Why Shared Reading after Primary?

If I had to choose one component of a comprehensive literacy program that confounds teachers after primary grades, it’s shared reading.  We have a variety of definitions of what ‘shared’ means. We have nostalgiac ties that associate shared reading with choral reading. Sometimes I hear that students are bored looking at the same text for so many days.  My response?

  • What is your criteria for text selection?
  • Have you considered your definition of ‘text’?
  • How are you intentionally planning to help students unpack a text over the week?
  • Does your planning incorporate collaborative learning?

Shared reading can be a powerful learning time for students. Whereas the read aloud tends to be narrative, and student independent reading is also often fiction/non-fiction narrative, shared reading can be ANYTHING: image, video, audio, art, web-based, multimedia…and print.  It can be ANYTHING: descriptive, expository, persuasive or narrative, or any format: infographics, two page layouts, poems, songs, novel excerpts, photo essays, video clips, informational excerpts, news articles, opinion pieces, etc. Consider Scholastic’s Issues 21, Take Action, or magazine subscriptions like Scope or Action. Your library has collections of Boldprint and The 10.  Perhaps you’ll visit Teaching Kids News, or Wonderopolis. Yes even a critical look at a twitter moment! So long as your selection is rich enough to engage readers over days and relevant to the learning needs of your students.

Why do Shared Reading?

  • an exciting place to introduce a variety of texts that a teacher wouldn’t choose for a read aloud and students may not choose for pleasure reading; it’s a safe space to ‘try on’ reading many different text types since we are different readers depending on text.
  • an opportunity for explicit instruction around comprehension strategies, text features, unfamiliar vocabulary, etc.
  • **repeated readings, along with instruction, support struggling readers. As does access to Read and Write for Google!
  • contributes to a reading community through a shared experience
  • offers a scaffold in the gradual release of responsibility; it bridges the instructional distance from teacher read aloud to independent reading
  • offers opportunities for reading/writing connections
  • an ideal spot to integrate content

What is Shared Reading?

  • 15-20 minutes daily
  • all eyes on text, either on class screen or ideally within reach (could be shared between students on hard copy or on screens)
  • text revisited over 4-5 days
  • teacher does most of the ‘heavy lifting’ early on, then as the week progresses, students take on more of the responsibility. By Friday, each student should be able to respond in some way independently that demonstrates understanding.

How do I plan for Shared Reading?

Think about a 5 day plan that progresses:

  • hook or introduction (to pique curiosity and activate background knowledge)
  • comprehension, deconstruction (what are you noticing? how are you making sense of the text?)
  • interpretation (now what are you feeling? thinking?)
  • response, application (what do you want to do about it?)

Here’s a blank template for a 5 Day Shared Reading plan.

Best Tip: Don’t reveal the text on Monday.

Instead, create anticipation, activate background knowledge through connecting images or video clips, or grab some unfamiliar vocab…..a gazillion ways. Here are some:

Monday Shared Reading ideas

Sample Shared Readings

Even after considering these ideas, maybe you’d still like to see an example, right? Here is a link to a variety of shared reading lesson plans (based on texts in Issues 21, Take Action, Graphic Poetry series, a picture book) that might help you reflect on your practice. By all means, revise them to suit your students’ needs.


More ideas for planning…

If you’re a Thames Valley teacher, check out Literacy Online in your employee portal for tons of information around shared reading, like this:

What do I need to teach in shared reading

How do I assess?

  1. Ongoing observations as you eavesdrop on student talk.
  2. Leaving tracks of thinking: a written conversation between the reader and the text.  How do we really know if a student comprehends a text? Modelling and encouraging students to leave tracks of thinking gives us insight into what strategies and skills are helping them make meaning.  What connections are helping them? What predictions are they making? What questions arise while they’re reading? All of these are revealed when students annotate their text. I’ve shared the power of this strategy in an earlier post: Leaving Tracks of Impact and Thinking
  3. Student responses to the text by Friday:  What do they want to do as a result of reading this news article? What do they want to create as a result of reading this video or infographic? What do they want to write that uses this reading as a mentor? What more do they want to explore as a result of reading this song or this non-fiction text?

tracks of thinking

Let’s up our game around shared reading so students have access to a wide variety of text and have a chance to unpack more complex text safely because of your intentional moves everyday.

