Becoming the Ringmaster: Engaging Students through the Work of Readers

By Morgan Davis

I walk into a class of second graders whose teacher has asked for my help in gathering some data on student engagement.  Right from the start, I notice that all kids are engaging in the work of readers: most have their eyes on text, one is placing a sticky note on a page before turning to the next, two are choosing another book from their book bags, and one more is at the classroom library looking for a copy of a book his friend is reading. This is a workshop full of engaged readers.

That is, except for Jay*.  I watch him covertly for a minute to see if—like all of us do sometimes—he is simply distracted or having a hard time getting started.  Without a book in hand, or even within arm’s reach, he isn’t even trying to fake it.  

For the next few minutes, I try all sorts of things:  I try relating our expectations. “No,” he says and starts rolling around on the floor.  I try talking to him about things I know he likes. “That’s stupid,” he says before adding,  “You’re stupid.”  He’s right; I should have known better.

I glance up and, sitting atop the heating vent is a copy of an Elephant and Piggie book. I get up and grab it, my back to Jay. “I love this one!” I whisper to no one in particular.  I simply sit down on the stool at the back of the room and start reading.  Two pages in and his eyes are glued to the pages, too.  A few more pages in and many of the words are his to read.  By the end of the book, he is nearly sharing the stool with me for how badly he wants to see if Elephant will have any ice cream left to share with Piggie in the end.  And when he doesn’t, Jay is the first to say, “I told you.”  He is also the first to go back to the shelf for the next in the series.

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Engagement.  When it is, you can feel it, like the hum of a well-oiled machine.  When it is absent, you can’t fake it.  It has the power to make or break any workshop, any classroom community.  More than ever before, we know how loaded the word engagement can be.  Each day we are responsible for maintaining student attention, building relationships, and advancing achievement, a veritable trifecta of engagement: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive.  



So where do we start?  How do we become the ringmaster of wha


t could otherwise feel like a three-ring circus?

We start the way Jay and I did:

We read.

Behavioral Engagement through the Work of Readers

It is amazing what happens when you give seven-year-olds Post-its with a purpose. Last week, they used them to mark tricky words that they solved and wanted to share with the class.  A month ago, they used them to jot down how the characters were feeling.  And before that, they captures their expectations from a preview of the pages.  Sure, they played with them at first, found out what makes them lose their “sticky” and even lost the privilege of using them a time or two.  But their teacher did not wait to use them.  


If we want behaviors to align with engagement in the work, we show students how to work like readers do:  Readers read.  They stop and jot.  They read some more.  They choose their books and make plans for what to read next.  In first grade, this looks like a book stack at the start of workshop, one that gets smaller as the workshop goes.  


Readers get distracted and learn strategies to get back on track. This often means making the most of our space. In third grade we draw students’ attention back to the bulletin board where at the beginning of the year, they drew themselves in their best reading spaces.  They do their best approximate this kind of place, revisiting their drawings each time they need to be reminded.


Readers meet with other readers to share what they are reading. In kindergarten, this means that students sit side-by-side on the carpet with a book open between them. In third grade, this means modeling how to turn our stop-and-jots into meaningful conversation.  Their teacher does not put the learning objectives for character analysis on hold because students need to be taught how to work with partners.  She teaches students how to talk with their partners about their characters and work through the hard parts of inferring together.  


When we teach students how to engage in the work that readers do, we teach authentic behaviors that become authentic habits.  

Emotional Engagement through the Work of Readers

My first day with our kindergartners ended a few minutes before dismissal and the room was vibrating with the energy of the day, a perfect opportunity to get to know each other. I could have chosen any number of ways to go about this.  I turned to a story I know by heart from innumerable bedtime readings with my own daughter, Mem Fox’s The Magic Hat. We giggled and enjoyed our time together.


Now when I join them in their classroom, many of them still reach for the “magic hat” on their heads before we channel this shared experience into other literary activities.  From that first day of school, I showed them what kind of teacher I am: the kind that can tell a story in an Australian accent, turning the word giraffe into a fancy word rhyming with “off.” And it showed them what kind of learners I expect them to be: the kind that giggle and play and learn along the way.  


