Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Writing

By Fran McVeigh

Anticipation. Planning. Prepping. A waiting period. And then the event begins. Fingers race across the keyboard. “NO, wait,” echoes as I scroll down looking for a specific item. I check each time frame, still scrolling. More self-muttering until the lost is found. Replies, likes, retweets, and laughter fill the hour. A frenetic pace builds up to the closing quote and then just like a story map, the arc of a Twitter chat slows its ebb and flow. Unlike a sporting event with a starting kick off or tip and an ending whistle, time slows but does not end. The chat is over, but then Direct Messages, closing Tweets and emails extend the chat for the next nineteen minutes. Nineteen minutes or 1,140 seconds. Folks continue to chat and celebrate the learning. It’s a never ending chat as the wakelet is published and folks continue to like and retweet the conversational tweets from the chat. Such is the arc of the weekly chat of #g2great. Enthusiastic, energized folks show up to share ideas and learn together for 60 minutes. An uplifting aura surrounds keyboards across the country and sometimes the world as participants add their thoughts and questions in a life-long quest for learning.

No requirements to attend. No grades. No participation points.

Folks voluntarily joining together with a common goal.

A Twitter chat. Virtual interaction among many folks who have previously met in real life, in a variety of configurations/communities, who choose to gather around a common topic for an hour. That’s the weekly focus of #G2Great.

And what a focus on April 21, 2022! There are so many words I could use to describe Melanie Meehan, our guest host for #g2great. She is a regular member of the #TWT group, a district language arts and social studies curriculum person, a coach, a mentor, a mother of four daughters and an active parent who watches many soccer matches! But she’s also a reader and a writer. As a writer, she’s been busy. These three books are a testament to her writing skills! We celebrated Every Child Can Write: Entry Points, Bridges, and Pathways for Striving Writers on October 3, 2019 with this Literacy Lenses post and The Responsive Writing Teacher: A Hands-on Guide to Child-Centered, Equitable Instruction with co-author Kelsey Sorum in this Literacy Lenses post from March 25, 2021.

This quote from The Responsive Writing Teacher is one I refer to frequently:

When you approach writing instruction with a deep understanding of children in your classroom, everything else―assessment, planning, differentiated instruction, mentor and shared texts―begins to fall into place. And you can teach writing with inclusion, equity, and agency at the forefront.  

–Melanie Meehan and Kelsey Sorum

We met on April 21, 2022 to celebrate the third book: Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Writing, the second in a Corwin series of Five to Thrive professional books. This series has so much promise for teachers and students.

Wakelet collection of all Tweets from the chat – linked here

Why? New teachers and experienced teachers will benefit from the many features that include: “Equity and Access”, “Agency and Identity”, and “Keep in Mind”. Here is the Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1: How do I Build and Maintain a Writing Community?  
  • Chapter 2: What Should Students Know and Be Able to Do As Writers?  
  • Chapter 3: What Are Key Instructional Practices to Know and Use?  
  • Chapter 4 How do I Use Assessment For Students’ Benefit?  
  • Chapter 5: How do you shift agency from teacher to students in the writing classroom?

Curious? Interested in a specific chapter?

I’m on my third reread courtesy of my Kindle download. I’m currently checking my notebook entries against Melanie’s meticulously sourced ideas as I plan for some professional development in writing. I’m double checking and creating two column (or 2 color) notes for Melanie’s words vs. my reactions and thoughts. I’ve been studying writing during week long institutes for the last ten years and I think I have finally scratched the surface of teaching writing.

I often begin with the end in mind and I do so again in this post as I use Melanie’s words to describe her thoughts around this resource. We ask our authors these questions before each chat.

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

As the mother of four daughters who have gone to college and are now working, I have a front row view of the importance of writing and people’s ability to use and leverage the power of written expression. Schools have many priorities and teachers take on many responsibilities; I want to make sure that powerful writing instruction remains or becomes important. I also want to provide pathways and possibilities for teachers who are looking to be the best possible writing teacher they can be. 

Melanie Meehan

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

Writing this book challenged me to distill all that I know, wonder, and believe as a writing teacher into the most basic elements. Before drafting, I sat and worked to establish my own guiding beliefs about writing instruction. Those beliefs centered me and served as guideposts as I wrote. My hope is that teachers who read this book will also take the time to establish their guiding beliefs, which could be different from mine. Guiding beliefs create a powerful foundation for developing, revising, and fine-tuning all elements of teaching and learning. 

Melanie Meehan

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

Children learn to write in different ways, and there are many processes, pathways, and possibilities. For many teachers, it’s easier to identify as a reader than it is to identify as a writer, but being a writer and studying my own processes, struggles, and celebrations has led to my greatest understandings and insights about how to teach children to write.  

Melanie Meehan

Pathways and possibilities are the two words that challenged me as I read and reread Melanie’s thoughts in response to our author questions. Distilling beliefs and knowledge. Identifying as a reader or as a writer. Those themes took me back to the chat archives!