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5 More Books to Help Your Students Empathize with a Newcomer’s Journey


How could anyone have imagined that the Syrian refugee crisis would continue unabated for so many years? How is it that so much time has passed that we now have books about those Syrian families embarking on desperate journeys to ensure safety and futures for their children and themselves? What was a ‘current event’ has now become a human migration chapter in world history, dragging on with no resolution in sight. Thames Valley District School Board has embraced many newcomers over these past 24 months, not only from Syria, but indeed from other conflict zones. As an advocate of sharing stories with students that can act as mirrors, windows and maps, I want to bring  your attention to 5 more books to support your literacy program (In an earlier post, I shared some ideas and texts to support students in learning more about the refugee crisis).  These stories will not only build background knowledge, but will also build empathy…the true path to understanding and welcoming newcomers to our schools and our hearts.

Stepping Stones is a beautifully crafted picture book with artwork created from stones by a Syrian artist. The introduction tells of how the author, Margriet Ruurs, sought to find this artist to illustrate her story. These stone creations form images that mirror the photographs we find across newspapers and online. Stunning. The story is shared in both English and Arabic and follows a family’s journey, ‘a river of strangers… a river of people in search of peace.’

where will i live

Where Will I Live? is the newest photo essay from Rosemary McCarney. She uses vibrant moving photographs of families from all over the world who are forced to flee and find new homes.  The surroundings are gripping… pavement, railways, refugee camps, yet also cheerful as you scan the children’s faces, eyes, games.


stormy seas

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees invites us to consider the historical context of refugees who flee by boat, from Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan and the Ivory Coast. Each of the 5 stories is told through a mixture of illustrations, photographs, maps, timelines, thought bubbles of quotes from the person fleeing, details of what happened and how their story turned out. Colourful layouts create visual appeal. The similarities and differences between these refugees’ journeys will facilitate connections for students and provoke a great conversation.

making canada home

Making Canada Home: How Immigrants Shaped this Country is a terrific collection of photographs, images, posters, timelines and stories of the incredible impact immigrants have had on this country.  The book begins with the First Nations as the first immigrants to the land and traces the myriad groups that have made Canada their home over the centuries. Shared stories of challenge, resilience and success all come together to support the message of inclusivity and diversity that is the changing face of Canada. A must have for social studies explorations.


Syria to Canada: A Boy’s Story closes the loop on learning about the refugee journey. Imagine that a boy who has recently arrived in Canada and is attending school here in Thames Valley has now published his story, along with illustrations by another Syrian newcomer! The story, in English and Arabic, follows this young boy’s life from hiding inside his home in Aleppo, through to selling items on the street in Jordan, and finally being invited to come to Canada. He shares his memories but also his dreams for the future. Black and white sketches enhance the story and will no doubt capture young artists’ attention. [These boys were part of TVDSB’s GENTLE program that offered reception services to newcomers in London, Ontario.  If you would like a copy of this book, please email Jenn.Shields@tvdsb.on.ca.]

This text set provides insight into the unimaginable hardships faced by refugees, but also reveals the unflinching spirit of hopefulness they bring. We all benefit from hearing their stories and welcoming them.

Ignite Your Passion for Reading: Hot Reads, Book Chats, Tech Tricks

Summer is fast approaching and if you’re a teacher, it’s the ideal time to make a summer reading list.  I want to encourage you to think about what titles might be just the ticket that reaches that reluctant reader in your class next year. Maybe you’re changing grades, changing schools or just need a little inspiration beyond the Chapters display. I also want to share some ideas to help you use the books you read over the summer to capture the hearts and minds of your students next year. In this blog, I’m going to share:

  • a sample book chat (for Orbiting Jupiter)
  • potential titles for your ‘to be read’ list (grades 4-8)
  • tech tricks to engage readers