To be to true to the human experience, emotional engagement is not just about making reading fun; it can’t be giggles and play all the time. Down the hall from the kindergarten class, our fourth graders are reading Tiger Rising. The main character  struggles with the death of his mother even as he is tortured by his classmates, and the curriculum suggests exploring the concept of bullying as a way for students to learn to analyze the depth of this character.  With expertise in “listening to teach” (a la Samantha Bennett), their teacher, however,  takes a different path.  During our planning session, she points to an empty desk: “She lost her mom last year.”  She points to another empty desk, “and he hasn’t seen his mom in a while,” and another, “and I’m pretty sure he lives with his dad.”   


The curriculum is not the content here; it is not where the learning leads.  Their teacher sees this is an opportunity to get to know her students better by listening to them talk about the character’s experience with loss even before they may be ready to share about their own. Just like this teacher is doing, we can connect to ourselves and to each other through our connections with the stories and characters that become as much a part of the community as the students we serve.  


We can forge lasting relationships with and among our students through the work of readers.

Cognitive Engagement through the Work of Readers

Our third graders are working to refine their expectations of fictional stories.  I sit among them as their teacher reads a fable. They expect that, even in this short story, there will be a problem.  It is pretty obvious who will be the problem-solver.  They understand the basic story structure, which is the reason their teacher chose this one.  This is not where she wants the cognitive demand.

Today, they are reading more carefully: they are looking for clues about the character that hint at how the problem might be solved.  Like detectives solving a mystery, they notice things about how the character lacks confidence through his weak voice.  They notice that his friends are not any help.  They are learning to turn those noticings into predictions that synthesize what they have read already.  This is demanding work.  

The model their teacher has provided—the one that breaks this process into a series of stop-and-jots—makes this work accessible and therefore engaging as they go back to their seats and apply these strategies to their own stories and share their noticings with their partners.  


When this kind of struggle to understand what we read is productive, students tend to stick with it. The decisions we make during workshop about access to text (who is doing the print work) and gradual release of responsibility (who is doing the meaning making) are critical to ensuring that learning remains accessible during whole- and small-group instruction as well as during collaborative and independent practice.  


Our work in listening and studying the way students process the content gives us opportunities to make adjustments that adapt to each reader and keep them at the edge of their learning.  It is from this edge that students send up a collective groan at the end of the reading block, that students sneak a book beneath their desk to read during another part of the day, that they ask if we can order the next book in a series or if we can go to the library before it is our turn.

Understanding what we read requires a cognitive demand, one that rewards our efforts to engage with an experience that can last a lifetime.


Becoming the Ringmaster

Readers might not be aware of the behaviors that make reading possible.  They might not stop to think about how each book changes them before they order the next one in the series.  They might not articulate the theme or lesson that a character learns as a result of solving a problem.  But they do seek out spaces and places to lose themselves in the pages of a book.  They do work what they are reading into the topic of conversations.  They do make stacks of books by their bedside tables. They do let books keep them awake at night. They do remember the books that make them cry and laugh out loud and they remember the people with whom they share these experiences.


When I visit Jay’s classroom next week, we will both be better for our shared experience with Elephant and Piggie.  The next time I see him in the hallway, I will have something to talk to him about.  The next time he reads, he will have one more positive experience to add to the side of the balance that, I’m sure at times, seems stacked against him.  

To read is to engage behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively.  

When we make the work of readers the focus of our instruction, we become the ringmaster under this big top, building a classroom community on a solid foundation of life-long literacy.

*The name of the student in this post has been changed to protect his anonymity.
About the Author: Morgan Davis is a K-6 Instructional Coach in Jefferson County.  She also serves on the conference committee for CCIRA and will be presenting for the JCIRA local council in January. You can follow Morgan as she explores teaching and learning, slices of life, and her own writing processes at “It’s About Making Space”.

The Mysterious World of Twitter: Part Three

This post is the third in a three-part series exploring the role of Twitter in education today. The focus of this post is literacy instruction using Twitter.

