Literacy: Meaningful Conversations with Families

By Carly Moats

Dear Families,

As key players on your child’s team, I am anxiously looking forward to becoming better acquainted. Parent-teacher-student conferences offer us the opportunity to share how we are all supporting your child. I am curious: What do I need to know about your child? Are there extracurricular activities that keep your family busy outside of school? What is your family’s routine for school work that comes home? How does reading fit into this routine? Who else is on your child’s team, supporting them as a whole child?

Admittedly, in the past I used large amounts of educator-speak to prove the work I was doing to support your child as a reader. I would gloss over reports from one or two assessment measures. Next, I would pull your child’s most recent running record—with check marks and codes scribbled across the page—to highlight what she received reinforcement on and what we decided to work on next. Last, I would confidently share the text level we were currently working in and the end-of-grade-level expectation. With that I would usher you out the door with a handful of reports, feeling like I had done my due diligence in explicitly describing your child’s reading skills.

Over time I began noticing that parents, just like you and me, were disconnecting from the conversation; not intentionally. I had shifted the conversation away from their child by reverting to the language of educators: Your child is reading well above benchmark expectations. Your child scored in the low achievement/high growth quadrant. Your child is reading 100 words per minute. Your child is a level H and the expectation at this time of the school year is level N. Your child should only be reading books at their level.

Skip forward to today: Just like the parents I have met with in the past, I know you want to be well informed about your child’s reading abilities and growth. The difference is that, when you leave our upcoming conference, my goal is to have you walk away with a clear picture of your child as a reader and what we can do together to continue growth. Just because I am not using the jargon does not mean that I am sugar-coating the amount of growth we need to make this school year.

You can expect me to immerse you in texts that your child has read over the last week or so. You may be familiar with many of these texts, having seen your child reading them on the couch at home or stuffing them into his backpack as he runs for the bus. I will model for you reading behaviors your child is using to actively read and discuss these texts, as well as what strategies I will support him with next. I will show you an example of the kinds of texts students are expected to be reading by the end of the school year, again, connecting reading behaviors needed to uncover the key details and messages shared by the author.

Now that you’ve seen the kind of work your reader engages in, I will show you how she is applying these skills on district assessments. You can expect me to be a sensemaker alongside you as we decipher the current and end-of-year expectations and sharing where we go next to support your child’s growth.

Moving on, you may notice my voice becomes more animated and excitement is more evident in my mannerisms. I strongly believe this is the most important part of our conference: I will explain how I am encouraging your child’s love of reading through book talks, viewing book trailers, visiting author’s websites and being transparent about my own work as a reader. By coaching him to determine his own purpose for reading, to read outside his comfort zone, to make book recommendations to others, and to question what he reads, I am working tirelessly to help your child see that the challenging work of a reader has an amazing payoff. It affords us the opportunity to be entertained, to be informed, and to be critical observers of the world around us. This is why I love teaching your child to read.

Last, as you get ready to gather your belongings, I will remind you of my website that is brimming with book recommendations and resources for families. When you ask what level texts your child should be reading at home, I will ask you to let me worry about that at school. At home… at home encourage your child to read into her interests. If she has the desire then she will find a way to get what she needs from a text—no matter the level.


Carly Moats

About the Author: Carly is a K-3 Literacy Interventionist in Jefferson County School District.

Professional Book Review: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave  Burgess

by Elizabeth Mesick

Almost 20 years. Almost. 20. That’s how long I’ve been working in elementary schools with children. For young teachers, that’s a number almost impossible to imagine. With an opportunity for a cross country move for my family, I left the classroom and wondered if I would ever go back. I was burned out, a phrase I used to hate to hear, because I just thought that the teachers who claimed burnout weren’t all that passionate about the job to begin with. Despite those feelings, though, I missed being with the kids. I had to figure out how to balance my fear of being completely overwhelmed by the job with my intense longing to be with students. I needed help.

Enter: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.

Teach Like a Pirate will help you find enthusiasm and give you ways to share that enthusiasm with your kids. The thing is, sure we get exhausted and overwhelmed, but the kids must, too! When Dave Burgess talks about his first three days of school, I imagine you’ll find inspiration there like I did. He speaks well about making your classroom an inviting and exciting place, but really gives you the freedom to make it your own. I hate when I read professional books which seem to prescribe a rigid system which you can’t even slightly shape to your own style. I doubt you’re any more of a robot than I am, and I need to be myself with my kids. I spend more time with them throughout the week than I do with my own family; there’s no way I can do that without my real self front and center.

There are just so many fantastic parts to this book. One of my favorites, giving me concrete and immediately usable ideas, was the section on different “hooks,” meaning ways to wrap up units or lessons with nonlinguistic representations of the content. I use this in my classroom now, and not only is it exciting for some students to participate in so that they can show their learning in a way in which they feel successful, but it can also provide a real opportunity to challenge some of my more gifted and literal students.

Teach Like a Pirate is an excellent read for teachers of all ages. It’s written conversationally and Dave Burgess is witty, making the text fly by. I found excitement for myself and for my students, ideas on how to help my kids really care about what they’re doing, and great ideas on how to balance my energy and passion throughout my life, not just in my classroom. Teach Like a Pirate is truly beginning to transform the way I operate in the classroom and I cannot wait to continue my explorations with it this school year.

Elizabeth Mesick is a fourth grade teacher who lives in State College, Pennsylvania.

Author: CCIRAblog

Check out CCIRA's website today at

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