Tag Archives: collaboration

Discussions with Small School Districts: The Reading Strategies Book


by Heinemann Inside Sales

Recently, I talked with Marnia Letendre regarding the Heinemann grant assistance portal. Marnia is a Literacy Coach at Pitner Elementary in Acworth, Georgia. As we talked it became obvious that she is a true devotee of Heinemann resources. During our conversation, I inquired about what her favorite Heinemann resources are; she listed half a dozen without hesitation.

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The Power of Questioning

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In today's blog post, authors Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen argue that standards for close reading have led to a decreased emphasis on student inquiry. What happens when teachers leave room for questioning?

The Power of Questioning

by Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen.

Recently, we’ve noticed that something is missing in the conversations surrounding close reading: Questions. Teaching has been dominated by talk about close reading strategies that help students arrive at answers about texts. But what about the students’ questions?

In these standards driven times, has an emphasis on close reading resulted in a de-emphasis on questions raised in response to reading? The underlining, annotating, and making note of specific words and phrases are close reading strategies that can help students comprehend complex texts. However, it seems the basis of whether or not students comprehend well is hinged on their answers to text-based questions. In this standardized, “close-reading world” that values strategies and leads to specific, pre-determined conclusions, is there room for questioning?

Close reading can help students, and teachers, determine comprehension gaps. It provides opportunities to teach strategies students can use to recognize when meaning has broken down and how to repair such misunderstandings. However, it seems that the power of questioning has been undervalued. Asking questions is an essential part of active reading. Educators such as Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis, Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, Richard Allington, and many others recognize questioning as a higher-level thinking strategy that strengthens comprehension and turns students into critical readers. Therefore, it is important to broaden the narrative around close reading from simply what students do to find accuracy when answering a text, to what helps students to monitor their own comprehension and spark their own inquiries.

Taking a questioning stance toward complex texts enables students to read beyond the text.

An emphasis on questioning, as part of the close reading work students do to read stronger, is essential. Taking a questioning stance toward complex texts enables students to read beyond the text; to speculate, critique, and hypothesize. Such work can lead to more complex questions. For example, in response to reading several chapters of Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes, a 6th grade student wrote the following questions in her reader’s notebook: What does freedom really mean? How it is that a person can be free, but not-free at the same time? This student was thinking deeply about the main character, a young African-American girl living in the late 1800’s after slavery was abolished. She was grappling with the concept of freedom, and her questions helped her to realize that freedom is more than the opposite of being enslaved; it’s about being able to control one’s own destiny. In an effort to gain new understandings, she researched and read about the Reconstruction Period and the significant new challenges it brought about for African-Americans. When students are encouraged to include questioning as part of close reading, they are inspired to pursue their own inquires, which leads to more reading! Research supports that we as teachers must be as concerned about increasing the volume of reading for our students as we are about the strategies to teach them to read. Getting our students to read more is the single most powerful thing teachers can do to help our students become better readers.

Honoring students’ questions leads to inquisitive students who make their own choices, pursue their own inquires, and find enjoyment in reading. Therefore, a shift away from teaching close reading strategies that simply leads students to answers, to teaching close reading strategies that encourage and emphasize questioning is essential.

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Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen are the authors of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning. Together, they run the website LitLearnAct, a collaborative blog for literacy teachers. Follow them on Twitter @LitLearnAct.

Imagine it Better: Visions of What School Might Be

Author Luke Reynolds has taught middle and secondary English in public high schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Luke’s new book “Imagine It Better: Visions of What School Might Be” features 18 provocative invitations from some of the most brilliant and creative minds in education today, including Tony Wagner, Andy Hargreaves, Noam Chomsky, and Linda Darling-Hammond. The book focuses on the present tense of school reform: what you can do to improve the instruction in your classroom and school today.  Each essay tells a story of what can be—with the heartbeat of imagination and a fresh vision of possibilities.

