Ask First, Teach Later

By Julie Wright

Last week, I ordered my daughter a “Zoom University” tee-shirt. She’s gonna get such a kick out of this, I thought, as I put it on the counter where she was fixing her breakfast, getting ready for another day of distance learning.

My daughter smiled a little bit when she glanced at it. 

“You can wear it for your chem lab Zoom this morning!” I said.

“Maybe,” she said, as she headed off to the basement, where she is now finishing out the school year. 

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Then, it hit me. I had made a misstep. And, if you are reading this blog, I bet you have made a few, too. Teachers are blithering, open-hearted rescuers, empaths, cheerleaders on steroids. Combine that with being a parent and the miscalculations are exponential. 

We care so much about the well being of our kids and students, that we want to make it better. This new moonscape of distance teaching and learning has us all hyper and forgetting the basic tenet of effective teaching:  Step back. Take measure of your students. Ask questions.  

Had I asked my daughter directly what she needed right now, her answer would not have been a  pandemic-oriented t-shirt. My gut says that adults are buoyed by social media jokes, but not kids. They don’t have the long stretch of experience. For them, this particular  time is many things, but it’s not funny. 

My misstep is ironic, given I’m an educator, and fortuitous in that, as a literacy coach, I’ve spent the last few weeks supporting administrators, coaches, and teachers in designing distance learning experiences. When I saw the Zoom U. gift land, it confirmed for me that I need to slow down in giving advice, and ask questions first or risk making assumptions.  Assumptions are short cuts, when we fill in the blanks with information from our own past or similar experiences. In short, what we think will work for distance learning based on the hazy memories of our own student psyche, won’t work now. At all. We are all in uncharted territory.  

Lean Into Being a Newbie

Ask questions. Start by brainstorming with colleagues questions that we might ask ourselves before we ask students. THEN build learning plans based on what we hear.  Here is a list to get you started; but, by no means is this list “the right list” or a complete list.

  • How are students doing — social-emotionally, academically, physically — and how do we know? 
    • What can we see/hear based on our interactions and what can’t we see/hear?
    • How should we find out what we need to know to better serve our students?
  • Are students “showing up” for the learning opportunities we are providing? 
    • If not, why not? 
    • How can we figure out what’s getting in their way and what can/should we do to support them?
  • Have students figured out how to use or structure their time? 
  • Where are students working at home?  
    • Have they found a quiet, productive place to complete their work? 
  • How have our plans changed from short-term digital plans to longer-term digital plans? 
    • Do students feel and understand the changes? 
    • Where do they / will they need support?
  • Do students know what counts? 
    • Are we grading assignments and if so, have our grading practices changed?
    • Are we providing feedback and if so, can students respond in independent ways to our feedback from a distance?
  • How are parents doing?  
    • What’s going well?  What’s not?
    • What do parents need?

Next, Ask Students

  • How are you doing? 
  • How do you feel?
  • What’s going well? 
  • What’s clunky?
  • What’s agitating you?   
  • What do you need?  
  • What do you wish or want?
  • Have you figured out your schedule?  Your pacing? Tell me about it.
  • Where do you do most of your work at home?  Do you feel productive in that space?
  • What are you doing by yourself?  With others remotely?
  • What are you doing for yourself?

Now, Use Students Responses to Design

So much of the feedback students give will depend on geography, age, socio-economic status, access, connectivity, not to mention the stress associated with these changing times.  The heartbreaking part of course is that the students you want to reach most and who may need us most might not be reachable. I can’t presume to know what your students will say, but I can say it might be helpful to organize the feedback you hear into a kind of assumption/solution format. Here it goes: 

Assumption:  Students can easily type with fluency and accuracy.

Solution:  Investigate and offer voice functions [such as voice typing] so that students have options. 

Assumption:  Students brought home all the needed materials from school.

Solution: Take stock of what ALL students have and what they don’t have.

Assumption:  Students have the hardware and software available at the point of need.

Solution:  Ask students (and possibly family members/caregivers) what they have available and when (what time, how often) they can access it.

Assumption:  Bedtimes are similar to that of face-to-face school days.

Solution: Offer choice and flexibility in timing of assignments, due dates, video conference sessions Reminder–some families / caregivers might need or want kids to sleep in so that they can get their own work started / done.  Additionally, some may not be available to help with school work until evening.