Book Chats

Our portfolio has been peddling the strategies found in Steven Layne’s Igniting a Passion for Reading because we’ve witnessed their power.  In fact, you have experienced an extraordinary speaker who sparkles with passion if you came to TVLitCon16 last year where he was our keynote speaker. Layne’s idea of a Hot Read is a book at the students’ level that a teacher reads and then ‘sells’ to students. He talks about the power of a book chat to hook readers into wanting to read a book.  Now this isn’t just any book chat where someone drones on giving a summary and sometimes a spoiler alert of the book. Below you can find a book chat that I created for the novel, Orbiting Jupiter.  I have shared this title with many teachers this year who in turn have ‘sold’ it to many students. When you take a risk and become a character, the world is your oyster. Teachers AND students hang on your pearls of wisdom from a great introduction to a story…

Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt

book chat orbiting jupiter.jpg


Structure considerations for a book chat:

  1. 6-8 minutes in length
  2. Hook: some way of engaging your audience: could be a question that is relevant to the class; could be asking a ‘what if’ question; could be you talking in accent/role; could use props or costumes
  3. Excerpt: brief reading aloud…does not need to be opening. But has to be a part that doesn’t require a lot of framing for people to appreciate
  4. Talking about the book can be done in one of 3 voices: 1st person; 2nd person; 3rd person


Have you ever been on the receiving end of some act of kindness you didn’t really deserve? Somebody, maybe a friend, or a teacher, maybe a stranger, they did some kind thing that just helped you out. I was a single mom of 3 youngsters when we headed up to Orillia for Christmas. We drove into a wall of snow in Barrie and with very near bald tires, I was a stressball! I just couldn’t make it up a hill and feared colliding with other cars dotting the highway and ditches. I pulled over at a side road and just parked. I probably cried. And through the snow this man walked towards us, an angel. He’d been shovelling in the midst of the storm and must have seen me. Once I rolled down the window, he took one look at my face and the 3 girls (7, 5 and 3 years old) and invited us home for supper.  A Muslim family whose house was brilliantly decorated for the season. We talked, shared supper and they invited us to stay overnight. But once the weather cleared, we set off again, a second chance to get to our destination. A gift of kindness from a stranger I will never forget.

Random acts of kindness remind us to pay it forward.  Sometimes second chances in life can be even more powerful. We all have personal stories that might surface when thinking about second chances.  I would invite you to share a story that echoes an unexpected kindness , or second chance, with your class and then ask them to think of a time.

Because … this story is about second chances. It’s about a family that gives a boy a second chance …as his foster family.

Excerpt: Opening pages

Becoming the character, 1st person perspective:

“I’m Joseph. I’ve seen my share of crazy. I’ve lived a whole lifetime and I’m not even 14 yet.  My family, well, my dad…he’s an angry man, doesn’t want me around, well unless he’s got a point to prove. He doesn’t really know how to be a dad.

But then I met Maddie. She gave me hope, she gave me purpose. I’d walk miles just to see her through the window.  I mean yeah, she was way outta my league…rich people…but I knew it would work out…because we loved each other.

But then shit happened. The world just fell apart. I don’t know. One minute you’re planning a life and planning for a baby, and the next, you’re on a wild ride and you’re in juvie. I don’t know why Jack’s family took me in, or why they believe in me. But now all I gotta do is get my daughter. All I want to do is get a piece of what Maddie and I had. You know?”

Themes the story explores:

Grace and forgiveness, the power of love, assumptions about people, quiet strength of the father, loyalty, the ‘I got your back’ mentality. Something unique about this story is the brooding mood vividly matched by the harshness of winter. In fact, it’s like the setting is a character in the story, intertwined with the events.  Kids will appreciate the age of the characters, the raw emotions and events (bullying, teen pregnancy, etc). You will cry.

Hot Reads for YOU!

The benefits of reading a book and doing a book chat before sharing with your students is…you know your students best.  My colleague Jane and I were just talking about this today.  We pondered: when do you know if a book is appropriate for a particular grade? What cues do you look for when deciding its target audience?  I have just finished Ibi Zuboi’s American Street which is a jarring raw story of family ties with strong complex female leads.  Its characters face immigration, detainment, loyalty, drugs, loss of life, domestic abuse. You might think this is not a grade 8 novel. But I would answer: you have to read it because I don’t know your students.  I don’t know your community. I do know that kids need to see themselves reflected in our stories, and we can use story to launch conversations about worlds different from our own.