In his introduction, Luke writes how his hope for transformative action led to Imagine it Better.

Introduction written by Luke Reynolds 

It's day eleven of the government shutdown. I drive through a national park to go to work each morning, so I don't have to check the news to see whether the government is up and running yet. I just look out my car window and see the orange cones still blocking the entrances to the parking lots. The shutdown is akin to a potent virus for which we've yet to find a vaccine. We stop imagining what could happen and start judging one another for what hasn't happened. We're quick to point our collective finger at everyone else rather than ask what we might be able to do together.

In education, we see some of the same paralysis that comes from intense judgment and evaluation. As soon as we think one person, one school, one professor, one business leader, one billionaire, one researcher, or one organization has "the answer,"we all too quickly begin criticizing and critiquing everyone else. We see scarcity, failure, and strife instead of possibilities for transformation.

Shutting down is the exact opposite of our goal as educators. We walk into our classrooms each morning hoping that openings will occur. We hope that our students' minds will open to new possibilities, views, ideas, opportunities, skills, and challenges. We hope that our own hearts will be more open to caring, investing, believing -again- that what seemed impossible yesterday will be obtainable today. We hope that our schools will flourish as places of joy and creativity and challenge and – yes – imagination.

Lewis Hyde, in his poignant and remarkable book The Gift (2007), provides a scathing critique of a society that builds itself on principles of shutting down, of scarcity and insufficiency. He writes, "The market-industrial system institutesscarcity, in a manner completely unparalleled and to a degree nowhere else approximated. Where production and distribution are arranged through the behavior of prices, and all livelihoods depend on getting and spending, insufficiency of material means becomes the specific, calculable starting point of all economic activity" (28).

We need to think seriously about the purpose of our schools in this context. Is public education also built on the ideals of a market-industrial system, complete with economic justifications? Or are its intentions deeper, more complex, more fulfilling to both the self and to society? By narrowing conversations of educational purpose to pathways of progress via test scores and standardization alone, we move toward production and distribution. We quantify inputs and outputs and try to increase the rates of these inputs and outputs as if human connection and growth can be reduced to an equation.

The writers of the essays in this book reject simple equations and productdistribution mindsets. Instead, they are re-envisioning possibilities. They are not interested in profits – in "getting and spending" – but rather are empowered by the goal of improving the lives of students, teachers, and society at large. What if instead of beginning with a scarcity mindset that causes students, teachers, parents, administrators, and others invested in education to shut down, we start with an imaginative mindset? What if we imagine education as we want it to be, remembering that education is, at its core, about people and relationships, not about "getting and spending"?

Diane Ravitch (2010) powerfully warns that "the schools will surely be failures if students graduate knowing how to choose the right option from four bubbles on a multiple-choice test, but unprepared to lead fulfilling lives, to be responsible citizens, and to make good choices for themselves, their families, and our society" (224). If we always begin with blame over test scores and chastisement about what our tax dollars are "getting" us as a society, we will be lost in a perpetual cycle of scarcity. We may enable students to score better on bubble tests, but the goal of guiding them to lead fulfilling lives and creating a responsible, just society will recede farther in our rear-view mirror. We need to return to the elemental questions, imagine how school could be – what we want school to create and what we believe it should do – and propose the most inspired and inspiring ways to achieve these possibilities.

This goal recognizes the structural inequalities inherent in a system of education that is based on "getting and spending," one that views success as correct answers rather than authentic growth, social equality, and transformation. Asking one another to re-envision what we expect of schools is not easy, and there is a layer of privilege in even having the time and resources to pose these kinds of questions. Yet there is a great responsibility to do so, lest our privilege march onward toward profit and even oppression. If we take seriously the call to educate students, we need to imagine how knowledge can be viewed differently, how we can create it differently, how we hear it, explain it, share it, and – especially – how we count it.

