Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Keeping Curiosity Close

by Jenn Hayhurst

To access the full archive for this chat please click here

At the start of this school year, not one of us could have imagined how strange and unfamiliar the educational landscape would appear to us today. A pandemic has changed our educational speak to include words and phrases like: distance learning, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, mute your mic, remember to sign in, turn on your camera, and virtual… well just fill-in-the-blank on that one. Our classrooms are no longer physical spaces, they are virtual, and filling those spaces, is very different from what was before.

How do we make the most of our “new normal”? As we use the eye of our cameras to enter into students’ homes we can embrace their interests, encourage their questions, and find lots of ways to celebrate them and all that they are. We are also inviting them into our homes. With curious eyes, they are learning about our interests, and this experience, I believe is helping them to get to know their teachers in new and powerful ways. We can use this distance from our students to help them see their world through curious eyes. So as we close out the 2019/2020 school year, #G2Great educators came together to discuss curiosity and what we really want for our students.

We Want More Happiness!

As we dug a little deeper into curiosity we found that it glistens as a bright light for happiness. Curiosity is the thing that feeds our hearts and motivates us all to live more satisfying lives. This is true for us and it’s true for our students. How do we do make the most of it? We can embed curiosity into all aspects of the gradual release: the “to” “with” and “by” for instruction:


We Want More Creativity!

In my mind’s eye, I imagine looking at curiosity as a gemologist may examine a precious stone through a jeweler’s eye. How do we estimate its value when it comes to creativity? One way would be to celebrate the high levels of engagement creativity generates. Another would be to consider the high levels of critical thinking that goes hand-in-hand with a curious mind. Writing, building, and brainstorming ideas are all products of creativity that is unearthed through curiosity:

We Want More Self Reliance!

Teachers are able to sift through the silt of the academic day and find nuggets of curiosity. They find them, they shine them up and put them on display for all to admire. This is how they build a culture of curiosity, one with a strong foundation of self-reliance. These classrooms are not hard to identify, just look to the students

To see the world through the eyes of a curious learner is perhaps the best perspective we may offer our students. I for one have been reminded of how important it is to keep curiosity close to inform my teaching. Let’s make a pact just as we might have when we were kids. Say it with me: I promise to try to look for ways to increase curiosity and happiness! I promise to find ways to be creative and find curiosity in everyday life! I promise to celebrate self-reliance and curiosity every step of the way! Indeed curiosity is a hidden gem that we may take with us for having gone through this experience. Use it well.

#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.


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)


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)


Connor Grady(junior)


Jason Augustowski (teacher, 10thgrade/AP Language)


“Sparks in the Dark”

By Fran McVeigh

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

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

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

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

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

Why did Travis and Todd write this book?

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collective Curiosity: Informational Texts with Authors

by Mary Howard

On July 26, 2018, our amazing #G2Great family gathered together to celebrate our Collective Curiosity for Informational Texts and Authors. Each week our chat trends on twitter and although we are humbled by this honor, we also know that it has little to do with me or co moderators Fran McVeigh, Jenn Hayhurst and Amy Brennan. Rather, we acknowledge that our trending status is the result of the enthusiastic circle of dedicated educators who hunger for engaging respectful collegial dialogue just as much as we do.

I love the passionate twitter style discourse that swirls into the air at warp speed. But in addition to real time joyful dialogue, we are blessed to be able to take a trip down chat memory lane using two venues. First, thanks to our friends at Wakelet we can create “Wakes” to revisit the experience after the fact. Second, we each take turns writing an after-the-chat reflection where our unique perspectives breathe new life into the experience.