Here’s my current list of Hot Reads, but they’re not all recent. However, if you’re looking to grow your classroom library, perhaps this list will help you.

Tech Tricks

I’ve used book chats, padlets, video clips, podcasts, connected with authors via twitter…any means to wrap around a book that will inspire students to read the book. They augment my passion, not replace it.

You can find padlets for a selection of Hot Reads from a project I collaborated on with Jen Aston, Sabrina Tyrer and Ryan Matthews a couple of years ago.  We each generated a handful of padlets and then created QR codes to affix to the front cover so students could pick up a title and learn more about the author, the story, the background while deciding whether to read it.

A quick google search can sometimes provide nuggets like this podcast from The Yarn which offers an interview with Gary D. Schmidt, author of Orbiting Jupiter. This is a podcast that I’d save until after reading the book as it gives valuable insight into the genesis of the story.  Did I say you’ll cry already?

Perhaps you’ll find a video clip of a favourite author that gives you just a little more insight to who they are, why they write, where they’re from, like this clip of Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street.  Maybe it will inspire your students to create their own video…something to let their readers know a bit more about who they are as writers.

Students can connect with authors via twitter. Maybe you and your students might consider doing a video book review. Don’t be surprised when the author responds! Here is a clip from Woodland Heights.


Imagine students walking into your class in September and seeing a Hot Reads display with the titles of books you’ve read over the summer to now share with them.  Create some excitement around reading. We have had different projects devoted to Igniting a Passion for Reading using Steven Layne’s book. Here are the most recent:  Day 1 and Day 2.  Our goal is to inspire teachers to be the lead readers in their classrooms so we can inspire a generation of readers.

I’m also compiling  a list of books to read over the summer.  What might you suggest for me? What’s been getting a lot of buzz in your classroom recently? Have you used some engaging tech platforms to turn kids on to reading a book?

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Leaving Tracks of Impact and Thinking


Do you have a book that you associate with a particular time in your life? Maybe a saying that when you repeat it, you think of a friend? Do you have a strategy that, for the rest of your career, you’ll associate with a colleague? Me too. I want to share some work I’ve done around ‘leaving tracks of thinking’ but I can’t truly do it justice without also paying due respect to my colleague Niall Cooke.

This is Niall.  Today.


We shared our Adolescent Literacy Gap Closing results in a Regional Network for Brantfordconsultants in Brantford. This was work we had engaged in with elementary and secondary teachers from four communities of schools in Woodstock.


Niall and I share many common interests: we’re news addicts, we devote as much time to twitter moments as our twitterfeed, we teach with editorial cartoons, we (think we) are humorous, we share a penchant for devouring YA novels. We incorporate those passions into our work. And we are both desperately interested in getting to know students so well that we can put a book in their hands and then discover if they comprehend it. Our guiding question is:  how do you really know they comprehend text?

Our go-to strategy, the lynchpin, for determining whether students make sense of text has been: leaving tracks of thinking.  Perhaps you know it as annotating (in high school), or reading with a pencil. Whatever you call it, this strategy gives teachers insight into how kids are making sense of text by making their thinking visible. (For more info, please refer to Cris Tovani, So What Do They Really Know, or Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels, Comprehension and Collaboration)

I like to model the strategy with a pen under the doc camera. I keep learning more about the importance of choice of text.  We’ve tried this strategy with narrative, with informational, with graphic, all as a means to inform when students, and teachers, benefit from it most. We vehemently oppose killing students’ love of reading by engaging in this strategy with their independent reading of self-selected text.

This year in our cross panel work, Niall and I collaborated with Karen Masson from our spec ed portfolio to equip teachers to see the power of annotating text in Google Read/Write. With me, she simultaneously modelled the strategy in real time. This chrome add-on provides accommodations for students to type in text or offers speech to text capabilities in comment boxes, and is an invaluable tool for students to make their thinking visible on a piece of text.

leaving tracks.jpg

Niall and I stake a claim that end-of-chapter comprehension questions deceive teachers into thinking their students understood what they read…since we can ALL fake read depending on the depth of questions. Instead, when annotating, students record what they’re thinking as they’re reading, whether questions, comments, connections, etc. Imagine the insight educators gain from leveraging this information to inform their next step with a student?

