, writing about reading stops at response, and although responses to texts are paramount, reflective thinking is what moves kids into deeper analysis. Last, I want teachers to help students read better versions of themselves. We teach in a climate where kids have forgotten what it means to connect. But we can remind them of their sentience. With books and time to respond and reflect, we can help them see the models of the world that await them in stories. And over time, I truly believe they will impact their world. 

So what did we explore during the chat? Three key items emerged as I perused the Wakelet and revisited my notes. Those items are: clarity, direction, and reading selves. You know your own practices best. Will you begin with reflective work in your own reader’s notebook or with the work your students are doing in their readers’ notebooks?

Clarity

The chat began as does Reflective Readers with a discussion of what “reflection” is and isn’t including its relationship to “response”. Both response and reflection can include personal thoughts but it really depends upon the depth of the work which can be readily accessed in a student’s writing in a reader’s notebook. This notion of similarities and differences between response and reflection led me to making a personal T chart to compare the two in order to help me both define and understand them. A response is often tied directly to the surface facts or elements of the story, character, or plot lines. A reflection usually reveals more thinking that connects the text and the reader. As I explored this idea for several days (remembering that I see the questions in advance), I considered my past experiences and opened up my own reader’s notebook. Response, response, response. That is what seemed to be expected in many classes and in work that requires text evidence. Multiple choice tasks. Tasks with “right” answers. . . Those all led to responses. Reflection came in when I spent time digging into a specific topic/theme and compared texts or how I personally connected texts in novel ways. How does clarity of REFLECTION help you to deepen your own understanding?


Direction

Where does our reflection lead us? The direction of our thoughts depends on our reading, our texts, the time and space that we provide for reflection, and our goals and values. Reflection cannot be rushed. Reflection provides “the contour to our experiences, and forms the geography of our thinking.” (Crowder, T. Reflective Readers. p. 6) Students can document their own growth and change in their reflections as Travis so beautifully shares the frames in his portrait gallery of students. Do you want to up the game for students? Frame their work. Provide frames or mats to showcase the importance.

Reading Selves

What are the habits of readers? What are the most important habits of readers? Your values influence your answers. One inarguable habit would be that one needs to read and read a lot. Volume of reading matters. It may have a different effect at different stages in life, but reading is at the core of being a reader. But is reading a lot sufficient to be a reader? I would argue that it is NOT sufficient. Instead it is the reflective thinking that develops additional life-long reading habits.


Just as we began with thoughts from Travis and myself, the conclusion will circle back to Travis’s message from the heart and my final thoughts about Reflective Readers.

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

The professional text that is at the center of this chat is a culmination of my thinking over the past several years. It is not a program or prescription for readers; instead, it’s a way of thinking about kids and their reading lives. More than anything, this book is the story of my literacy work with young people. I value the stories they bring to the classroom, the things that make them who they are, and I want them to see reflection as part of their story— of their reading and their learning. Giving students opportunities to respond and reflect with tools like hashtags and Tweets give them another lens through which to see their reading. They aren’t the only tools, though. I’m confident that the things that you do in your classroom to help your students tell the story of their learning are brilliant. Placing them beside my thinking will only strengthen what you’re already doing. And placing my thinking beside yours will nudge my readers, too.

Is reflection only for school days? I think not because I believe reflection is a lifetime pursuit. That is why this topic and text has fascinated me. I have to both respond and reflect on my own reading before I can ask students or teachers to do the same. Our own practice with responses and reflections will guide our learning journey as we develop our own portrait galleries. When we value competent, confident readers for today and tomorrow, our students will develop into the reflective readers that we need!

Additional resources:

Benchmark PD Essentials: Reflective Readers: The Power of Reader’s Notebooks (Link)

Travis Crowder Blog (Link)

Twitter:  @teachermantrav

Fran’s T chart comparison of Response/Reflection . . . After Reflection

Fran’s T-chart that evolved with reflection on Clarity, Direction & Reading Selves

Breathing New Life Into Book Clubs

By Brent Gilson with Guest Blogger Travis Crowder

#g2great 8/8/19

This week we had the awesome pleasure of chatting with Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen about their new book Breathing New Life into Book Clubs The Wakelet of the chat can be found here.

