Making Joy a Reading Standard

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by Guest Blogger Mary Anne Buckley, Literacy for All Conference  Featured Speaker

I was on an interview a few years ago and the final question was a wordy jumble of educational buzzwords and teacher-ese lingo that left me questioning if I actually knew anything at all about literacy instruction. So I asked the panel to repeat it and when they did I was able to tease out their real question… what did I consider to be an essential component of a literacy program? Without thinking I answered, “Joy” and thought that would wrap up the interview and the job. The bemused chuckles and blank stares made me realize I had some explaining to do.

I went on to describe how Read Alouds can promote fluency and reading rate, how Shared Reading can delve into word families and sentence structure, how Interactive Read Alouds can deepen prediction, inferring and comprehension strategies. I described how literacy workshops can reach all the benchmarks and standards of the Common Core, the DRA, the F&P, but without joy they won’t develop enthusiastic, independent, discerning readers.  It may, to quote G.M. Trevelyan,  “…[produce] a vast population able to read, but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.”

Today reading instruction in many classrooms has a narrow approach focused on checking off strategies and skills within specific book levels. These checklists then determine when a student can move forward in their reading and even what books they are allowed to read!  Teachers may mean well in following these programs but the formulas, the checklists, the assessments overtake their judgment and they lose sight of the bigger picture. When we put those directives aside for just a moment and focus on our students we discover something new. We see Carlos choosing books from several different levels and genres.  We ask why Anna loves chapter books as she organizes her post it notes and we listen to Ben and Simeon question each other as they read Open Wide: Tooth School Inside we find the purpose of our instruction. We find joy in reading and then we balance that with thoughtful, systematic, explicit instruction. This begins the development of readers who take risks, contemplate thoughtfully and question independently.

Joy is reading Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems. It is a delightful tale that brings our classroom community together in silly joy. And when we look deeper and explore the tenderness Leonardo feels when he chooses to hug Sam instead of “scar[img] the tuna salad out of him” an opportunity is created for students to share times when they have offered kindness to someone and how it changed the situation. Or when they accepted kindness from a peer and how it changed them. As readers we begin to look for compassion in other characters, to find connections of compassion across genres and discover compassion in real world news.

Another joy is holding March Reading Madness this past year. Eight books were placed in a bracket and every Thursday three classes gathered together to read and vote for a favorite.  As a group we examined the cover art and made predictions, we paused and discussed the problems and possible solutions, and we shared out favorite quotes by referring back to the text. After the ballots were cast one class would tally the votes and announce the winner for that week. The final pairing was held in the auditorium with great fanfare and popcorn!

One class extended the learning by writing persuasive paragraphs about their book choice; another made short video book reviews. Some children made their own brackets with books from their reading bags. They read with great enthusiasm to one another attempting to convince the other that the cunning ways of Jack and Annie were superior to that of Nate the Great.

When our class read A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams the children wondered why Rosa and her mother used all the money to buy a chair. After all a chair is a chair, right?  We read the book with a second grade class  and after many readings and discussions the students came to see how each one of them had a precious object that offered them safety and comfort. Together the students created posters of both the chair and their individual objects. The joy of the poster activity strengthened the students’ understanding of why we reread books, why we ask questions when we are confused, why we share ideas.

We read a slew of books about the power of words – Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rapport, Trouble Talk by Trudy Ludwig, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna, Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter and spent time thinking about the words we use and how they affect people. Then we brainstormed words that we could use to help make our community and the world a more peaceful place. As readers we began to discover the thoughtful and purposeful word choices authors make when describing a character, a setting, a gesture. We discussed words that carried powerful peace within them and wanted to be a class that spread peace.  We hung our mural in the hallway and students and adults alike stopped to read and enjoy our joy.

Joy is in listening to and being moved by words and joy is in crafting words that move others. Joy is in recognizing ourselves in characters as well as challenging ourselves to see things from a different perspective. Joy is connecting and reflecting with one another.  I wrote that I answered the last question from the interview panel without thinking but in all actuality I’ve been thinking about that answer for years. When we remember our own personal joy of reading and infuse that into our instruction the lessons themselves become joyful.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is not found in finishing an activity but in doing it.

– Greg Anderson


Mary Anne is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference:

Monday, 10/24

1:30pm – 3:00 pm- Friendship Workshop: How to Integrate Social, Emotional and Literacy Learning (Grades K-2)

Tuesday 10/25

10:15am – 11:45am-  Friendship Workshop: How to Integrate Social, Emotional and Literacy Learning (Grades K-2) (repeat session)

1:00pm – 2:30pm- It’s Not Education If It’s Not Mindful (Grades PreK-2)

Save the Day with Flipped Lessons: Our Superheroes in Reading and Writing Workshop

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by Guest Bloggers and Literacy for All Conference Speakers Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul

Are you like us? Do you occasionally turn to YouTube for tips and tutorials? From baking salmon so that it’s flaky and crispy to changing a flat tire, we turn to YouTube to learn. It has also helped us in the classroom. If we have a tough grammar or writing concept that we’re going to teach, we might refer to TeacherTube and YouTube as resources. These online tutorials have been like superheroes to us as adults, and we began wondering how we could create online lessons to help our students too.