These three quotes from Melanie’s book were the pre-chat teaser, the opening and the closing. Pause for a minute and think about how these apply to your role. Which one would you like to discuss?

Goals, beliefs, and mindsets. What a treasure trove of ideas! And then just a sampling of Melanie’s tweets below illustrates the chat story line of non-negotiables, choice, writing environment, writing examples, writing identities and timelines, “I’m done”, handwriting and conventions, kidwatching, seminars, resources, student self-assessments and mentor texts.

In Conclusion

Writing is complex. Writing is a combination of physical skills (actual writing or keyboarding) and mental skills that include thinking/generating ideas, sorting out the best and most important ideas for inclusion, how to best present ideas and examples and the entire writing process.

Writing that conveys the precise meaning of the author is complex. Writing style is also individual. Every writer begins, pauses, and stops at different places.

Writing instruction is complex when it is responsive to student needs and dispositions. Teachers, families, and communities need to explore what they value in writing instruction and expand their support roles just as they do in reading because writers also deserve quality support. A knowledgeable guide can help you find access points that will benefit your writers and encourage their growth. Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Writing can be that guide for new teachers, experienced teachers and administrators leading literacy work focused on writing.

Additional Resources:

Chapter 1 Preview Link

Corwin Downloadable Resources Link

Melanie Meehan – author page link

Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading

by Mary Howard

You can access our Wakelet chat artifact here

On 4/14/22, we had the great pleasure to welcome an old friend to our #G2Great guest host seat. Christina Nosek first joined our chat with co-author Kari Yates on 6/7/18 for their book, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy (2018, Stenhouse). This week Christina returned to help us explore her amazing new book, Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading (2022, Corwin)

Christina opens her book with a loving hat tip to her first-year mentor, veteran teacher Midge. In celebration of the “Midge inspired mentors” that every teacher so richly deserves, we shared Christina’s words below during our chat that is a foundational centerpiece of professional dedication.

In one sentence, Christina offers three essential reminders:

1) Find a mentor who will set you on a success trajectory (and stay on course)

2) Acknowledge the never-ending role of your professional quest for learning

3) Keep children at the ver center of your efforts from the first day to the last

These three beliefs reflect the heartbeat of Teaching Elementary Reading and are intricately interwoven across the pages of the book. Through her words, we are consistently asked to verbalize, internalize and individualize our beliefs often and with a critical lens. It’s worth adding that while our first mentors launch a path to professional excellence, our need for mentor figures continues across our careers. I have been blessed to have countless mentors across fifty years and counting who inform and support my thinking even now. Christina models deep respect for the mentorships that will sustain us even in the most of challenging of times if we are willing to take the time to find and access the inspiration and information they so generously offer us and put it into glorious action.

In each of our #G2Great guest chats, we ask our authors to respond to three questions that offer insight into their book WHY. Since our first question directly reflects the mentors who support us, let’s begin here:

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

When I was a first year teacher, I was mentored by a dedicated and loving grade level partner named Midge, who I discuss in the introduction of the book. I was so fortunate to have a mentor to turn to whenever I had a question or concern around the teaching of reading. Many teachers do not have a Midge to mentor them as they enter the profession. I hope teachers can turn to this book in the way that I turned to Midge many years ago. 

One of the wonderful things about the entire Corwin Five to Thrive Series is that they are all positioned around essential “guiding questions.” These questions are unique to each book in the series and offer a reader friendly, belief driven experience. Christina poses and responds to six essential questions that include five key areas:

1) community (pages 8-35)

2) organization and planning (pages 36-67)

3) instructional principles (pages 68-101)

4) assessment (pages 102-125)

5) student agency (pages 126-145)

NOTE: I linked sneak peek chapter descriptions on Christina’s wonderful blog

These five chapters are tied together with next step words of wisdom in chapter 6 (pages 146-148). To add to this question-based framework, each of the five umbrella questions have 7-12 subquestions as well as additional questions that accompany wise instructional suggestions and advice across the book. With professional grace, Christina gifts us with our own mentor between two covers.

When we are honored to have an author lead our #g2Great chat twitter style discussion, we ask them to craft their own questions. We do this because it gives us a glimpse into what each author believes are the most relevant underlying book ideas from their perspective and how we can translate the passions that fueled their writing into a chat format so that those same passions will rise to the surface in the form of a twitter discussion. Because we value their responses to their own questions, let’s pause for moment and look at our six questions with Christina’s thoughts about each one in the course of the chat.

TWITTER QUESTIONS/RESPONSES

Q1 Drawing from the “Five to THRIVE” series theme, let’s establish our #G2great baseline. What do you value most in reading instruction that is designed to help children THRIVE? What practices are non-negotiable?

Q2 What are specific ways that teachers can grow and nurture the reading communities in their classrooms? 

Q3 Describe one high-impact instructional method or routine that both engages students and stretches them as readers. How do you know the method/routine works for your students?

Q4 What does it mean to use reading assessment in the service of students? What does this look like in the classroom? 

Q5 What advice would you give to a new teacher who is learning about the teaching of reading or to a veteran who wants to make their reading instruction more authentic?

