Tag Archives: Simple Starts

Simple Starts: Bravely Begin With Kari Yates


Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom is author Kari Yates’ getting-started guide to creating the reading classroom of your—and your students’—dreams. In today's post, Kari explains the need for, you guessed it, simple starting points to create lifelong readers in your students. The process is complex, and it's a great challenge to make your classroom reader-centered, but all you need to do is bravely begin.

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Heinemann Summer Sessions Week 5: Provide Choice to Build Engaged and Joyful Readers


Welcome to the fifth week of the Heinemann Summer Sessions! Each week throughout the summer, we will feature an article, video clip, or new professional book chapter from the Heinemann Digital Library on the topic of student engagement. Today, we look at a chapter from Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom by Kari Yates.

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Your Heinemann Link Round-Up for the Week of June 14–20

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Welcome to the newest installment in our weekly link series on the Heinemann blog! Each week we find around five interesting links for you to take into the weekend. These links are interviews with educators, posts from our authors' and friends' blogs, and any interesting, newsworthy item from the past seven days. Check back each week for a new round of finds!

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Heinemann Fellow Jessica Lifshitz wrote an end-of-the-year letter to her students at her blog:

You have learned to see purpose and meaning in your writing and I know this because you ask me what we are going to do with every piece of writing that we work on and you talk about your readers when you write and you make decisions in your writing based on who you think will be reading it.

Click through to read the full letter at Crawling Out of the Classroom.

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Author Kari Yates wrote about "brain breaks" for teachers during the summer:

A close cousin of the slowdown is spontaneity. If there ever there was a season that calls for spontaneity, summer is it.  But, because we’ve developed the mindset that we must maximize every single minute during the school year, many of us are prone to drive our summer days with detailed to-do lists and self-imposed schedules. When we over-schedule our lives, however, we miss the opportunity for spontaneity. Life is short and many opportunities only present themselves once.  Summer provides a great chance to practice being ready to take advantage of life’s opportunities whenever they come.

Click through to read "Teachers Need Brain Breaks, Too! 7 Ways to Take Care of Yourself This Summer."

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At Two Writing Teachers, Elizabeth Moore discussed nature writing as part of student's summer habits.

Lots of kids don’t see themselves as writers–but they do love the outdoors. Just having a notebook and some markers on hand is a step toward helping children develop identities as writers–and as scientists too.

Click through to read "Nature Writing for All Ages and Stages."

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And Motoko Rich of the New York Times wrote about the role of play in early education:

Many veteran kindergarten teachers, as well as most academic researchers, say they have long known that children learn best when they are allowed ample time to go shopping at a pretend grocery store or figure out how to build bridges with wooden blocks. Even the Common Core standards state that play is a “valuable activity.”

Click through to read "Kindergartens Ringing the Bell for Play Inside the Classroom."

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That's it! Be sure to check back next week for another round of links. If you have a link or a blog, be sure to mention them in the comments below. Cheers to your weekend!

Introducing the Heinemann Link Round-Up for the Week!


Welcome to a new series on the Heinemann blog! Every week we find five interesting links for you to take into your much deserved weekend. These links are interviews with educators, posts from our authors' and friends' blogs, and any interesting, newsworthy item from the past seven days. Check back each week for a new round of finds!


At the Two Writing Teachers blog, Betsy Hubbard reviewed Jen Serravallo's newest The Reading Strategies Book:

"The best way I can prepare you for this book is to get sticky notes and highlighters ready, because you will need them to mark up your favorite thoughts and ideas."

—Click through to read "THE READING STRATEGIES BOOK" review by Betsy Hubbard at Two Writing Teachers


Allison Marchetti—coauthor with Rebekah O'Dell of the forthcoming Writing With Mentors from Heinemann—offered a lesson of empathy and elegiac poetry in her blog:

"Sometimes one of the best ways to comfort students who are feeling low is to honor their feelings of stress, sadness, and melancholy rather than try to distract them or encourage them to stay positive. A study of the elegy — a poem that expresses sorrow or lamentation — can be a way to honor students’ emotions and help them reflect on their feelings in a healthy way while studying some absolutely brilliant poetry."