By Leslie Davison and Hollyanna Bates

Some of you might be wondering when we will stop talking about Twitter.

Yes, we have found it an invaluable tool for professional development and want the world to know its possibilities. Two weeks ago we shared about Twitter as a resource to grow and develop a Personal Learning Network. Last week Dr. Mary Howard helped us understand why we might want to venture into Twitter Chats for a unique conversation on a literacy-related topic. Closing in the series, this week we delve into ways that Twitter could benefit classroom literacy instruction.

First we start with a warning: technology is not the answer. We will be the first to advocate that children still have a chance to compose on paper, write thank you notes and letters to classmates or community members and spend most of their time reading the the most beautiful books and stories we can find. Additionally, using Twitter in the classroom can bring new and innovative connections for you and your students. Below we have identified five practices that enhance learning when infused into an already strong literacy culture.

Read Aloud Hashtags

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When classrooms of children listen to a novel read out loud, by an enthralled and expert reader, the community lives the story of the characters together. All day long there are references to the lives they are living alongside. During certain sections of the text, there is much anticipation as certain events further unravel. Audible moans can be heard when read aloud finishes as the group is left hanging, each child sharing in the delight of a powerful piece of literature and the impact it leaves. Following a hashtag related to the read aloud may offer insight into how others perceive the characters and plot or events.
The tweet to the right is from a class reading #theoneandonlyivaScreen Shot 2017-11-19 at 3.13.55 PMn. The photo is of their staged protest to protect animal rights. The teacher, Elizabeth Spindler, @lizspindler6, tweeted the picture using book’s hashtag. During the school year, students read the tweets about the novels they have read and continue being invested in the story, watching how others interact with the text. Other resources which may be found using a book hashtag are: artistic interpretations of text, literacy responses via digital tools, book trailers, letters to and from the author, bulletin boards, clips of professional theater performances and more. Sharing these examples with students can support the culture of literacy and generate ideas and excitement for future experiences.

Twitter book reviews

This brand of book reviews forces the student to capture the essence of the text in 280 characters (previously the character limit was 140). @GwynethJones made this display showcasing the student writing. Jones sharesthe process for teaching students how to write these reviews here.

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Book character tweets

Students write a tweet from the perspective of a character in a book they are reading. While taking on a character is not innovative, using Twitter to share this message broadens the audience. The goal is that students write and respond to others in their class and beyond. Motivation and authenticity improve when student voices are public and they receive likes, retweets or replies to their writing.

 Student news

Several major news organizations provide special programming designed for student readers. When following a news outlet, students see a variety of articles about pertinent topics. Some teachers identify one student to read the news of the day and share highlights with the class. Choice, voice, exposure to nonfiction text and current events are all benefits of this implementing this practice. We recommend: @kidspress   @thewhitehouse @bbcnewsround @CNNStudents @NGKids

Students write tweets

One student is assigned to be the tweeter of the day. They choose the most interesting experience of the day and with support, send the tweet out to the universe. Ipads or even the teacher’s phone can provide a photo or video of this experience. Even kindergarteners can learn to tweet using the word wall and known words. Using a hashtag like #firstgradeBHE would signify that while the tweets are coming from the teacher’s account, the students in first grade at Big Horn Elementary are the writers of the tweets. Community members, parents and other followers can provide a positive response to the student writing through retweets, likes, and replies.

 Pro Tips:

  • You will want to preview any hashtag and be wary of book titles that may have other meanings not appropriate to children (#Holes).
  • If you tweet about a book, try to mention the author or publisher. You may get something in return.
  • Be sure to inform yourself about using technology in your district, especially when using student names on social media.
  • Tweet Deck is a method of using Twitter which helps organize hashtags so that students can see multiple conversations at one time.