Q6 One goal of our #G2Great chats is that you will take action after the chat. What have you seen or heard tonight that you a) want to learn more about? b) want to implement? Or c) want to revise to meet the needs of your students?

Christina’s responses clearly illuminate what matters deeply to her, both in her book as well as over twenty years in her own classroom. Let’s extend this by sharing her response to our second question on her book takeaway hopes:

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

My hope for teachers is that they embrace following the lead of their readers in the classroom. I want teachers to feel inspired to teach the readers in front of them rather than follow a canned curriculum page by page. Afterall, we are teachers of children, not of curriculum. 

In Teaching Elementary Reading, Christina heightens our responsibility to envision a broader perspective that is sorely needed in our schools right now while also cautioning against the one-size-fits-all approaches and practices that have long maintained a stranglehold in our schools. She asks us to expend our time and energy in the most effective, productive, and yes, joyful ways by making a commitment to let go of those things that set up roadblocks to what matters most. This process of “letting go” reminds us of the harmful impact on our learning day when a clock rigidly dictates every choice we make. Christina reminds us that we always have a choice about how we spend the important moments of our day and that those choices clearly reflect that we see ourselves as “teachers of children, not curriculum.”

One of the choices Christina enthusiastically asks us to embrace is reflected in this second quote above we shared during our #G2great chat. This is not only a choice that she embraces in this book, but one that she has embraced in her own classroom since I have known her. Volume is a topic that Christina holds dear and she approaches this with deep conviction for three areas of reading she refers to in her book: reading to learn, reading to be entertained, and reading to grow.

Before I close this post, let’s return to Christina’s third question:

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

It’s ok to feel that you do not have all the answers right now. Learning and growing as a teacher is a continual journey. Never stop seeking out the ways to best support your students. I am a very different teacher than I was even five years ago. I hope to teach differently five years from now. Serving students is all about learning and growing. 

The most important thing you need to know right now is that you are on a continual learning journey to be the kind of reading teacher who values your own learning because you know your students’ learning depends on it.” (p 6)

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

Early in the book, Christina cuts to the chase and focuses her attention on what matters most in our teaching as she brings Teaching Elementary Reading to life across each page filled with essential advice.

“Good teaching always involves following the lead of your students above all.” Christina Nosek, page 17

Every suggestion, every idea, every description and every question Christina posed and responded to so eloquently brings us back again and again to the reason for all we do – our students and what is in their best interest. Teaching Elementary Reading is a book of questions; but even more than that it is about crafting questions that rise out of curiosity and commitment to children and using them as a springboard for the view that teaching is a process of reflective introspection that helps us to make the best possible choices on their behalf.

As I began writing this post and revisiting the incredible questions Christina crafted to guide her readers on their own journey, it occurred to me that generating questions can initiate a powerful process of exploratory discovery. Just as I am certain that Christina fine-tuned her thinking in the course of breathing life into each question, we too could do the same. Just imagine if teachers created a growing list of BURNING questions, using those questions as the gentle nudge that can lead to a “continual learning journey to be the kind of reading teacher who values your own learning because you know your students’ learning depends on it” Self-discovery begins with the questions that drive us to know more, to understand more, to be more and to apply those things in our teaching. And when those questions inspire us to reflect on our innermost beliefs and commitment to kids, it can awaken the best kind of teaching and learning that occurs in the company of and in the name of kids.

I am very privileged to call Christina Nosek a dear friend, making this opportunity to craft our #g2Great post this week an added honor.

Thank you, Christina!

Writing Clubs: Fostering Choice, Collaboration and Community in the Writing Classroom

by Fran McVeigh

Wakelet archive of chat tweets here

On Thursday, March 31, 2022, the #G2Great chat featured Lisa Eickholdt and Patricia Vitale-Reilly discussing their book Writing Clubs: Fostering Choice, Collaboration and Community in the Writing Classroom. Neither author is new to #G2Great. Lisa was a guest host at #g2Great for The Power of Student Writing as Mentor Text on September 3 and 10, 2015 and Patty was a guest host on June 8, 2017 for Engaging Every Learner and October 19, 2017 for Supporting Struggling Learners. This new text about Writing Clubs has a magical and practical feel after the disjointedness of education in the pandemic years.

The subtitle says: Fostering Choice, Collaboration and Community. As I reflected on that phrase and thumbed back through the text after our chat, I chuckled to myself. Of course the three Cs were in alphabetical order. However, the most logical place to begin is community and then work backwards through the remaining Cs. Let’s get started.

Why Community?

The Writing Clubs that Lisa and Patty describe in this book are based on a writing workshop classroom. That means that certain conditions already exist and one of the most important is community. The trust. The respect. The safe environment. All writers value each other and their experiences. That power of a community naturally and planfully evolves into a collaborative setting when teachers capitalize on the time that is available for students to write.

Ideas for building community from Lisa and Patty:

Why Collaborate?