—Click through to read "A WRITING WORKSHOP CURE FOR THE APRIL DOLDRUMS" by Allison Marchetti at Moving Writers

Rich Czyz of the 4 O'Clock Faculty blog interviewed Lisa Eickholdt, author of Learning From Classmates:

"Not only does using student mentor text encourage the student writer, it also lifts the level of engagement with writing for everyone else in the classroom. I believe this is because when we share great students’ writing, we are sharing text that is more developmentally appropriate than some of the adult models we use. Because the work is developmentally appropriate, it seems attainable to more students. This attainability builds enthusiasm."

—Click through to read "5 QUESTIONS WITH… LISA EICKHOLDT" by Rich Czyz at 4 O’Clock Faculty

Having published her first book with Heinemann this year, Kari Yates continued her prolific and motivating blog at Simply Inspired Teaching:

"Our kids come to us from literally all over the map with vastly different backgrounds, strengths, and past learning opportunities. Our classroom communities are more diverse than ever. Success hinges on our ability to view all students as capable and ready regardless of learning and language differences."

—Click through to read "EVERY STUDENT IS READY FOR THE NEXT STEP—IT JUST MAY NOT BE THE SAME STEP" by Kari Yates at Simply Inspired Teaching

Chartchum Kristi Mraz, coauthor of Smarter Charts, wrote about the challenge of fostering student agency for The Educator Collaborative:

"In teaching kindergarten, I learned that doing something for a child is like providing a stool to stand on, the child is able to reach their goal providing the stool is there."

—Click through to read "EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW (ABOUT TEACHING) I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN (WHILE TEACHING)" by Kristi Mraz at The Educator Collaborative

And one last tweet:

Check back next week for more interesting links. Do you write a blog about your experiences in education? Leave a link in the comments below and we'll consider it for future round-ups. Have a great weekend!

Reader-Centered Classrooms? Why Not?

Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom is out now. Heinemann’s newest offering is author Kari Yates’ getting-started guide to creating the reading classroom of your—and your students’—dreams. In today’s post, Kari compares reader-centered classrooms to other-centered classrooms and warns that making the move from one to the other is a process, not an event.

By Kari Yates

In reader-centered classrooms, we commit to putting readers first.

Sounds simple enough, right?

But sometimes external pressures, tight schedules, past practices, and uncertainty can get in the way, leading us to other-centered classrooms despite our best intentions.

Sometimes our classrooms become curriculum-centered. We follow the script. We cover the content and the standards but pay little attention to how our students respond.

In reader-centered classrooms we find the courage to follow our students’ leads. We are clear on the learning outcomes we must work to achieve, but we watch and listen carefully as our students reveal their strengths, interests, and needs. We know them better than any outside “expert” and we’re not scared to say so. We adapt instruction in ways only a teacher who knows them well can.

Sometimes our classrooms become teacher-centered. We do most of the talking and decision-making. We work harder than anyone else in the room, leaving us frazzled and focused on management.

In reader-centered classrooms students are empowered as decision-makers. We have simple, predictable routines. Students make choices within this structure. They do most of the talking and decision-making. We act as coaches, providing varying levels of support, based on what they reveal is needed.

Sometimes our classrooms become activity-centered. We let projects, products, and proof take center stage. These tasks (worksheets, workbooks, packets, step-by-step projects, cut-and-paste, etc.) can take our kids away from the real business of reading and leave us feeling exhausted with the constant cycle of creating, collecting, and correcting stuff.

In reader-centered classrooms students spend most of their time building authentic reading lives. Their primary activities are reading, talking about reading with other readers, and writing about reading. We spend less time wondering, “What could I have them do?” and more time considering, “What do these readers need next?” Time for independent reading is placed on the schedule first, not last.

Sometimes our classrooms become reward-centered. We focus on points and prizes as a means of “getting kids to read”. We confuse our kids with the absurd notion that these carrots and contests are real reasons for reading.

In reader-centered classrooms readers celebrate books and reading. Kids never choose a book based on how many points it can help them earn or what they will “get” for reading it. Instead, readers learn how to find books that they can’t wait to start reading and don’t want to put down. They are motivated by access to amazing books and the power of choice. Joyful engagement is both the goal and the reward.

Sometimes our classrooms become text-centered. We choose and control most of the texts our students read, and even the pace of their reading. We’ve come to believe there are certain texts that everyone must read or that we must be use to teach particular skills or strategies.