Travis Crowder has written a great blog response to the book that we would like to share with you. Travis is a passionate advocate for literacy work and is the co-author of the fantastic book Sparks in the Dark which had its own chat and the Wakelet for that is available here and the Literacy Lens post here. The G2Great team is so grateful that Travis was willing to share his words with us.

Travis Crowder response to Breathing New Life into Book Clubs

A Friday afternoon. I watched them grab their books and notebooks and gather on the rug around the coffee table. Conversations from other groups created lively streams of energy around the classroom, but in this group, something was different. When they were settled and facing one another, they opened their notebooks, almost in unison, and began writing. Curiosity got the best of me. What were these students up to? I walked to the edge of their group, trying to catch a glimpse of what they were writing, careful not to disrupt the flow of whatever was happening. I didn’t know, but clearly, they did. And that was all that mattered. I squinted to catch a line in Keila’s notebook, and that’s when I realized the significance of their writing. In their book club book, the mother of a character had died, and they were capturing emotional reactions inside their notebooks. Without any prompting, they had decided that spilling their emotions on the page first would help them make sense of their thinking. Discussions migrated from groups across the room, pressing against the quietude of this group, yet their activity was unimpeded. After several minutes, when everyone had finished writing, Karina looked around the group and said, “Who wants to read theirs first?” The book club was now ready for discussion.

Book clubs possess the power to transform readers and to elevate students’ thinking, reading, and writing. The story above captures a beautiful moment in my classroom, one that we dream of as teachers, yet one that may not happen as often as we’d like. For several years, I was hesitant to include any book clubs in my classes for fear that students wouldn’t read, conversations would flatline, and several weeks of valuable time would be sacrificed because of poor management— mine and theirs. At first, the attempts were wobbly, and often, I felt lost in despair. With time and quite a few mistakes, though, I created routines with my students that helped us develop effective book clubs. Looking back, I wish there had been a comprehensive professional text to help me understand the nuts and bolts of managing book clubs, while providing strategies for holding students accountable for reading and discussions. Now, that text exists. And it is nothing short of brilliant.

Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers, by Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen, is a gift to our profession. It’s as though both Sonja and Dana are standing at the threshold of the book, asking readers to join them on a breathtaking journey of thought. They take us through systems and routines that make book clubs manageable and inviting, and ultimately, a way to help students fall in love with reading. Both writers denounce superficial assignments and activities that demean literacy and provide ideas that nudge kids to develop authentic reading habits. Philosophy is threaded into the tapestry of Chapter 1, letting us know that their thinking is grounded in creating a culture of reading and assuring us that this work is possible. But it goes beyond that.

I love the types of clubs— genre, identity, goal, theme, and series— that they delineate for us. Prior to reading this text, I hadn’t given much thought to the type of books students were reading, other than attempting to focus clubs around a big idea, such as war or relationships. This delineation breathed new life into my thinking. Identifying the type of club we feel is most beneficial for kids will determine their energy, engagement, and success, all of which nudge us to provide book clubs again and again for our students.

In addition to helping us understand the different types of book clubs, a curated list— of wide and varied titles— is available to help us select the books we want to offer our students. They give us ideas and mini-lessons to create book clubs beside students, coach them into effective conversations about texts, and lead them into a life of living with books. If you’re worried that clubs will lose their focus and energy, set your heart at rest— they have you covered. Writing, sketching, creating bookmarks, and recording videos are just a few of the strategies to help students lean in to deeper conversation. And what’s more? Sonja and Dana walk beside you through each mini-lesson, offering ideas that will lift your book clubs from where they are to an even higher plane. Kids aren’t reading with no direction. They’re reading to think, to learn, and to grow alongside their fellow club members and classmates. And fall in love with books.

I want you to listen to this gorgeous section from the first chapter:


Book clubs are where students fall in love with reading, but we value book clubs because it is in these spaces that we witness humanity at its best. Through the process of reading and responding to texts, students come to understand each other better. They reflect on who they are, where they hope to be, and the ties that bind them together. The attitudes, traditions, values, and goals established in book clubs often become the principles that guide the way students live their lives. As such, we can invite students to record the story of their book club in a journal or on a blog— the laughs, the struggles, the triumphs, and the lessons learned that will stay with them (pg. 8).