Pre-chat Quote

Research on the power of talk appears across the content areas. The increase in engagement, written production, increased depth of thoughts . . . all are possible with collaboration. The teacher has some decisions to make. Should students work as partners? Triads? Partners squared with a second partner group? Space determines some limitations and yet technology can transcend physical space when students are ready to read, review and offer feedback on each other’s work.

Why Choice?

Choice.

Do students really have choice?

What’s the reality?

Do students “get to choose” what they write about in their student writing notebooks? What they write on a daily basis? When they write? The formats they use? What do we know about what students WANT to write if we would only let them?

Consider this . . .

Conduct a status check for students. Then also conduct a status check for teachers. Move into a deep look at writing identity. If the writers have a timeline of their writing identity, have them code the times when they had choice in their writing. They may code choice of topic separately from choice in format. What information are you looking for? What information will guide your future instruction?

Why does choice matter? Carolyn succintly says it here.

When teachers responded to a question about choice, these kindergartners had 95% choice. Some high school students had little to no choice in writing. Similarly, college students had few choices.

So are students writing because they are compliant students? Do they view themselves as writers? Are they writing enough to improve? Where do they go for feedback? Do they have real audiences? Real purposes to write?

And then Part 2 of the book . . . Chapters 3 – 8 . . . the good stuff! Complement Clubs and Stand-Alone Clubs

“I barely have time to teach all the requirements. Where will this fit?”

Teacher question

Maybe you will find logical places in your calendar. Those few days before a longer break. A more casual setting during state tests. Those final days of a semester. Where writing clubs will fit for you and your students may need more exploration, but make a plan. Don’t let it fall off your radar.

The good news is that Lisa and Patty provide the rationale for complement clubs in process, craft, and digital clubs. Stand-alone clubs are genre, author, and conventions clubs. And (drumroll . . .) these clubs can be face to face, hybrid or digital learning. The frameworks have considerations for each type of learning environment.

So many resources. So many opportunities. So much joy in writing.

Lisa and Patty provide examples such as the chart below on collaborations or possible authors, or a month long outline of a club. These examples make this book a necessity for any teacher looking to ramp up their writing instruction and student engagement in writing! With Lisa and Patty’s expertise as your guide, you can consider the clubs that would benefit your students and begin immediately!

You’ve read a lot about the chat and the book from my perspective as a writer and reader helping folks navigate the writing terrain that I see and hear in districts. Let’s hear from the authors about their intentions and expectations for this book!

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

Patty began using writing clubs in her classroom years ago and saw the tremendous difference it made with her students. She loved how these clubs fostered choice, collaboration, and community. When she shared this idea in sessions she and Lisa were leading, the participants wanted to know how they could implement writing clubs.  After seeing the teacher’s excitement, the idea for the book was born. 

We have seen the impact writing clubs can have on students’ writing. Providing students with time to collaborate with their peers on self-selected writing projects and studies, can reignite the workshop classroom. We hope teachers will take the idea of writing clubs and run with it. We give examples of six types of clubs teachers might implement, but we’d love to see what new clubs teachers come up with on their own. 

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

The title of the book really says it all. In particular, the words after the colon: Choice, Collaboration, and Community. We believe these three C’s are the key to excellent writing instruction. Our book puts forth methods and ways to promote each of these concepts. Our hope is that teachers will incorporate these ideas into their instructional practice as we believe they make a world of difference in kids’ writing. 

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

As writers, we have witnessed firsthand the power of collaboration and feedback. Lisa belongs to a critique group that meets once a month to discuss each member’s current picture book. Patty has her own writing posse who she meets with to flesh out writing and professional development ideas. We have learned that writing well is a lifelong pursuit and receiving peer feedback along the way is invaluable. In addition, it’s fun! Our meetings often include food, wine, and books (some of our favorite things). Teachers are expert at taking something adult authors do, and finding a way to put these ideas into practice with students. Writing clubs are a great way to bring the idea of critique groups into our writing work (keep the wine for the adults though :)).

Concluding Thoughts

This quote …

plus a bit of “Joy Writing” or “Greenbelt Writing” (Hat Tip to Ralph Fletcher) needs to inform our educational practices. How, when and where we incorporate low-stakes writing, more choice, collaboration and increased community is literally up to us. This book, Writing Clubs, gives us the tools and the best advice from two author-practitioners who have worked successfully with writing clubs!

___________________________________

Additional Resources:

Writing Clubs Study Guide Link

Lisa Eickholdt Link

Patty Vitale-Reilly Link

Guided Practice for Reading Growth:  Texts and Lessons to Improve Fluency, Comprehension and Vocabulary

By Fran McVeigh

Wakelet LINK

Laura Robb is no stranger to #G2Great. She frequently participates in our weekly chats and has been a guest host with principal son and coauthor, Evan Robb, for Schools Full of Readers: Tools for Teachers, Coaches and Leaders to Support Students. This link gives you access to the blog post and wakelet for that book. Laura and Evan Robb coauthored this blog post in 2020, “Breaking the Cycle of Professional Compliance: Teachers as Decision-Makers.” (Link) It was truly a pleasure to welcome Laura and her coauthor David Harrison to his first chat this week.

