The Civically Engaged Classroom: Reading, Writing, and Speaking for Change

By Fran McVeigh

The Wakelet artifact is available for your perusal here.

The #G2Great chat world was alive, well, and ROCKING on Thursday, March 11, 2021. The podcasts (link) of their work was a hint of the depth of the work proposed but, WOW! What an amazing, well-orchestrated text and chat.

On one hand, when a book comes from authors like Mary Ehrenworth, Pablo Wolfe, and Marc Todd, it might be easy to say “Oh, great, another book about what kids can do in classrooms with supportive teachers, supportive administrators and supportive communities.” However, the wisdom, wit, and enthusiasm generated in the #G2Great chat merely emphasized that everyone in school communities needs to be thinking about civic engagement. Not just one class period a day. Not just the ELA teacher. Not just teachers. But the entire community. (And more about that later.)

On the other hand, naysayers may have a different view. “Really? More political speak about what teachers should or should not be doing in their classrooms? More brainwashing? Is that really the purview of our school systems?

Like any great performance from an orchestra, the resulting concert is only as good as the score. In this case, the score (written music) begins this post with the wisdom of the authors and their responses to the three questions that we ask and then moves to some specific high notes from the chat and then enthusiasm as a rousing finale for this work.

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

The Civically Engaged Classroom was born out of the idea that as a society we need to think deeply about the purpose of school, especially in times as fraught and divisive as those we are living in. We want teachers to look at their classrooms and see future citizens in front of them, citizens that need to be well-prepared for the hard work of leading and strengthening our democracy.

In our own teaching and staff development, we have met many colleagues who have inspired us with the way they teach with a civic mindset. We have also met countless others who aspire to do this work, but are in communities where they feel unsupported. This book is meant to both highlight the brilliant work we’ve seen, as well as to encourage, inspire and sustain those who feel like they’re teaching into a headwind.

We were also motivated to write this book because it helps to address one of the persistent questions in education: how do we get kids motivated and engaged by school? We think one of the most profound, and overlooked, ways to engage kids is to make sure that the work of school is aimed toward civic ends. When the walls of the classroom come down, kids see that their work has real purpose and impact.

Ultimately, as with everything in education, this is for the kids. We hope that some of what we put in the book helps them seize their power and shape the world they will inherit.

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

We hope that our readers see…

●  …that identity exploration is essential to all curriculum and pedagogy, especially if we are to prepare our children to engage responsibly in our multicultural society.

●  …that schoolwork must be worldwork. That it should include political and historical content that is relevant and contemporary.

●  …that we need to move beyond the single text, everytime, in every situation.

●  …that we can model being active, engaged citizens in front of our students without being partisan.

●  …that when students consume nonfiction, they must teach each other and their parents about what they are learning and why it matters. 

●  …students need frequent opportunities to practice service to a community.

●  …that teachers aren’t alone in this work! There is a thriving, and growing, number of us who are re-envisioning school as a preparation space for citizenship.

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

This book is a call to work. Throughout The Civically Engaged Classroom we’ve included a feature called Practice What You Teach, a regular reminder that the work in these pages is for all of us to take on, not just our kids. We can all do more to be better citizens;  we can all do more to re-envision our democracy. This is not about indoctrinating children, but it is about our duty as educators to help them realize that they have a lot of responsibility in this society and that if they don’t take it, or aren’t adequately prepared for it, they’ll continue to perpetuate grievous harms to themselves and to others.

The work in our classrooms is part of the world. The more we bring the real world in with its injustices as well as its beauty and hope, the better we serve our students, and the better we serve our society.

Ultimate Roles For Teachers and Students

What is needed? Teachers who address identity with honesty and courage, … co-creating with students on a level playing field … to determine a course of action with students … valuing listening and … arguing to listen. Check out the following four tweets that include Mary, Pablo and Marc’s own words.

What is the end goal? Dr. Mary Howard gives us the “411”straight from the book:

While it may seem “easy” to defer to the authors to use their own words, this post could become quite lengthy if a commentary was included for all their wisdom. So sticking with a personal motto of “less is more” here are three high notes of focus from the chat. These refrains will help you get started on a civically engaged classroom.

Where and How Does a Civically Engaged Classroom Fit?

Where do you position a civically engaged classroom? Do you view it as a solo? As an entire section of the performers? Or embedded in the entire musical performance? Your view impacts your planning. Consider these gems of wisdom.

Where might you begin? What do you value? What are your priorities? And then consider Pablo’s wisdom and his verb choices . . . “cut” . . . “replace” . . . “OR infuse” with the end goals of “application of skills, real-life experience, and communal celebration.”

Students: Identity, Stories, Experiences and Interests

The work of so many “artists/performers/authors” is the foundation for all work with students. Sara Ahmed’s identity work in Being the Change (blog post) has led the way for teachers and students to explore their identity and bring about social change. So too have Jody Carrington in Kids These Days and more recently Matt Kay in Not Light, But Fire as well as many other authors. When we embrace Dr. Rudine Sim Bishop’s, “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors,” we will have a fun-filled concert program as we follow the lead of so many educators when we consider how to engage students by following their interests.

Where can you find the information to get started? What do you already know about your students? Their interests? Their passions? What are the artifacts that they already have about their own thinking beyond what they are reading and writing? How are we inviting students to be a part of this co-construction?

Explicit Instruction: Norms, “Inclusion,” Note-Taking, and Examining Biases

But what do we teach? What’s important? Of course instruction will vary depending on the needs and interests of the students in front of you! Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you wonder about the WHAT that needs to be taught and practiced before the concert is scheduled.

Instruction is all about routines and processes. Routines and processes for civil discourse. Routines and processes for research. Routines and processes for affirming information. Routines and processed for determining biases and collecting additional information. Which ones might be a priority for you and your students?

FINALE

In conclusion, the time for action is NOW. No waiting. Do not pass go. Do NOT collect $200. Move from the audience to the stage, backstage, behind the side curtains, or center stage under the lights.

It’s time to practice. Take action. Consider student identities. Have a discussion. Focus on student choices. To learn more, check out the Wakelet archive and the Additional Resources. Watch the stellar three part video series. Check out the Coalition of Civically Engaged Educators below. Explore the padlet. Find a friend to travel this journey together and have a conversation partner. Make a plan. Get started!

Additional Resources:

Heinemann Video Series for the Civically Engaged Classroom

The Coalition of Civically Engaged Educators

The Civically Engaged Classroom PADLET

Nurturing Truth-Seeking Communities in School (article by Pablo, Mary and Marc)

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?