So often, joy and community seem to be a missing pieces of language arts classrooms.  Book clubs, which can be full of life, love, and joy, can help kids prepare for a lifetime of reading, especially when created with teachers who want to see them develop into readers who can sustain volume and independence. The emphasis on understanding each other is a beautiful ode to empathy, and something we need more of in our world. When I work with kids to establish books clubs this school year, I will look for those places where students are maturing into better human beings. Book clubs help create that story— for us and for our kids.

Sonja’s and Dana’s incredible humanity glimmers on each page. Children are at the heart of this work, and with their brilliant thinking, both writers show us how we can move kids to engage with books and their world. Democracy demands a literate populace. It’s teachers like you and me, ones who are committed to this critical literacy work, who will shape the minds of tomorrow. We live in a world of uncertainty and pain, and each day, hateful rhetoric pierces the heart of humanity, eroding the integrity and decency we try to uphold. Sonja and Dana have given us a book that does not waver in its devotion to students, teachers, and books. With them, we can go into our classrooms and create a literate atmosphere based on empathy and respect. Let us not forget that we are fierce educators. And we have the capacity to show kids the indomitable power of story. 

Thank you, Sonja and Dana, for an unwavering allegiance to our profession and for helping me better understand the qualities and virtues of effective book clubs. I salute you and am honored to work beside you in literacy education.

Q and A with Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen

1.  What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world? As educators, we’ve yearned for a book that pulls together the research and best practices that could help us have the “best book clubs ever.” And although we found pieces of the puzzle, in various places, we couldn’t help but notice an important gap: There simply wasn’t a book that exclusively addressed the nuts and bolts of book clubs- how to create, maintain, and sustain them. We decided to create this resource for ourselves and other educators. 

2.  What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices? We must be unyielding in the goal of cultivating lifelong readers. This can be accomplished by staying true to three mantras: 1) Be Brave! Let Go! Pull Back! Students must have choice and ownership over their reading and their clubs. 2) Embrace Authentic Discussions! Students’ discussions will ebb and flow; trust that they will become stronger over time. 3) Joy! Joy! Joy! Build joyful reading communities by providing high-interest texts, helping clubs form strong identities, and encouraging students to read together. 

3.  What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind? We have the power to provide pathways that nurture a love of reading in our students. We hope educators will take part in a reading revolution that makes joyful reading and book clubs central.

We at G2Great would like to thank Sonja and Dana for their beautiful book and for joining us to discuss it. We would also like to thank Travis Crowder for providing the blog post for this week. If you are looking for more discussion around the book please check out Clare Landrigan’s post and video on her blog which is linked here .

Additional Links

Facebook Group: Breathing New Life Into Book Clubs facebook.com/groups/7707352…

Instagram: LitLearnAct

Most Recent Blog Post: medium.com/@heinemann/wha…

Most Recent Podcast: blog.heinemann.com/on-the-podcast…


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

By Fran McVeigh

Focus?

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts about this opening quote?

What would it change for students in your district?

 

Mt. Everest

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

What is your “Everest Statement”?

Did you co-create it with your students?

 

Relationships with Students Matter

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

 

How do you connect with students? 

How do the students know that you are credible?

 

Knowledge Required 

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

 

How often are students moving beyond recall?

What structures do you have in place for discussion?

 

Argument

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

 

What role does argument play in your classroom?

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

 

Public Speaking

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

 

What are my expectations of myself for public speaking?

What are the expectations for my students?

 

Does this apply to me?

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

“How do I focus when planning curricula?”

“How do I focus when planning instruction?”

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

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

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

What actions will move you forward?

Where will you begin?

 

 

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

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




Links for Additional Exploration:

Corwin Book

Dave’s Blog

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

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

#G2Great chat Wakelet

Maximizing Our Potential: Independent Application (4/5)

By Fran McVeigh

The curtain rose on our fourth chat in our “Maximizing Our Potential Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters” with new friends from #LitBankStreet as well as other first time “chatters”, on October 4, 2018. It was quickly apparent that our topic was of great interest.  And yet, as I reviewed the Wakelet I wondered about how the topic of “Independent Application” fit into the context of the entire series.

