Multiple Ways to Make Meaning: Engaging Readers Through Oral Language, Writing, and Drawing

Jenny McFerin is a contributor to Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

Recently, I had the privilege of working with a small group of kindergarteners in reading intervention. Each day they greeted me with warm smiles and hugs, and as we walked to our classroom, they chatted freely with me about their adventures on the playground and their observations in the hallway. These conversations were lively and rich; our talk wasn’t limited by time, content, or space. In contrast, our discussion about books seemed stilted and this puzzled me. I wondered, if the children could initiate and participate in lively dialogue about life, how could I support them in creating a space for similar effortless conversations centered on the books they were reading? I considered the structure of interactive writing and the possibilities it afforded for engagement in talk about text.

Interactive Writing (IW) is a small group teaching context where the teacher and students engage in the writing process, which includes providing a base of learning experiences, talking to establish purpose, composing the text, constructing the text, rereading, revising, and proofreading. For optimal teaching, the pen is shared between the teacher and each student. The routine for IW does have to be taught. It can be highly engaging and has a big instructional pay off for learning letters, sounds, and composing messages.

That day, we were responding to a book about a cat that was hiding in various locations throughout the house. As our reading lesson began, the children responded with business-like dialogue. Indeed, they seemed constrained in their talk, until we started writing. Through interactive writing, we summarized where that cat had been hiding. They wrote, Puff likes to hide behind the chair. The chair was one of Puff’s hiding places. This point in the story sparked a burst of conversation. The students thought it was funny that Puff would hide in that spot. I made a quick note about the conversation on my lesson plans to come back to this place in the story as a way to help them consider writing about it, which they did.

After the writing, there was time to illustrate. While interactive writing in a small group setting does not always allow time for drawing, we had a few extra minutes for the students to add a quick sketch matching the words they had written. They decided Puff would have to be in the picture as well as the chair since that’s what they wrote about. In a group of three students, one drew Puff, the second drew the chair, and the third offered advice on the placement of the chair and Puff in the picture. During their drawing, a robust conversation broke out about the cat and all the places she might hide in a different story. At this point, the third student drew the path for Puff to walk along to the new hiding place which was placed near the top of the page. Even though the context of the conversation was about the book, the casual exchange felt like friends catching up after time away from each other. While listening to their energetic conversation, I learned that the children understood the text, and they needed an outlet to express what they knew. As they drew, their talk deepened and they began to unlock new understandings and interpretative possibilities for the character, the text, and the position of the author.  

I learned from these young readers and writers that comprehending books transcends simple comprehension questions that often only get at one right answer. Indeed, writing and drawing evoke additional opportunities for children to express their multi-faceted understandings about texts. While drawing and writing may not be a fit for every story, we can be assured that when possible, offering children multiple ways to create and demonstrate their meaning-making with texts can help increase their engagement with reading, the complexity of their comprehension, and their lively dialogue about books!

Check out more, recent blog posts from Jenny and other Responsive Literacy contributors, here:

What Matters When it Comes to Reading

Several years ago, a school district in South Carolina decided to hire reading interventionists who would be responsible for Tier 2 intervention in their elementary schools. The district would provide three years of professional development for the interventionists in the form of graduate course work. This decision was made in late spring, the interventionists were hired, and the PD began right after school was out. I was hired to teach several of the courses the interventionists would take, including the first one, Foundations of Reading. During the three years, I also would be making monthly visits to the interventionists.

At our first meeting, we talked about their job as interventionists. They were going to be responsible for creating the conditions under which students could make accelerated progress as readers. In order to do that they realized they needed to decide: what did students need to understand and know in order to progress?

We started making a What Matters list and over the three years, as we read and talked together, studied ourselves, and learned from the children we worked with, we revised and revised and revised that list. It originally had eight items. In our fourth year, we dropped the last three as they seemed a bit redundant. We wrote about our longer list in an article for The Reading Teacher.

Below is our final list, as it appears in Reading Revealed: 50 Expert Teachers Share What They Do and Why They Do It. We believe that in order for students to progress as readers, they needed to:

            1.  Understand that reading is a meaning-making process that requires thinking

            2.  Believe in their ability to make sense of text

            3.  Choose to read because they find it both purposeful and pleasurable

            4.  Self-monitor for meaning

            5.  Have a repertoire of skills and strategies to problem solve for meaning

When the interventionists and I eventually worked this out, we realized we needed to change what we’d been doing.