#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…


#BOWTIE: Building Meaningful Connections with your Students

Guest bloggers Brent Gilson and Roman Nowak with Mary Howard

On 4/25/19, #G2Great welcomed the second half of the newly reorganized #BOWTIE students back to the chat table to discuss the important topic chosen by our eighteen guest hosts: Building Meaningful Relationships with Your Students. On 3/14/19 eighteen other #BOWTE students engaged us in dialogue for Creating Environments that Work for Kids. This new addition makes the ninth time that #BOWTIE students have graced our chat as honored guests: 12/13/18, 4/26/183/8/185/25/173/6/1712/17/17, and6/9/16 (Sam Fremin). 

Anyone who has ever participated in our #BOWTIE chats are astounded to experience the insight these middle school and high school students bring to the professional thinking table. They study the teaching/learning process, write blog posts and present at national conferences like NCTE under the support of their teacher, Jason Augustowski. The #BOWTIE acronym (Bringing Our “Why” (because) Teachers Include Everyone) is an accurate reflection of their chosen role of professional co-conspirators since their wisdom affords understandings that gently nudge us to look at our own teaching from their perspective.

The commitment #BOWTIE students demonstrate to our profession is apparent each time they join #G2Great. We literally turn our chat over to them as they choose their own topic of discussion, write the chat questions and lead our chat family in an always engaging dialogue. This week seventeen students and their teacher, Jason Augustowski, posed questions in teams of three including

Doug Unger (grade 11); Spencer Hill (grade 11); TQ Williamson (grade 11); Ryan Beaver (grade 11); Kellen Pluntke (grade 12); Rishi Singh (grade 11); Vedika Mahey (grade 10); Anjali Jarral (grade 10); Jason Austowski (English teacher, grade 6-12; JChris Myslenski (grade 10); Sachin Srikar (grade 10); Ellie A. Anderson (grade 8); Ella McLain (grade 8); Madison K. Whitbeck (grade 8); Nyla Lindsey (grade 8); Connor Grady (grade 11); Finn Schaefer (grade 10); Charis Anderson (grade 8).

As you can see in this photo taken just before #BOWTIE chat go started, they were all ready to rock the #G2Great chat house…. and they surely did!

This time, we invited two #G2Great friends who believe as much in these remarkable young men and women and we do to guest blog. We are so grateful to Roman Nowak and Brent Gilson for sharing their thoughts around five questions:

Why are meaningful connections with students a professional imperative?

Roman

As educators, we must recognize the importance of having meaningful connections to support student learning and student success. We cannot hide behind “traditional ways” or lack of time. If we acknowledge the truth that students learn more and learn more deeply when they have that connection, we need to prioritize the connections we make with students. Building trust is a two way street, let us never ask of them what we would not be willing to do. If we want our students to be open, honest & authentic, we must show our willingness to be the same with our students. Let us strive to follow Spencer’s advice in building that trust with students.

Brent Gilson

How do we know our students without meaningful connections? How do we serve our students without knowing them? I don’t think we can do our job to the fullest without having that person to person connection. My kids know that I care about them, that I want to know their stories and because of that connection I can get more from them. The feeling of safety that comes from that group connection creates a classroom culture that promotes sharing, curiosity and a sense of community. Without the connection, just like a string of Christmas lights with a bulb burnt out, we don’t have that functioning classroom.

What could educators do to create more meaningful connections with students?

Roman

Connections are often made by simply taking the time to talk to our students. Learn about their family, their passions, their interests. Show students that they are seen and heard. Students want to feel that they are important and contributing to their class. It is up to us, as educators to let them feel that way. Some first steps in creating those connections includes greeting students at the door,  having their pictures and their families throughout the class, having lunch with them, including them or their stories in project types or assessments. Sometimes it doesn’t take much, but that connection that you build with a student will create a lasting impact.

Brent

Treat them like people instead of products would be step one. Often the work (outcomes, assignments) become the focus and we forget that our kids are kids and that they should be our top priority. By no means do I think we should push the “work” aside but the stuff the really matters, how they are doing, family life, stresses, fears, learning what makes our kids tick and them knowing we actually care, is so much more important. Educators that focus on their kids and connections over the work seem to get the results on the work too. The same can not be said for those that do not see the value in connections.

What are some “meaningful connection” take-aways” you learned from our chat?

Roman

This chat has given me amazing reflection from soul. As an educator, whenever we have the chance to hear thoughts and ideas directly from students, there is immense power in those words.  I absolutely love this take-away from Chris Myslenski (below). In life, we often talk about the importance of balance: balance in our personal and professional lives, balance with our hobbies/interests and our families, etc. When creating connections with students, as important as it is to learn about students, we also have to be willing to share about ourselves. Be proud of your own story and do not be afraid of sharing important parts of your life with your students. When you can use personal examples to consolidate learning, this becomes not only an important learning strategy but an important human strategy. Students learn more than knowledge about subjects, they learn how to be people from us.

Brent

I look at the idea of class discussions and how we as teachers need to be more aware of how to build our students up but also respect their individual personalities. It is odd that we condemn things like Round Robin Reading (because it is archaic and puts striving readers on the spot) but often will try to drag students who prefer to sit on the edge into a conversation out of their comfort zone. Discomfort is ok, growing pains are a real thing but in the classroom, we need students to know that we respect the time it takes for them to grow and that what that growth looks like will be different for everyone.  

What is one way that #BOWTIE students have inspired you as a professional?

Roman

Ryan Beaver (below) has given me great inspiration and a huge dose of reflection. When we understand that day to day, year to year, our experiences will not be the same with our students. When we understand that we need to constantly adapt to the hearts before us, we will know that we will creating better learning experiences for our students. Including students in conversations and feedback for strategies, lessons and assessments will help us improve as educators. We know that students do not have the knowledge about metacognition that we do, however, they are the reason we are in the classroom. When we change our vocabulary from being in front of our students, to being in class with our students, we show them that they are an important part of the class. I will definitely be listening to Ryan and finding ways of including discussion about learning and strategies with my students throughout the year. My students deserve the best and I deserve to have that formative feedback to grow as a learner and educator.

Brent

The biggest piece for me has been the smashing of stereotypes. So many voices tell us students don’t really care about school. They just care about Fortnite and partying. The #BOWTIE crew probably do these things but they also advocate for educational excellence, they share how important it is for teachers and students to work together as a team. Our jobs as teachers are not to command but to connect. The #BOWTIE kids and their teacher have shown us the possibilities when this is the focus.

What advice would you offer #BOWTIE for using their voices to enhance the educational process in the future?

Roman

Never stop using your voice. Our voice is part of our identity and it is important to stand up with our values and convictions. I not only applaud #BOWTIE for taking the risk and sharing their thoughts with so many people around the world, I encourage them to never stop sharing their voices. Keep pushing and challenging the status quo; keep sharing the parts of you that are important. Your stories need to be heard, your stories will help transform education.