As I began looking for patterns and themes in the tweets,  it dawned on me that all of these topics have some dependence on each other.  The way teachers and students “spend their time” depends upon what they value in terms of student-centered learning and independent work. Classroom design is dependent on the amount of access students have to the resources within the classroom as well as the amount of time allocated for learning and the priorities for learning. Student-Centered Learning also shapes the classroom design and the flexibility of Independent Application.  None really operate “in isolation” and that is both a blessing and a curse in education.  The research “says” so many variables are influencers but has a hard time pin-pointing with laser-like precision whether it’s “this” or “that” factor because instruction, curriculum and assessment have variables as do the teacher and the many students bodies facing the teacher. So let’s begin with a bit of a review.

Part 1 began with Val Kimmel’s post:Part 2 continued with Mary Howard’s post: Part 3 continued with Jenn Hayhurst’s post: And that brought me to this chat and part 4:  Independent Application

Quality Independent Application has many definite attributes. Quality implies that it is “worthy.”  Independent suggests that the goal is for the task to be done by the student without assistance. Application adds a layer of “work” to further instruction and practice. But what does that really look like?  Many teachers have had much practice using a gradual release of responsibility model that appears to place Independent Work in the final phase of the instructional cycle as the “You do it alone” work. But it could just as easily be that check or reflection at the beginning of the class period on yesterday’s learning.

Source Link

If we truly believe our goal as teachers is to provide a safe and nurturing classroom designed for optimal learning, filled with a community of self-directed learners we have to do less. The adults in the room have to establish the conditions that will increase agency and leadership in the students.  Kym summed this up in this tweet:So how do we get there? What does Quality Independent Application look like?

Includes Choice

Quality Instructional Application does NOT produce cookie cutter pages to fill a bulletin board in stencil fashion. It involves real choices that allow students to showcase their learning in different ways. This is not homework as we used to know it because students have the opportunity to make decisions about their learning products. Students could choose their final product: a song, a poem, artwork, a TedTalk or even an essay to provide evidence of their learning. We hear about this type of learning from students who say, “let us show you the different ways we know this.” Student passion for a topic can then drive their learning so fewer incentives are needed.

Is Authentic and Meaningful

Quality Instructional Application is NOT a worksheet or busy work. Instead it includes authentic and meaningful tasks that students will find in the real world. Real work and real world.  Not school work and the school world. Students are not asking “Why do we need to know this?” because that purpose has already been established within the classroom’s culture of learning.

Feedback Fuels the Work

Quality Instructional Application is NOT about a grade in the grade book or points earned for a completed task. It may be a conference with a peer or the teacher about the learning process and the product. It may be using checklists or rubrics to check understanding as well as plan next steps. Feedback is also about comparing student work to mentor texts or student examples to deepen understanding about the task criteria. Feedback may be an excited utterance in the hall or a whispered reflection from the student that names the student learning. During the learning process approximations are valued and students know where they are because the learning targets are clear and concise. Self awareness, reflection and processing are valued as students continue to progress through learning cycles.

Includes Practice for Transfer

Quality Instructional Application is NOT about a race for mastery of standards and learning objectives in lock step fashion.  It is about providing the time and practice necessary for deep learning so that students can and do independently use the learning across the day, in additional content areas, and in unique situations in the real world. Time for the practice that is needed means allowing for differences in student learning with a focus on helping students discover the ways that they best learn. How many times does Joey need to do the work before it all makes sense?

Promote Student Ownership

Quality Instructional Application is NOT sticker charts for every successful learning activity.  It is about learning tasks that are hard work and include productive struggle. Students will embrace challenges and learn that real work does come before success. FAIL equals “First Attempt in Learning.” If the student always “gets the learning” on the first practice, maybe it’s not challenging enough or maybe the expectations are too low. Or maybe students need to be more involved in the design and delivery of the learning experiences (that pesky student-centered learning). The confident smile on the face as evidence of learning means more than a grade and provides additional reasons to set students free on their own learning paths.