Leslie Davison is a Google Certified Innovator who presents around the country with the EdTechTeam. She coordinates the Dual Immersion program in Summit School District in Frisco, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter @lesliedavison

Hollyanna Bates is a Past President of CCIRA and a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader/Literacy Coordinator in Summit School District in Frisco, Colorado.  Follow her on Twitter @hollyannabates

The Mysterious World of Twitter: Part Two

This post is the second in a three-part series exploring the role of Twitter in education today. The focus of this post is Twitter Chats.

By Dr. Mary Howard and Hollyanna Bates

Just for a moment, pause and consider professional learning afforded you in your own school. Are personalized learning opportunities sprinkled across each learning day? Can you readily engage in meaningful conversations with others who will enrich and extend your in-the-moment thinking? Are you given free rein choice for when, how, where and with whom you will learn? Do you have access to authors of professional resources? Can you find educators at any time of day who share your professional passion for joyful engagement in ongoing learning?

What if you could break free of the confines of your four walls and have instant access to all of this and more? Twitter chats make this dream world possible and places that world right at your fingertips for you to access whenever you choose to do so.  

Many of us have imagined that we could, for once, be surrounded by people who are
equally committed to their own learning: an environment where we can read the same professional books, engage with those who have strong beliefs about literacy instruction, draw energy from collaborating with colleagues and grow as educators. We find this utopian dream once a year at CCIRA, where we get to live with the experts and passionate literacy educators for three days each February.  And now Twitter has made it possible to enter this utopianScreen Shot 2017-11-13 at 9.08.41 PM.png world every day, no matter how isolated we may be in our districts and workplaces.

A literacy-focused Twitter chat brings together positive, like-minded and knowledgeable literacy educators who can support and challenge our thinking. We meet for an hour using only our computers, a hashtag and all that we know about teaching and learning. Our Professional Learning Network (PLN) comes to life as the conversation begins. Literacy experts chat alongside enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers. The chat is fast, like that powerful conversation that is cut short by the end of lunch recess or the morning bell that signals us that it’s time for school to begin. Yet we leave the chat full of insight, connections, new perspectives and resources.

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 9.13.08 PM.pngOur PLN is a network cultivated in part, by participation in Twitter chats. The PLN connects us 24 hours a day to professional conversations, resources, and new perspectives. Forward-thinking educators push us to reflect on practices and refine our work –  and we experience mutual inspiration through this conversational interplay. We can’t remember a time we have finished a chat and didn’t feel on top of the world, ready to conquer the next day of hard work with new insight to share.  Gunnison Kindergarten teacher Jessica McNary, commented on last week’s blog:

The weekly Twitter chat, #G2Great, is one example of how virtual gatherings are re-sparking educational fires for professional learning in the company of others. #G2Great is based on Mary Howard’s book, Good to Great Teaching, and is co-moderated by Mary Howard, Jenn Hayhurst, Amy Brennan and Fran McVeigh. The chat was initially launched as a six-week book study but countless dedicated educators have kept the #G2Great fire burning brightly; the chat continues to trend on Twitter nearly three years later.  A Twitter chat is an informal conversation that revolves around a specific topic. Life-long learners gather enthusiastically at the designated time using the chat hashtag #G2Great. The chat moderators initiate questions that will guide the conversation; an example from the chat with Carl Anderson is below.

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Once the question appears, anyone can respond to that question using the corresponding number (A1) and hashtag (#G2Great). One response inevitably leads to another and within minutes a lively one-hour fast-paced conversation ensues in a lovely domino effect of inspired learning. Participants can stretch the learning potential of these shared conversations by following educators, continuously expanding one’s circle of professional learning co-collaborators.

These conversations allow educators from across the globe to connect with others within and beyond their own grade level or educational focus. To make these professional gatherings even more powerful, those conversations often linger long after the chat is over and reappear on Twitter as more educators join the conversation in a never-ending growth cycle of learning.

Storify is an amazing tool that allows us to collect Tweets so that we can gather them into a Twitter paper trail that lives beyond the chat. This tool is shared after most chats to recreate the conversation from start to finish. Storify offers a virtual artifact that you can revisit again and again at a much slower pace the second time around. Here is the #G2Great chat Storify with Carl Anderson on 11/9/17.