Brent

I would be more comfortable with them giving me the advice. All I would say is keep up the work, keep those voices strong but also make sure that you make room for all the “other” fun stuff out there. I don’t think they need advice in sharing their voice, they are already making education better for so many kids.

Mary’s Closing Thoughts

Your #G2great co-moderators (FranValJennAmy and Mary) are dedicated to this professional learning space where an invitational culture of joyful twitter style dialogue has been celebrated since our first chat January 8, 2015. #BOWTIE students bring our spirit of shared learning and engaging dialogue to life. They understand that the quality of their learning opportunities are dependent upon the quality of our daily professional choices. Their questions inspire us to take a closer look at those choices with students in mind as they encourage us to envision our teaching in a new light. 

The educators who return to our #G2Great chat week after week are dedicated to this professionally responsive process. We are all inspired by #BOWTIE students’ generous sharing of ideas that allow us to envision the impact of our teaching from their side of the learning experience. They encourage us to contemplate the intentional shifts that would maximize our efforts so that we may contemplate the richest possible learning opportunities.

And so, for the ninth time, we are grateful to our #BOWTIE students and teacher, Jason Augustowski for inspiring our thinking as we consistently strive to become the best version of ourselves in honor of students everywhere.  

Tweets from our #BOWTIE guest hosts this week



#BOWTIE: Creating Environments that Work for Kids

Guest bloggers Kitty Donohoe, Brent Gilson, and Jill Davidson with Mary Howard

#G2Great was once again abuzz with excitement when our good friends and newly reorganized #BOWTIE students took the seat of honor at the #G2Great guest host table for the eighth time: 12/13/184/26/183/8/185/25/173/6/1712/17/176/9/16 (Sam Fremin). They have been our guest hosts more than any other guest in our four year chat history, which tells you how much we think of them. On 3/14/19, we gathered together to explore Creating Environments that Work for Kids

#BOWTIE are middle school and high school students who write and talk about education under the support of teacher, Jason Augustowski. They share their ideas about education at national conferences like NCTE, write blog posts and read professional texts to extend their understandings. It’s fitting that #BOWTIE is an acronym for Bringing Our “Why” (because) Teachers Include Everyone since they have become professional co-conspirators who offer reflective insight about the teaching/learning process.

Educational commitment is apparent each time #BOWTIE joins #G2Great. They choose the topic, write questions and lead our dialogue. Eighteen students joined us this week: Erik Bright (grade 9); Gabriella David (grade 9); Aaron Eichenlaub (grade 8); Ben Fremin (grade 8); Sam Fremin (grade 12); Sean Hamidi (grade 10); Nihar Kandarpa (grade 9); Chrysa (grade 9) Sarah Lehner (grade 8); Jack Martinez (grade 9); Leila Mohajer (grade 9); Jason Nguyen (grade 9); Joseph O’Such (grade 11); Sabrina Rice (grade 8); Elizabeth Salmon (grade 8); Christian Sporre (grade 11); Giana Woodson (grade 8); Anya Passino (grade 9). I love this picture taken just before the chat started:

For our eighth #BOWTIE – #G2Great thought merger, we invited friends who think as highly of these young men and women and we do. We are so grateful to Kitty DonohoeBrent Gilson and Jill Davidson for sharing their thoughts around five questions:

What could educators do to create an environment that truly works for kids?

Kitty Donohoe

After engaging in conversation with the inspiring #BOWTIE students, I recollected a favorite quote of Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” It is easy to conjure an image of the proverbial old-fashioned teacher who doesn’t smile until winter break. However, as in all things, there needs to be a balance in life.  The students talked about how much they loved hearing stories from their teachers about what life was like for them at the same age. Humor and a sense of mutual respect that needed to be earned was important to the students. On that first day of school, dynamic relationship building has more merit than a static syllabus. After all, what transcends is the relationships built, not a set of rules and a grim-faced teacher.

Brent Gilson

This past week we discussed creating environments that work for kids and I am grateful to have the chance to reflect back on the chat and my own thoughts on what we as educators can do to create the best environment for our students. When we are looking at classroom culture and creating a space that works for our students to feel safe to learn and collaborate I can’t help but think the first steps should always be hearing from our students. Being vulnerable enough as an instructor to admit that we don’t have all the answers allows our students to feel like partners in creating the best classroom environment. Collaboration with peers and with students and teachers will increase if we show this vulnerability (Suzy Rolander) It reminds me of how Pernille Ripp asks her students to tell her about what makes reading fun and what makes it suck. Their thoughts inform her practice and her example has helped me to take the same leap. What we learn from our students is priceless. I recently blogged about giving my students a chance to reflect on reading practices and it was eye-opening and helpful to me in creating an environment that is working for my students.

Jill Davidson

For me, the key word here is “create.” Creating an atmosphere that supports and engages all the learners in a classroom requires intention and reflection. We cannot develop an environment that works for all learners without inviting students’ voices into the conversation. Ask students for input on designing both the space and the learning that will take place within it. Regular debriefs on what is working and what needs to change give students an opportunity to identify their learning needs and articulate how the environment can help meet those needs. The learning environment encompasses much more than the physical space. Educators can actively participate in creating and sustaining a supportive atmosphere for learning by modeling the kind of learning that will happen in the classroom: sharing their own learning, taking risks as a learner, and being open about their curiosities and interests. One key theme that emerged from the chat was how much students appreciate a teacher who interacts with them as a collaborator and fellow learner.  

What are some “environment take-aways” you learned from our #BOWTIE chat?

Kitty Donohoe

The relationship building environment is the heart of what matters. Thus, a teacher conveying the verbal and nonverbal messages to students of being present to them and that they matter, should be foremost in a classroom.  The physical environment also has importance. Are desks clustered to foster collaborative learning? Is the classroom one that invites student choice in projects? Are partnerships encouraged so that students can learn from each other, thus making the whole greater than the sum of its parts? Is inclusivity modeled by all? Can students see their faces reflected in classroom libraries? All of these and many more components matter.

Brent Gilson

As we discussed the classroom environment the idea of balancing the fun-loving freedom with purposeful workspace came up often. I hope in my classroom that a foundation of mutual respect will take us much further than any “rules” will. A common thread among posts came up in that students need clear expectations and the sense that there will be follow through. Students need communication and clarity in what the expectations are. Reducing expectations only to then have to come down harder later is only going to serve to disrupt the space and the relationships that we have with our students. After the chat this week I really sat and thought about where my line is and how much I erase it in an effort to give infinite chances. It led to some tough conversations and hopefully, the concerns I had Thursday evening will be a thing of less frequency going forward.  