These five areas are characteristics that you might use when reflecting on Independent Application.  Where do you see them?  Where might you see more of them?  Which ones are most important to you and your students?




Additional Resources

Wakelet Link

Previous Posts

Part 1 Allocating Instructional Time

Part 2 Classroom Design

Part 3 Student-Centered Learning

“Sparks in the Dark”

By Fran McVeigh

The Sparks in the Dark chat with authors Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney was trending on August 16, 2018 by the second question. No doubt about it. A chat based on a book with a foreword by Penny Kittle captured many minds and hearts and then exploded across the Twitterverse for one hour. The wakelet was collected. I was carefully perusing the conversations, seeking out tweets to curate while capturing additional sparks. What tweets would garner my attention and showcase the chat? What ideas would continue to fan the sparks and create a blaze across the #G2Great community? I kept returning to the book subtitle. Book subtitles say so much about a book. “Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us.” What to collect? What to display? What to hold tightly to? How to write a blog post to capture the chat and the text, the words and ideas of the authors, the passion of Sparks in the Dark?

In order to rise to this challenge, I resorted to the dictionary for guidance in understanding the subtitle. Definitions are a common beginning for me. So what does “illuminate” mean? “To light up” And what about “ALL”? From my own reading: Teachers, Administrators, Students, Families, and Communities … Everyone. Wow! Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in ALL of Us. What an important goal!

How could this text be used?
A study group could use this book to assess their current status in literacy. Personally.  Collectively. Each of the chapters offers “Things to Think About and Tweet” that include #SparksInTheDark so the conversations could be out in the world on Twitter. Internal and external conversations could spark additional applications.

No, this book does not offer fancy surveys to give you data that makes you feel good and affirms that “Yes, you are doing the right thing.” Instead, Sparks in the Dark will provide you with conversation starting points to grow the strength and fortitude of all readers and writers in your building. Rich conversations that will encourage you to dig into personal and collective values, attitudes, beliefs and habits. Or after conversations you might develop your own questions that you want to answer with a survey or some other form of data collection. Administrators will grow as they explore Todd’s leadership stories across multiple campuses and teachers will grow as they unravel the threads in Travis’s path to creating lifelong readers and writers. It’s not a book for the faint of heart.

Do you read on a regular basis? Do you write on a regular basis? If you don’t like to read or write, stop right now. This book is not for you. But if you don’t like to read or write, I would encourage you to examine why you are teaching students. Why are you working with our most precious resource, the children of our world, if you don’t have a passion for reading and writing? (Chapter 2 Disturbing the Universe and/or Chapter 7 Critical Conversations)

Why did Travis and Todd write this book?

“In writing this book, we sought to encourage, challenge, inspire, question and shift your thinking when it comes to reading and writing and instruction overall. We hope we have shown you glimpses of our hearts and our classrooms and schools as examples of what is truly possible when you start to believe in what was once thought as improbable.” Sparks in the Dark, 2018

Conversations, tweets, and quotes from the book fell under several important concepts: Personal, Priority, Powerful, Persistence, Patience, Perspective and Pedagogy.

Personal
What is one book that you have read recently that touched you deeply in some way? That opening question was answered in many ways that you can see for yourself in the wakelet.  “Touched you deeply” means not just a book to complete a task, or to record on a log, but a book that evoked a powerful personal response. Is that a priority for you? How would we know? What would be the evidence? Todd posted this example of public posts in a school building for students or teachers.

Priority

Books need to be present in every classroom, in every hallway, in every nook and cranny. Free up the space and the resources to make ALL books easily accessible and important-not just the books in the ELA classrooms or the library. Building staff might decide on a long-range goal and plan to increase classroom libraries and access for students and families.

Powerful

Readers and Writers change because of their literacy responses. Those “personal” responses above can become even more powerful when we collaboratively celebrate by sharing the initial difficulties, the continuing struggle, the messiness and back and forth nature of seeking meaning that ends in the ultimate joy of our reading and writing. Building staff might choose to study their own reading and writing journeys.

