The Importance of Being a Teacher-Writer

by Stacey Shubitz

Last winter, I enrolled my daughter in aerial arts classes. I checked the instructor’s qualifications because the idea of her hanging upside down from a piece of silk fabric frightened me. The instructor had been performing and teaching aerial arts for a decade. That said, I still observed the instructor carefully during my daughter’s trial class. The instructor demonstrated before the kids to tried anything. I noticed he talked each student through the moves as she spotted them on the silks, repositioning hands, supporting bodies, and using specific praise at the end of each turn on the silk. She knew what to say and how to instruct because she was a practitioner. Just as I expect my daughter to have a proficient aerial artist teaching her, I want all children to learn how to write from teachers who are writing practitioners.
Lucy Calkins (2013, 23) published several bottom line conditions for effective writing instruction:

  • Writing needs to be taught like any other basic skill, with explicit instruction and   ample opportunity for practice.
  • Children deserve to write for real purposes, to write the kinds of texts that they see in the world and to write for an audience of readers.
  • Writers write to put meaning onto the page. Children invest themselves in their writing when they choose topics that are important to them.
  • Children deserve to be explicitly taught how to write.
  • Children deserve the opportunity and instruction to cycle through the writing process.
  • To write well, children need opportunities to read and to hear texts read, and to read as writers.
  • Children need clear goals and frequent feedback.

I love these statements. I believe there is one other essential necessary for children to receive effective writing instruction:

Every student, in every writing classroom, deserves to be taught by a teacher who writes.

When a teacher writes, there are benefits for both the teacher and for the students.
Teachers know first-hand the obstacles their students will face and what to do about it.
Over the years, I’ve learned several key things that have helped me work with children by being a writer myself:

  • I have trouble getting started. Sometimes I struggle to find a topic. Other times I find it hard to focus myself once I’ve selected a topic.
  • I know revision is the most painstaking part of writing since I have to be merciless and “kill my darlings.”
  • I know what to do when I’m stuck or if something isn’t working. I have writer-friends I reach out to in order to help me figure out my next steps as a writer.
  • I know it’s hard to share a piece of writing with an audience since you never know how your writing will be perceived.

We can’t just talk the talk, we must walk the walk. Vicki Spandel (2005, 42-43) states: “Almost nothing does more to sustain a culture of writing than a teacher who writes with students, thereby underscoring the importance of writing, and also allowing students to see the process – one writer’s version of it – as it unfolds.” When we’re the lead writer in the classroom, we can predict the hard spots where students may struggle when we plan minilessons and respond more thoughtfully in conferences. Sharing our writing and our process with students allows us to be more effective and credible practitioners.

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“Writing is scary and overwhelming for students who have never had a positive writing experience. They view the teacher as judge and jury, and their classmates as competition. An African proverb says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ In this age of assessment, have we forgotten that it also takes a community to develop a writer?” (Meigs-Kahlenberg, 2017) One crucial thing we must remember is that we are the leaders of our classroom writing community.  It doesn’t matter if we teach ten students or thirty-two students: either we are the living, breathing author in the room or we are assigner and grader of the work. It’s our job to model our own writing and to talk about our writing process, successes, and struggles if we want to nurture students and help them become passionate writers.

Teachers can use their writing as mentor texts and share their process.
Dorfman and Cappelli assert, “To treat our students like genuine authors, respect their abilities, and understand their struggles, we need to write so that we can call ourselves ‘author.’ Because we are part of the writing community, our writing efforts should be included in hallway and bulletin board publications and as part of classroom writing anthologies. Our writer’s notebook should always be available to record our thoughts and observations. Writing for our students and for ourselves continually immerses us in the fundamentals of the writing craft and process” (2017, 13-14). In order to look genuine, we have to write a lot. We have to write snippets of our daily lives – things that happen to us, things we wonder about, things we are perplexed by — in a writer’s notebook. Also, we write in service of the units of study we are teaching so we can share teacher-written mentor texts with students. I realize this is a tall order for teachers, especially elementary school teachers, who are often not departmentalized and are therefore teaching multiple subjects daily.

Teachers devote time to becoming writers.
This year, I’m fortunate to be working in two school districts that have prioritized daily writing instruction. They are investing professional development time for their teachers to hone their own skills as writers. In one district, I’ve worked with teachers on writing in service of the units of study they’re teaching so teachers have time to create teacher-written mentor texts. In the other district, I’m leading teacher-as- writer sessions across the school year, in addition to supporting teachers with minilessons, conferring, and small group instruction. I’ve led some open-ended sessions, inspired by the work of Shawna Coppola (2017, 96-97), where I’ve read a text that provokes a feeling, thought, or memory and have encouraged teachers to write in whatever genre they’d like. I’m also using quick write prompts from Donald H. Graves and Penny Kittle’s My Quick Writes for Inside Writing (2007) so teachers have some more structured experiences.  In both districts, teachers are engaging in process and content shares. In addition, we take time to reflect on their experience as writers so they can increase their effectiveness in the classroom.