Originally, most of us tended to focus on What Matters # 5— teaching skills and strategies to problem solve for meaning. What we came to realize though was that if kids did not already understand that reading was supposed to make sense, if kids didn’t believe in their ability to make sense, if they weren’t already choosing to read, and if they didn’t self-monitor (stop) when something did not make sense, then they had no use for skills and strategies.

So we changed our approach to helping readers by starting at the top of the list and asking ourselves about each child: Do they understand that reading is supposed to make sense? How could we find that out?

The answer? Observe and listen to kids read, and talk to them about what they were reading. 

We treated assessment as inquiry, kidwatched, and took notes. When the child was reading, we paid attention to things such as body language. Did the child laugh at the funny part? Shake their head when something didn’t make sense? We also paid attention to what the child did when coming to an unfamiliar word. Did the child try to sound it out, maybe letter by letter? Substitute a word that looked like the word but didn’t make sense? Substitute a word that did make sense? We used Skinny Miscue, a version of miscue analysis detailed in Reading Revealed, to understand the child’s pattern of cue use. Was the child more often focusing on meaning (semantics) or graphophonics? When the child talked about the book, we sought to understand the meaning the child made or did not make of the text. Sometimes kids made quite a few miscues (deviations from the text) but had a very clear sense of what they read. Other times, students read every word as it was written, but had no idea what the text was about. In this way, we came to understand if a child was reading for meaning/understood that reading was supposed to make sense and involve thinking. When this was not the case, then this became our instructional focus.

Next inquiry:  Does the child have a sense of agency/believe in their ability to make sense of text? We found this out by observing kids as readers. When something didn’t make sense or the child didn’t know a word, did the child do something to try to have the text make sense or to figure out the word? If the answer to any of these questions was no, if the child was not yet taking risks, then this became the instructional focus. We knew however that we needed to address this in a context in which reading was meaningful and in which kids could be successful, building and sustaining their sense of agency.

Third inquiry: Does the child choose to read? To answer this, teachers watch kids and keep track of patterns. Did the child start and abandon books? Find ways to avoid even starting? Pretend to read? In Chapter Two of Reading Revealed, educator Tim O’Keefe explains the system he uses.

Once kids understand that reading is a meaning-making process, have a sense of agency, and are choosing to read (What Matters #1, #2, and #3), they almost always stopped (self-monitored) when something did not make sense. When they did, we paid attention to what actions, if any, they took. When we noticed them using a skill or strategy, we named it for them.

It was in this context that, teaching responsively, we helped kids increase their repertoire of skills and strategies. We said things such as, “One thing you could do to make sense of this is…” 

And so we then ended up where we used to begin. However, because What Matters #1, #2, #3, and #4 were already in place, the suggestions we made to kids were no longer an unused lesson—it was a help, a gift, to a reader, to a person who was choosing to read, had a sense of agency, understood that reading was about meaning, and stopped when something did not make sense.  

With this change, we began helping readers instead of teaching reading. And that made a world of difference to our students.


Stephens, D., R., Downs, A., Goforth, J., Jaegar, L., Matheny, A., Plyer, K., Ray, S., Riser, L., Sawyer, B., Thompson, T., Vickio, K., & Wilcox, C. (2012).  “I know there ain’t no pigs with wigs” Challenges of Tier 2 intervention.  Reading Teacher, 66 (2), 93-103.

Stephens, D., Harste, J.C.& Clyde, J.A. (Eds).  (2019). Reading revealed:  50 experts share what they do and why they do it. New York, NY:  Scholastic.

Five Articles About School and Learning to Add to Your Summer Reading List

Below are a few education stories we've bookmarked recently.

Although summer break is just beginning for many school districts nationwide, it’s never too early to begin preparing for the year ahead. While you’re enjoying more time outdoors or catching up on your own to-be-read list, here are a few articles we’ve bookmarked about important topics such as the benefits of read-alouds for all ages, innovative classroom design, the effects of chronic stress, and mental health, to keep in mind when the new school year kicks into gear.

Listening to stories: not just for elementary kids

Reading aloud is valuable for students of all grade levels, including middle school. Teachers in two Grand Rapids, Michigan-area school districts believe students should have opportunities to visualize scenes from stories and discuss the meaning of texts with peers. These middle school students also have time for independent reading at least three school days per week.

Schools are rethinking classroom design to encourage collaboration, creativity

“Open classrooms” are being created to encourage collaboration, movement and choice among students in preparation for the open office spaces they will encounter when they enter the workforce. Studies show that space for movement can improve student performance, but educators say that training to utilize these spaces effectively is essential.