Persistence

Time will be both your friend and your enemy. Staff meetings need to include literacy work that moves teacher understanding forward. Whether you try Todd’s “choose a read aloud with another staff member” or you deepen your work with students and make sure they are all included in the texts in the classrooms! Naysayers will need more positive interactions in order to see the necessity for change, but your persistence will eventually pay off. Similarly, students are not all necessarily going to be overjoyed to take on more work that is required of them when they learn and think deeply about topics that that they choose. Change takes time at all levels.

Patience

Find others in your building to join your literacy group or seek out like-minded individuals on Twitter, Voxer, or Facebook to continue to grow collaboratively. Enlist the aid of your students. Advocate for student needs. Give students voice and choice so they are empowered to think and advocate for themselves as well.  Building staff might identify and discuss the “beacons of light” that illuminate and sustain your learning.

Perspective

Opening our minds and our hearts to new situations in books and in the world brings us closer together and increases our own understanding. This also helps us more easily grapple with change and find similarities in current work and desired states. Change is not easy but it’s within our grasp if we build a solid base. Honoring beginning steps with “I used to …, but now I …” can be a rich faculty discussion.

Pedagogy

Teachers improve their craft by reading and exploring new resources. You might want to review some titles under A2 in the wakelet to see what others are reading. But a deep understanding of reading and writing comes from those who work to improve their knowledge and skills in order to outgrow their own reader and writer selves. This means lifelong learning for all as a professional responsibility. A common building expectation to constantly share faculty reader and/or writer notebooks. That’s more than just one tiny spark. That should be a blaze visible from miles away without Google Earth!

What begins as a spark, fueled by passion becomes a flame. Perhaps a beacon. Reading is important. Writing is important. Education is important.  Many other factors can and are part of those flames as previously included: Personal, Priority, Powerful, Persistence, Patience, Perspective and Pedagogy. In Sparks in the Dark, Travis and Todd say

“…my role as an educator – no matter my subject specialty – is to use the tools of reading and writing to develop all of my students and staff.” (Sparks in the Dark, 2018)

Travis also says that “Quality reading instruction does not begin with literature, it begins with students.” Students, not standards, assessments, or programs. Students, books, and the subsequent reading and writing that calls them to be better human beings.

How do you begin with students to fuel your sparks and continuously fan your own flames?

What other resources do you employ – books, professional resources, or communities of learners?

How do you prevent “book deserts” on your campuses?

Additional Resources:
Wakelet   Link
Podcast    Link
Book         Link
Blogs – Travis Crowder link           Todd Nesloney link

Writers Read Better: 50+ Paired Lessons That Turn Writing Craft Work into Powerful Genre Reading

by Mary Howard

On August 2, 2018, we had the great pleasure to welcome Colleen Cruz back to our #G2Great chat as second time guest host. Our first chat on 3/30/17 celebrated her wonderful book, The Unstoppable Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom. (Heinemann, 2015). Of course, we didn’t hesitate to begin planning for a repeat visit as soon as we heard about Colleen’s amazing new book, Writers Read Better: 50+ Paired Lessons That Turn Writing Craft Work into Powerful Genre Reading (Corwin, 2018). We were thrilled to spotlight this powerful new perspective for nonfiction writing.

Colleen’s newest book explores writing and reading in such a brilliantly unique way. I quickly realized that it was important to look at this incredible information through Colleen’s very wise eyes. This week I am taking a departure from our typical chat post by sharing an interview with Colleen. I couldn’t type fast enough to capture her thinking and I am so pleased to share her exact words with you here:

Your book fills an important void in the literacy world by celebrating the reading/writing connection with a twist. Why did you decide to write about this particular topic? 