Jill Davidson

Throughout the chat the importance of safe, equitable, and inclusive spaces came out loud and clear. Students value classrooms and schools where they feel they have a say in their own learning and where all voices and perspectives are valued equally. They want to learn in environments that make them feel seen and heard. The importance of using reading, writing, speaking, and listening to learn about others and ourselves surfaced over and over during the conversation. Another key take-away for me was the reminder of how educators set the tone for the environment. Students appreciate having teachers who take the time to get to know them and who make relationship-building a priority.  

How do educators benefit by viewing our teaching from a student lens?

Kitty Donohoe

I remember that when I was a first year teacher, a parent asked me where I bought my shoes because her daughter wanted a pair just like them!  I was so surprised. But then I thought, of course, it is all about viewpoint. My primary aged students sat on the rug in front of me and my shoes are front and center.  If my shoes were front and center, well then certainly there were even more important things that I needed to think about from their perspective. Teachers need to always remember what it is like to be a student. We have more power over a young person’s life than we sometimes realize.  It is a sacred trust. Educators always need to understand that for a certain part of their life, these young people are a primary responsibility for us. This can never be taken for granted. And, it is easy to overlook their perspective. By hearing from the Bowtie students, it was a lovely reminder about how by building trust, teachers can give students more agency in the classroom. The more responsibility students have, the more their confidence can grow, and the more engaged they will become in the learning community.

Brent Gilson

When we take the time to look at things from a student lens I think we can really, if we are truly open to it, change the way we teach. So often in University, we were told to have all these intricate plans to make sure we keep our students captivated but too often they are just captive.  When we look at the tasks we assign, or even do them we see if the activity is worthy of our students. We start to see the points that might get them caught up and can be proactive versus reactive.

Jill Davidson

Viewing teaching (and learning) from a student lens helps us be responsive and empathetic educators. We often talk about “authentic learning,” and to be truly authentic classroom activities must reflect the lives of the learners. Do the texts students are reading and creating reflect their world outside of the classroom? Are students writing about topics that are meaningful to them for an audience beyond the teacher? Is the use of technology purposeful in that it extends and expands learning rather than being an add-on? Considering the learning environment from the student perspective encourages us to find opportunities to increase engagement and agency. We can look for the places where we are making decisions for students’ learning that they can be making for themselves. We can reflect on where student voice and choice can be amplified. It is essential that students have a say in what they will learn and how they will learn it.

What is one way #BOWTIE has inspired your professional understandings?

Kitty Donohoe

It is always important to reflect on one’s practice as an educator.  And what better way to do this than by hearing from young people? The BOWTIE students are remarkable.  During the chat and afterwards, as I was thinking about their insights, I was struck by how much wisdom these young students have. They made me think about how important dialogue is with students.  By listening with an open heart, a teacher truly can have more impact. Student voices are important to reflect back to teachers what works from a younger perspective. So in essence, it made me think about always going back to the source. In my case, I am working with second graders. Their thoughts matter.  They are more aware of what it is to be seven or eight than I am, thus, go to the experts for insights!

Brent Gilson

I have had the pleasure of joining in on a number of chats that the formerly #bowtieboys now rebranded as #BOWTIE have hosted on Twitter and attended a few of their sessions at NCTE this year and am always impressed by their passion and dedication to taking steps forward in education. This #bowtie chat really helped me to see that I am not really doing my students favours by constantly moving the goal line closer. I have read articles about lawnmower or snowplow parents that just get everything out of their students way and through this chat I see that I at times do that for my students when they reach a tough spot. Seeing these students discuss topics that are important to them in such an open and educated way makes me see that my students don’t need me to guide them as much. That we need to look at learning as even more of a partnership where I provide them with support and guidance but also step back to let them problem solve more.

Jill Davidson

The themes of relationship-building, collaboration, and community that surfaced from this discussion have reinforced my passion for using talk as a way to grow learning. The majority of talk happening in the classroom should be from the students. They want to discuss important topics, share ideas, develop new understandings, and consider alternate perspectives. Again, establishing an environment where student talk is at the forefront takes careful planning. Everything from the physical set-up to the curricular materials must be selected with student talk in mind. Students need time and space to gather and discuss, but they also need engaging texts that give them something to talk about!

What advice/feedback do you have for #BOWTIE as a result of our chat, perusing their blogs or personally seeing them present at a conference?

Kitty Donohoe

To quote Bob Dylan:  “May you stay forever young.”  Your wisdom, courage, and dedication shine through in your Twitter conversations.  You are our future and because I know that, I am at peace. Stay close to that vibrancy and tenacity that you exhibit your whole life for really, that is what life is all about.  Thank you for letting me learn so very much from you.

Brent Gilson

Having participated and witnessed live the magic that is #bowtie first I would like to say that I think all teachers need the experience. They opened my eyes to the potential my students have to use their own voices and advocate for themselves. The passion in promoting voice/choice and helping educators take into account a different perspective is admirable. We often talk about stakeholders in education and I believe that to truly have a conversation that places all stakeholders as equal partners we need to fully listen and the #BOWTIE kids are speaking loud and clear, and teachers should be grateful.

Jill Davidson

Don’t stop putting your voices into the world. We have so much to learn from our students! Thank you for posing questions that invite us to reflect and for sharing your insights and experiences.

Mary’s Closing Thoughts

Since our first #G2Great chat January 8, 2015, co-moderators Fran, ValJennAmy (and Mary) have been committed to creating a space for learning in the company of others. Our goal from the beginning was to nurture an invitational culture of joyful dialogue where we could grow side-by-side twitter style. It’s apparent when looking back on the chat dialogue that these amazing students epitomize that vision. They understand that our day-to-day professional choices matter and that the quality of our choices rises from deep professional reflection that often leads to intentional shifts in thinking with students in mind. 

One of the things that inspires me about our #BOWTIE friends is how generously they are willing to make their thinking public so that we can see our teaching through their wise eyes. Using their words, they hold up a reflective mirror for each of us so that we may design (and re-design) the best possible experiences for our students possible so that we can see our teaching in a new light.

We are so grateful to #BOWTIE students and teacher, Jason Augustowski for helping us to be the best version of ourselves. (Note: Please join us on 4/25/19 when they return to #G2Great) 

Tweets from our incredible #BOWTIE contributors

#BowTieBoys Reflections on NCTE 2018: Student Voice and Choice

by Mary Howard

Our #G2Great chat family was abuzz with excitement on 12/13/18 when our good friends #BowTieBoys led by teacher Jason Augustowski returned as our guest hosts (excitement that was elevated by a first time visit from our new friends, #HairBowGirls). #BowTieBoys have taken the chat seat of honor on five previous occasions including 4/26/183/8/185/25/173/6/17 and our very first #BowTieBoys event on 6/9/16 with guest Sam Fremin.