Report: The effect chronic stress has on children at school — and why policymakers should care

Students bring so many personal experiences to the classroom that can have a significant impact on their ability to learn. Trauma-informed instruction is critical for addressing students’ needs so that they can reach their full potential. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute and the Opportunity Institute describes how chronic stress affects students, especially African American children and those from low-income families.

‘It makes us better teachers because we’re not carrying it inside’: How a Detroit preschool helps teachers cope with the stress of the job

Early childhood educators in Detroit participate in monthly group sessions with a preschool behavioral health therapist to discuss the worries they have for their students. The meetings utilize an approach called reflective supervision, most commonly used in the mental health field, to help employees process their feelings about difficult situations they encounter at work.

Special education teacher's "mental health check in" for students inspires other educators

A teacher in California is making mental health a priority in her classroom with the help of a poster encouraging students to express their feelings every day. Now, educators across the country are taking similar, creative approaches to check in with their students and make mental health a focus in the classroom.

Highlights from ISTE 2019

Educators, experts, and companies from every corner of the country and the world gathered at the International Society for Technology in Education’s ISTE 2019 conference in Philadelphia to share best practices and get a glimpse at the latest and greatest innovations in education technology.

In case you weren’t able to make it to this year’s conference, we rounded-up some highlights, below.

On day one, Danielle Feinberg, Pixar director of photography for lighting; Mike Walsh, author and CEO of Tomorrow; and Cheyenne E. Batista, founder and CEO of Firefly Worldwide Inc. kicked things off. Batista’s message to educators and student? “You have a voice, it will be heard.” Throughout the week of activities, sessions and keynotes, several themes rose to the top in addition to amplifying student voice—equity in education, the future of artificial intelligence, growth mindset, and digital citizenship.

At the Scholastic booth on the expo floor, in addition to hosting giveaways and PD presentations, we shared our full suite of award-winning, research-based digital solutions. Visitors to the booth checked out programs including Scholastic F.I.R.S.T.™ and Scholastic W.O.R.D., which represent key shifts in instruction by helping students build foundational reading skills starting with letter sounds and morphological word families.

To wrap up the conference, three outstanding educators were honored with the ISTE Making IT Happen Award for demonstrating “extraordinary commitment, leadership, courage and persistence in improving digital learning opportunities for students.” Congratulations to Rachelle Dene Poth, Nicol Howard, and Doug Casey! Lastly, 2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning spoke on the mainstage. She said to the audience, “We as educators give students the tools and the skills and ultimately the belief in themselves.”

On Twitter, attendees shared their favorite quotes, snapshots, and moments from #ISTE19. We followed along and pulled some of our favorites:

How “Going Global” Can Support Multiple Literacies and Digital Citizenship

Ali Schilpp of Northern Middle School in Accident, MD was named School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year in 2018.

I had the opportunity to attend SXSW EDU in Austin, TX this year and present with library colleagues, Michelle Carton and Cassy Lee. Our panel was moderated by 2017 School Librarian of the Year Tamiko Brown. It was wonderful to meet these dynamic school librarians for the first time and learn about their global programs. Personally, it provided the best professional development I could have ever hoped for. Together, we represented school libraries from the four corners of the United States; California, Alaska, Texas and Maryland! Our programs and school libraries differ in location, but our mission is united. We were able to highlight our students’ success and echo our advocacy, proving that if a child is provided with a school library and a certified school librarian, they know their education is valued, have a safe space to visit in school, and an advocate that supports their literacy, community and confidence.

This year, it was a personal goal for me to connect my students with educators and experts; to introduce new cultures, people and places. Students have so much access to technology but are they making authentic human connections? This is why being a digital citizen and global collaborator is so important and must be experienced in tandem—our school libraries are the ideal place to make it happen! I knew the power of global citizenship from working in a large district and felt my students needed authentic connections. Moving to a small, rural community school gave me the incentive to seek out collaborations to provide “windows,” opportunities to meet and observe diverse people, their culture and develop empathy. The greatest need is to provide “doors,” an incentive to move beyond one location and seek opportunities, connections and adventures.

How did we “Go Global?” My students created LEGO® mini figures for the educators and librarians who connected with us abroad. This was an inexpensive way to provide a small token of thanks and a way to represent our school library’s love of LEGO. By exchanging an item or small gift with your global collaborator it encourages a stronger bond and a tangible reminder to connect. Students can visually see that the object they created or originated in their school now appears in a new destination. This really sparked interest and led to the creation of “LEGO Travel Buddy” using the official LEGO Travel Building Suitcase Set 5004932.