When my #G2Great blog turn rolls around I begin by perusing our Wake several times to re-experience both the conversation and the feelings that rose from our live chat. If I am very patient, patterns slowly begin to emerge with each new perusal, although where this will lead me is never quite clear until a direction taps me on the shoulder. This week, a lovely quote from Lester Laminack gently nudged me down my writerly path:

Lester’s words brought WHY into clear view and thus set the stage for the spirit of collective curiosity we had in mind when we crafted this chat. So I’m going to draw from Lester’s inspiration using three big questions to drive my thinking about informational texts: WHY? WHAT? HOW? I’ll share my reflections around each one with a few #G2great tweets. These questions are the glue that always seems to hold my thinking together, so they seem custom made for this post on informational texts.

Big Question 1: WHY?

Lester’s words set the trajectory for this post because his words reflect the heart and soul of the conversations inspired by our chat this week. Pause for a moment and reread his words as you envision the heartfelt meaning. Isn’t creating a sense of wonder, curiosity and pure unwavering joy what we want for all of our children? Our initial question asked our chat friends to send a love note to their favorite informational author. This question awakened a celebratory love fest for informational texts that lingered from the chat opening to the closing.

The tweets below return us to the spirit of collective curiosity we believe informational texts deserve. We want those passionate “Oohs” and “Ahs” Jennifer describes to fill the learning air, knowing that this has much to do with our ability to create an joyful experience that will beckon kids to a shared informational love fest. Melinda eloquently refers to transporting children “in the middle of the ocean where hearts pound.” Informational texts can take us to places we can experience for the first time or one of many because informational text authors and illustrators/photographers intermingle powerful words and images in our honor. Lisa celebrates questions, wonderings, and passions that “come to life” when readers and writers unite in a passionate quest designed to heighten collaborative meaning-making. Valinda reminds us that when move beyond factual information we can uncover “a riveting narrative” patiently awaiting us.

Go ahead and soak in that WHY for informational texts. We do not make informational texts a priority for the sake of completing Standards checklists, doling out passive worksheets, graphic organizers and tasks or playing the ever so dull hunt-and-peck fact game. We share beautiful informational texts because we want to inspire the collective curiosity and wonder that is sure to elicit the oohs and ahhs that symbolize that spirit. When WHY is the GPS that allows us to set our sights on this process, then wondrous inspired and curious thinking is sure to follow. That seems like a worthy goal to have in mind before we even begin.

Big Question 2: WHAT?

WHY is the directional marker that gives us a sense of purpose, but in order to bring WHY for informational texts to life, we must first embrace the essential role only we can assume. Informational texts we thoughtfully and responsively choose for these experiences with children in mind may well reflect the ‘make or break’ that will captivate our readers or merely hold them unwilling hostages in a reader back seat. If we choose a boring, trivial text without considering the passions, interests and needs of the students in front of us, then we have lost our way along the path to WHY before we even begin get out of the starting gate. Responsible text choices with students at the center are only possible when we know our students – not as a number, score, level, or blip on a spreadsheet – but as learners who have incredible potential (and they all do). We must assume responsibility to take ample time to truly know students both as learners and humans, know text options are worthy of those students, and know the literacy process so that we can support and nurture our desire to bring kids and books together. None of these things can be left to chance or relegated to an outside decision-maker.

I see this commitment to text choice in each of the four tweets below. Judy illustrates this point by cautioning the use of “sanitized texts,” opting instead for the authentic informational texts that would invite students to an intellectually and emotionally engaging experience. Laura reiterates this point by reminding us to choose the best possible informational books we can find and extends that message by highlighting opportunities to use the texts as a stepping stone to bring reading, writing and talking to the forefront. Melanie emphasizes the importance of broadening our view of texts by creating paired text sets displayed proudly in the classroom library and Mollie suggests that we create a place of honor to celebrate and spotlight informational texts. These are all ways to instill wonder and inquiry and it seems to me that this is the goal of every reading experience we bring into our teaching and learning spaces.