Assumption:  Family members / caregivers understand the current methods students are being taught as well as the intended learning.

Solution:  Be creative in ways to teach / re-teach content and when in doubt, ask students what you can do to make the content more understandable.  Communicate with and family / caregivers.  

Assumption:  Someone is checking in or sizing up students’ social-emotional, academic, and physical well-being and helping to make needed adjustments. 

Solution:  Create reflection-oriented surveys or protocols so that you can learn first-hand how students may or may not be connecting with friends, completing assigned work, and getting enough exercise.

Assumption:  Students are completing their own work.

Solution:  Ask students or family members / caregivers if work is being completed independently or if support from home or peers is needed.

Assumption:  We are providing the “right” level of support for each student we serve.

Solution:  Use student work products and reflections to gauge the students’ needs and, if possible, collaborate with colleagues to brainstorm possible support mechanisms and structures.

Assumption:  Students are able to successfully read all of the digital information coming at them efficiently and effectively.

Solution:  Provide recorded options as a support for anyone who needs or wants it.

Assumption: Students are able to seperate and prioritize the work coming from multiple teachers and content areas.

Solution: Collaborate in teams to coordinate your efforts, making things clear and consistent.

Assumption:  Our digital assignments take into account students’ insecurities and/or experience levels (e.g., recording yourself singing for music class, seeing yourself and sharing ideas via video).

Solution:  Create choices so that students have more than one way to make their knowledge, skills or understandings visible to others.

Assumption:  Content and messaging are being received the way they were intended.

Solution:  Ask students to share back with you in their own words what is being asked (e.g., restate the assignment, explain these directions in your own words)

Assumption:  Students’ eyes can handle (and are not being impacted negatively) by the number of hours spent via digital learning.

Solution:  Ask students and family members / caregivers to take stock of device-related eye fatigue (e.g., blurred vision, double vision, dry or irritated eyes, redness, eyestrain, headache, neck pain, stiff neck).

Two Takeaways

  1. Explain changes to students and families / caregivers.  Explaining the WHAT and WHY is important.
  2. When we make a misstep, which will certainly happen, let’s apologize.  “I’m sorry”goes a long way. Everyone will understand because everyone is making missteps right now.

Each week brings about new celebrations and new challenges.  We are bound to make missteps. It is not about the misstep but how quickly we recover.  We can ask important questions about the assumptions we might be making so that we can reflect and make adjustments. 

On behalf of all students and the caregivers and educators we serve, thanks for all you do!

JULIE WRIGHT is a teacher, instructional coach, and educational consultant with over twenty-five years of experience in rural, suburban, and urban education settings.  She holds National Board Certification as well as a B.S. in Education, M.A. in Language Arts and Reading, a K-12 Reading Endorsement, and extensive school leadership post-graduate work, including a pre-K through grade 9 principal license from The Ohio State University. Julie serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member at Ashland University and is the co-author of What Are You Grouping For? How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers–Not the Book (Wright & Hoonan, 2019). Follow Julie on Twitter @juliewright4444 or for more information on how she can support your efforts, visit


All For the Love of Books

By Jennifer Allen

We often don’t know the ripple effect that occurs when we share our passions and loves with others.

A year ago, I wrote to author Andrew Clements asking if he would like to be a guest at our bi-annual Writer’s Day.  Mr. Clements responded with a beautiful letter that he would be honored to be part of the event. In his letter he stated that he did not want to take a speaking fee, but asked that we take the money that we would use for his fee and put it towards books for classroom libraries. He also asked that we use an independent bookstore for the purchases. 

At the start of school this year,  I shared with staff the news that Andrew Clements would be coming to our school.  He held star power for staff and students. I shared his proposition of not taking a speaking fee but that we use the money for our classroom libraries.  It was because of him that each teacher would get money to spend on their classroom libraries.

The next part of Mr. Clements’s request was that we use an independent bookstore. This part was easy since we have an amazing bookstore right in town, walking distance from the school. I called Ellen, the owner, asking if we could do grade level teacher field trips to the store. Ellen was beyond grateful.  She shared that January is her slowest month and that this support would help her get through the tougher winter months.