Their most recent visit followed their presentations and attendance at NCTE 2018 in Houston last month based on their reflections of the NCTE theme of Student Voice and Choice. These remarkable young men talk, rap and write about education, sharing with educators their belief that teachers are the key to making our schools a more positive and productive place as they offer specific suggestions that would bridge the existing teacher-student gap. 

Pause for just a moment and imagine what these young men ranging from grade eight to senior in high school have accomplished. I wonder how many of us could even envision sharing our ideas about teaching at a national conference, YouTube Channel, or blog post. Having experienced their powerful voices in each of these arenas, I am well aware that their collective commitment to education drives them. They are so uniquely accomplished at raising their voice and listening to them is a reminder that students are our future. 

Since this was their fifth #G2Great visit and the topic was student voice and choice, I thought it made sense to depart from the usual #BowTieBoys blog post and let their voices lead the way.  I posed questions and they graciously breathed new life into each one. We are so proud to share their words of wisdom on our chat and in this post:

What inspired you to form #bowtieboys?  What impact did you hope that this group could have on the education world and in what ways has that vision become a reality? (question posed to teacher, Jason Augustowski)

I was originally inspired to create this group when NCTE came to Washington D.C. in 2014 (our backyard).  I had already presented in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Boston and was inspired by how many teachers came to these conventions to collaborate – all in the name of doing right by kids. And that’s when I thought – but there isn’t a kid in the joint.  How do we know for sure that we are accurately meeting their needs if they aren’t a part of our planning, our assessing, our grading, our environment building, etc.?  I had built a really strong rapport with my students and their families not only through teaching, but through directing school and community musicals and coaching travel paintball.  Bringing students along to the conference was the next step in my own professional journey and one in which I truly and whole-heartedly believe. We have to ally with students as 50-50 partners.  We need to create with them to offer the most authentic choice and experience in their learning. When establishing environments, we must not only work with our colleagues, but with our kids. We need to make rapport central to the classroom (the famous quote: no kid cares what you know until they know that you care). Let’s replace worksheets with inquiry and assigned readings to libraries of inclusive and diverse texts. Let’s stop focusing on the “rules,” “playing school,” and “the way it is/has always been” and become rebels, disruptors – true educators (that are first and foremost informed ourselves). But not informed by state mandated curriculum. Not informed by politicians who have never set foot in a classroom. Informed by the constituents with whom we work each day: the students (and dare I say it, their parents). And I learned all of this from my students (when I sat down long enough to listen). We presented in D.C. with Sara Kajder about shifting the classroom paradigm (both in terms of flexible seating and autonomous instruction). And I was proud. And I thought this magic could never happen again, for NCTE 2015 was scheduled to take place in Minneapolis… and there was no way parents were going to accompany their kids across the country, right?  Wrong!

Being a male teacher, I assumed that male students gravitated to me which is why our group was comprised of boys. So, when our then small group presented in Minneapolis (this time with Lester Laminack) we decided to dress in matching outfits and boast bowties. Lester immediately dubbed us “the #bowtieboys” and the name stuck. Traveling around that conference and the following year in Atlanta, the students were able to learn, make connections and networks with our teacher heroes, enjoy the vendors, and experience a professional situation not common for their age. But after Atlanta in 2016, we were in store for another major shift. Our group grew from three to ten and would then grow again in 2018 to fourteen.

At the start of 2017, our then group of ten, took to the interwebs with a commendable force and passion. They established Twitters, blogs, a YouTube channel, began conducting professional research (they have collectively read my entire professional library), and working on a textbook in which they could encapsulate their flowing ideas. They were dedicated to make a change in education by showing teachers what students can do when given the environment and support. They wanted to partner with teachers and promote that partnering all across our nation. And to some extent (at least we like to believe) they have.  They have had the opportunity to present multiple times in St. Louis and Houston, guest host five #G2Great chats, and one #NCTE chat. They have led professional development for career switchers and teachers in our home county and they are ready to do more.

Coming in 2019 we are extremely excited to announce our new identity: BOW-TIE (Bringing Our Why because Teachers Include Everyone).  This group of now FORTY students of all genders will manage an all new website featuring the following exciting additions: an About Me page (where teachers can get to know the stories behind each of these incredible students), the Blog (the old posts will be there, but newly reformed and re-imagined. Think Newsletter, Podcasts, and beyond), the YouTube (where students will be writing, shooting, editing, and uploading original content every month), links to social media (not only will students maintain their original Twitter accounts, but we now will post on our GROUP Twitter and Instagram – look for the @handles in the new year), and a Contact Us page to aggregate booking requests. BOW-TIE wants to hit the road and come to a school district near you to learn alongside your teachers, administrators, and students. We couldn’t be more excited for what the future holds and couldn’t be more thankful to all of our friends, colleagues, and supporters who have believed in us from the beginning and helped these students make meaningful contributions to our (and their) world. Below are some of their thoughts: 

The following questions were answered collectively by students Dawson (Doug) Unger(junior);Kellen Pluntke(senior)Ryan Beaver(junior)Rishi Singh(junior)TQ Williamson(junior)Christian Sporre(junior)Spencer Hill(junior)Joe O’Such(junior)Jack Michael(freshman)Jason Nguyen(freshman)Aaron Eichenlaub(grade 8)Nihar Kandarpa(freshman)Sam Fremin(senior); and Connor Grady(junior):

Being a member of #bowtieboys comes with responsibilities beyond your own school demands. What motivated each of you to become a member of this group?

School stopped being fun for most of us in late elementary or early middle school in part due to a loss in curiosity and creativity. Learning and school in general felt like more and more of burden and our natural curiosity was constantly degraded. Part of why many of us joined was because we saw that school degraded our curiosity, not building it, and that needed to be changed. Not only did curiosity degrade over time, but many of us felt that even as we became closer in age to teachers, they would become more and more standoffish. By advocating for change in these regards, many of us also wanted to push outside our limited bubble and interact with the world in a truly impactful manner.

How have you benefited as a member of the #bowtieboys?

Due to the special and groundbreaking path of the #bowtieboys, we have built nearly unparalleled leadership skills. It is also never a bad thing to be part of anything new and innovative, which is the mission of our group. By reaching into new audiences, we have been able to become affluent with networking skills and advocate for ourselves and others. We have reached into a broad scope outside our confined bubble and interacted with teachers and educators across the nation. We have had an incredible audience to communicate with and for the first time for many of us, we our writing for an intrinsic, not extrinsic cause. By truly doing something we are passionate about, which no doubt requires a lot of time and effort, requires significant self-motivation.