Of course, none of us invites vulnerability, so it can require coaxing and ‘trying it on for size’ when we initially model the strategy for teachers. You see, teachers are all proficient readers and barely notice what we’re thinking anymore while we’re reading. It takes persistence to slow down the process while reading to record exactly what you’re thinking. To remind myself of its power, I encourage and practice taking a cold read (text unseen) and leaving tracks of my own thinking.  In fact, I tried it again last night in Chapters…

amy tan leaving tracks

I’m consistently reminded of the insights I gain into how I make sense of text by forcing myself to leave tracks of thinking while I’m reading.  What strategies do I rely on? Where does my thinking break down? Which parts do I re-read to check for my own understanding? How does my background knowledge enhance or deter from my comprehension? Slowing down the process to record my thinking helps me pay attention to the text.

In our Adolescent Literacy cross panel project this year, we asked teachers and students to share their reflections on the impact of leaving tracks of thinking.  Teachers shared their own reluctance with modelling the strategy but found they not only learned more about how students were making sense of text, but they noted the unintended consequence of students sharing their thinking helped them build relationships.

Today was the last time Niall and I will present together. His expertise in visual literacy has transformed any power point presentation my portfolio has created, as evidenced in our slide deck from today. There are tracks of his impact across my work. And everytime I see students and teachers leaving tracks of thinking, I’ll think of him.

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Passing the Torch

Time-Flies-dreamstimeAs the end of the school year approaches, educators find themselves wrestling with conflicting emotions. We want to keep our current students whom we’ve come to know and grown to love, and yet we eagerly anticipate the arrival of another group who will no doubt grow us in new ways. Once staffing considerations have been shared, conversations swirl around what’s happening next year as the buzz of change animates our interactions. Weeks before the last day of school, we find ourselves straddling summer with one foot in this year and one foot in the next.  So it is with me and my role as I transition from learning coordinator back to an elementary school, this time as an acting vice-principal.  My pulse quickens.

I have the absolute delight of welcoming Karen McKay into the literacy portfolio. Karen has been a coach in the past, but comes directly from the classroom into her new role. As she makes the move to our team, I’ve been pondering the most essential supports I can share with her to inspire and equip her for the path ahead.

How do I pass the torch?

After four years as a literacy learning coordinator, I’ve accumulated a vast array of books, docs and files, paper clips, post it notes and powerpoints.  I’ve put my foot in my mouth, and gone out on a limb. I’ve eaten books for breakfast and risked speaking and writing my story in public. Most importantly, I’m a better person and practitioner because of the relationships, opportunities and learning from others that have shaped all my memories and my steps forward.  I am so grateful that I’ve had the chance to work hard at work worth doing, work I love.


I began to wonder though, once one walks out the door, what happens to some of that learning? I cling to the hope that many of the educators I’ve worked with are ‘living the learning’ already.  Our board is so big, I know that I haven’t even met all its teachers, let alone impacted their practice.

Over the course of the coming month, I’m challenging myself to share a curated collection of ideas, lists and content that might serve two overarching purposes: reflection for me, potential for you. I’ll be looking back over projects and collaborations to dig for golden nuggets that have resonance for the classroom. We only have so much time to devote to skimming and scanning the tsunami of ideas on our twitter feeds. As a result, I’m committing to short and sweet. I risk becoming a museum if I don’t encourage and invite you to please view, add suggestions, edit, share.  I’ll link padlets, websites, pdfs, google docs and folders on my blog. I’ll ask for your input around what you’ve done that has made a difference to your students.

By the end of the school year, I hope to have shared a snapshot of some of my work that might impact your practice.  It can’t replace the hard work of learning that happens when we get together to explore, read, create and collaborate, but perhaps it will give you, and our new learning coordinator, a panoramic view of the work that has engaged me.

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Reflecting on the Unintended Outcomes that Boosted My Learning

There are always unintended consequences of the lessons we plan and the learning that occurs, both inside and outside of the classroom.  Students could be working in groups to determine why some materials conduct electricity and some do not.  Sure targetthey may reach the targeted learning goal identifying conductors, but I suspect what they will remember is working as a team, sharing their thinking, trying without guaranteed success, wondering why. Likewise, while I may have intended to offer a well-developed learning series called Inspiring Reluctant Writers, upon reflection, I learned a lot more than how to teach writing. I want to share some of my original intentions along with the unintended outcomes that boosted my learning.