Teacher field trips were set up. Instead of after school grade level meetings, teachers rotated through the store as grade level teams on two different Monday afternoons. Teachers spent their meeting time in the bookstore talking about books with one another, finding books to match their students’ interests, and discovering new authors and titles. The conversations were rich and meaningful.  I watched as books were handed off from one teacher to the next. If one teacher ran out of money, another often scooped up the books into their own piles to purchase. The experience was one of sharing and collaboration. It was a reminder to me the importance of getting into bookstores and physically browsing through the stacks. 

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Photo courtesy of Johnathan Kalifat at Unsplash

Unfortunately, Mr. Clements passed away last November.

He won’t be a part of our school Writer’s Day, or get to see all the books we purchased in his honor for our classroom libraries, or get his personal  thank you from Ellen who still says when I see her,” I wish I could have thanked Andrew for what he did.”  

He also won’t know that because of those field trips, we extended the idea to two other grade levels at our K-3 elementary school and that we were able to get even more teachers into our local bookstore, and even more books into our classrooms.

Mr. Clements won’t know that we have already budgeted for field trips to take place next year for all K-5 teachers at our two elementary schools (about 40 teachers).  The trips are planned for next January when teachers know their students as readers and can find the just right books for them with school funds to support their purchases. The trips are also intentionally planned for January so that the winter months won’t be so hard on our local bookstore.

What started as a simple gesture of an author payment, has turned into a reminder of the importance of books to our schools, students, and teachers. I suppose that Mr. Clements knew that when he sat down and penned his letter to me last year.

I am grateful for the ripple effects of Mr. Clements love of books and his wishes to support our classroom libraries. Ultimately, our classrooms, our schools, and our professional collaboration were enhanced and renewed.

Thank you Mr. Clements.

Jennifer Allen is a literacy specialist in Waterville, Maine. She has worked in education for the last twenty-five years.  Jennifer started as a classroom teacher in the primary grades and has been working in this position as a literacy/specialist coach for the last sixteen years. She is the author of Becoming a Literacy Leader and A Sense of Belonging, both published by Stenhouse.

Entering Stories Through Mood

By Trevor Bryan, 2021 CCIRA Conference Presenter

One of the easiest paths to take into a story is to think about the mood or moods that the author or illustrator is showing their audience. Whether you are reading a wordless picture book, a picture book, graphic novel, middle grade novel, novel or watching an animated short, TV show, movie or play, the same holds true: narratives are told through mood and so thinking about the mood and what’s causing the mood is the straightest shot to getting at the heart of the story. If we think about what a story is, it can help us to understand why entering narratives through mood is so effective.

How Stories Work: Three Main Ingredients

What’s a story? How do they work? These are straightforward questions but ones that don’t get talked about too much. But it makes sense that if we want our students to be able to discuss narratives well, and if we want them to craft narratives that will resonate with their intended audience, they know what a story is and how they work.

All stories are built using three basic ingredients: events and action, reactions to the event or action and reasons for the reaction to the events or action. In stories, things have to happen. There has to be some event or some action that takes place. There has to be a plot. Often, we think of this, the plot, as the story but, in fact, the plot is not the story. This is why, when students write “stories” where they explain a sequence of events (this happened, and then this happened, and then, and then, etc) they not only don’t sound like stories, they are excruciating to listen to or read.

The story is actually the reaction and the reason for the reaction to the events or action taking place. Let’s look at a quick example of what I mean.

Imagine that I wrote a story that started:

I woke up. I never felt so excited in my life. It was my birthday.

We have an event: I woke up. We have a reaction: I felt excited. We have a reason for the reaction: It’s my birthday. This all makes sense to us as readers because we can infer why a character would feel excited on their birthday.

Now imagine I started my story this way:

I woke up. I never felt so sad in my life. It was my birthday.

In this case, we have the exact same event but a totally different reaction which creates a totally different story. Furthermore, we have the same reason for the reaction, it’s my birthday, but we can’t really infer why a character would feel so sad on their birthday. For the audience, more information is needed. As the writer, my job would be to explain the reason for the reaction further so that the story makes sense. If an audience doesn’t understand all three ingredients, at least at some point, then they are going to feel confused and disconnected from the story.

Two Real Life Examples

Let’s look at two examples from the real world. I chose two books that I think (that I hope) you are familiar with, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds and Wonder by R. J. Palacio. We’ll look at the opening of The Dot first.

In the opening illustration of The Dot we see an illustration of the main character, Vashti, sitting backwards with her arms folded, all alone, a scowl on her face, engulfed in a murky, greenish , grayish color. She does not look happy. Besides the illustration are the words, “Art class was over, but Vashti sat glued to her chair. Her paper was empty.”