Educators everywhere are embracing Twitter chats as a way to connect with others for the purpose of engaging in meaningful dialogue and collective learning. A chat creates a gathering space for these professional conversations with educators who are equally passionate about their own learning as we create virtual side-by-side collaborations. Of course, it is important to use a critical lens when you engage in any kind of professional learning and Twitter is no different. Become Twitter aware by reflecting on resources and suggestions in professionally responsible ways, selectively using only those things that reflect strong research.

We encourage you to find a literacy-focused Twitter chat using the table below or this extensive education chat calendar organized by hashtag, date and time. In the beginning, you might join the conversation by lurking, a positive term in the Twitter world. Lurking is an entry point for first-timers who want to join the conversation by viewing only and sometimes liking a post by clicking on the heart button.  After lurking, you’ll be excited to more actively join in a chat by sharing your best thinking. As you expand your PLN by following others, your Twitter audience will grow as you link with educators from across the globe.

Hashtag Chat Name Frequency Time
#FPliteracy Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Monthly Thursday 6:00 pm MT
#G2Great Good to Great Weekly Thursday 6:30pm MT
#ILAchat International Literacy Association Monthly Thursday 6:00pm MT
#RRchat Reading Recovery Monthly Sunday 5:00pm MT
#NCTEchat National Council Teachers of English Monthly Sunday 6:00pm MT
#TCRWP Teachers College Reading Writing Project Weekly Tuesday 5:30pm MT
#ELLchat English Language Learners Weekly Monday 7:00pm MT

Dr. Mary Howard is a national literacy consultant and author of Good To Great Teaching: Doing the Literacy Work that Matters; RTI from All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know.  Mary co-moderates #G2Great weekly Twitter chat and blogs at Follow her on Twitter @DrMaryHoward or her “Slow Twitter” on Facebook at Mary C Howard.

Hollyanna Bates is a Past President of CCIRA and a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader/Literacy Coordinator in Summit School District in Frisco, Colorado.  Follow her on Twitter @hollyannabates

Helpful Links

The Teacher’s Guide to Twitter

Participate in Twitter Chats

Why Teachers Participate in Twitter Chats and What’s Coming Next


The Mysterious World of Twitter

By Cathy Beck and Hollyanna Bates

This post is first in a three-part series exploring the role of Twitter in education today. In future posts we will share about Twitter in the classroom and the role of Twitter chats for PD. The focus of this first post is the Twitter feed.  

For those not immersed in the world of Twitter today, the whole concept seems a bit mysterious. Some wonder how this could be the same world where rock stars Tweet about their rock star lives, adorable cats and where to buy the latest rock star name-emblazoned apparel. For educators, our worlds are consumed with topics of the greatest importance. “How will I reach this student? Am I doing the right work? How can I help this child develop confidence? How will I move this child to proficiency?” It seems almost ridiculous that Twitter could provide answers to any of these questions. And truthfully, the answers have to come from within. But experts of all of these topics and more are part of the rich fabric of educators on Twitter. And rich it is- with resources, articles, thoughts to ponder and chats to join. Enter the Twitter feed. The feed is the name for the constantly updated stream of posts from people or organizations followed. As organizations and people (think Kylene Beers or Jennifer Saravello) post content, each one is listed in your Twitter feed. The more people you follow, the more frequent the posts appear in the feed. It is important to follow the right people. Look for educators who Tweet a lot. Look for experts who post positive messages about this work that we do. You can begin by hitting the “like” button (the heart icon). “Like” posts that speak to you. You might then either respond or repost.

Wondering how you might find time for Twitter with all the other things competition for a piece of yourself? We recommend putting aside ten minutes a day.  The suggestions below will help you get started. As soon as you follow a few people, your Twitter feed begins to appear. Twitter sends you weekly recommendations of people you might follow, using algorithms and the people you are already following. These can also broaden your base and expose you to new thinking, ideas and resources. In your Twitter feed you will see Memes like the one on the left, links to professional books people have found helpful, activities, conversations, and teaching resources. When following educators, the most important posts are updates on research. Education Week, School LIbrary Journal, International Literacy Association and CCIRA are all engaged in posting new articles and research to help us refine our work and be even better educators.             