My intention:  to create a space where teachers would write to learn more about teaching writing

Putting yourself in the position of being the learner and stepping out of your comfort zone to do ‘the work’ you ask of students can be an enlightening and energizing pursuit, whether it’s writing, math, science or history.  Not surprisingly,  teachers who write are better writing teachers, but not only because of committing a number of words to the page.  Rather, I think it may be owing to how the act of writing nurtures an emotional connection with your reader.

My learning: Writing accelerates relationships

After years of facilitating a variety of professional learning opportunities, I have come to realize that sharing your writing, especially personal stories, accelerates relationships because it requires vulnerability and authenticity to build connections. img_0110I could not have predicted the power this had. Indeed, I didn’t predict that we would spend the whole series settling into personal narratives as a way of collecting and examining our memories, our stories, while playing with craft. What’s more, once you personally experience this side effect of community, you want to re-create it in your classroom amongst your students, as did the participants.  I imagine, without exception, these teachers will start their next year exploring the stories of students’ names, Where I’m From poems, Exploding a Moment, and writing from a sense of place. Writing is a vehicle to validate and expand what we mean when we think of our identity. Writing helps us wrestle with our sense of self. Writing creates a community where students, and teachers, can get to know each other.

“Writing connects people and makes the journey worthwhile.”

-Jeff Christian, teacher

My intention: Provide a variety of  intentionally chosen texts, prompts, strategies, ideas

In my role as a learning coordinator for literacy, I am privileged to have access to ‘hot’ new books, new strategies, and new ways of improving instructional practice. You name it, I got it! I feel it is my responsibility to be a ‘knowledge sifter’ in funneling some of those great ideas into conversations with teachers.  But I’ve learned, it’s not just about what I bring.

My learning: Share the responsibility

I’ve learned not to own all the learning.  I’ve had to let go of taking the responsibility for all the learning that happens in the room and instead to rely on everyone to impact the other participants.  Every person at every table plays a vital role in what their colleagues will take away, will remember, will try and how they will feel. I launch, spark, introduce, model and ask you to imagine.  Sometimes I cartwheel. But then I pass the baton to the rest of the team – everyone in the room. The onus rests on everyone else to build connections, operationalize how it might look depending on your students, share the unique factors that identify your classroom needs and strengths. That collective interaction improves the potential of the learning landing in the students’ learning environment.  And like a boomerang, teachers return with stories and student samples, which comes back to me as new learning.

“…this has brought some joy back to my practice.”

-Kate Gutmanis

My intention: offer a professional learning series on writing

Looking back on the past few years of our literacy learning, I admit we’ve often focused deeply on reading comprehension. As a result, I intended to offer some learning devoted entirely to writing. But I learned, I can’t teach about writing without connecting to some great mentors, not only nor necessarily about topic, but about craft. That is, not what they write, but how they write.

My learning: to write better, you need to read

The reciprocal benefits of reading and writing are well established. When we initially started with personal narratives, in particular, the story of our name, I might have anticipated we could jump right into the writing.  But we needed mentors to explore the ideas around identity more deeply, to discover how important a name is especially when it’s taken away, to feel comfortable messing around with emotional childhood memories.  In short, we needed to imagine our own names in light of others’ reading-a-book-and-notingperspectives on their names. We scoured excerpts from novels, picturebooks, video clips for points of view and craft. I hope that as a result of this reliance on mentor texts, teachers  will now intentionally notice more while they are reading, anticipating that every book is a potential goldmine of opportunities to support student writing. I want them to be asking themselves, what is the writer doing here? Why do I love that line?

I started every session with these 2 slides to remind us that there’s so much we can do before we even get kids to start writing: loosening up the ground, getting messy, providing the nutrients, and planting some seeds. But most of all, writing ourselves.











6 Things You and Your Students Need That Will Improve Writing


What pushes us to write? What supports do I need to ensure the writing process is enjoyable and effective, for myself and my students?