Event: Art class happened.

Reaction: Vashti is frustrated and didn’t do anything.

Reason for the Reaction: ?

At this point in the story, the audience doesn’t know the reason for the reaction. They can make a prediction based on the question, “Why would Vashti feel frustrated right now?” but it is difficult to make an exact inference based on the information given. However, once we turn the page, the reason for the reaction, the reason for Vashti’s mood, the reason for Vashti’s frustration is given. “I just can’t draw!”

Because the reader now clearly knows the event, the reaction and the reason for the reaction, they are in the heart of the story.

Wonder is set up a little bit differently. The first chapter, which is one page (pg. 3) starts with the main character, Auggie, giving some background information about his facial disfigurement. “My name is August, by the way. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” One thing that background information does, is that it often provides a reason for the reaction. So unlike in The Dot, where the audience finds out the reason for the reaction after the event and reaction are shown, in Wonder a reason for the reaction is provided upfront.

On the very next page (pg.4), with the first two sentences, we find out the event and Auggie’s reaction to the event. We even get a second reason for the reaction. R. J. Palacio writes, “Next week I start fifth grade. Since I’ve never been to a real school before, I am pretty much totally and completely petrified.”

Event: Fifth grade is starting.

Reaction: Totally and completely petrified.

Reason for the reaction (stated): Auggie has never been to a real school before.

Reason (inferred): Auggie has a facial disfigurement that can make interaction with other people difficult and uncomfortable.

Whether you are reading a simpler narrative like The Dot, or a more complex narrative like Wonder both stories are built with the three ingredients: having a clear event, a reaction and a reason for the reaction. By understanding these three ingredients, the audience can settle into the story being shared.

Reactions are the Mood

As humans, we react to everything emotionally. When we see a sunrise, wake up on a rainy day, when it’s time to go to gym class, hear our favorite song, see a dog, we feel a certain way. If we have a strong enough reaction, a strong mood, then we have a story that might be shareable. Stories are told through mood. Showing the mood or the reaction to whatever events or actions are taking place, is one of the main jobs of a writer, illustrator or actor. What’s interesting is that although they all use a different symbol system to present the information to the audience, they all show the same information. An actress can frown, a writer can write, “She frowned,” and the illustrator can draw the character frowning. Following are the Access Lenses (illustrated by the incredible Peter H. Reynolds!), a tool that can help you and your students to identify key details that will help them to figure out a character’s reaction and mood.


Mood Structures

Narratives normally have more than one event. The different events (the action) are shown using the building blocks of stories, scenes. And because different scenes usually have different events taking place, there are also different reactions or moods being shown. And because there are different moods, this means that stories have a change of moods or what I call, Mood Structures. So once audiences identify a mood, their next job is to get ready for a change of mood. Below is a simple drawing that shows the three most basic Mood Structures. In simple stories, such as The Dot, there is often only one major mood change. In longer, more complex stories like Wonder, the audience might see several mood changes. For example, each chapter might have it’s own mood structure. The mood changes are what cause the emotional roller-coaster that makes stories fun.


Symbols in Stories

Anything that causes a mood is symbolic of that mood. For Vashti, drawing is a symbol of frustration. For Auggie, going to school makes him feel petrified. School equals scary. Thinking about things that cause a mood as a symbol makes it easier to make a meaningful text-to-self connection to a story. We all have things in our life that make us feel frustrated or that make us feel scared. Furthermore, we also know other characters who have felt frustrated or scared about something and so thinking symbolically can help us make strong text-to-text connections too.

Positive and Negative Symbols

Just like with moods, symbols can be positive or negative. Characters, settings, objects or events that cause a negative mood are negative symbols. And characters, settings, objects or events that cause a positive mood are positive symbols. Often in stories, the way an author changes a mood is by having a positive or negative symbol show up. In many stories, positive symbols can be thought of as symbols of hope and support and negative symbols can be thought of as symbols of obstruction and destruction.  For instance in The Dot, when Vashti is feeling totally frustrated, her teacher ( a symbol of support) shows up and helps to get her started drawing. And in Wonder, when Auggie enters the dreaded lunchroom and is blatently excluded and forced to sit all by himself, Summer ( a symbol of hope and support) decides to sit with him. We could all use more Summer in our lives!