To date, our various Travel Buddy sets have trekked over 60,000 miles around the globe and have introduced us to people from four different continents! They have been in the hands of students and educators in places like Morocco, Taiwan, Hawaii and currently South Africa. Thanks to the interest in global collaborations, we were able to expand the how and why we connect. What first started as “What in the WORLD are you reading?”—an exchange of favorite authors and recommended reads—turned into a lesson about applying the five themes of geography and creating a Mystery Flipgrid for others to guess our location. Our Grid Pals have shared their expertise and have helped us with lessons ranging from history projects to STEM challenges solving real-world problems! Need some inspiration to see what you could share? Follow our adventures on Twitter and Instagram using #LEGOtravelbuddy.

Once our global connections caught on, my students and I were given the confidence to connect with more people from afar. Our FIRST LEGO League team needed to share project and programming ideas. There are 40,000 teams in 98 different countries, and they are all are working on the same challenge. Why not connect with at least one? We discovered a team in the Netherlands on Twitter that was welcoming and ready to share ideas. We connected through video chats and it was fun see how they were approaching the same research and robot challenges from 5,000 miles away.

Why is this important? I saw students become more engaged when we made global partnerships. When they hear people say their school name in a video and greet them personally you can see the power of an authentic connection. Proving that exposure to new faces and places is paramount to broadening perspectives.

As summer approaches it's a great time to think about traveling, enjoying your TBR pile and planning global projects for next school year! I have been inspired by many global projects and educators this year and would like to share some ideas that might connect your students, classrooms and schools. Here are some ways you can help students GO GLOBAL to support multiple literacies and digital citizenship:

  1. Read to give back. Connect your students’ global citizenship to reading! As part of Scholastic Read-a-Palooza Summer Reading Challenge, kids can unlock book donations for other kids in need across the U.S. by entering their summer reading minutes online. Heifer International also has a reading program that raises money for families in poverty to become self-reliant with the gifts of livestock, seeds and training, providing a source of food and and income. 
  2. Send a book from your school on an adventure. Using BookCrossing, students can release their books “into the wild” for readers to find and track via journal entries from around the world. This community of book-lovers is changing the world one traveling book at a time.
  3. Get ready to code. My library received a micro-grant from ALA to ignite a school-wide love of coding! There are so many great resources that were created by a cohort of libraries and are a great way to learn and connect. This inspired us to start a Girls Who Code club and join 165,000 girls who code worldwide!
  4. Project Lit your must-read list! This community will connect you to educators and like-minded readers everywhere who want to provide the latest and greatest diverse books for kids! Participate in their #ProjectLitChat on Twitter and partner your classes with others reading the same books! Apply here to become a Chapter Leader.
  5. Read aloud. Participate in the Global Read Aloud during September. The curation of resources and connections that are shared are invaluable and there is nothing more powerful than connecting your school community to a whole-school read. 
  6. Think out of this world. Students love and need their SPACE! We had the rare opportunity to meet teacher-turned-astronaut Ricky Arnold. There are so many wonderful videos featuring astronauts and life at the International Space Station. For younger students, why not try Storytime from Space.
  7. Find your park. Visit the National Parks of the United States using Google Earth. This summer my family is heading west on a road trip to visit Yellowstone National Park and I can’t wait to take my “LEGO Travel Buddy” along and share my adventure.
  8. Try problem solving. Solve a real-world problem and share your idea with others using a program such as FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Research Challenge. Every year, our students brainstorm an innovation that would improve our interactions with any animal on our planet. Students create a prototype and present to a “Shark Tank” style panel. Their peers vote for the most helpful and needed solution!
  9. Find pen pals. The global project-based learning community Pen Pals Schools  connects students from 144 countries around the world through exciting, authentic lessons to learn about cultures and practice skills.
  10. Make students’ voices heard. The organization Harry Potter Alliance turns Harry Potter fans into heroes through the power of storytelling. Since 2005, they have engaged millions of fans worldwide through their work for equality, human rights and literacy. This organization inspired a Harry Potter club in our school library creating our very own “Wizard Activists.”

After seeing the power of engagement from global projects, I am hopeful for new partnerships that will continue to evolve, and with the help of so many shared resources, that students and educators will feel confident in cultivating collaboration and sharing innovation from any location.