Routines. Habits. As I drove, I hit my turn signal. It was automatic. I had driven this route for years. More years than I can count (or remember). But I had to reach down and turn that signal off because that’s not the route anymore. Change. It requires thought and a conscious effort. Changing habits and routines is hard. What will make this travel change MORE automatic? More practice!

Teaching.

Teaching also requires thought and conscious effort. Teaching requires so many decisions that teachers need to consciously make. Gravity Goldberg and  Renee Houser tell us that teachers make 1500 decisions per day (Edutopia link). It’s exhausting and yet equally stimulating to make decisions that matter for students. We must TRUST teachers to make decisions that will increase student joy AND student learning.

What is the end goal? Here is Laura Robb’s response. 

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

Teach the children in front of you. Get to know them. Watch. Listen. Have conversations with them. Read their notebooks. Increase their reading stamina with daily independent reading of self-selected books. Respond to their needs by knowing and building on their strengths. Become a responsive teacher who can adapt instruction and interventions to students, knowing that their needs change throughout the school year. Remember, that volume in reading is the best intervention and can develop students’ joy in reading, positive reading identities, and create lifelong readers!

Laura Robb, email.

I wrote this book blurb for Corwin Press after the first time I read Guided Practice for Reading Growth and now after the third reading I believe it to be even more true. 

Book Blurb: Guided Practice for Reading Growth

“What is essential for reading growth?  David Harrison and Laura Robb provide guidelines and tips for schedules, routines, instructional practices and lessons that improve students’ reading skill and self-confidence with proven sustained growth by real students in real classrooms. The authors use the research and their classroom work to provide evidence that students working below their grade level do not need pre-made programs or one-size basals but do need knowledgeable teachers who know their students and align and craft guided practice that encourages students to work hard to meet their goals. This book details how guided practice reinforces and enhances independent reading, interactive read-alouds, vocabulary building and writing about texts in a reader’s notebook. The implementation of the ideas in this book will help teachers develop effective and efficient targeted instruction that capitalizes on teacher knowledge and relationships with the students in their classrooms.”

Fran McVeigh, email.

Three big ideas form the focus of my thinking and understanding about this book based on Laura and David’s ideas, my previous work with middle school students, and the nature of curriculum/intervention plans and resources for middle school students. Let’s explore.

Instruction that meets the needs of students must be carefully crafted and implemented

No one lock-step, one-size-fits-all curriculum works. I see students in middle school and high school who are “not proficient” in reading. I am over-generalizing, but basically that means they missed a cut-off score on some skill area. Some argue that they must ALL need phonemic awareness or phonological awareness if they are struggling in reading. But what of students who have been a part of explicit phonics instruction who year after year are given another NEW phonics program because the last one was not successful and they are now down to literally TIER 6 in phonics programs and have very little time READING but spend much of their time in drills and isolated word work? Students are frustrated, disheartened and tired of “work that makes them feel stupid.”

Instruction can be so much more for students. The lessons Laura and David provide in Guided Practice for Reading Growth can be used “just in time” for student practice that they need NOW. Not after a data team meeting, but NOW to allow students to make accelerated growth without waiting for the roulette wheel to spin up their name at a pre-designated review.

David’s stories and poems are an excellent catalyst for instruction. The lessons Laura crafted are easily replicable by teachers. There are two sets that teachers are encouraged to make their own. Trusting that teachers know the students best, there is a set for partner discussion and a set for shared reading which lead to student writing. Talk. Writing. Part of the reciprocal action cycle of reading.

And then the finale. Part III in the text is “Next Steps for Guided Practice and Growth in Reading.”  The beauty of adding in fluency practice that is self-selected and performed by students is tantalizing. Maximizing efficiency and effectiveness with teacher data-based decisions about how to structure time and resources to meet student resources is teacher autonomy at its best!

Choice and agency are necessary for students to grow as readers.

Independent reading is a daily expectation in this structure. Students are allowed to choose texts that align with their interests. Teachers are encouraged to choose texts that students will find engaging.

Fluency practice as presented in this text is never reduced to reading rate, but instead, is all about the interpretation and the love of language. Empowering teachers. Empowering students. Empowering student learning. Empowering student progress. Empowering students as leaders. And again, providing practice opportunities for students to do the work themselves and choose their own reading materials!

Student reading identities matter.

Students have to find both the joy and belief in their own ability to read. By middle school and high school this is not easy. Some students have already fake read the same book three or four years in a row. Other students are quite good at shrugging off the “I’m too busy to read. Check out my activities” excuses. We’ve known about the importance of reading and writing identities but often not had the time, energy, resources or support necessary to grow identities. Successful and powerful reading and writing identities that respect their age, emotional maturity, and are worthy of both student and teacher time and attention. Choice and scaffolded instructional times provide opportunities for student identities to grow and mature.

This is further emphasized in the authors’ responses to the remaining questions.