Symbols can also change in stories. Art clearly starts out negative for Vashti but by the end of the book art is a symbol of creativity and Joy for her. Likewise, in Wonder, school starts out as a place where Auggie feels uncomfortable, scared and gets picked on, winds up being a place where he is celebrated and embraced.

Finding Themes through Moods

When we don’t know how to do something it can make us feel frustrated.

Doing something that we’ve never done before can make us feel scared.

Sounds like two themes, right? Two big ideas? Two lessons that we can learn from stories? One way to arrive at a theme, big idea, or lesson learned is by combining the mood and what is causing the mood. Some of the most important themes, big ideas, or lessons in stories will come from thinking about what causes a character’s mood to change.


One of the nice things about helping students to learn to enter stories through moods is that it’s extremely consistent across grade levels. All narratives, whether they are targeting young children, or teenagers, are built using the same ingredients. They all will have events, reactions to those events and reasons for the reaction to those events. And because they have a reaction, they will have a mood. By paying attention to how the mood is shown, audiences will be studying craft. And by noticing how the mood changes, audiences will be studying story structure. This means that studying craft and story structure can help students with their comprehension. Studying craft and story structure also puts audience members in a better position to create narratives that will resonate with their intended audience.

Pay attention to the moods both in your own lives and in the lives of your characters. Mood truly is where you’ll find the heartbeat of a story.


Trevor Bryan has put together a family friendly resource to help students engage with some of the ideas he discussed above while at home. It’s a free 14 page document that can be found here:

Feel free to reach out to Trevor with any questions. Find Trevor on Twitter, @TrevorABryan, on Facebook, The Art of Comprehension or through his Blog, Four O”Clock Faculty.

Trevor Bryan has been an art teacher in New Jersey for 20 years, spending the last 16 in Jackson Township. Trevor’s first book, The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation, and Confidence, was published in 2019 by Stenhouse Publishers. Since around 2012, Trevor has presented at various national and state conferences, consults The Princeton University Art Museum on utilizing AoC for school and other group tours, and he provides professional development for several school districts across the United States on using and implementing The Art of Comprehension. Trevor also consults for award-winning and bestselling author/illustrator, Peter H. Reynolds’ education company, FableVision Learning.

Feel free to reach out to Trevor with any questions. Find Trevor on Twitter, @TrevorABryan, on Facebook, The Art of Comprehension or through his Blog, Four O”Clock Faculty.


New Learning-Forever Ours to Keep

By Jennifer Allen

After my daughter Sam’s freshman year, she figured out basketball wasn’t her sport.

Sam’s sophomore year she decided to try a new sport. Although she knew nothing about Nordic skiing she took a risk and signed up. Since Winthrop did not have a team, she would need to practice at another school, 20 minutes away, a school known for their many state titles. Joining Nordic would mean that she would not only have to learn a new sport but that she would have to do so by immersing herself in a new and an unfamiliar school environment with kids she did not know.  

Sam didn’t want to just ski, she wanted to be part of a team. A Nordic team needed four girls to score. After a week and some convincing, she found three other girls from her school in Winthrop who agreed to join her in taking this risk, for none of them had ever stepped on Nordic skis.  They would be a team and ski for their own high school but practice with the neighboring school. They embraced the idea of possibility together.

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And then came learning to ski. That first year they were referred to by the other school as the “newbies”. Sam would come home from practice telling tales of their collective falls and crashes. With each practice, progress was made, momentum generated, and skills acquired.

In their second year as a team they started to look and sound like skiers. These girls dreamed big. Their goal was to win the Mountain Valley Conference Championship.  It might seem like an unattainable goal to most, but these girls were determined and kept the goal within reach. At the end of their 2nd year of skiing (junior year) they came in 2nd place for their conference. They were happy but wanted more. They wanted to win, they wanted the trophy, and more importantly wanted to be recognized as genuine skiers.

Fast forward. As seniors, the girls got the ultimate taste of success.  It seemed that their hard work, determination, and humility had all paid off.  The Winthrop girls were awarded the trophy for being the 2020 MVC winners for Nordic skiing!

Their smiles as they held the conference trophy spoke of a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Then, 48 hours later came the news that there was a scoring error and that the team had actually come in 2nd place, not 1st. The trophy was not theirs to claim. Their moment evaporated almost as quickly as it had been captured.