More specifically, we’ve:

  • Developed leadership and networking skills and have seen a dramatic rise in our public speaking ability.
  • Started to intellectually evaluate more than just the material and have constructive criticism. Speaking off the hip and being able to talk on the spot.
  • Learned to share our thoughts in constructive ways.
  • Been able to reach outside my own bubble and look at many other parts of the world and open my eyes.
  • Been given a chance to thoughtfully voice opinions and open the door for other students.
  • Gotten more well-spoken and confident.
  • Become better, more articulate writers.
  • Started to write for an actual audience and not a grade, but an intrinsic drive.
  • Received a platform to speak from and advocate for myself and others.
  • Learned self-motivation.

Each of you have presented at NCTE, many of you on several occasions. How has this experience changed you? What contributions do you feel that you have made as a result?

NCTE is a lot of networking, plain and simple. By connecting and interacting with educators across America, we have had to build our networking skills, often in a trial by fire. To effectively network, we have to be not only willing but proactive in talking to others. Often, we develop into our own cliques, which isn’t a bad thing, but NCTE helps us move outside these cliques. Not only does NCTE break down any cliques within the #bowtieboys, but also gives us experience to talk to others outside our groups.

In much of the same trial by fire, we have had to become capable to talk (and rap) in front of hordes of teachers. Many adults have rambled on the importance of public speaking, yet few students participate in public speaking outside of class presentations. NCTE gives us a raw unfiltered experience of public speaking.

Finally NCTE is one of our greatest assets in the regard that it serves as our most valuable platform. We put the idea of student voice and choice on full display, often by intertwining typical classroom experience with other intricacies of our lives, seemingly unrelated to teaching, to construct coherent and constructive feedback for teachers from their clientele: the students. Through the fantastic experience that is NCTE, one remarked that they had smiled in those four days more than they had smiled for years.

Why is it important for educators to keep their minds open to what students have to share with us about our own practices? Give an example of how you think your efforts can change the professional world.

Education is to some degree a business, with teachers as the employees and students as the clientele. In any successful business, the employees must cater their products to their clientele. We are the clients of education, and by no means should we completely control the realm of education, but we must be an integral part of the education field. Students are constantly changing, which makes it all the more vital that education changes. Yet this cannot happen without student input, which is why our group is built on giving constructive student critiques that emphasize student voice and choice. Much like how writers don’t notice some of their mistakes, teachers may not notice some of their mistakes. The students can act as a peer editor for the teacher. It makes any of our days when a teacher either asks us what we think could take their teaching from good to great. Even by opening up educators’ mind to student feedback, we feel we have made a pronounced impact on the professional world. 

What is one thing that we can do as educators to listen more openly to our students for the purpose of understanding possible changes that will benefit student learning?

One of the schools in our area has a unique schedule where four days a week, students meet with one of their teachers for about 30 minutes and discuss how things are going in that class. Although it is more than a stretch to implement this, the concept can be used as a quick warm up or exit ticket. Just ask your students to give their constructive thoughts on how you can make learning enjoyable. Although there may be ridiculous comments, many students will take the opportunity seriously. Although this isn’t the best way, it is a subtle one and a way to show that you care about your student’s voice. Overall just embodying a transparent pedagogy and keeping an open mind can drive student voice and change.

We have had members of the #bowtieboys contribute to the #g2great chat five times since Sam Fremin originally participated in the chat in 2016. What have you gained from these twitter chats?

Learning new ideas and being able to voice our own ideas has been a cornerstone of the group since we began. With the chat, we have been able to receive quick input from teachers and students from all around the country. A network is created through NCTE that the #g2great chats recreate. Because of this, participants of the chats have become great friends for some of us that we are able to connect with through twitter or at NCTE each year and continue to learn from. It is truly a pleasure to meet new and amazing people.

CLOSING THOUGHTS…

I pause to look back at the profound reflections of fourteen amazing young men and a teacher who trusted them to use their voices to have a positive impact on this profession. As I ponder their sage advice, I am reminded how inspiring it is to see them in action. I have had the great pleasure to watch them work their magic on a crowd and even to participate in their sessions. It has been an honor to get to know each of them personally and I am filled with deep pride for all that they stand for. But now I long for the changes they seek.   

You see, we talk a good game about keeping students at the center of our professional efforts but I wonder how often we actually bring the term student-centered to life where matters most. How often do we silence our voices long enough to ask our students how we can be better and truly listen to what that means from their eyes? And if we aren’t doing that, how can we make “student-centered” more than a buzz word and turn it into a reality that could lift us higher as professionals and thus transform our learning spaces into memorable experiences that are for and about students?

As I close this post, There is one picture that was captured at #NCTE18 that captivated me personally and speaks volumes. This photo was taken just before #BowTieBoys presented at a roundtable session chaired by Donalyn Miller called Nerdy Book Club: Building Strong, Inclusive Reading Communities (C.58). I think it says it all:

Take a good look at this remarkable image. THIS beautifully reflects the collective spirit that defines this wonderful group of young men and one dedicated teacher. They each believe deeply in what they are doing and have banded together to help us to see our teaching through their ever so wise eyes. I think that we owe it to them and to this profession to pay attention to what they have to teach us.

As I was finishing this post, I took a moment to peruse the chat once again. For the first time, I noticed a tweet from TQ Williamson shared just after the chat ended. I smiled to think that the #BowTieBoys experience will someday beckon an inspired and curious new educator into this profession filled with the hopes and dreams of what COULD be rather than what IS. Let’s not wait to make TQ’s vision a reality!

Links to read more about #BowTieBoys

Mary Howard #NCTE18 Post: Learning with #BowTieBoys & Jason Augustowski

#BowTieBoys YouTube Channel

#BowTieBoys Blog Spot

Twitter Contact Information

Dawson (Doug) Unger(junior)

@dawsonunger (Junior)

Kellen Pluntke(senior)

@KellenPluntke

Ryan Beaver(junior)

@RBeaver05

Rishi Singh(junior)

@RishiSingh08

TQ Williamson(junior)

@tq_williamson

Christian Sporre(junior)

@CSporre

Spencer Hill(junior)

@spencerhill99

Joe O’Such(junior)

@Joe_OSuch

Jack Michael(freshman)

@jackmichael776

Jason Nguyen(freshman)

@JasonNg70025993

Aaron Eichenlaub(grade 8)

@AEichenlaub729

Nihar Kandarpa(freshman)

@NKandarpa

Sam Fremin(senior)

@TheSammer88

Connor Grady(junior)

@ConnorGrady11

Jason Augustowski (teacher, 10thgrade/AP Language)

@MisterAMisterA

What matters most?  Reverence or Relevance?

By Fran McVeigh

In the week leading up to this chat on July 19, 2018, I wondered about the title and where it would take the chat. I consulted the dictionary and the thesaurus. I even discussed the topic with a co-moderator. I wanted an idea or a theme in mind to “jump start” my thinking. A spark.  An angle. A beginning point. After all . . . I was going to be at #ILA18 and my goal was to not spend all weekend writing a blog post. So here’s a small snapshot of what I discovered.