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

The first big takeaway is to use formative assessments and relentless kid watching to identify students’ strengths and build on these strengths with guided practice lessons. Guided practice lessons are short, focus on what students need, and invite them to do the thinking and work that can improve their reading and enlarge vocabulary. The next big takeaway is that volume in reading is an intervention that can bring students reading below grade level into the reading life and develop their reading identities.

Laura and David, email.

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

My work with fifth grade students entering school reading at a kindergarten to early second grade reading level pushed me to rethink reading instruction and intervention.  Besides having them read self-selected books every day for about 20-minutes, I began developing guided practice lessons using short texts to engage them in deep thinking, meaningful discussions, and writing about reading. Another goal was to enlarge their vocabulary and background knowledge, and watching short videos prior to reading worked well. Students loved them, but if a few needed to revisit the video, it was easy for them to watch it a second or third time on their own or with a small group. With award-winning poet, David Harrison, writing the poems and short texts for the guided practice lessons, students can read culturally relevant texts on topics they suggested through surveys conducted in grades five to eight 

         David and I hope that teachers of grades 4 to 8 will integrate guided practice lessons into their instructional reading. Once teachers try the lessons, there are guidelines in the appendix for developing their own guided practice lessons. To support teachers as they get started with developing lessons, David Harrison wrote extra poems and short texts that are in the appendix; there’s also a list of magazines teachers can mine for short tests and lists of poetry collections to investigate. The goal is for teachers to intervene as soon as they observe students require extra practice and gradually release responsibility for learning to students.

Laura Robb, email.

In conclusion, just as students need carefully crafted instruction, with choice and agency as well as support for reader and writer identities – so do teachers! Guided practice is a simple, yet practical way to provide students with opportunities to joyfully develop into lifelong readers who can and do read.

The Last Word: What would you like teachers to know?  David’s response


Tapping Into Teacher Empowerment

by Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to view the Wakelet

How do we tap into teacher empowerment? This is a question that I have thought about for a long time. It has been my experience that empowered teachers draw on knowing the curriculum, having an understanding for child development, and a knack for setting attainable goals with students that help their students recognize their own inner stores of power, but I wondered what other teachers had to say on the matter. On September 16, 2021 #G2Great began a conversation about tapping into teacher empowerment, and after reading through the Wakelet it became clear to me that GROWING A CULTURE around empowerment is really the next frontier. 

What if we actively created a culture that was built around teacher empowerment in school?  I imagine that it might be like this, teachers come to school believing that their thoughts and decisions will make a positive impact on the collective good. Every faculty member would know that their expertise would be held in the highest esteem.  From where I stand, teaching is already the best career there is and if it were possible to work in a culture that tapped into teacher empowerment, it would be life changing for our profession and our students.  That is something worth fighting for, and here are some ways we can begin to make a shift towards tapping into (a culture) of teacher empowerment.

Listen to Teachers

Building a school wide belief system stems from an ongoing conversation about how students learn best. Once we have that vision, we can begin to align our beliefs and we can promote a shared voice in the materials that we put into the classroom. One way to promote ownership is to let teachers decide what kinds of materials reflect the shared vision.  Teacher autonomy would stem from having a voice and choice about classroom libraries, based on the needs of their classrooms.

Promote Intellectual Curiosity

It is a goal of many to take a student centered approach to teaching and learning. It is also important  to extend that same stance for professional learning for teachers. Having choice in the kind of professional learning that is received is very empowering.  We need to follow the teacher lead when it comes to learning because each teacher has a different need. Peer facilitated coaching is another way to promote empowerment because having the freedom to visit a colleague and learn collectively is the kind of on the job training that promotes professional growth while tapping into teacher expertise.

Take Action Through Agency

The culture of school does not always jive with the concept of agency. There are so many tasks teachers are asked to complete at school that suck up time and effort. Our focus becomes a checklist of “have to’s” rather than time spent cultivating the craft of teaching. It is hard to feel inspired to take action when obligatory duties take over.  We can strive to make this better. Everyone has to submit lesson plans, but rather than  submitting lesson plans prior to the lesson, submit them after with teacher reflections written in the margins. This encourages deeper reflection while giving administration a better view of what is happening in the classroom.  What went well? What failed? What did you learn? Innovative solutions are out there, let’s devote time and energy to making it happen.

Begin Good Conversations

One tenant of #G2Great is that we believe we move from “good work” to “great work”  in the classroom  (Howard 2012) when we continue to read and act on professional learning. A school culture that embraces a teacher’s desire to learn and try something new is one that is made to tap into teacher empowerment.  Every week, I learn so much from the teachers I work with and the teachers I know through social media. Risk would be a badge of honor, a marker of courageous learners who are trying to outgrow themselves. This would be a culture that would be worthy of the students we teach everyday. 

Never Lose Sight of What is Possible

The culture we live in school is in some part a reflection of ourselves. What if? Two common words that have an uncommon ability to power real change. If you find yourself wanting more, and dream of tapping into your own sense of empowerment; don’t wait, you can make the difference.