Trophies and titles can be handed off, but what can’t be taken away from these girls are the skills acquired and the feeling of accomplishment from new learning.

Just like when kids learn to read, it can never be taken away. It’s not the trophies that we win or championships seized, rather it’s the skills we acquire with new learning that stay with us for a lifetime.  New learning is forever ours to keep.

Jennifer Allen is a literacy specialist in Waterville, Maine. She has worked in education for the last twenty-five years.  Jennifer started as a classroom teacher in the primary grades and has been working in this position as a literacy/specialist coach for the last sixteen years. She is the author of Becoming a Literacy Leader and A Sense of Belonging, both published by Stenhouse.

Three High Leverage Moves to Solve Problems of Practice

By Julie Wright

I have the pleasure of working in many schools across the country.  The schools I serve are unique in their own ways. Size of schools and classrooms vary.  Start and end times vary. Mandated curricular materials, initiatives, special projects, and school culture often vary. Number of preps, number of meetings, number of students with diverse needs…all vary.    

Schools are unique, there’s no doubt.  Sometimes, however, the ongoing problems of practice have similarities across states, districts, and schools.  For example, there’s never enough time to get everything done. The school day is not getting any longer, yet the curricular demands continue to increase.  There’s no such thing as a NO VACANCY sign above our classroom doors in the public sector (thank goodness!). Yet, it’s our job to meet the needs of individual students.  In addition, a common occurs when competing opportunities and initiatives make it hard for stakeholders to know what’s most important, yet it’s our job to champion the goals.  

What are the problems of practice that show up in your school/district?  Jot them down.

While problems of practice can seem daunting at times, they often have silver linings tucked inside that help us find our way. Once we name the problem of practice, we can figure out how solve it, making the system better. School folks (administrators, teachers, support staff, parent volunteers, etc.) working with students regularly have a unique opportunity to make high-leverage moves with and for all individual students.  Sure, these high leverage moves can look, sound, and feel different depending on the time of year, grade level, and individual classrooms because kids are dynamic.  But, high leverage moves become easier and more personalized when we know the students we serve. Proximity helps us get to know students and then, in turn, use that intel to plan curriculum, instruction and assessment.   Take a look at 3 high leverage moves that solve problems of practice by maximizing learning time, addressing students’ talents, needs, as well as creating clarity and focus.

High Leverage Move #1:  Use the reading workshop model to capitalize on small group learning.  

Getting to know and meet students’ needs is a challenge when schools or classrooms lean too heavily on whole group.  This happens when small groups feel unmanageable. The workshop structure pictured in the graphic below makes small group learning possible because of the increased amount of time dedicated to student work time.  Work time is where students have opportunities to read and work independently AND where small groups can meet. Whether you teach in an elementary or secondary setting, you might consider looping workshop across 2 days as pictured on the right.  Doing so maximizes students’ work time while connecting learning from one day to the next. 

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The first step is to take stock of your reading workshop structure by mapping out how much time is dedicated to student work time. Take stock by listing the total minutes you have during workshop and then add up the minutes that are dedicated to work time.  Kids deserve ⅔ of the total number of minutes during workshop time to do the work of learning. Handing that time over to them, regularly and consistently, is important. If you’d like to take stock of how much time readers are really working, download this template

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We know proximity matters.  The closer we get to students’ conversations, interactions, and their work, the more we will meet their needs.  As the next graphic suggests, small group is a sweet spot during reading workshop because proximity creates greater chances for  knowing and meeting students’ individual needs,  

Big Take-away:  There is never enough time, but when we use the workshop model we have a better chance of maximizing student work time and meeting students’ individual needs. 

High Leverage Move #2:  Kidwatch to get to know students’ interests, curiosities, habits, and needs.

Educators have been studying students since the one-room schoolhouse.  Yetta Goodman and Gretchen Owocki’s work helped give definition to the term kidwatching (Heinemann, 1994).  My co-author and I studied kidwatching while writing our book, What Are You Grouping For? by Wright & Hoonan (Corwin, 2019). We use the term Kidwatching 2.0 because kids, and the world around us, are constantly changing, requiring us to fine-tune our observation skills. We kidwatch because it’s the purest form of student data and significantly impacts our decision-making.  Kidwatching helps us know what students know and what they can do, as well as inform us about what they need next. Kidwatching helps us capture students’ strengths and areas needing a lift.  