You can become a teacher-writer even if you work in a district that doesn’t invest
time in developing teachers-as- writers.

I realize many districts are unwilling to spend PD time and dollars on developing their teachers as writers. Therefore, there are a few steps any teacher can take to cultivate a writing life:

Step 1: Make time to write every day, even if it’s just for ten minutes. Several
years ago I compiled a list of ten tips to creating a consistent and meaningful
writing life. This list can help you get started so that writing every day becomes a habit just like flossing your teeth.
Step 2: Buy a notebook or create a blog. It doesn’t matter if you write in longhand
or electronically. What matters is that you write daily.
Step 3: Share your writing with your students.

I realize I’m over-simplifying the process. Some people might write in service of their
minilessons while others might aspire to get published. Your end goal doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you’re writing every day so you can sit beside your students and talk to them, writer-to- writer, sharing your expertise.

As the lead writer in our writing classrooms, we owe it to our students to position ourselves as fellow writers. Doing so boosts our credibility, as well as our ability to provide high-quality writing instruction.

Committing yourself to being a teacher-writer can feel scary. Therefore, it helps to have a
tribe when you’re getting started and to keep you going. You can look for your tribe within or outside the walls of your school.

  • Look for one or more like-minded colleagues and form a writing group that meets at least once a week. Develop ground rules and expectations for your group soeveryone’s needs are met and your time together is well-spent. (To help you get started, check out Seven Habits of an Effective Critique Group).
  • Check out the weekly or month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge  my colleagues and I host on Two Writing Teachers. Every Tuesday year-round and every day during the month of March, teacher-writers from six continents gather to share stories from our lives with each other. It’s a nurturing community of teachers who have committed themselves to the belief that they can be better teachers of writing by writing regularly.

My daughter has begun to use the trapeze, in addition to the fabric silks, in her aerial arts class. As a parent, I’m still concerned about safety, but I know she’s being shown what to do and is being supported on the trapeze by a competent and experienced practitioner.  Expertise is paramount, regardless of the discipline, when you’re teaching children.

Bio: Stacey Shubitz is an independent literacy consultant, an adjunct professor, and a former elementary school teacher. She’s the author Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts and the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. She is presently working on a book with Lynne Dorfman, which has the working title of WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP (anticipated publication date: Winter 2018/19). She blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter @sshubitz.

Stacey will be presenting twice at CCIRA. She will lead a Teacher As Writer Session on
Wednesday evening, February 7th and will present about mentor texts on Thursday morning, February 8th, 2018.

Calkins, Lucy. 2013. A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop, Intermediate Grades. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Coppola, Shawna. 2017. Renew: Become a Better – and More Authentic – Writing Teacher. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Dorfman, Lynne R. and Rose Cappelli. 2012. Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through
Children’s Literature, K-6, 2 nd Edition. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Meigs-Kahlenberg, Vicki. 2017. “Why I Write with My Students.” October 17. write-with- my-students/.

Shubitz, Stacey. 2012. “Creating a Consistent & Meaningful Writing Life.” September 15.

Spandel, Vicki. 2005. The 9 Rights of Every Writer. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Peace, Joy, and BOOKS!

by Maria Walther

This fall, I began my 32nd year of teaching first grade. As I inch closer to retirement, I find myself ponderingwhat’s most important in the life of a learner. I certainly don’t claim to have all of the answers, but my research-guided practice has led me to conclude,“Keep it simple.” In other words, I’ve observed that kids thrive in a predictable environment with ample time to read, write, talk, and think together. I learned this from Lucy Calkins (1983) decades ago when she said that creative environments are “deliberately kept simple to support the complexities of the work-in-progress. They are deliberately kept predictable so the unpredictable can happen” (p. 32). In this post, I offer three ideas to guide you in creating a classroom culture where the unpredictable can happen—surround students with peace, joy, and books (a lot of them!).

In our classrooms, we work to promote a calm learning environment and also harmonious interactions among students. Fairly early in my career, I was fortunate to hear the wise Debbie Miller speak. From her presentations and book, I discovered the power of music in the classroom (2013). To help children remain calm during transitions, I play short song clips to signal them to move from one learning experience to the next. So, instead of my voice, they hear snippets of “Food, Glorious Food” (from the musical   Oliver!) when it’s lunchtime and “The Happy Working Song” (from the movie Enchanted) announces it is time to clean up. To end our day, we gather together to sing tunes fromsong picture books. Year after year, my students’ favorite song book is John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads (2005)!