Schools Full of Readers: Tools for Teachers, Coaches, and Leaders to Support Students

by Mary Howard

On 3/12/20, #G2Great was delighted to welcome authors and friends Evan Robb and Laura Robb into our guest host seat to discuss their wonderful new book, Schools Full of Readers: Tools for Teachers, Coaches, and Leaders to Support Students (2020Benchmark PD Essentials) I feel honored to write this post since Evan and Laura are long-time treasured friends and we have had many spirited conversations about this shared personal passion topic that was the highlight of our chat.

Understanding the inspiration behind a book is a good beginning, so we asked Laura and Evan to respond to this question:

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

Evan and I recognized that for schools to use and invest in wonderful books for independent and instructional reading, teachers have to collaborate with the principal, media specialist, literacy coach, and reading specialist. By working and learning together, we believe schools can fund classroom libraries and books for instructional reading. We want students to have choices, read widely, and find pleasure and enjoyment in reading. Research shows volume in reading enlarges students’ vocabulary and background knowledge and improves comprehension. 

In the opening words of their book, Evan and Laura cut to the chase with a call to action in the form of a promise to their readers: 

Our goal is to provide the information and inspiration you need to bring about a joyous, school-wide culture of reading. (page 3)

Bringing this promise to life requires us to notice roadblocks that may be blurring our view. A joyous, school-wide culture of reading is not the reality for too many children as we see choice reading swept aside as an irrelevant afterthought or in some cases, principals denouncing it as wasted time. For those children, the vision of schools full of readers is relegated to the luck of the proverbial draw as prescribed TO DO lists far removed from our heart quest robs us of precious minutes to bring kids and books together.

Since we must first address roadblocks thwarting our efforts to achieve joyous, school-wide culture of reading in the name of our kids, I’d like to begin by highlighting five major roadblocks standing in our path forward: 

Breaking down our Schools Full of Readers Roadblocks

As we contemplate next steps, Laura and Evan responded to our second question:

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

We want school leaders to foster ongoing professional learning and conversations and develop skilled teachers who can use books to meet the diverse learning needs of their students. We created detailed checklists for teachers, so they can assess where they are with reading, support one another, and self-evaluate as they use the finest books. 

Once we know the roadblocks that deter our efforts to create schools full of readers, we need to turn our thoughts to building a bridge that can lead us to the reader centered schools we desire. Two quotes in the book seem like a good segue to our bridge:

Be creative about transforming your classroom into an oasis of books and the joy they bring. Laura Robb

Growth comes from taking a risk–trying something new, failing, reflecting, and refining instruction. Playing it safe maintains the status quo. Evan Robb

Spurred by our creative efforts to transform our learning spaces into an oasis of joyful reading using our determination to take risks, we can now turn our thoughts to the next step in our journey by exploring five new considerations for building our bridge: 

Building a Bridge of Schools Full of Readers Possibilities

As we come to the close of this post, here is our third question we asked Laura and Evan: 

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

Volume in reading matters! Research shows that the more students read, the more skill and expertise they develop.  We want to see independent reading of self-selected books at school and books in all subjects that represent the instructional range of learners. All students should have materials they can read and learn from throughout the day.

Final Thoughts From Mary

As I perused our #G2Great chat to prepare for this post, I was energized by the steadfast commitment our educators brought to the schools full of readers spirit Laura and Evan write about so eloquently in their book. The enthusiasm rising from inspired tweets is a reminder that teachers everywhere are honoring this spirit in their respective learning spaces. We know that this celebratory view of reading is not about window dressings with a ‘Look at me” mentality but creating classrooms where our readers can blossom in the company of others.

In closing, I am drawn back to Laura’s words along with three other tweets reflecting that our dedication is not to some readers but to all readers. We know that we will never have a school full of readers until every child has the same promise of leading readerly lives in our classrooms and beyond regardless of what they bring to the learning table. 

… and that gives me great hope that we can truly have Schools Full of Readers! 

Framing Increasing VOLUME as Our Central Intervention Goal (3/5)

by Fran McVeigh

The June 7th, 2019 #G2Great chat was the midpoint of five chats scheduled under the title: Rethinking our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative and and it was momentous as the Twitterverse was filled with wisdom about increasing volume.

Before we can begin, what exactly are we talking about?

What is volume? This question whirred in my brain for the week leading up to the chat as I thought about my answers to the chat questions and this follow up blog post. Some answers: Not the volume on the TV. Not the “speak louder” for volume in fluent reading. Not the first “volume” in the Harry Potter series. Not the volume measurement in liters.

How do you define volume in reading? In search of a definition of volume, I consulted some reading texts, Google Scholar, and some real life literacy scholars. There are several definitions available. Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis define it as “Access + Choice + Time.” Those three elements were present in the pre-chat quotes shown here.

Although literacy gurus agreed that volume was critical to student success in reading and writing, everyone also had just a little different twist that added depth. Allington said it most succinctly when he talked of time spent reading and number of words read.