When you live in the world of Twitter for a few minutes, you are suddenly in a world outside of your school, district, and state. We love hearing about what teachers are doing at the International School of Bangkok while seeing pictures of an amazing classroom library in a small town in Vermont. Although we have shared a side of Twitter that is all about taking, this is only one side of a reciprocal relationship. After spending some time on Twitter, you may want to ReTweet.  This is the act of sharing, with people who have followed you, something you find juicy or relevant to your work. The more you share, the more people who will want to follow you and your network begins to expand. When you’re comfortable, you will want to share something from your own work. One question you’ll want to ask is if your school/district has a hashtag. If not, create one. Encourage everyone in the school/district to Tweet daily and use the hashtag. This is a great way for different schools to share ideas, for parents to see happenings in your building, and for the community to engage with the meaningful work you do everyday. Before you know it,  you will have a robust Twitter community, full of like-minded educators who push your thinking and make you better.

Suggestions on Literacy/Education Experts to Follow on Twitter:

Name Twitter Handle (name on Twitter) Name Twitter Handle (name on Twitter)
Larry Ferlazzo @Larryferlazzo Education Week Teacher @EdWeekTeacher
Jennifer Serravallo @JSerravallo Heinemann Publishing @HeinemannPub
International Literacy Assocation @ILAToday Amanda Hartman @amandalah
Stephanie Harvey @Stephharvey49 Gravity Goldberg @drgravityg
Cornelius Minor @MisterMinor Carl Anderson @ConferringCarl
Teachers College Reading Writing Project @TCRWP Public Education Business Coalition @PEBCorg
Paula Borque @LitCoachLady Kristine Mraz @MrazKristine
Nell Duke @nellkduke The Educator Collab @TheEdCollab
Burkins & Yaris @burkinsandyaris Jeffrey Wilhelm @ReadDRjwilhelm
Ernest Morell @ernestmorrell Dr. Mary Howard @DrMaryHoward
Linda Hoyt @lindavhoyt Tanny McGregor @TannyMcG
Dorothy Barnhouse @dorobarn Fran McVeigh @franmcveigh
Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub Kristin Ziemke @KristinZiemke

Dr. Cathy Beck is the Superintendent of Schools in Cheatham County, Tennessee and former Colorado educator. She is the author of Easy and Effective Professional Development and Leading Learning for ELL Students. Please connect with her on Twitter @cathypetreebeck.

Hollyanna Bates is a Past President of CCIRA and a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader/Literacy Coordinator in Summit School District in Frisco, Colorado.  Follow her on Twitter @hollyannabates.

The New Face of Professional Development

By Hollyanna Bates

In a recent conversation with a colleague, we reminisced about the early years in our careers.  Together we recanted tales of copier woes, overflowing file cabinets and the few tools available to connect students to the outside world. Flash forward to 2017: innovative classrooms share few resemblances with their earlier counterparts.  As classroom instruction and technology has evolved, professional development models have undergone sweeping changes.  Technology has dramatically shifted how teachers learn and grow and has also impacted when and how often educators engage in professional learning.

Darling-Hammond, Hyler and Gardner’s recent review of 35 studies of effective professional development included these components: content-focused, active learning, collaboration, models of effective practice, job-embedded coaching and expert support, feedback and reflection, and sustained duration.  While technology advances cannot offer professional development which meets all of these elements, the collaboration, content-focused and models of effective practices are three strongholds offered by some forms of professional development offered through the Internet.  Perhaps the most powerful feature of this form of learning is the time.  School districts provide ongoing professional learning for teachers every year.  The advantages of the learning opportunities described below are added to district-driven learning; teachers bettering their teaching on their own time, at home, with their interests driving what and how they learn.
Professional development in your pajamas is a phrase used to describe the experience of learning on a teacher’s own time, when it is most convenient for busy educators.  Listed below are some short descriptions of tech-sourced professional development options with links to articles for greater detail.