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 9.11.42 AMA Few of MyFavorite Song Picture Books

Footloose (Loggins, 2016) *Includes CD

The Library Book (Chapin & Mark, 2017)*Download song from I-Tunes
Octopus’s Garden (Starr & Cort, 2014) *Includes CD

We also read aloud and discuss books that promote peaceful interactions among children. We converse about the importance of friendship after reading Friendshape (Rosenthal, 2015) and brainstorm ways to resolve playground conflicts like the children did in Rulers of the Playground (Kuefler, 2017). Although these small, peaceful happenings may appear simple, they are key for kids. Peter Johnston reminds us that, “In productive classrooms there are routines and rituals that give a sense of stability and control” (2012, p. 29). When children feel in control, they are more willing to challenge themselves to grow as thinkers and learners.

Joyful learning occurs in classrooms where approximations are honored and mistakes are viewed as opportunities to further understanding. We can nurture joyful learners by adopting and promoting a dynamic learning frame—the belief that the more you learn, the smarter you get (Johnston, 2012). Again, I turn to books to help lead the way. Stories like Dan Santat’s After the Fall (2017), help students see the importance of getting back up and Rosie Revere, Engineer (Beaty, 2013), demonstrates persistence. We also promote
joy by laughing together the antics of The Wolf, The Duck, and the Mouse (Barnett, 2017) or the toddler portrayed in Rodzilla (Sanders, 2017). Learning, in and of itself, is an enjoyable endeavor. When you look at your students’ faces as you energetically read aloud or watch a pair of learners rereading (for the one hundredth time) their favorite Elephant and Piggie book, you witness pure joy. When kept simple, by sharing engaging children’s books, creating purposeful writing experiences, and offering opportunities to inquire, collaborate, and share, the excitement of uncovering new understandings thrives.

You can probably tell by now that children’s literature is at the center of almost everything I do with kids. In fact, I’ve collected 32 years’ worth of books for my students because I know that the right book can entice a reluctant or vulnerable reader. Books spill out of every nook and cranny in my classroom (and my home office). Thus, instead of calling it a classroom library, I call it our library classroom. A robust classroom collection of books is crucial. Kids not only need to read a lot, but they also need lots ofbooks right at their fingertips. Books that “entice them, attract them to reading” (Allington, 2006, p. 85). So, if you are going to spend your hard-earned dollars on teaching materials, take my advice—shut down your computer, visit an
independent bookstore, and buy a books with a specific child in mind. You and your students will be thankful you did!

I hope this post gave you a few ideas to ponder. I’d love to learn from you. What are the three words that guide your teaching?

Allington, R. (2006). What really matters for struggling readers (2 nd ed.). New York: Pearson.
Calkins, L. (1983). Lessons from a child. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Johnston, P. (2012). Opening minds. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Miller, D. (2013). Reading with meaning (2 nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Maria Walther has taught first grade since 1986. In 2008, Maria earned the ICARE for Reading Award for fostering the love of reading in children and in 2016 she was presented with the Illinois Reading Council Hall of Fame Award. She has co-
authored five professional books and the Next Step Guided Reading Assessment. 
Her latest book The Revved-Up Read Aloud will be published by Corwin. Learn more about Maria at #CCIRA18,  on her website or follow her on Twitter @mariapwalther.

Maintaining Reading Community Over Break

As teachers, we work incredibly hard to build many facets of community within our classroom and then… BOOM – a break happens!Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 9.04.57 AM

One of the biggest challenges is how to maintain our reading community over the long Winter Break. It’s easier when I’m seeing my students five days a week and am there to encourage, share books, confer, and build excitement. When we spend two-and-a-half weeks away from each other it’s a struggle to bring that community back together. These are my top strategies for maintaining the reading expectations over break so that we are ready to roll in 2018!

  • To Be Read (TBR) Lists: In Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller, @donalynbooks, dedicates an entire chapter to the fact that Wild Readers have reading plans (p. 135). Before break, I build my own TBR List to share with students and then have kids create their own! I always bring my book stack or list in before a break to share with my students. We discuss the variety of genres, how I have books that will be easy to read and others that are more challenging, how I have new authors and old favorites. After this discussion, I hand it over to the kids and we pull out books from the classroom library and head to the school library to fill TBR lists and pack backpacks so there is no excuse for not reading over break.
  • Preview Stacks: As their teachers, we often know our students as readers better than anyone, so who better to make recommendations?  Miller also discusses building Preview Stacks for students (p. 73). It is crucial to consider your students’ interests and passions and then books that might connect to them. Miller states “Always offer several books at once. Suggesting one book takes away a student’s ability to choose.” Just because I think it is their perfect book, that may not be the case. After picking one or two to read immediately, they can then add titles to their TBR lists that they may want to read at another time
  • Book Raffles: Do you have new books that you haven’t shared with students yet? What about the books that you love, but kids aren’t picking them up? Book talk a handful of books to build excitement about them and then raffle off the opportunity to read! This is always a great way to generate interest in books. In my classroom, I share about 5-7 books and then hand out “tickets” (let’s be real – these are cut up pieces of bright colored paper). Students get four tickets towards the raffle. They can split them among different books or put all four towards one book. They love it and I have even had to create a waitlist if there a ton of names for a book!