Take a look at the picture below. What do you notice?  Take a look at facial expressions, seating arrangements, materials, and so on.  Make a jot list in your head or on scratch paper.

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Or, you might consider using the note catcher below.  Here you would note what you see (since it’s a picture), why what you see matters to student learning, and any wonderings or questions you have.  

What do I see/hear? Why does it matter to student learning? Wonderings

This group of 5th grade boys are digging into several texts– picture books, biographies, sports joke books, a trivia calendar, and more–focused on sports.  This small group previewed and oriented to the texts before choosing one to read. You may have guessed that they excitedly grabbed the Sports Illustrated for Kids because they wanted to see which all-star player was featured in the center fold out.   If you are kidwatching in the classroom, your notes would also include what you hear. Student talk is really important because it gives a clearer, richer picture of student thinking.  

Kidwatching notes often lead to teacher and student conversations which lead to more kidwatching.   Intentional kidwatching almost always feeds new inquiries and new interactions because it’s a recursive process.  If you’d like an electronic version, download this Kidwatching 2.0 template. 

Big Take-away:  When we get to know students’ interests, curiosities, habits and needs through kidwatching, we have a better chance of meeting students’ individual and collective needs.

High Leverage Move #3:  Curate to inspire students to be connoisseurs of text.

Think about all of the things you learn about students by observing, listening, interacting, and studying their work.  We must use all that we know about our students to curate texts for them to read. As teachers, we curate to meet students social and emotional needs.  We gather texts that we think will stoke students’ personal interests and passions. Sometimes we curate texts to nurture students’ knowledge development and/or conceptual understandings.  And, of course, we collect and use different texts to address curricular demands and to differentiate instruction to respond to students’ individual needs. Inviting students to curate texts for themselves and others is important too because doing so, 

  • Fosters student independence,
  • Invites student choice and voice to selecting reading materials,
  • Increases reading volume,
  • Develops skills and habits that carry over into adulthood.

Take a look at the tub in the picture below filled with texts focused on women who have influenced and/or made contributions to our world.  

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The teacher read aloud the book, Separate is Never Equal:  Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation.  Students were surprised by the lasting impact that Sylvia Mendez and her family had on changing California desegregation laws.  This story sparked interest which resulted in a small group of 6th graders diving into different texts focused on women who made significant contributions to the world.  Some of these texts were curated by the teacher, while others were curated by the students. When students curate texts for themselves and others, it promotes autonomy, student independence, and an increased desire to read.  As you might imagine, the number of texts in the bucket increased over several days and the number of texts that students explored and read consequently increased. Teacher and student curation provides opportunities to increase reading volume, student choice, and independence.  If you are interested in curating texts based on students’ individual needs, consider using the A Little Bit About or Tell Us Your Thoughts

Big Take-away:  When we curate texts for students, and invite students into the curation process, we are prioritizing increased reading volume, student choice and independence.  

Which high leverage moves will you use to solve your problems of practice?  Consider using the reading workshop model to capitalize on using small groups to increase proximity and maximize student learning time.  Use kidwatching in order to get to know students’ interests, curiosities, habits, and needs so that you have a better chance of meeting students’ individual and collective needs.  Curate texts that inspire students to be connoisseurs of text so that the priority becomes increasing reading volume, student choice and independence.


Clinton, C. (2017) She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. New York, NY:  Penguin Books.

Owocki, G. & Goodman, Y. (1994) Kidwatching: Documenting Children’s Literacy Development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Schatz, K. (2015) Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.

Thimmesh. C. (2002) Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Books.

Tonatiuh. D. (2014)  Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. New York, NY:  Abrams.

Wright, J. & Hoonan, B. (2019) What Are You Grouping For? How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers–Not the Book.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Julie Wright  is a teacher, instructional coach, and educational consultant with over twenty-five years of experience in rural, suburban, and urban education settings.  She holds National Board Certification as well as a B.S. in Education, M.A. in Language Arts and Reading, a K-12 Reading Endorsement, and extensive school leadership post-graduate work, including a pre-K through grade 9 principal license from The Ohio State University. Julie serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member at Ashland University and is the co-author of What Are You Grouping For? How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers–Not the Book (Wright & Hoonan, 2019). Follow Julie on Twitter @juliewright4444 or for more information on how she can support your efforts, visit