Education podcasts are becoming a rich resource for learning and offer a way to capitalize on time in the car or while doing mindless tasks such as folding piles of laundry.  For literacy-focused podcasts, two main groups produce podcasts from our favorite literacy experts.  The Heinemann Channel can be found in the Podcast App while the Choice Literacy Podcasts can be found here.  Both offer short, yet enlightening conversations which last anywhere from 10-30 minutes.  Subscribing to a particular channel (for example, Teachers Ask Jen Saravallo), ensures that you will have content available when the need arises.  Listening can happen in the car, while running, cooking or waiting for a plane.


If you cannot attend a literacy conference, because who can really make it to all the conferences, there are options to learn from home.  Twitter feeds from the National Council Teachers of English and International Literacy Association conferences provide quotes from speakers, links to resources, provocative conversation, and reflection.  Each year, participants at CCIRA Tweet content from sessions and luncheons.  Use the hashtag #CCIRA18 at this year’s conference and capture your learning so that others may learn alongside you.  Other unconference experiences include the Edcamp model. Described as participant-driven, the conference schedule and topics are decided by attendees when they arrive at Edcamp.  Sessions are led by those in attendance.  At the ILA conference last summer, a literacy Edcamp was designed for participants arriving a day early.  Use the hashtag #edcampliteracy on Twitter to see photos and get a sample of what an Edcamp is all about. provides a schedule of Edcamps in your area.


Facebook is new to the PD game but is gathering speed.  While many engage in Facebook for personal use, there is another dimension.  It starts with one article posted by a colleague.  When that article is read, Facebook knows (yes, it’s freaky).  Soon, more and more articles appear in your Facebook feed.  The more professional articles, blogs, videos and book reviews that you click on, the more that appear in your feed.  Facebook groups are another brand of professional development.  Members of the groups are people who fit a certain profile or interest; most Facebook groups have thousands of members.  One commonality between groups is a conversation about a topic with many voices and perspectives; resources and links are posted from those joining in.  Some literacy-related Facebook groups to check out: Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Community, The Reading and Writing Strategies Community, Disrupting Thinking-Why How We Read Matters Book Club, Who’s Doing the Work?, Units of Study in Reading TCRWP, and the Book Whisperer Book Club.

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M.E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

Hollyanna Bates is a Past President of CCIRA and a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader/Literacy Coordinator in Summit School District in Frisco, Colorado.

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.

Defining Core Instruction

by Morgan Davis

Core instruction:  This is not something you can Google.  Sure, type the words into the search field and you will be met instantly with Richard Elmore’s definition of instructional core: the interaction among teacher, student, and content where “if you can’t see it in the core then it isn’t there” (2008).Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 9.11.44 PM

But when someone asks you to define what is core–most central or most important–about reading instruction, I am sure you go far beyond this definition.  For my team and me, we looked to the whiteboard where the outline of our professional learning in reading workshop lingered.  There it was, our instructional minutes boiled down to the skeletal structures of workshop:  whole-group mini-lesson, worktime, and share.  And there it was, the question looming:  What is core?  

I used to define core instruction as an opportunity to engage with and an exposure to grade-level texts:

Shared reading?

Texts are grade-level or above, so it must be core.

Read aloud?

Again, grade-level or above.  It’s core.  

Guided reading?  


Many of our students read texts that are below grade-level, so this must be where we step out of core.  With core defined as exposure to grade-level texts, the classroom teacher’s obligation is met at the end of the mini-lesson for any student whose reading puts them outside a grade-level boundary. Yes, this is how I used to define core. Forgive me.   

Flash forward a few years and I began to see core as access to grade-level content.  Every child deserves opportunities to engage with grade-level texts, but the kind of thinking and processes that are required of grade-level content can often be accessed through differentiated texts and tasks.

Now I see core as the broad side of the RtI pyramid: universal instruction, the kind of Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 9.12.02 PMinstruction that every child is entitled to.  “Core program, also commonly referred to as Tier 1, base, primary, or universal program, refers to a school’s initial instructional practices–in other words, the teaching and school experiences that all kids receive every day” (Buffum, Mattos, & Weber, 2009).  