The key element for encouraging and supporting reading over break is that Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 9.04.09 AMREADING ISTHE PRIZE (@hellojenjones). It is easy to want to offer prizes when they come back for who read the most minutes, most books, most pages, whatever it may be… Students need not be rewarded for with extra prizes for reading over break if our aim is to build a community of lifelong readers!

Keep supporting those readers and engaging them, even when on break! Enjoy the time to recharge for yourself and build up that stock-pile of books you love so that you can share with students when you return! No better way to start the new year than with new books!

Ashley Hickey is a fifth grade teacher in Jefferson County. She is “Mama” to two lively boys who love to read and discover books. She is a board member of JCIRA and explores all things teaching, running, reading, and “momming” on Twitter and Instagram @ashhickeyread.

Inviting Complexity into Interventions

By Lynn Newmyer
In my job as a literacy instructional coach and intervention teacher, this statement from the CCSS literacy standards frequently comes up in my coaching conversations and lesson planning:  “Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.” 

My teacher colleagues question this statement by wondering how they can bring complexity into their lessons with students who find literacy difficult, especially because they are not yet reading grade level text. My answer is always the same: how can we NOT bring complexity into our lessons especially with our students who at this time find grade level reading out of their reach? Without the complexity, we create gaps that are more serious;  deeper comprehension, rich vocabulary that builds background and content knowledge and the pure joy of losing yourself in a story or text, which all add to creating life-long readers.

This last month I have been problem-solving with a teacher colleague, Christine, about a third grade group of students that have been puzzling. These students are almost reading at grade level with a basic understanding of narrative and informational texts. The students can orally share what they know and understand but have difficulty organizing their thoughts in writing. What is imperative to include in our plans if these students are to reach their full literate potential?

Complexity of course! Complexity, however, is not the same as difficulty. Dr. Linda Dorn from the Center for Literacy at the University of Little Rock succinctly shared in a recent presentation why they are not. “Difficulty relates to the amount of work required to perform a task. Complexity relates to the degree of interconnected concepts, relationships, structures or patterns within a task.” So our question developed into this: how could we include complexity in ways that move students’ processing forward while keeping it easy to learn?

Choosing Engaging and Complex Texts  

To prepare the students to move out of leveled reading texts into trade books and picture books with more opportunity for complexity, we knew that we would have to build their background knowledge by engaging them in a read aloud that would become a mentor text for how to do deeper thinking. We looked for professional resources that would give us a framework for analyzing complexity in picture books. One particularly helpful one was an article in The Reading Teacher, “Complexity in Picture Books” by Sierschynski, Louie & Pughe. Their framework uses the CCSS Qualitative Measures of Text Complexity, which includes levels of meaning, structure, language conventionality and clarity and knowledge demands. Also included are consideration of the textual-visual elements and guiding questions for further analysis. A list of literary texts in the article gave us wonderful suggestions that we used as our mentor texts.

Encouraging Collaborative Discussions

Students would also need to learn how to have conversations to negotiate text that is more complex where the meaning is nuanced and not obvious. Although we had chosen picture books, the pictures added another layer beyond the words. The interactive read aloud we chose, The Fox by Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks has an open ending, which leaves the reader wondering what really did happen next.  Conversation exploded and Christine had to assist students on how to take their talk and work together to build deeper meaning using evidence from the text. One of the students in the group was so concerned about the ending that she spend the whole weekend writing a new one that she brought to school to share with her group. The students were quite impressed as she described her process of writing, as “pens and paper were everywhere!”  

We relied on other professional resources including Dorn & Soffos’ Teaching for Deep Comprehension and Interventions that Work!  Their works helped us to set structures in place for our group and ways to engage students in productive conversation. Of course, we re-visited Johnston’s Choice Words and Opening Minds. We knew about Johnston’s research on dialogic classrooms and the effect on comprehension and student engagement.

The story of Christine’s group is still unfolding.  The ending is open. This week they will be starting to read a new book, Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne, in a small guided group. She gave them a sneak peek by sharing the cover and the title page of a floating red hat that casts a shadow. Their faces shone with excitement as they started debating what it might mean. One student, a boy, exclaimed that he could not wait until Monday, so she had better lock her door, as he was going to sneak in and steal that book so he could read it. And, this is from a student who hated to read last year! Just maybe we are on to something!

Lynn Newmyer is a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and District Literacy Instructional Coach for the Walled Lake Consolidated School district in Michigan. This is Lynn’s 43rd year in education.  and is an avid collector of picture books. Follow her on Twitter @LynnRdgtch.

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