Follow and connect with Ali Schilpp on Twitter: @AliSchilpp

Twitter Chat Recap: #SummerLearningChat with Scholastic, The New York Public Library & NCTE

Summer is in full swing and as school districts everywhere close out the school year, communities and families are partnering with educators to ensure that student learning continues year-round. These partnerships are more crucial now than ever, considering findings from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™: 7th Edition, which reveal that 32% of kids ages 15–17 read zero books over the summer—a sharp increase from 2016 (22%).

On June 12, we teamed up with The New York Public Library and the National Council of Teachers of English to host a Twitter Chat all about summer learning! During the hour long conversation, Pam Allyn, Senior Vice President of Innovation and Development at Scholastic Education; Shauntee Burns-Simpson, Manager of School Support at The New York Public Library; and Franki Sibberson, President of the National Council of Teachers of English, shared tips and ideas to keep kids engaged all summer long.

Don’t forget to check out Summer Read-a-Palooza, a movement to get free books into the hands of kids during the summer, keeping every child reading!

Below is a recap of the #SummerLearningChat chat with responses from Pam, Shauntee, and Franki:



The Power of Kids Helping Kids: Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza

It is pivotal to be supportive of families and communities while school is out this summer, giving them the knowledge and resources they need to come together to support students’ learning. Encouraging kids to read and ensuring they have access to high-quality books and reading materials is a mission that everyone can get behind and is worth the effort.

Research shows that kids who do not read during the summer months are more likely to feel the effects of the “summer slide”—the cumulative loss of academic skills that frequently takes place during the summer months. This is so regularly discussed in schools that it may be forgotten that it isn’t common knowledge for all. However, the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™: 7th Edition revealed that nearly half of parents of school-aged children do not know about the summer slide. When they do, it is largely learned from their child’s educators, so this is a clear call to action for teachers and schools to support parents this summer!

The same report showed that when parents are aware of the summer slide, they and their kids are more engaged with summer reading, which is vital as there is a rising trend of kids ages 6–17 reading zero books over the summer: 15% in 2016 vs. 20% in 2018. Among 9–11-year-olds, this percentage has doubled (7% to 14%), and among teens ages 15–17 it has increased by ten points (22% to 32%).

To help turn this trend around and support more students through motivation and book access, Scholastic has launched Summer Read-a-Palooza, a movement to get free books into the hands of kids during the summer, keeping every child reading.

The Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza has three parts:

  • THE GIVE BACK: The Scholastic Read-a-Palooza Summer Reading Give Back empowers kids to unlock book access for other kids. Every minute read during the summer counts on the Summer Reading Challenge website, as kids work together to reach Give Back minute milestones. Through the power of kids helping kids, Scholastic will collaborate with United Way to donate at least 200,000 free books to kids in need across the country. More, Scholastic Read-a-Palooza Summer Reading Celebrations will bring the experience to participating local bookstores and libraries, inviting families to drop off books to be donated to a community organization chosen by the retailer.
  • THE READING CHALLENGE: Now through September 6, kids can enter their reading minutes in the Scholastic Read-a-Palooza Summer Reading Challenge to earn digital rewards and gain access to reading activities, book excerpts, videos, and more. Participating kids have officially unlocked our first of three corporate book donations of the summer and we need everyone’s help to get to our big goal of 100 million minutes! Educators, local public librarians, community partner organizations and kids, with the help of their parents, can all create Challenge accounts. At the end of the summer, we'll also acknowledge the Best in State schools, along with the Top 10 Libraries and Top 10 Community Partners.
  • THE CELEBRATIONS: Families can attend Scholastic Read-a-Palooza Summer Reading Celebrations in their local communities, where book drive boxes will be available for donations of lightly used or newly purchased books. The participating location will then donate the books the organization of their choice. Check for an event list to find Summer Reading Celebrations in your area.

It’s not too late to get the word out to more parents about the summer slide and encourage participation in the Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza, tapping into the power of kids helping other kids. Sign up today!

How to Sustain the Momentum of Professional Learning

Professional learning is an essential piece of any district’s school improvement planning efforts, but exactly how much and what type of professional learning is needed? How do we make sure that the stretched professional learning funds we spend impact classroom instruction? How do we make sure that precious out-of-classroom time makes a difference for our students?