WHY gives us a sense of direction, but WHAT allows us to pack our instructional bags to full with resources that will bring our purpose to life in action. As long as we continue to focus on informational texts in inflexible guided reading groups that reduce children a level from which there is no escape, we will never celebrate this role. We exacerbate this issue by choosing read aloud texts from controlled anthologies that have not only been ‘sanitized’ but basalized with cropped images and words that change the meaning along with wonder-curiosity potential. Without WHAT, nothing else will matter much so we must spend time contemplating the texts based on a wide variety of options that will excite, entice and invite our readers to the reading process.

Big Question 3: HOW?

Once we have our directional marker of WHY (purpose) and our instructional bags are packed with the finest possible WHAT (texts), we then consider our HOW. HOW allows us to initiate instructional experiences that will enrich and elevate our purpose given the rich texts that we have lovingly gathered. Again, we cannot do this without knowledge of research and students. As we ponder our HOW around informational texts, we begin by contemplating how to create an experience removed from the mere “factual mining” that can easily become the default method when we don’t understand meaningful, purposeful and emotionally engaging experiences that lift those opportunities higher. Our purpose and texts inspire us to reflect on how we can design an experience that brings wonder and curiosity to the surface. Only then can we invite our children to joyfully learn their way across these opportunities that make reading writing and talking a seamless part of that process.

Although HOW is too vast to reduce to a few tweets, the four I have chosen below do give us a starting point. We were so grateful that Melissa Stewart, informational picture book writer extraordinaire, lent her voice to our chat. I loved her words that these texts should initiate a self-driven research process through a ‘treasure hunt fueled by curiosity.” A treasure hunt is not a fact-finding mission but an opportunity for children to follow their passions with our support. Mary Anne reminded us that student choice is the tipping point to maximize the impact of these powerful opportunities. Whether that reflects choice in terms of WHAT OR HOW, we always leave room to put students in the driver’s seat so they can maneuver to a destination where magic happens. Melanie reminds us to seek out experts, using the gift of social; media, onsite visits or any means possible so we can give the text a face. Valerie’s “tiny notebook” ideas brought visions of our young researchers gathering personal passions in words, images or reflections of their choice.

There are endless possibilities for informational text instructional implementation but each of these are rooted in professional decision making and student ownership. The essential HOW is not about finding a script that will blind us to these possibilities but to embrace our responsibility as knowledgeable decision-makers so that we can make the choices that no package ever could ever. We are well aware that no child was ever inspired as a learner by narrow preconceived question interrogation or packets that require little more thought than hitting a BUY button to passively download and print. As professional decision-makers, we recognize that we must trust the book to do the hard work and trust the child to apply our teaching and draw from their own inner resources so that we can then support rather than control this work. We willingly encourage children to follow their own curiosities through book clubs, passion projects, research groups or any other experience where we put decision making in their hands so that we can assume the ever so lofty role of facilitator and kidwatcher.

Bringing our WHY, WHAT and HOW together…

As I was writing this post I realized that although I separated the three big questions of WHY WHAT and HOW, they really work in tandem. Like an enormous curiosity inspired puzzle, these three pieces of the puzzle bring us full circle from the beginning, the middle, the end and all points in between so that we make our way back to our children. It seems only fitting to share the wonderful student comments Melissa Stewart kindly curated as they reflected on their informational text choices. As I read each of these incredible reflections, I couldn’t help but wonder why we don’t take the time to ask our students about their preferences and use the knowledge in our own teaching.

And so in closing I’d like to return to Lester’s beautiful words at the beginning of this post. As we reflect on creating an “experience” that will linger long after that informational text experience, I envision the same kind of fascination that will inspire moments filled with giggles of excitement Lester described, You see, our WHY WHAT AND HOW are so much more than mere questions. They represent our deep belief in our responsibility to create instructional experiences in the spirit in which those questions were intended – to celebrate those practices that will become a force of good so that we can enrich the learning lives of children. In the end, that is a professional imperative that only knowledgeable caring educators can bring to life!

More Inspired Informational Text Tweets from our #G2great Family