Synonyms for Reverence (Source link)

Synonyms for Relevance  (Source link)

Reverence:  High opinion.

Relevance:  Pertinence.  

The “or” in the title suggests one or the other.

Flip a coin. It’s a high opinion.  

Flip again. It’s pertinent.  

But . . .

I have this queasy feeling in my stomach.

When is high opinion enough?

When the teacher says, “I like it.” ???

When the teacher says, “It has research to support it.” ???

When the administrator says, “This is what I bought.” ???

When is pertinence enough?

When the teacher says, “This is what my kids need.” ???

When the teacher says, “It worked this way for my students last year but I think if I try this one little change, it may work even better.” ???

When the administrator says, “Have you checked with others about this idea? And with whom?” ???

Before you make a decision about what you want (those things you revere) or what is needed (or relevant), let’s review this curated sample of #G2Great community tweets. The link for the entire Wakelet (archive) is at the bottom of this page.

What are our beliefs?

Meaningful, purposeful work:  What are we in awe of?

Goals:  What are we in awe of?  What do we believe is best for students?

Collaboration and Goal-Setting:  How do we keep students at the center?

Time:  How do we allocate and use time to reflect what we revere and what is relevant?

Talk:  How do we ensure that students talk more in the service of learning than the teacher?

Eureka . . .

What if, instead of trying to decide whether we need to start, continue, or stop doing something because of its reverence or relevance, we decided that both factors would be part of the same lens or filter? What if reverence AND relevance became a double simultaneous filter for reviewing and reflecting on our teaching needs and desires?

And as I participated in the chat in the midst of a group of #G2Great dear friends,

Quietly

Concentrating

Reading

Writing

Giggling occasionally

Greeting passer-bys

Reverence and relevance both merged together in Brent’s Canva of a quote from Dr. Mary Howard here.

. . . amazing child . . . notice and nurture . . . incredible potential . . . that resides in each child . . . without exception!

If that’s our vision and our goal how can we not use our understanding of reverence and relevance together?

And now that you have read through a curated set of tweets, just think about what learning in our classrooms could be if we asked students to “curate their learning daily.”  What possibilities do you envision?

Copy of Wakelet here

 

From Homewreck to Homeworth Reimagining Homework in the 21st Century

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Bloggers write to push the thinking of their readers. After reading, Harvey “Smokey” Daniels’ (@smokeylit Homewreck, as featured on  The Robb Review, the entire #G2Great team was inspired to explore ways to reimagine homework. On July 12, 2018, we invited educators to engage in a broader conversation about the role of homework and how we might make it more worthwhile in the 21st Century.

Homework in the 20th Century…

My third-grade teacher definitely believed in homework. Even though the school day was over, the far-reaching hand of my teacher knew no bounds. There I would sit, a little girl with curly hair, impossibly thick glasses, and a highly developed vocabulary, Monday – Thursday (mercifully Friday was my reprieve) with spelling lists, worksheets, and heavy textbooks – it was obligatory and there would be no negotiating. My mother, the saint that she was, would give me a snack, and let me leave Jeopardy on in the background to keep me “company” as I did my work.

Jeopardy is still on the air, and for that matter, homework hasn’t changed much either. So, I wonder if Alex Trebek is some other child’s wingman to a homework dilemma of today. Change can only happen if we are willing to discuss trying something new.

In a Word: Homework!

There were many words used to describe people’s positions on the subject of homework…

In Smokey Daniels post he writes,  “The greatest source of tears and heartbreak in our family, over all of our child-raising years, was homework.” and #G2Great educators all seem to agree! Our words used to describe homework were: useless, irresponsible, and ineffective. The way we’ve done homework in the past is not worthy of students’ time and energy. If we aspire to make homework worthy or, “homeworth”  we might alleviate frustration if turned homework into passion projects, built around inquiry and relationship building.

The Category Is...

“So, let’s start by changing the categories of what counts as homework. Then, let’s design a time that’s stress-free, that invites kids’ curiosity and choice, and that doesn’t start battles between parents and kids, ruin whole evenings, and sell more Kleenex.” – Smokey Daniels I

The best categories are ones that are self-selected and assigned by the students themselves. Reimagining homework means handing over the reins to students to pursue their interests and to stoke their curiosity. We can participate in this process and encourage their ownership and creativity if we involve everyone. That includes students, families, and colleagues. There would be a lot of moving parts but in the end, wouldn’t it be worth it to have happy, engaged children who wanted to continue learning outside of school? I believe it can be done.

I’ll Take Reimagining Homework for $1000

So, let’s join Smokey Daniels and  #ditchthehw! Together, we can reimagine a better way! We can start by sharing our great ideas. I am so grateful for @Kpteach5 because she did just that, and her tweet was a celebration!: She shared what she does to make homework more meaningful. She provides students with choice, structure, and opportunity:

As I think back to my third grade self, I wish I had a teacher like Ms. Picone, or any of the essteemed educators that participate in our #G2Great PLN. I would have been cooking with my mother, or reading to my younger brother. I might have been working with Dad in the garage building something. Perhaps I would have been singing with my sister, or sketching my dog.  It seems very fitting that for me, I will forever associate the words “homework” and “jeopardy” as one in the same:

Let’s do this better for our students.

180 Days with Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle

By Fran McVeigh

What a night!  Before the chat began Paul Hankins suggested that our theme song might be Petty’s “Free Falling” and as it ended Colleen Cruz talked about re-reading the stream “…to bask in the glow of @pennykittle and @KellyGToGo.” Either celebration would be so appropriate for that hour in time. Less than ten minutes was all it took for #G2Great to trend in the top “3” due to the wisdom flying through the twittersphere so I knew narrowing down a focus for this post was going to be a challenge as Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle joined the #G2Great chat table for their first time on May 17, 2018 to discuss 180 Days:  Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents.

I first heard about this book last November at NCTE 17 from a panel presentation consisting of Nancy Atwell, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. The chair for the panel was Nancy’s daughter. Her introductions were fabulous. Each one was better than a five paragraph essay –  well constructed and so thought-provoking. I was mesmerized. I was entertained. I was so curious.

In that session Kelly and Penny shared the overview of their collaboration and I knew instantly that this was a book that I could not wait to get my hands on. But it wasn’t  just the content of their presentation.  I was completely awestruck by their behaviors.  When Nancy Atwell went to the podium, Kelly and Penny (seated on stage) took out their notebooks, poised to write and then did write throughout Nancy’s presentation.  I was so amazed by this that I tweeted out a picture that showed them, on stage, writing while Nancy was speaking. Then when it was time for their part of the presentation, it was no surprise that at times, they finished each other’s sentences . . . truly collaborative partners. Here’s the picture and a link to a brief description of their session.