What the Research Says

According to a study by Linda Darling-Hammond, Maria E. Hyler, and Madelyn Gardner (2017) called Effective Teacher Development, there are specific characteristics of professional learning that, when employed, have an impact on student outcomes. First, the professional learning has to be centered on the content that participants are responsible to teach. It also has to include active learning. For example, there should be opportunities for teachers to build meaning by examining practices they will use and chances to try out those practices. While these two characteristics are essential, it is important to note that professional learning that impacts student achievement goes beyond these two characteristics. Professional learning associated with positive changes in student achievement must also:

  • Strengthen teacher collaboration during the daily rigors of teaching.
  • Use models of pedagogy that create a vision for effective practices.
  • Include instructional coaching from experts, who are skilled in pedagogical practices and facilitation.
  • Provide opportunities for teachers to reflect on their work, elicit feedback, and implement new learning.

Even if a plan for professional learning has all six of these characteristics, it will likely not have positive effects on student learning unless it is sustained for a sufficient duration. According to Linda Darling-Hammond (2017), professional learning that had the greatest impact on student achievement, was sustained learning, where the educators engaged in an average of 49 hours of professional learning throughout the year!

What Professional Learning Can Look Like in Your District

Although I don’t mean to imply that 49 hours is the magic number, for the sake of our discussion, I will use this number as a benchmark for sustained duration. The first question that might come to mind when thinking of sustained professional learning is probably: What does 49 hours of professional development look like?  Do teachers need to spend 49 hours in professional learning workshops? The short answer is, no.

Let’s begin by looking to see if the conditions of effective professional learning from the study are present in professional development workshops and comprehensive professional learning plans. This comparison will help determine what might be missing if teachers only participate in workshops.

This table clearly shows that professional learning in the form of workshops alone, fails to address several vital components.

To begin thinking about what each of those 49 hours might look like, let’s first recognize that many schools give teachers opportunities to work in learning communities. These learning communities can play an important role in sustained professional learning and could be a part of the 49 hours.

According to Learning Forward, there are three considerations for learning communities to best impact student learning. They need to remain focused on a continuous cycle of improvement. They need to work to ensure the responsibility of student learning is shared collectively amongst teachers, support staff, school system staff, and administrators, and most importantly, their efforts need to align to school improvement plans to diminish the possibilities of fragmentation (Learning Forward, 2019).

If the focus of the comprehensive professional learning plan and the work of the learning community are aligned to the school improvement plan, the hours spent in professional learning communities are considered part of the total 49 hours of professional learning.

Below is a sample of a comprehensive professional learning plan that utilizes an external partner to support a learning community and its individual teachers. The goal of the plan is to sustain the momentum of any initiative being implemented. It includes 29 hours of professional learning from an external partner in addition to the 20 hours teachers might work in their learning communities for a total of 49 hours. This aligns with the findings from the Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner study (2017).

In addition to learning communities, you might have a site-based instructional coach at your school. What would a plan recognizing the work of learning communities and a school-based coach look like?  There are two conditions that should be considered. First, it is imperative that the site-based instructional coach has the pedagogical expertise to offer support in a variety of formats. Second, the site-based instructional coach needs a sound coaching framework, sufficient time, and a collaborative approach that engages teachers as they strive to improve student learning.

To meet these conditions, instructional coaches may need to strengthen their own skills. Like the teachers, they may need coaching, expert support, opportunities for feedback and chances to reflect on their practice. In these cases, an external partner might be used to strengthen coach effectiveness and build capacity.

In addition to professional learning for teachers, the next example includes professional learning for the site-based instructional coach. The coach participates in the professional learning workshops alongside the teachers and shadows the external professional expert coach during site-based meetings, as models of effective practice.  The coach also receives coaching from the expert with opportunities for feedback and reflection. At times, the site-based instructional coach might co-facilitate professional learning events or instructional coaching with the expert as a guide. The site-based instructional coach is also expected to facilitate professional learning on their own.

The Most Effective Professional Learning Occurs When Everyone is Supported

As you can see, the hours spent in professional learning are not the only predictors of success.  There are a number of other factors that affect the quality of professional learning. While 49 hours throughout the school year might seem overwhelming, these examples illustrate how professional learning can be customized and designed to offer sufficient opportunities for learning in many forms throughout the year. Time spent in workshops and professional learning communities combined with internal and external support create sustained professional development which supports everyone, and impacts student learning.


Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

Learning Forward. (n.d.). Learning Communities. Retrieved from

Sweeney, D. & Harris, L. S. (2017). Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

EDU Round-up: Family and Community Engagement

Effective family and community engagement is crucial for meeting the needs of all students and ensuring that they’re working toward their learning goals year-round, both in the classroom and beyond. But, effective engagement with students’ families and the community is more than a series of meetings or a newsletter—it’s a proactive, thoughtful, and responsive partnership.