Scholastic. June 2015

Others chimed in with “meaningful” and “engaged” reading as well as “across the day” although a commitment to time remained constant. Both Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher tell us that if students are not reading AT school then we know they are not reading at home either.

But is Reading Volume more flexible and fluid than JUST time and words?

Yes, there must be a commitment to time but a small part also says access means a lot of texts as well as the engagement factor or rapture of being “lost in a great book” and then the meaningful conversations that come from conferring and dialogue about books.

How do we measure Reading Volume?

In the past many have tried to measure reading volume with book logs and lists of books read. Questions and concerns arose from those practices: Were the books chosen by the students or the teachers? Were the lists accurate? Did the lists include some “fake reading” titles?

Accountability may have won the battle and lost the Volume War as students did the “bare minimum” or perhaps less only in the name of compliance or completed logs. Time is surely one factor.

But does time only count when provided by teachers?

What about the time when students are “sneak reading”? And HOW would time be counted? Minutes? Pages? Books? If we value time spent reading, there is no time to be wasted “counting” words so we could use “The Google” to find out some word counts. (Try googling Harry Potter and number of words just for fun.) As students build up stamina, how could/should those counts increase?

One way to consider the flexibility and fluidity of time is shown in this table from Simple Starts by Kari Yates. The differences between the fall and spring show the expected growth in time and also reflects the increased difficulty of texts throughout the course of the year.

Heinemann link

A commitment to access to quality books (chat #2) and quality Tier 1 (chat #1) are a great beginning to improving interventions for striving students. Where do we find Access, Choice and Time that are necessary for reading VOLUME? We will need to continue to say NO to programs that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to continue to say NO to interventions that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to say NO to “magic bullets” that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to say NO to spending money on resources that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read.

How can these tweets add to your knowledge bank?

Tweets curated from Wakelet

What conversations do YOU need to have about VOLUME?

Maximizing Our Potential: Independent Application (4/5)

By Fran McVeigh

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

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

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

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

Source Link

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

Includes Choice

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

Is Authentic and Meaningful

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

Feedback Fuels the Work

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

Includes Practice for Transfer

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

Promote Student Ownership

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

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




Additional Resources

Wakelet Link

Previous Posts

Part 1 Allocating Instructional Time

Part 2 Classroom Design

Part 3 Student-Centered Learning

Teaching With Heart: Unlocking Growth Through Mindsets and Moves

by Jenn Hayhurst

Picture for Gravity

Springtime makes promises: Yes more light will fill your days. Yes new life will color your landscapes. Yes your world has begun a shift to something new. Teachers are always on the lookout for signs of change. Our work is to learn how to cultivate growth, to understand its process, and to help it thrive no matter the context. We rest our hopes on a small but powerful word – yet.  When teachers use a mindset that embraces the power of yet, they make promises: Yes I believe in you. Yes I will help you. Yes together, we will find the next step in the journey.

So it seems like perfect timing that Gravity Goldberg hosted #G2Great Thursday, March 24, 2016. In her book, Mindsets and Moves, Gravity challenges teachers to honor growth in all its forms. Her work reminds us to make choices that value individual learners and the unique process that each will experience. Learning something new is seldom easy so if we are going to live and breathe a growth mindset our instruction needs to deal with struggle in strategic ways:Q1 Answers

 

Admiration: Gravity’s work celebrates an admiring lens. All students are worthy of  study, and we should regard them with a sense of wonder and curiosity. This beautiful stance embraces where they are and place trust in their potential for growth:

Answers to Question 2The Gradual Release: We offer the support students need and then work to move them toward independence. Students shape the path for learning so that our teaching has relevance. The message was clear that the more we bring students into the process the more meaningful learning becomes:

Answers to Q3Student Centered: Gravity’s work inspired reflection for the intellectual worlds we create for students. Let’s co-construct spaces for wonderment, choice, and demonstration. When teachers are expert learners rather than holders of knowledge, we reach a higher standard of rigor:Answers to Q4

Ownership: The chat began to converge on this topic and our message is ownership is the antidote to learned complacency. Thoughtful planning that supports collaborative work and independence is a sign that teachers are being responsive to students’ needs:

Answers to Q5 ...

Being Strategic:  This is different than teaching strategies. Being strategic demands an authentic  context. Whether it is: selecting a text, discovering new reading territories, or building libraries that promote connectedness. The strategy has to fill a genuine need:

Answers Q6

Problem Solving: Students are meant to be active participants who can articulate what they need next.  We name the challenge and put the learning in their hands.  When we give them time to work it out we are amplifying their learning process:

ANSWERS TO Q7

Feedback: is essential! Chatters agreed that when we take risks and push ourselves to learn more our students get the benefit of an authentic model.  When we provide clear and concise feedback, we help students to think through the process so that they can outgrow themselves:  

Answers to Question 8We invite you take the #G2Great Challenge

#G2Great ChallengeJust as springtime makes promises, we also make promises to our students. Yes, we will help our students find the next step in their growth journey. We are in this together, take Gravity’s advice back to the classroom.

Gravity Slide.with Quote png