I’ve been playing with the idea behind this book for several years. Those ideas began with a game I frequently play with my friends who are also writers (Colleen wrote about this in the introduction of her book on page 16). I would read a headline and then they would guess how the lead was going to go. I noticed that my friends who were writers were far better at playing the game than those who were not. This made me really think about the idea that writers really do read better. I often think about this idea as a reader and a writer. When I’m in the middle of a book, I’m so much more aware of the moves that writers are making because I am also a writer. I notice how they use craft and structure and purpose and I can spot fake news in a minute since I can see how they are trying to manipulate the reader as a writer. I feel like this book is very much an idea that I’ve been playing with for a long time and a colleague of mine had been begging me to write about the ideas that led to this book. I wanted to write about the very process that I use in my own life and work and to put those ideas in a book to help teachers move toward this thinking. I think this book is needed because it’s a shift in our thinking. Teachers typically think about writing about reading or mentor texts so the ideas in this book are asking us to think of writing as a way to service reading and that felt so important. I didn’t write this book sooner because it felt so obscure so I wanted to really think about how I approach this in my own life to make it clear to teachers through this book. The main reason I wrote this book is that I know how it has impacted me as a writer.  As writers, we are a thousand times stronger readers than those who are not writers.  There are so many things that teachers haven’t tapped into yet and so I wanted to support this thinking.

How can we encourage teachers to embrace writing as an entry point that would also increase reading understanding? Where can teachers begin to do this important work?

I think that this depends on the priorities and needs of each teacher. Sometimes our needs aren’t always our priorities and so we have to take that into consideration to begin this work. One place I see teachers as most interested in doing that work are those who feel pressed for time – for example, middle school teachers who are compartmentalized. They are limited in the amount of time they have so approaching reading through writing makes the work more efficient and streamlined. For many teachers, the typical strategies they are using in reading to teach comprehension, decoding or engagement just aren’t working. They feel at a loss for what they can do to move those students forward when what they are doing isn’t addressing their needs. Sometimes the best way to support those kids is for them to be on the other side of a desk and assume the role of writer. Helping them to approach reading through writing gives them a meaningful purpose and empowers them as both a writer and reader. Writing gives them the behind the scenes tricks to see how texts work. When kids realize that they just wrote a piece about their dog, then they can begin to see that this will help them read a text about volcanoes. This gives us a different way into reading and it’s such a powerful process. Many teachers say that they’ve instinctively felt those connections between reading and writing and yet they haven’t looked at the ways that writing lifts reading. For those teachers, Writing About Reading is absolutely next step territory for them to explore this powerful process.

Reciprocity has long been an essential topic in literacy research. How does Writers Read Better explore the teaching of reading and writing from a different perspective?

When I first began writing, I was really surprised to learn that there were no books on this topic. I was aware that the research supporting this idea goes back as early as the 1950s. Lucy Calkins was one of the first to show that these connections existed and that often kids learn to write before they learn to read. So, this is not new research. What’s interesting to me is that Katie Wood Ray wrote about how reading supports writing in 1999 in her groundbreaking book Wondrous Words. I think a lot of people hadn’t really looked at this idea before but as soon as we read about it, it seemed so obvious. Because the ideas were so earth shaking, many teachers only think about reading coming before writing.

We as teachers tend to hold onto our thinking in one direction. I recently had an experience where I was looking at my computer screen in a video chat but it was showing the mirror image so I had a hard time knowing which hand to raise and which side of the book to hold up. A lot of teachers have used mentor texts as a way to use reading to support writing so looking at how writing supports reading may feel foreign. Many teachers believe that reading has to come first because that’s what they learned and so it feels more natural. But if teachers were to truly look at the research they could see that we can support the first independent exploration of a text in reading by exploring that thinking on paper first through writing.  I think many of us just hadn’t thought of it that way before so now we are considering a different way of looking at our teaching. For most teachers, once they’ve explored this idea they think, “Of course!” They begin to realize for the first time that it’s been there all along, like when you look at the dashboard and see the gas tank image. It’s always been there but we just haven’t noticed it before. Now we can begin to think about reading and writing in a unique way. Helping teachers maneuver this different way of thinking is the crux of my entire book. For some reason, they may be having a hard time wrapping their heads around how writing can help reading. And even though it may be what we learned first, we can change our perspective by looking from a different angle.

You created incredible lesson samples in the book. What thinking were you hoping to support by sharing these lessons?