In the Scholastic Teacher & Principal School Report, educators agreed that “it is important to student success that families be involved in their children’s learning,” yet 74% say they need help engaging the families of their students. They also told us that they are turning to community partners to help address barriers to learning, including providing health services, before- and after-school care, and food outside of the school day, further illustrating the valuable role that these partnerships play.

We rounded up recent EDU posts exploring all facets of family and community engagement—identifying areas of improvement, methods of communication, hosting creative events, changing attitudes, and so much more. Explore the list below to learn best practices from nonprofits, state, district and school leadership, authors, and Scholastic experts.


Creating Opportunities to Reach Families

John Althardt, Communications Specialist with the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), shares insights from the IDOE’s first-ever interactive booth at the 2018 State Fair, which created a unique opportunity to reach families and children with important educational messages.

Year-Round (and that includes summer!) Reading Routines

C.C. Bates, an associate professor of literacy education and director of the Clemson University Reading Recovery® and Early Literacy Training Center, outlines lessons learned from Tigers Read!, a program in partnership with Scholastic, Dabo’s All in Team Foundation, and the Clemson University Reading Recovery and Early Literacy Training Center.

Parents Need an Accurate Picture of Their Child’s Progress

President and founder of Learning Heroes, Bibb Hubbard, explains the importance of sharing clear, concise and actionable information with families regarding their children’s progress to ensure an effective partnership. 

For Family Engagement, Not All Information Is Created Equal  

Jenni Brasington, Director of Consultative Services for Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic, shares how to provide the right information to families to support a family-school partnership.

If I could do my family engagement all over again...

Jenni Brasington, Director of Consultative Services for Scholastic Family and Community Engagement and retired educator, shares her “do-overs” on building relationships with families, focusing on the importance of starting partnerships early, being proactive, and engaging outside of school.

Putting Out the Welcome Mat for Family-School Partnerships

Jenni Brasington, Director of Consultative Services for Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic, shares why school signage, customer service, and cultivating trust are integral to creating a welcoming school culture.

September is the New January: Resolutions for Family Engagement

Jenni Brasington, Director of Consultative Services for Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic, shares three proven practices on how to engage families as kids head back to school.

Why Literacy and Families Go Together  

Dr. Steve Constantino, Chief Academic Officer, Department of Education, Commonwealth of Virginia describes effective family engagement as the degree to which families are engaged in their kid’s learning and the school’s support of families.

Living a Priority of Literacy

Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning of the Moline-Coal Valley School District, Dr. Matthew DeBaene, shares how he learned the power of partnership within the community when his district engaged in a purposeful endeavor to make literacy a top priority.

Orange Public Schools: Want to Get Kids Reading? Get Everyone Reading!

Karen Harris, Director of English Language Arts & Testing for Orange Board of Education Orange, NJ, asks, how could the district make independent reading part of their literacy culture? To answer, she focused on the concept of modeling.

How to Host a Successful K–2 Family Engagement Event

The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention co-author Ellen Lewis, M.Ed. shares her approach to hosting a successful RISE With Literacy school event and how equipping families with at-home reading strategies empowers them as partners in the learning process.

Family Engagement Supports Literacy Achievement

Paul Liabenow, Executive Director of Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, explains why family engagement should be integrated into curriculum and schoolwide culture to support literacy instruction.

Beyond the Newsletter: Effective Family-School Communication

Ron Mirr, SVP of Learning Supports and Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic, explains how and why multiple methods of communication must function in order to support family-school partnerships.

Family Engagement Participation: Helping Families Build Competence and Confidence

Ron Mirr, SVP of Learning Supports and Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic, outlines the final element to effective family-school partnerships: participation.

What I Learned: My School's Eye-Opening Family Engagement Assessment

North Carolina elementary principal Suzanne Mitchell revisits her school’s first family engagement assessment, where she learned to acknowledge her biases and redefine what family and engagement means.

Inviting the Community In: How Engaging Volunteers Can Improve Literacy Outcomes

Executive Director of SMART (Start Making A Reader Today), Chris Otis, shares the benefits of inviting nonprofit and community organizations into schools to create opportunities for mentorship and one-on-one or small group academic support.

Empowering Students and Families to Address Summer Reading Loss in Greenville, SC and Stoughton, MA

Andrea Rizzo, Ph.D., Director of Research & Validation at Scholastic, shares insights into research on the effects of book access and family engagement on students’ and families’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors around summer reading, in partnership with Public Education Partners and Greenville County Schools.