In reader-centered classrooms, we dare to let students choose most of what they read. We know that when readers are motivated and engaged, most any text can become a powerful tool for learning. Instead of choosing for them, we empower them to pursue their own interests, passions and inquiries as readers. We’re building their skills for a lifetime—not just for a class period.

Sometimes our classrooms have become proof-centered. We present ourselves more like the “reading police” than reading partners.

In reader-centered classrooms we work to build a community of readers. We share our joys, wonderings and struggles as readers. We use the power of read aloud, partner conversations, book clubs, book talks, and conferences to build reader-to-reader relationships with and among our students.

Creating a reader-centered classroom is not a goal to be accomplished and checked off your list. It is an ongoing cycle of reflection, planning, and action. Each thoughtful move potentially takes us closer to the classrooms we’ve imagined. Day-by-day. Student-by-student. Move-by-move. The next move on the path to a reader-centered classroom is yours.

What will it be?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kari Yates is a program manager for literacy and English learners, helping teachers and administrators plan literacy instruction. Visit her web site and follow her on Twitter at @Kari_Yates.

Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom is out now.

5 Ways to Reclaim Time for Independent Reading


Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom is out now. Heinemann’s newest offering is author Kari Yates’ getting-started guide to creating the reading classroom of your—and your students’—dreams. In today’s post adapted from the book, Kari gives you five ways to find time for independent reading within your already packed daily itinerary.

By Kari Yates

There’s no question that running is good for me. It keeps me healthy, gives me energy, and helps me clear my head, process ideas, and just plain feel good. But if I didn’t push back against a long list of competing demands, my running shoes would never see the light of day.

The same thing can be true in K–5 literacy classrooms. It’s not enough to agree that independent reading is good for kids; we have to push back against the long list of competing demands to make sure independent reading gets the time it deserves.

As Mike Schmoker points out in “The Crayola Curriculum” (2001), the unfortunate reality in many literacy classrooms is that way too much other stuff is taking place in the name of literate activity: worksheets, crossword puzzles, word searches, cut-and-paste activities, coloring pages. None of these activities honor what study after study has concluded about how kids learn to read: they need books in their hands, books they can and want to read.

To become strong independent readers, students need to spend big chunks of uninterrupted time reading independently every single day. For that to happen, teachers and administrators need to work together to get independent reading on the schedule; keep it there; and honor it every day as sacred.

Simple Starts is packed with smart steps for transforming independent reading into a truly reader-centered, joyful time of day. But before you can begin to provide reader-centered instruction, you’re going to have to find time for generous amounts of daily independent reading.

Kids can’t learn to read at the level required for success if they are not spending the majority of the time authentically reading real texts and talking and writing about their reading. The formula for learning to read is clear:


Everyone who ever found more time for independent reading started off wondering where the time could possibly come from. The good news is, thousands of teachers have figured it out and so can you. Here are five simple starting points to help you reclaim precious minutes:

  1. Tighten up transitions. You can “find” an extra ten to twenty minutes each day by sticking to the schedule and making clean transitions. Trim three minutes from bathroom break, another two when the kids get back from music or art, and a few more by shortening the snack break, and you’ve already grabbed an extra six or seven minutes.
  2. Trim some fat. If there’s no single activity you can completely eliminate, trim five or ten minutes from several. This adds up quickly.
  3. Integrate social studies and science with reading. Supplement your science and social studies instruction by reading aloud high-quality historical fiction, biographies, and expository texts. Integrate content area learning into independent reading by stocking your classroom library shelves with nonfiction related to social studies and science.
  4. Have kids read while you are working with small groups. You are probably already working with guided reading groups or providing other small-group instruction. Rather than have kids work in centers or at stations, gradually introduce independent reading as the primary activity for the rest of the class.
  5. Eliminate artificial activities. Reclaim any time spent filling out worksheets and workbooks. These are not authentic tasks. By substituting real independent reading, you’ll not only help your kids grow as readers but also have a whole lot less “correcting” to do at the end of the day.

Saying yes to daily independent reading will require the courage to say no to something else. But something you truly value is worth fighting for.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kari Yates is a program manager for literacy and English learners, helping teachers and administrators plan literacy instruction. Visit her web site and follow her on Twitter at @Kari_Yates.

Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom is out now.