Poet Mary Oliver (1998) asks a hard question that deserves an honest response from educators, administrators, and policymakers: Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life? We can blame and criticize one another, point fingers, and advocate for a thousand mini-shutdowns throughout our educational system. Or we can start imagining other possibilities and share those possibilities in ways that empower and inspire. We can work toward re-envisioning what counts as knowledge and forge new paths rather than walk those dictated by market-industrialism.

Just as one rain shower will not grow a field of flowers, one person or group will not devise a plan that transforms our educational system perfectly. But if we can learn to offer ideas grounded in imagination, grown with hope, and empowered by action and belief, we will be well on our way toward creating something new. As Hyde tells us, The passage into mystery always refreshes. If, when we work, we can look once a day upon the face of mystery, then our labor satisfies" (25). It is time for us to be refreshed by diving into what could be, and in order to do so we must tell Scarcity and Status Quo that their time at the table of education is through. We need to invite Imagination to sit with us, knowing full well that while things might get messy, these ideas will lend strength to our hands and freshness to our ideas: our labor will deeply satisfy.

Out of this hope for and commitment to transformative action comes the book you hold in your hands. From Sonia Nieto's poignant and insightful assignment asking her students to explore what makes an ideal school to Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Rebecca Stern's exploration of inquiry as a remarkable and eye-popping way to gaze on the world, our students, and ourselves to Samantha Bennett's humorous andprofound exploration of collaboration and coaching throughout a school district, each essay is a story about what could be and each story has the heartbeat of imagination. The authors here are seeking to go beyond describing the past or repeating the present; they are willing to look deeply into Hyde's mystery to describe something we can't quite yet see and sometimes we can't believe could ever exist.

What is required of us in this moment is to open up, not shut down. We need to look honestly and reflectively at ourselves, our public education system, and our means. Instead of viewing each with a scarcity mindset bent on highlighting failures and worshipping bubble tests, we need to focus on the overwhelming surplus that is – right now – part of public education. In what specific ways do authentic human connections lead students and teachers to incredible growth? How do empowering, justice-oriented teaching methods transform classrooms? In what ways can – and do – classrooms create new cultures and possibilities rather than recapitulate old ones? And how do we close our ears to the numbing refrain of criticism and fear so we can see with fresh vision the incredible human capacity for transformation before us?

The essays in this book do just that.


Hyde, Lewis. 2007. The Gift. New York: Random House.

Oliver, Mary. 1998. West Wind: Prose and Prose Poems. New York: Mariner Books.

Ravitch, Diane. 2010. The Death and Life of the Great American School System. New York: Basic Books.

Imagine it Better is out today. To read a sample chapter for Imagine it Better click here: http://hubs.ly/y04vnW0 

When we share, we get better

When we share, we get better

Written by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst

First, a thank you to Brent Peterson for making these short videos! We found them via a Twitter or Facebook post and once we watched a few we were amazed. They are succinct, clear, and short enough that students can watch anytime, anyplace. We think they serve as wonderful over-the-shoulder coaching as well as information for parents who want to help their children. Teachers might consider making their own videos (and we'd be excited to see the ones that kids might make!). Brent's videos are great models for what you might do. While at one point in our teaching pasts it might have been true that teachers shut the door to do their own thing, now, we’ve found that teachers metaphorically have flung the classroom door wide open as they have taken their great ideas to Pinterest and Facebook and Twitter. We encourage you keep pinning, tweeting using #NoticeandNote, and posting your ideas on the Notice and Note Book Club page on Facebook. We believe that when teachers share how their students are using the signposts to become critical, close readers we all win—teachers and students. Keep sharing! Thanks again, Brent!

Heinemann Author Q & A Series: Georgia Heard, Part 2

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In part 1, Georgia told us about her two newest professional books. Now, in part 2, she gives us a glimpse into her own life as a writer and teacher.

What in your life as a writer has given you the most insight into teaching young writers?