Over the past few years, we have been thinking deeply about the pedagogical approach known as flipped learning. Traditionally, flipped learning has been defined as a learning environment where students learn new content independently. Such learning has typically occurred outside of the classroom for homework, and this approach has been used primarily with high school students in content areas such as science or math.

We were intrigued. And yet, we had questions. Does flipped learning work for elementary and middle school students? How could we incorporate flipped learning in reading and writing workshop? Could we design lessons to be used in the classroom, as well as out? Could we use flipped lessons to teach new content and to review previously taught material? But mostly, would flipped learning truly benefit our readers and writers in elementary and middle school and if so, how?

Picture a reading or writing workshop with a whole-class minilesson and the teacher conferring with students one at a time after the minilesson. Now, add to this image a few students learning additional reading and writing strategies from a flipped lesson on their own after the minilesson. In this blended-learning environment, students can take ownership of their learning and access instruction on reading and writing concepts that have been previously taught or concepts that are new. Flipped learning allows each student to move at his or her own pace. We discovered additional benefits as well.

  • Individualized Instruction – We love the gentle chaos of the reading and writing workshop. By gentle chaos, we mean the individualized learning that is taking place. Our students are not in lockstep and our instruction is differentiated. Flipped learning helps our students access the instruction they need, when they need it. How many times have we had students who say, “I’m done!” during the first week of a unit? And how many times have we had students who need to review strategies over and over throughout the course of the year? When using a flipped learning approach in writing workshop, students can set goals at the start of the workshop, mid-way through the workshop, or at the end. In these ways and more, flipped lessons can be used to foster individualized learning in the classroom.
  • Efficiency – How many times in our classrooms have we wondered aloud, “If there were only two more of me…” or exclaimed, “If only I could just clone myself!” In the reading or writing workshop, teachers are juggling multiple balls in the air on any given day. Flipped learning can be used to help our workshops run more efficiently. Picture this. On any given day, some students need help with a revision strategy. Others need practice inferencing. And still others need help getting started with selecting a book or an idea to write about. All of this is happening while you’re trying to confer with students or teach a minilesson to a small group. Flipped lessons function as superheroes who save the day! Flipped learning helps all students get the specific instruction they need, when they need it.
  • Engagement – Flipped learning is a way to increase motivation and student engagement in reading and writing workshop. These short, creative lessons capture students’ attention and they feel encouraged to apply what they have learned to their reading or writing. We want to encourage our students to become active participants in their learning. Flipped learning helps students take initiative and become engaged learners.
  • Assessment – Flipped learning requires rich, iterative assessment to move students forward. It is not a replacement for face-to-face interactions with teachers, and neither is it the panacea for all writing ailments in the classroom. Our role as teachers is critical. Our students NEED us to teach, guide, and follow up. As a result of accessing a flipped lesson, a pathway for students to assess themselves and receive additional support is key. Also, students should have a clear understanding of exactly how their teacher plans to assess their progress. This assessment can take many forms from conferring with students, to reviewing their reading or writing notebook or drafts, to completing an entrance/exit ticket, and more.

For these reasons and many others, we began using flipped learning in our reading and writing workshops. If you’re intrigued about flipped learning in your writing workshop, a great place to start is to think about 3-5 lessons that would be good to flip. Ask yourself, “Which lessons do I find myself reteaching during the school year?” These might include: a lesson about how to write a single paragraph, a lesson about how to identify a theme in reading, or a lesson about dialogue punctuation. Then ask yourself, “Are there any lessons that my novice readers and writers might want to refer to over and over throughout the year?” “Any for my advanced readers and writers?” Reflecting on questions such as these along with the needs of your students can help you to brainstorm your first lessons to flip.

We’re looking forward to talking much more about flipped learning at the Literacy For All conference in October. If you’re curious about flipped learning in the reading and writing workshop and would like to start making flipped lessons, come join us!


Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul, authors of Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach & Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning, are speaking at the Literacy for All Conference being held October 23-25, 2016 in Providence, RI. You can also find Dana and Sonja on Twitter at @LitLearnAct and on their Facebook Group called LitLearnAct.

Dana and Sonja’s session at the conference is:

Monday, October 24, 2016

10:30 pm – 12:00 pm- “Flipping Without Flipping Out in Reading and Writing Workshop”  (Grades 5-8)