In other words, core instruction is the promise we make to students about reading instruction.  

Now let us return to the whiteboard with its outline of workshop.  Where is the promise here?  To answer, we pick up a green marker.  Without hesitation, we put a solid green line around the mini-lesson and–after some discussion–share time. These times are sacred.  It is during these structures that students create a vision for where their learning is headed and where their successes become visible.  

Next, a solid green line around independent reading.  “The experimental evidence is clearer today perhaps than a decade ago that the actual volume of reading activity is an important component in the development of a myriad of reading proficiencies” (Allington, 2013).  We agree: Our readers–even and especially those who struggle–need ample time to practice.

With that potential debate hurdled in a hurry, we work to tackle the remaining worktime structures. Though in a perfect world it wouldn’t be, it is harder to find the promise here.  The constraints of time invite answers from “everything” to “nothing.”  We draw a dotted line around worktime and keep talking.  “A Tier 1 curriculum must be prioritized so that students have ample opportunity to master power standards.  The core program also must include a component that specializes instruction and learning based on individuals’ and small groups’ disparate needs” (Buffum, Mattos, & Weber, 2009).  Core instruction comes through the structures that put skilled teachers and apprenticed readers together: conferring and small-group instruction.  It also comes through opportunities for students to practice and apply their learning in ways that are accessible: collaborative and independent reading.  Yes, this is our promise.  

We also know that it is during this time we often “double-dose” or make Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports accessible to students.  Just not in place of the promise of core instruction.  

We stand back and look at the board.  A second green line around the mini-lesson and independent reading time highlight how our conversation began: Whole-group instruction and independent reading are sacred.  Share time is protected. Work time is permeable, so long as the sacred spheres within it are preserved.  

In the end, we provide core instruction and intervention without taking a bite out of the promise.

It is core instruction.  

It is a work in progress.


Allington, R. (April 2013).  What really matters when working with struggling readers. The Reading Teacher, 66 (7).

Allington, R. A. & Gabriel, R. E. (March 2012).  Every child, every day.  Educational leadership: Reading: the core skill, 69(6), pp. 10-15.

Buffum, A., M. Mattos, & C. Weber (2009). Pyramid response to intervention.  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Elmore, R. (2008) Improving the instructional core. Boston, MA: Harvard University, School of Education.

About the Author: Morgan Davis is a K-6 Instructional Coach at Lumberg Elementary in Jefferson County School District.  Morgan also serves on the conference committee for CCIRA.  You can follow Morgan as she explores teaching and learning, slices of life, and her own writing processes at “It’s About Making Space”.

*If you are interested in posting about the topics that were blushed by in this post – such as defining intervention or intervention vs. remediation – or other topics that meet the criteria outlined here, please contact

Read Aloud Book Review

Written by Marcie Haloin

The Alphabet Thief  by Bill Richardson, illustrated by Roxanna Bikadoroff, Greenwood Books, March 2017

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 9.19.38 PMCanadian humorist Bill Richardson has written his first children’s book of clever alphabetical rhymes based upon the wordplay of how a word can be changed by dropping one letter.  In the story an Alphabet Thief steals one letter from each page leaving the pen and ink illustrations to explain the transformation.

I used a document camera when reading this with the 5th graders and had to pause frequently so they could enjoy the humor of the illustrations.  Be forewarned that when the snowman loses the s and becomes real he uses his hat to cover his privates.  No matter how fast I read the fifth graders saw.  A Canadian blogger suggested that classroom teacher who had time would have fun doing a sophisticated game of illustrating words that have lost certain letters (e.g. transforming crops into cops or brothers into bothers). Most of the text allows this book to also be an early or guided reader with lots of fun for one-on-one and small group work.

References: Helen K, posted March 3, 2017

Marcie Haloin is retired from her life as a school librarian and university professor and now works in a public library, in the children’s section, of course. Marcie reads at least a book a day and serves as the chair of the Colorado Children’s Book Award for CCIRA.