I don’t write “lessons” so I didn’t intend to write lessons in this book. But as I started thinking about the book, I realized that in order for teachers to be able to do this work, they would actually need to see it in action. The lessons are meant as flexible ideas, so a “One thing you can do is…” kind of thinking. This helps teachers see what this could actually look like in practice. I tried to make the lessons as streamlined as possible such as creating the lesson steps at the beginning. A teacher who knows how reading and writing workshop works could just read the lesson steps and create their own lesson process while there are specific examples for those who need more support. I wanted the lessons to be written out the same way that I would do those lessons with children so that teachers could imagine one way the lessons might look. After Carl Anderson read the manuscript he said that he started playing a game with himself where he would wonder what the flip side of this reading skill was in writing. He said that it was helpful to see an example of a flip side of writing using reading. I intentionally did not include every writing skill in this book because this is not a writing for writing sake but a writing for reading sake book. The paired aspect of the lessons is the essential piece, so the only lessons in the book are lessons that support reading. You can find wonderful informational writing lessons in gorgeous books like Craft Lesson by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi or Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study. This isn’t a book just about writing, but the interplay between reading and writing. Any lessons you would purely teach for reading or for writing aren’t in the book. Pairing the lessons helps to give the message that the lessons are supporting the reciprocal skills for both reading and writing.

What looks different when a teacher is a teacher of literacy rather than a teacher of reading and a teacher of writing?

The message that I am after is that I’m not teaching a subject but am teaching you how to be a literate human being. Some teachers say, “I’m a writing teacher so I have to teach grammar, thesis statements and show not tell” or “I’m a reading teacher so I have to teach decoding, prediction, and interpretation.” They may teach both of those subjects in the day and yet they still think of them differently. When they’re in reading workshop, they’re only thinking about reading. When they’re in writing workshop, they’re only thinking about writing. My goal is to change that thinking. I do think that the digital revolution has helped this thinking. The digital revolution underlined the notion that literacy is a dialogue. We don’t just send our ideas off like a message in a bottle. Our readers read but our readers also write. This provides an amazing interplay as a reader and a writer. This idea also has huge implications in terms of things like social justice and the way we live in our world now. When we take in information like a sign in the subway, it’s not enough to take that in passively but to think about what it means in our world. So, when you’re teaching literacy you’re teaching active reading and active writing in response to it.

What do you hope this book will accomplish in the education field and inspire these changes in our teaching?

Well I have a hope and a worry for this book so I want to start with the worry. My first book, Independent Writing, was published in 2004 (Heinemann). When that book came out my hope was that teachers would open up new opportunities for kids to write and to engage in more independent projects. Unfortunately, that book was ahead of its time and many still consider it revolutionary that kids could actually run their own writing projects. My fear is that Writing About Reading will sit on the shelf as an idea that is ahead of its time even though it stands on the shoulders of esoteric research. My fear is that it might not change the way that teacher teach and that they will still see their role as teaching reading and writing vs. teaching literacy. My hope is that when teachers are teaching writing they will begin to see the connections to reading and how they can use writing to support reading and when teaching reading they will think about what could come comes before this or after this. I hope that they will begin to wonder if there is a reciprocal skill that they can explore. If we are willing to look outside of the way we think about of reading and writing then we can begin to explore writing in science, socials studies, math and across the learning day. When students are watching a music video or commercial, I would hope that they will also think about something they have written so that they can see the interrelationships between word choice, language and meaning. My hope is that teachers will start to change the way that they look at their teaching and that they will always think about the other side or ancillary skill and recognize multiple sides for another way of thinking. It’s like moving our teaching from 2-D to 3-D thinking.

Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

I hope that teachers know that the book is designed to make their lives easier and more fun. This is a book with a lot of fun and joy and I made a real effort to make it accessible to different learning needs with many unique access points that lean on 21stcentury ideas – not just digital tools but the mindset of the information revolution that we will need to engage in critical thinking as both producer and consumer. The biggest thing that I hope is that it makes the readers of the book understand that they can go off the rails and invent their own lessons that are playful accessible and interconnected.

I’d like to personally express my deep gratitude to Colleen both for writing this wonderful book and for taking the time to give us an insider’s view of her thinking process. Colleen has met her promise in the introduction to create a book that would capitalize on the “magic”. In Colleen’s words:

“No matter how you teach, whatever your curriculum is, or how much time you have, you will find something in this book that will not only help bring more energy and connectivity to your literacy instruction, but also maximize our time and your students’ ability to transfer literacy skills.”

Let the “magic” begin!