Many may think this is a book only for secondary ELA teachers.

WRONG!

I would recommend this book to EVERY literacy coach, curriculum, and/or department chair in the district as well as every administrator.

Why?

Because the first half of the book deals totally with values and beliefs that define the decision-making process for teachers.  Elementary teachers can review it from the lenses of how they prioritize their own literacy instruction, coaching, and observation because the reading and writing standards are similar PK -12. Their work would be parallel to that of the secondary students and teachers. (Not all primary teachers will believe that this book is relevant, so don’t force them to read it!)

As the lead up to this chat, I wrote a blog post on Tuesday with many of the links listed at the end of this post. I also watched Twitter comments during the week, and then Brett Whitmarsh, (@HeinemanPub), posted this podcast the morning of the chat.  It was a read aloud by Kelly and Penny.  

A read aloud of text that I had read twice before.  

A read aloud that I have listened to twice.  

The depth of my knowledge after multiple readings and listenings cannot be measured objectively, but I can tell you that the “story” behind the text and my connections to the text have increased exponentially. I will probably listen once more as I continue composing this piece.  I didn’t annotate the text, I didn’t take copious notes. I really worked on “holding my ideas” across the text with some jots and post it flags as I “spied” on my own reading in hopes of finding the big ideas.

And then came the chat.

The two areas from their book title that continue to fascinate me are both “engagement” and “empowerment”. Do you know high school students? Do they routinely feel engaged? Do they routinely feel empowered? How does this play out in real life with the students that Kelly and Penny have in California and New Hampshire?

Engagement

How do students get to the “deep thinking that reflects intellectual growth”?  Allowing student choice is a critical element. How much choice? This is most evident in reading where Kelly and Penny propose that 50% of student reading is independent reading where students choose their own reading text. How does the “content” fit into a plan to give students choice?  This entire book is about answering: “How does it all fit in?”

When students are engaged, teachers  and students will be able to dig into deeper levels of understanding. Core beliefs found in their previous books, like Book Love, by Penny and Readicide by Kelly share foundational thinking for their literacy instruction but 180 Days: Two Teachers and their Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents  provides the nuts and bolts about what this really looks and sounds like in classrooms.  Then you will discover their ideas on how to accomplish it. This is simultaneously overlaid with the WHYs so that you can follow the thinking that drove all of Kelly and Penny’s decisions.   

If students have choice, some teachers believe it feels “loosey-goosey” and seems like “free falling” because the teacher cannot plan out the year during back to school workshop days.

Free falling.  

Falling without a net.  

But as  a teacher plans there is a need to keep a laser-like focus on the end goal for the year while also waiting to see the eyes of the students before outlining the year. Within this plan is the flexibility to add/change to meet the interests of students.  An example from this school year was a mini-unit that Kelly created, planned and ultimately shared after the Parkland shooting. (Mass Shooting Unit Link)

Tweets from Kelly and Penny that Support Engagement:

As I read back through the Wakelet, I identified three themes that I felt supported “Engagement” in our chat.  We will be hearing more about engagement in two weeks when we discuss Ellin Keene’s gorgeous new book, Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning, but for now the themes of Joy, Reading and Writing Lives, and Standards and Assessments from Kelly and Penny’s tweets support increased student engagement and helped me organize my thoughts.  Do note that I deliberately left in the number of retweets and likes so that you can see how the #G2Great chat members (and or other friends within the first 12 hours) responded to this wisdom.

Which tweets stand out in your mind?  

Which ones would you like to continue a conversation about?

Empowerment

Empowerment is the second promise from the authors. What does empowerment mean? Again, students who feel they have choice and voice in their daily lives will feel empowered as well as able to reach a higher level of engagement. The two elements are not easily separated. The curriculum allows students to strengthen their reading and writing skills. The daily framework for instruction allows students to be more successful with less “push” and “scaffolding” by the teacher. Knowing that half of their time during the year will be spent on self-selected books is empowering. Respecting students’ lives outside of school is also empowering for students as it reduces external stress in their lives.

The clearer the learning targets, the more efficient and effective the instruction becomes.  The clearer teachers are about their belief systems, the easier they can articulate the relevance to the students. And yet, truly empowering adolescents will require change in the actions and work of students as well as teacher’s roles.  Students will have the power to control their learning within the class. The teacher’s role will be reduced as students take the lead in discussions and book club work.  This is not work for the faint-hearted. Students will resist in the beginning.

WHY?

Because it is work!

Why does it matter?  

Because the WHY should be guiding all decisions!

Tweets from Kelly and Penny that Support Empowerment:

Specific tweets from Kelly and Penny that supported “Empowerment” seemed to fall into two categories:  Actions and Work of the Students and Teacher’s Roles. When students are empowered, there is no need for “fake” accountability systems. Students meeting in book groups with students across the country were interested in completing their work in order to be a part of the cross-country collaboration. Note particularly what one of Penny’s seniors said as reported in Penny’s first tweet below.

Which tweets stand out in your mind?  

Which ones would you like to continue a conversation about?

The chat revealed that Kelly and Penny originally began with 20 core beliefs and they did whittle it down to 10.  Their schedules provide for daily reading and writing. Kelly (from the book and a live PD session last week) has 10 minutes of reading and writing every day.  Time matters in terms of how it is used each day, as well as across the year and throughout the secondary careers of our students.

Time matters:

Just as I can tell you that a thousand seconds = 16 minutes,

a million seconds = 12 days,

a billion seconds equals 31 years,

and a trillion seconds equals 31,688 years.

Seconds do matter! A sense of urgency is needed!

Being responsive to our students does not mean employing a whip and timer for every time segment in class, but it does require that we pay attention to the balance of time and not waste precious minutes that take away from student application and transfer of reading and writing. At all grade levels.  With all students.

Those are non-negotiables.  The videos in the book are priceless. I remain impressed with the collaborative nature of this work.  The need to have another professional to discuss your ideas with, to plan together, to teach in each other’s classrooms.  How can book clubs meet virtually in California and New Hampshire? What do students (used to sun and sand in California) who may have never seen snow fall from the sky have in common with students from New Hampshire who ride snowmobiles to school in the winter?

What questions remain?

How do YOU fit it all in?

What will YOU do to engage and empower yourself, your peers, and your students?  How do YOU fit it all in?

 

Additional Resources:

Wakelet (to review all tweets from the chat)

180 Days

Sample Chapter

Heinemann podcast 1

Heinemann podcast 2

Facebook page

Podcast part 1 – Read Aloud

Resourceful – Planning

Travis Crowder Review

Kelly Gallagher website

Penny Kittle website