In my last post, I shared that I intended to offer more time for talking and learning from each other with the participants in my Inspiring Reluctant Writers series. After our most recent session, I definitely saw the benefits of honouring these 6 things to create the conditions that will improve writing.You may not find much new in my list, but I’ve come to realize that we as teachers need these things just as much as our students do.

1. Time to Talk

Providing teachers and students with time to talk builds community by making connections between people. As you get to know each other, trust time-to-talkpaves the way for more strategic and effective feedback. In fact, I’m more likely to accept your feedback in the future if I already have a relationship with you. Teachers at my session devoted most of the morning sharing their beliefs and practices around feedback and then made it concrete by reading each others’ writing. Of course, when you devote time to talk, you are also honouring time to listen. There’s a reciprocal benefit to these conversations when we are authentic and open to learning from each other. We need time to talk for different purposes across the writing process, to generate ideas, to clarify our thinking, to consider ways to improve.

2. Time to Read

text-excerpts-for-craft-movesTo be a good writer, read a lot…according to Neil Gaiman. Read like a writer, be on the hunt for great writing, even a sentence. Noticing what writers do expands our own toolkit, inspires us, introduces possibilities we might explore. In reading we can collect and record new words, new ways to construct sentences. Reading our colleagues’ writing (students and teachers) builds a community of writers who encourage and celebrate each other. I try to use excerpts from authentic texts and have teachers/students scour the writing for craft moves they notice and can borrow. These moves expand our descriptive writing toolkit and ultimately they become success criteria.

3.  Time to Play


Play around with the ideas, write off the page, push the boundaries, don’t censor your ideas at first. Just try it. Try other text structures, visual supports, tech applications.
Experimenting with multimodal formats and how visual elements impact and enhance writing is what I’d like to explore next. Having teachers write collaboratively has been a real eye-opener for me this year in terms of fun factor. Teachers have enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of generating ideas and trying to write in collaboration with another writer’s voice.

Here’s a short video clip of two instructional coaches navigating the collaborative process. Notice the double sided white board – a terrific tool to capture writing quickly on a space visible to all.


4.  Value Your Stories

“Constructing…narrative also allows us to imagine ourselves as agents, even heroes, in our own life stories.” (Minds Made for Stories, Thomas Newkirk, 2014)  In our Inspiring Reluctant Writers sessions, we are focusing on personal narratives for almost all of our writing.  If there is one thing I can be assured that you know a lot about, it’s yourself. Leveraging your own background knowledge increases a writer’s confidence. Our personal stories express universal truths, the ‘so what’ of a story.  By sharing our stories, we reinforce relationships and bridge our differences.



5.  Take a Risk

Don’t let your fear of being judged stop you from sharing your writing. Inhibitions rob the rest of us of your story. Writing helps us work out questions and issues to clarify our thinking. The choices we make about what to write reveal who we are, what we value, what we want to remember, what weighs on our heart. And unbelievably, it’s when we step outside our comfort zones that we learn something new about ourselves.

One of the writing prompts we have been exploring is the story of our name.  I’ve witnessed the student engagement in writing that ensues when students are asked about the story of their names. Many teachers in my writing session have chosen to share the story of their name on their blogs. They masterfully weave a very personal story, one that clearly demands taking a risk. Some are humorous, some are poignant. Honestly, every single teacher in my writing session has jumped in with both feet and launched a blog. I’ve referenced this list in another post, but here again is the link to 29 blogs of risk-taking teachers in Inspiring Reluctant Writers:

Inspiring Reluctant Writers Teacher Blogs

6.  Time to Write

Messy, uninterrupted, nose to the grind time is a non-negotiable for every writer. The freedom to walk away from a piece, let it lie for a while, and then return to it is often a luxury for ourselves and our students.
When I ask students what they needed in order to write, not surprisingly, they repeat many of the same things we need as adults.  Here’s a spark video that captured three students’ thinking from Anne Elliott’s grade 6 class:



Did I offer these supports at our last session? You bet I did. Did we get enough time to finish some writing? Not likely. But I hope we prepared the soil for planting seeds. Seeds of writing that teachers can explore themselves and with their students.

Do you provide these opportunities in your class?

Do you require them for yourself to write?

What else do you require to ensure you have something to say?