When I was a writing student at Columbia University and at the same time a member of TCRWP, I traveled to classrooms all over NYC teaching writing. Those hundreds of hours in the classroom, along with reflections with my colleagues at Columbia and TCRWP, gave me invaluable insights into teaching writing. Also, my classes at Columbia University with some of the best writers in the world expanded my vision and knowledge of writing.

In Finding the Heart of Nonfiction, as you discuss mentor texts, you mention Stanley Kunitz and Anne LaMott as personal and in-print mentors for your writing life. Who are your mentors and go-to authors for teaching writing?

I have so many mentors, go-to authors, and colleagues I could fill this whole page with their names. There is a renaissance in the field of teaching writing, and I feel so lucky to have been part of such an amazing group from its very beginnings. I’m afraid if I started listing all my mentors I might leave someone out, but I’ll always be grateful to the very early days of TCRWP with Lucy Calkins, Shelley Harwayne, Hindy List, Ralph Fletcher, JoAnn Portalupi, Martha Horn, Jenifer Hall, and Jim Sullivan. And, of course, I’m indebted to the foundational work of Don Graves, Nancie Atwell, Don Murray, Tom Romano, Linda Rief, and Mary Ellen Giacobbe. Here I go, I’m already thinking about all the people I’ve left out!

As Don Graves taught us, a teacher’s own writing life is vital source material for teaching writing. What suggestions do you have for teachers who don’t feel confident as writers?

Write. Write. Write. Write at least one page in your journal every day. And if you’re just beginning to write, don’t stop to reread your words just yet and don’t listen to any critical voices in your head. Also, find a loving and gentle reader whom you can trust to give you wise, insightful guidance.


Heinemann Author Q & A Series: Georgia Heard, Part 1

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Georgia Heard is the treasured author of numerous Heinemann resources. She brings a poet’s ear and a teacher’s eye to teaching writing. This week we published the second edition of her Revision Toolbox; last fall we brought you her Finding the Heart of Nonfiction. Today we’re asking her about her new books. Tomorrow, in part 2, we’ll ask her about her writing life and her teaching life.

In the new-this-week edition of The Revision Toolbox, you write that we need to help kids re-see revision as process not punishment. Where do you think their misperception comes from?

When students write from assigned prompts, write only occasionally, or don’t feel invested in what they’re writing about, revision becomes another task they have to complete rather than something they are motivated to do to make their writing better because it truly matters to them. When we tell a story to a friend, for example, we try to get the details right because we want our friend to understand what we have experienced. Let writing become a vehicle for students to express what they’re passionate about and what they care about. Once they feel fluent as writers, revision won’t seem like a punishment for not getting it “right” the first time.

What do you know now about teaching revision that you didn’t know when you wrote the first edition?

What I know now is similar to what I knew then in that writing and revision are the same process. When I teach writing, I’m really teaching revision. Revision is so hopeful—it’s paying attention to the vision you have and making changes in your writing to achieve that vision. In this new edition, I focus more on nonfiction writing, and I’ve included hands-on sections dealing with strategic conferences, student revision checklists, and structural templates, among many other additions.

Last fall you came out with Finding the Heart of Nonfiction. How would you use it together with The Revision Toolbox?

The two books go hand in hand. In Finding the Heart of Nonfiction I include dozens of craft lessons accompanied by exemplars from all genres. In The Revision Toolbox I show how to extend craft lessons to include revision. For example, if a student is writing a draft, how can he or she try on different points of view to change the voice of the piece or shape a new focus? There is a thin line between teaching craft and revision, and both books touch on each.

You also wrote the classic Awakening the Heart, about teaching poetry. As someone with a poet’s background, what do you love about nonfiction writing?

I’ve always loved nonfiction, and I’ve always felt that nonfiction and poetry share the same love of particulars. In order for a poem to work, the language must be filled with concrete details. Nonfiction is all about details as well. A poem usually has an emotional layer to it, and nonfiction must also exude a passion for and love of the particular.