“About five years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a model of instruction that has small groups and conferring,” Sarah Dunkin explains. Dunkin is an Early Learning and ELA Teacher on Special Assignment in Beaverton School District number 48 near Portland, Oregon. But all that has changed for Beaverton’s teachers in part thanks to resources by Jennifer Serravallo.
It all started with Dunkin and her colleague Jennifer Burkart who is an Early Learning, ELA, and Reading Intervention specialist. “I read her Professional Books and I heard her speak at Teacher’s College,” said Burkart. “We ordered The Reading Strategies Book, and it felt like the missing link for teachers.”
Dunkin and Burkart had taken a needs assessment of the district’s teachers, getting responses directly from them about what kind of professional learning they needed and wanted. What they wanted was clarity, flexibility, and practicality. The Reading Strategies Book fit their teachers’ needs perfectly. Said Burkart, “We were able to communicate ‘You said you wanted this, and we got you this.’”
“We wanted our teachers to see The Reading Strategies Book as a vital and necessary tool and a complement to instruction,” said Dunkin. She and Burkart rolled the book out to all their elementary teachers for a district-wide book study. “Everyone got The Reading Strategies Book,” Burkart explained. “We loved her ‘What Can I Work on as a Reader’ tool [free downloadable at Heinemann.com], and our reading specialist used it to support how we read the introduction.”
The book proved immediately popular with their teachers. “It simplified the work,” said Dunkin. “If there’s a need she provides an answer. She’s been very supportive of teachers and the needs they have.” The Reading Strategies Book gave them the how—actionable instructional steps to take with readers. “What does that look like and how do I do it? That’s what Jen does so well,” she further explained. “It alone provides professional development because if you’re using it, you’re learning what kids need.”
“We had a big kickoff with all our elementary teachers here on-site,” Burkart recalled, “then followed up with a webinar with Jen [Serravallo].” Ahead of the webinar, Dunkin and Burkart sent Serravallo a mug with the district logo on it. On the day of the event, in the midst of winter, everyone, including Serravallo, enjoyed steaming Beaverton Schools mugs of hot cocoa together. “Jen was amazing,” said Burkart. “She was so clear. Our teachers said, ‘This is the kind of PD we want!’”
During the webinars Serravallo demystified how she created the 300 reading strategies in The Reading Strategies Book. She helped participants understand that there aren’t any magical strategies out there that teachers don’t know about—that her ideas came from a combination of high-quality research and her own years of working with readers. She helped them connect their assessments directly to strategies in the book that they could begin teaching the next day.
Ultimately The Reading Strategies Book is helping Beaverton teachers answer that difficult teaching question: What’s next? “For some teachers, having the scaffold of the strategies,” said Burkart, “helps many teachers become much more concrete, clear, and flexible.”
Dunkin points out that Serravallo’s resources make a difference in the most important way: “She can provide help for an emergent reader and a child who is more developed as a reader.”
“Teachers are more empowered to be responsive to the needs of students,” said Burkart. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Do these lessons one by one with fidelity, but we want our teachers to be flexible thinkers.”
Teachers will always face instructional challenges such as supporting striving readers, helping any student move through increasingly complex texts, or simply finding a just-right strategy for a reader who is stuck. Burkart says that with Jennifer Serravallo’s resources, classroom practitioners can go further in helping their readers. “If your teachers are looking for something to hold onto as they stretch, Jen’s books can anchor their thinking.”
Jennifer Serravallo is the author of New York Times’ bestseller The Reading Strategies Book as well as other popular Heinemann professional books, The Writing Strategies Book; Teaching Reading in Small Groups; and The Literacy Teacher's Playbook, Grades K–2 and Grades 3–6. Her newest books are Understanding Texts & Readers and A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences as well as the Spanish-language counterparts to her strategies books, El libro de estrategias de lectura and El libro de estrategias de escritura.
In Spring 2019, Jen’s new Complete Comprehension: Fiction and Complete Comprehension: Nonfiction was released. This assessment and teaching resource expands upon the comprehension skill progressions from Understanding Texts & Readers and offers hundreds more strategies like those in The Reading Strategies Book.
Additionally, Jen is the author of the On-Demand Courses Strategies in Action: Reading and Writing Methods and Content and Teaching Reading in Small Groups: Matching Methods to Purposes, where you can watch dozens of videos of Jen teaching in real classrooms and engage with other educators in a self-guided course.
Jen began her career in education as a NYC public school teacher and later joined the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. Through TCRWP, and now as an independent consultant, she has spent over a decade helping teachers across the country to create literacy classrooms where students are joyfully engaged and the instruction is meaningfully individualized to students' goals.