Why Not? How to Build Innovative Community Partnerships

Dr. Jacqueline L. Sanderlin—Executive Director of School and Community Relations, Inglewood Unified School District—rounds-up her ideas to build and cultivate community relationships in schools. 

A Summer Reading Movement, Emerging from Family Engagement  

Public Education Partners President and CEO, Dr. Ansel Sanders, shares how Family Reading Nights bolstered families’ attitudes about literacy as part of the nonprofit’s Make Summer Count program in collaboration with Scholastic and Greenville County Schools.

Play-Based Learning: Kids Love it and Teachers Deserve it!

Shelly Schaub is a contributing author to Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

Most educators and parents would likely agree that play is essential for social-emotional growth and that young children learn through play. Infants explore the world through unoccupied play with their feet, hands, and anything else they can put in their mouths. Toddlers play alone with toys, watch others play, and observe the ‘rules’ of interacting with others. Preschool children engage in play that involves other children but the play is not necessarily coordinated. Once a child enters kindergarten, the stage is set for children to engage in play that is guided by rules, goals, and yes, learning standards!  

If we know that children learn through play, then kindergarten and first grade classrooms should include elements of play that are guided by the teacher. These play-based approaches to learning encourage young children to take initiative, learn persistence, engage in creativity, and develop flexible thinking. According to Siegler and Alibali (2005), “Flexible thinking supports a student’s ability to tackle challenging tasks.”

If you want classrooms in your district to be a place where all students can engage and contribute; learn to work and play together; enjoy learning with and from each other; and develop flexible thinking and confidence, begin with these simple tips:

  1. Explore state standards to find evidence of play-based expectations.
  2. Share Read great literature with your students and let them fall in love with the characters, story, settings, etc.!
  3. Incorporate these stories into play-based, open-ended centers such as art, drama, and building centers. The best centers have opportunities for choice, are well organized, and are introduced through strong modelling.
  4. Use materials and items that offer opportunities for creativity such as construction paper, butcher paper, markers, crayons, water colors, paint, craft clay, blocks, etc.
  5. Go beyond copying worksheets for students to color! Worksheets often limit creativity, flexible thinking, and problem-solving. It will be important for teachers to guide their students with how to use the materials provided. Then just watch the creativity and learning begin!

For example, the Ohio Department of Education outlines a continuum for Innovation and Invention in the Creative Strand of the Standards for Early Learning and Development:

Examine how I’ve used these standards to design teacher-guided, play-based center activities that are connected to quality children’s literature:

Kindergarten Art Center

  • Sample Book: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.
  • Objects & Materials: Crayons, markers, construction paper, glue, etc.
  • Creativity & Flexible Thinking: Choose an animal from the text. Make that animal with the available supplies. Design other animals that could be included in an innovative version of the text.
  • Social Play: Retell the story using the animals that were created.

First Grade Art Center

  • Sample Book: The Three Pigs by David Wiesner
  • Objects & Materials: Crayons, markers, construction paper, glue, paint, boxes, craft clay, popsicle sticks, etc.
  • Creativity & Flexible Thinking: Choose a setting from the text. Choose a character from the text. Create your choices by using the materials provided.
  • Social Play: Retell the story with your small group using the props created.

The Ohio Department of Education outlines a continuum for Creating, Producing/Performing, and Responding/Reflecting in the Drama/Theatre Strand of the Fine Arts Standards:

Examine how I’ve used these standards to design teacher-guided, play-based center activities that are connected to quality children’s literature:

Kindergarten Drama Center

  • Sample Book: The Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney
  • Creating: Listen to a recording of the story or read aloud by the teacher. Talk about the story with peers. Gather or make props to represent setting, characters, and items in the story.
  • Producing/Performing: Retell story by using props in coordination with a small group of students at the center.
  • Responding/Reflecting: Share a portion of the retelling and the props used with classmates at the conclusion of center time.

 First Grade Drama Center

  • Sample Book: Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens
  • Creating: Sketch or draw the important scenes of the story with a small group. Gather or make props to represent characters, place, time, and major events in the story.
  • Producing/Performing: Dramatize all major events in the story in sequential order. Express feelings and meaning through expressive interpretations.
  • Responding/Reflecting: Demonstrate confidence and self-direction while performing for the small group. Share a portion of the retelling and the props used with classmates at the conclusion of center time.

Check out more, recent blog posts from Shelly and other Responsive Literacy contributors, here:


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